Saturday, 26 September 2009


“You have to lie!” The captain was a large man and he was sweating. The words were coming quickly, heavily accented in Russian. “If you don’t, I am in all kinds of trouble. Paperwork! You have to say you slipped on the wet deck.”
“Okay.” God I was in pain. “But listen. This happened when I jumped between the two ships.”
“No no no! You slipped on the deck!”
“Yes, I’ll lie. Listen though. I tell you the truth now so this doesn’t happen to others, okay?”

I wasn’t taking the injury with good grace. Between expletives, I made it clear that I stumbled as I made the jump.

“Yes, my men are like monkeys,” smiled the captain. “They do it all the time. But for you, the first time.”
“Exactly!” He had got the point. I didn’t want any other poor bastard to be going through this. “If people have to jump, it should have been at the stern where it is flat.”

It wasn’t far between the two vessels but that had to be the case. Falling between ships is a recipe for certain death. The ships were sisters so exactly the same height. But we were jumping from the flat deck of one on to and over the low wall of the other onto its deck. My new friend, Pom, had already made it across. The target for me was to jump onto the wall and step down but I had misjudged badly. From a standing leap I had cleared it totally and had landed in a heap. The pain was immediate and searing. I couldn’t get up. Behind me, one of my friends was being physically dragged across by member of the crew.
“You want doctor?”
I hoped it was just a sprain and would walk off. “No, no doctor. I’m okay, just help me up.” Already the pain was blinding. Automatically I reached for my bags.
“We’ll take your luggage Martin. You just get yourself in.”

I can’t remember now if I was helped into the crew quarters or whether I made it by myself. But I remember looking at the stairs and thinking ‘no way’. Big Vincent read my mind and grabbing my torso, steered me right, towards the crew lounge.
“You just sit down here Martin.”
I sat, first on a dining chair and the pain exploded in my ankle. It was worse than standing up. I felt sick with it.
“Jesus Christ!” I yelled. “Better get a doctor.”

For the most of the week, it had been quite pleasant. Under the supervision of Big Vinny, the boat side navigation, compressors and guns were set up. This job was seen as a good opportunity for me to check out the new technology that has been introduced since my last job boat-side in 1997. Normally I get sick as a dog on supply vessels. The Caspian isn’t the North Sea however and despite being rough by local standards, I barely noticed the rocking of the vessel this week.. But not all was well in this new Acadia. It was clear from the state of the equipment that it had not been tested prior to have been packed. Vital components were missing. Fortunately the cables were of a common type and the vessel was able to help out. With my colleagues on the rig however, it was evident that things were not going so well.

Thursday was a day of waiting. On standby since early afternoon, I had been manning the mike, awaiting instructions from the rig crew. Soon after five in the evening, they ceased answering all update enquiries and even the telemetry link was turned off by them. No distractions were needed. It was becoming increasingly clear that there was trouble and I felt I would be doing more good over there. So when communications were finally re-established, I made the offer.
“Andrew, do you need me across there?”
“D’you know Martin, I was just about to suggest that. I’ll have to speak to the Company Man, see if there is enough bed space.”

It wasn’t until nine o’clock that finally I made it across to the rig. I had a room allocated upon arrival but didn’t get to see that, leaving my luggage in the heliport lounge. Andrew and Olzhas had pretty much managed to get everything finally working. I helped out with the last hour or so of trouble-shooting. Finally we were rewarded with a working system at about eleven pm. Still I could not let Andrew go to bed until he had explained some of the finer points of the survey to me but in the main, the night pasted was a successful acquisition of seismic data. Up to a point. Owing to hole conditions, we couldn’t get the tools all the way down the well. The plan was to get as much data as we could on the upper section, reconfigure the tool string and try again.

It was ten o’clock in the morning when I finally saw the room. It wasn’t impressive. Four man cabin made noisy from the sound of generators outside. I fell into my upper bunk and was asleep immediately.

Eleven o’clock. Voices chatting in Russian. Oh God, the helicopter must have arrived. Two guys were talking loudly as they were dumping off their bags in the room.
“Ja spit [I sleep].” My curtain twitches aside and the voices continue, albeit it at a lesser volume.

One pm. A loud voice, talking to himself, swearing in Russian. The sound of a door being banged open. A second door. More swearing monologue. Water. What the fuck is going on? I pull back the curtain to see water flooding the room. The toilet has backed up. Charming. At least all my kit is up high and there is no way I’ll paddling through that stuff. It isn’t until about half three until the problem solved, the room cleaned and I can get down from my perch. In the meantime, thank you Lord for the company of a good book.

Four o’clock sees me back out on deck. We are just about ready to run in again with a reconfigured tool, hopefully able to get past the small imperfection in the borehole that has prevented us previously. By nine thirty however, it is clear that the caused is lost. The order is given to rig down. I get conformation and speak to the boat. I’m told that they have to complete post-job checks that can only be done in daylight. Fair enough. I advise them to do it first thing then get packed up as there are rumours of a chopper for us tomorrow lunchtime. Olzhas and I pack up the rig equipment. I get to bed about five in the morning.

Six a.m. There is a deep pit in Hell reserved for people who leave alarm clocks in the room and are not there to turn them off.
Six twenty. A new companion. The generators are almost loud enough to drown out the sound of his snoring. But not quite.

Seven a.m. “Martin? You are being transferred back to the boat. Please be ready in half and hour.” At the time, it sounds almost like a relief.

I arrive back on board at about quarter to eight. There is even some hot breakfast left over. Great, I’m hungry too. With a cup of tea I go up to the bridge and see the last of the navigation checks being performed, while having a banter and a moan with Pom and Vince. I regretfully inform them both that I’m to shagged out to help with the rest of the packing up. “Fine Martin. Go to bed.. The bedding still the same. We can handle this.”

Even that morning’s brief sleep isn’t to be the longed-for peace. The sound of heavy engines wake me. Sleep again. Ten past ten. The door opens. It’s Vince.
“Martin, they want us to transfer onto another boat.”
“Now. Three minutes.”

So at quarter past ten, I’m on deck. Pom has already made the jump and it’s my turn.

I leap.

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