Christmas and new year at sea
The hardest thing about "the job" is getting on a bus and traveling to an airport, leaving behind friends , family and loved ones ,knowing they will be celebrating Christmas and New Year in your absence.
What makes this trip even harder is knowing mum will be on her own so soon after losing dad and straight into a time when families are all getting together to celebrate Christmas I will be doing the complete opposite and getting on a plane and heading to Angola.
Having had two trips off and not having worked since July, I'm now joining a new ship that will make Christmas even more difficult as I know no-body from the crew at all !
The London visa offices closed early for Christmas so I had to fly back to the UK a week early to make sure my travel documents were all valid and upto date, making this a six week trip- think overtime !
The flights were as expected, London to Paris - Paris to Luanda , all fairly straight forward until touch down and then starts the paperwork exercise, yellow fever certificates , passports , visas, health declarations, anything to squeeze a bit more money from you. Though has to be said - not as bad as Nigeria !
Five weeks going around in circles - not much to be said about that, that hasn't been said before so I wont bore you with details, the barnacles here are in growth mode so cleaning has been predominantly our role.
I'm often asked what I do for a living, its not the easiest thing to explain , so here is my job in a nutshell.
The second question is usually HOW can we get your job? well the simple answer is sit outside the office and wait for one of us to die !
Seismic coxswain lessons 101
That's the bow of the work boat, 30 feet long (9 meters) twin engines and 650 horse power on water jets so we cant damage the streamers, the ship is somewhere up ahead , slowly turning , follow the streamer , CAN YOU SEE IT ?
, perhaps you need glasses ?.... no I cant see it either (even with glasses), that might give you a perspective of scale ?
These streamers are currently 9 kilometers long, we have 12 of them being towed astern of the ship, 100 meter separations, so with the barovanes outside of the streamers holding the whole lot apart, we are around 1.5 Kilometers wide and 10 Kilometers in length.
This picture of the work boat is pretty good, you can see the streamer lift and the cable winches on the aft deck, basically when the streamer comes to the surface the work boat skipper (me), or the crew, lowers the lifting tray into the sea, it drops around 1.5 meters vertically down.
I then slide the boat sideways, so the tray is under the streamer and I match the speed of the ship (not that I can see it) ensuring there are no units near the boat, and then using the hydraulic lifting system we hoist the streamer out of the water so that the crew can work on it.
For the crew to change the steerable units, (those orange things in the back of the boat) I need to match the speed of the ship precisely regardless of sea conditions to ensure that they have a stationary target to work on - sounds easy ?
Well first of all you have to find the one you need to change, lets say there are 60 units on each streamer, so 60 units x 12 streamers means there is 720 battery powered steerable units out there somewhere, so that's 720 of these things over an area of 9 kms by 1.5kms or there a bouts - akin to looking for a needle in a hay stack.
So we have sophisticated computer tracking systems that show the streamers navigation team where everything is, they also have the ability to raise certain sections of streamer to the surface and monitor its location relative to the adjacent streamer - we DONT want any tangles !
That information is then relayed to me via the work boats on board computer system and big screen monitor, that is of course when the wifi link between the ship and work boat is operational, or more likely I am asking for a bearing and distance to the target we have to change.
The streamers are breeding grounds for barnacles , depending where we are in the world dictates the types of barnacle and the time of year and water temperature dictate the growth rate, the more the barnacles the greater the drag, the slower we go and the more the tension on the streamer sections - they will and do snap.
So another part of our job is cleaning everything
that involves lifting the streamer on board the work boat and wrapping a rope or clamping a scraper onto the streamer and then traveling forward at a speeder greater than the ships speed (IE ship is doing 5 knots , we do 10 knots) while keeping the streamer on the lifting tray.
when you reach a unit, you hold the boat stationary so the crew can take it off, clean it, then reattach it behind the lifting tray, then we move on to the next unit, its time consuming, laborious and hard work for all concerned, the coxswains boat handling has to be spot on, hit a unit off and that's $15,000 you just sank !
And of course you will need to bring a 30 ft boat' back alongside of a moving 100 meter ship, sometimes in rough seas , carefully avoiding all the towed gear and especially the barovanes...
oh and did I mention a head for heights, well you didn't think we were leaving it down there did you ?