After arriving back in Luanda from my quick excursion to the FPSO, I was immediately bundled into a little 12 seater twin prop and was flown off to the GSF Explorer.
A CGI of the GSF Explorer – for size compare the height of the Derrick to the size of the Heli deck. It is massive.
So I arrived back at the Sonair Charter Terminal,and was required to check in again for my next flight. Destination: Soyo, a little town right on the northern border of Angola, just below Congo. This time round however the passport emigration official decided that my visa wasn’t good enough to allow me to fly to Soyo. This after I had just seen him write down that an American was a South African in his passport register. And they wonder why we call it Africa? So, after a brief discussion with the man, to the amusement of the 6 or so yanks that were all going to be my travelling companions, he decided to hold my passport and continue with the rest, as he wasn’t happy. I spoke to the check in official, who came and had words, and the next thing I knew I was being very unhappily waved through the door, with passport in hand. It still hadn’t been registered in the Register, but hey, that wasn’t my problem.
I managed to get a cake out of the food counter, before we headed off to the plane. Twice! The first time we stopped, got out and started offloading our things from the bus, when the guy hastily rushed back and told us to get back on. 2 planes down, we got out again. It was a tiny craft, you could probably squeeze 3 economy seats in it in a row side to side and that would be it. There were 2 rows of seats on either side, with a very restrictive aisle in the middle. I landed up next to an emergency exit, but default, but was happy with arrangement, as the aisle wasn’t going to be serving anyone in an accident!
We landed at Soyo, after circling for a few minutes, another plane was landing,so we had to wait. We were met on the tarmac by a slick looking gent in half a fancy suit who took our passports whilst another dude herded us through passport control and out to the bus. On the bus he told us he would take care of our passports, and that he would bring them to us at the base, as we needed to watch the safety video. My 4th in 4 days. Nice! There is a bit of a funny procedure when entering Kwanza base. The bus stops at the entrance, you get out and walk past barriers, whilst the bus drives through, and then you get back in on the other side, with no intervention at all. The base is huge and the choppers are housed in just a massive warehouse, and it doesn’t appear that BP actually has a presence there. It is mainly only a chopper terminal/hanger where we went. I befriended a stocky looking chap on the way to the chopper. He was from Louisiana, and had pretty much worked everywhere, except here in Africa. All the guys in fact besides myself were Yanks, and they were all returning, apart from Kirk, the Louisiana dude, who was here for his first time. The flight out was good, in a different chopper this time, but still pleasant, and I actually got a few mins dos time on this one. Our pilots were Saffas and they were really good. Touch down was pretty good I must say.
So once again, I arrived on yet another really imposing vessel. The Derrick (lifting tower) sticks out meters above the deck and on this vessel is particularly huge. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t know much about the oil industry at all, especially the drilling side. The only thing I know is Oil Strike on Discovery Channel,and even then I’ve only seen a bit. I know they drill into the ground using the Derrick to guide pipes and push the drill bit down, but I don’t know much else. Well, we had another safety briefing, this time far more focused on Fire and Escape plans, and especially alarm signals. We got another tour of the vessel, and it was immediately apparent that this was definitely an older, working vessel. There was no lift, the stairwell is the backbone of the vessel, the cabins are older in appearance, with communal bathroom areas – we were advised to wear towels as there was a woman on board, I’m guessing the medic – and the vessel itself was much more worn and used.
Once you are on the deck you suddenly begin to realise just how huge the Derrick is. We were shown where all the life rafts and emergency muster points were and once again had the alarm signals and the drills reinforced.
After the tour I returned to my room, then went for supper, and then off to do some work and find out if I could actually fix the problem, as at this stage I wasn’t sure if I was the man for the job, or of I could actually do what was required of me! Supper was pretty good, but very much boarding house/canteen food. But the vessel was predominantly American, funny that considering it belonged to Transocean, which is a giant Rigging company out of the States, so it makes sense that the food is American style. They have syrup on the tables, with all sorts of other American things, including a Hurricane Watch board for the Caribbean.
So, the number one phrase on the vessel: “What’s going on?” This however has to be pronounced “Watts goin ahhhhnnnn?” in a thick Southern American accent. Then you fit right in.
I got down to work and managed to fix the problem in about 2 hours, which was pretty good for me, considering I had to reconfigure a switch from scratch, and I haven’t been on a switch in a long time! 🙂 The guys were happy that I sorted them out and I was pretty chuffed myself too. The old bugger still has it in him. I do enjoy the techy stuff! I retired to the bedroom,which I then discovered was mine as the other occupant was off rotation at them moment, so I watched half a DVD on my laptop before going to sleep with one hell of a headache, that I can only think must have been caused by either dehydration, or possibly the motion of the vessel. Just weird that. At one stage before I fell asleep it was so bad I actually considered going to the Medic for paracetamol, but it was alright and I eventually fell asleep.
Day 2 saw me getting out with the one BP guy Iain, who gave me a full tour of the vessel with all the explanations, and answered all my questions, very patiently I might add, and I am now a pro on this drilling thing. For laymen only that is! I even got to go across the drilling deck, which is just amazing to be there, having seen it so many times on TV and documentaries. I got to the control room too, and watched the operations as they continue, and it is quite an experience, coming from a completely external outside environment. All I can say is the Oil Industry, specifically the exploration side, like this, is just mind-blowing.
This vessel the GSF (Global Sante Fe) Explorer was originally built as a submarine retriever for the CIA, for project Jennifer, by Howard Hughes, from Avaitor Fame in 1973, and was later retrofitted to be used for drilling purposes. I have included a few links at the bottom of this page, for those interested, and it is pretty interesting actually. This is a deep water rig,mening that they typically only start drilling a deep depths. Anywhere between 500 and 2500 metres down. Which is pretty amazing if you think of it, and is really incredible for me who has come from a diving background too. So once again I can’t say much about what goes on, only that this is a seriously advanced vessel, and to me makes the FPSO look pale in comparison, but I suppose I didn’t really get a technical low-down on how that vessel operated. Plus this to me is far more technical oriented, as you actually get to “see” what you are doing, or at least “see” the things happening!
Anyway, I am due to be off here tomorrow, was supposed to be off today, but there was no flight, so no doubt I will have a few more stories then. Bed time now, and hopefully a lot more sleep.
Info on the GSF:
US Hands over Info on Sunken Soviet Sub
Wikipedia – USNS Glomar Explorer (T-AG-193)
Easy Going Guy 😉