I was away last week visiting a remote platform complex offshore East Kalimantan for business. At the end of Total-operated Senipah jetty, I checked-in at 6am in my coveralls, picked up a life vest and boarded a light and fast crew boat.

Given the generally benign offshore environment prevailing for most days of the year in the region, Total was perhaps the first regional operator to favour surfers in lieu of the expensive helicopter operations for logistics. Surfers are high-speed boats that carry crew and light cargo on its bow.

This was my first taking the boat to travel around to the normally unmanned satellite offshore facilities. We were warned that the sea would be rough but I was not expecting boat transfers to become exclusive events. Everyday I’d start with an early breakfast, gear-up, climb two floors down to the manned platform’s landing area, and swing-in to an awaiting boat using a knotted rope. Reach a satellite platform, swing-out on to platform’s boat landing. Carry out the survey, then back to the boat via the swing-in, and head-out to another facility. Back to the mother platform for lunch, and head out again. The routine repeated.

To improve personnel transfer safety and accessibility, Total developed a unique boat landing system in 80s in collaboration with Bourbon Marine. So, unlike the traditional stern-side berthing, these boats dock with their padded bows into a uniquely shaped structural boat landing frame known as the V-dock.1 From its slightly elevated forecastle, I’d climb up the ladder, timing my boarding to coincide with the boat’s heave.

V-dock boat landing.

Not all platforms feature these. Total had a fleet on contract. They’d send us either an FSIV, a supply vessel, or any random vessel in the vicinity. There were times when we’d get a supply vessel, and boarding would become a challenge. Notice the elevation of the pier on platform’s boat landing, from which one would need to swing via the rope and land atop the small landing with rails on the vessel — next to the man waiting to catch and pull you in. Now imagine it with the vessel wobbling in all six degrees of freedom.

Somewhere in the Makasar Strait.

Naturally with ever changing vessel heave, all the while fighting the tide to stay in position, it was hard to concentrate. I’d stand on a barge bumper the boat kept slamming into, sending vibrations through my legs and spine as I clung to the slippery knotted rope awaiting transfer. I’d wait for the moment when the boat and landing would nearly level, then swing and jump aboard. We did this like eight times a day for the next few days. It was exhausting. After a while you become inured to fear and it stops bothering you. You don’t feel blood shooting through veins like the first couple of times.

  1. A video of even a catamaran bow-docking into one of the wind farm towers in the North Sea.