All at sea

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I find myself stranded on a yacht in the middle of the ocean.

Well, to tell you the truth, it is not ACTUALLY a yacht, but that is what we have come to call this monster over the past few years.

Let me paint the picture.

To get here I flew out by helicopter. In order to be allowed on the chopper I had to undergo a day of HUET (Helicopter Under water Escape Training), an experience all by itself.

Now I am standing on a platform, smoke in hand, looking out over the vast blue ocean and contemplating life. If I look down at the water about thirty meters below me I can see hundreds, maybe thousands of fish swimming around. Every now a manta ray comes past, between 1,5 and 2 metres in diameter. It’s like I am standing in the middle of a massive aquarium.

Our yacht is not anchored at all. It is drifting on this vast expanse of water, but here is the interesting part: through some seriously clever technology it stays in one position all the time, never moving more than a few centimetres either way.

The trick? On board we have a gyroscope and a GPS (global positioning system). Well, three of each in fact, just to be sure. These instruments are constantly checking the yacht’s position in relation to a number of beacons on the seabed as well as a few geostationary satellites in the sky above and down below us four massive motors automatically kick in as needed to keep us in position.

On the aft side I have discovered some really amazing machinery. Twelve massive hydraulic stabilisers are continuously moving up and down, compensating for the swells passing under us. This ensures that the very (very!) long drill is kept in the perfect position and under constant pressure.

Have you guessed where I am yet?

Our yacht is in fact a drilling rig, stationed off the west coast of Africa, a few hundred kilometres from Luanda, Angola.

We are lying in water of about 3000 feet (close to 1000m) deep and the rig is drilling holes into oil deposits another few thousand feet below the ocean bed. What is really incredible, though, is that the drill does not necessarily go straight down. It can actually be manoeuvred during the drilling process to go in almost any direction while searching for the best path to the oil. Exactly how this is done I have yet to find out, but it is truly baffling.

On board the rig is a collection of nationalities from all over the world. Americans, French, Scots, English, Dutch, Angolan, South African, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and too many others to remember – they are all here with a job to do. All these nationalities and languages make for a very interesting mix of cultures and make meetings and communications very challenging indeed.

I have discovered that there is a gymnasium on board, but for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would need to use it. Almost everywhere you need to go to on this floating steel construction comprises climbing up or down at least one flight of stairs. On my first day here I was involved with the replacement of a satellite antenna and calculated that over an eighteen hour period I must have climbed up and down close to three thousand stairs. I kid you not! Maybe this is the company’s way to keep people on board healthy and fit.

On the other hand there is the food to consider. A professional chef and a team of excellent cooks are on board. This means the most amazing meals are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is something I never really expected to find out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe – and that’s a BIG maybe – I will have to pay that gym a visit after all!

To quote from a Madness song: “I’m sailing across the sea”, but I’m not getting to my Uncle Sam!

See you on land soon.