June 29, 2006

Tide

Sorry of the lack of updates, but I was on business travel to another remote location with no comm. access. My destination this time was a platform complex offshore East Kalimantan.

In its flora and fauna, or in its animal kingdom, Borneo’s bio-diversity is breathtaking. The discovery of a new mammal recently, almost after hundred years of belief that everything that was to be discovered had already been, is just the kind one would expect here. In short, if Nature covered only Borneo for the next 100-years, they would still have enough stories to tell the civilized world after.

At the end of Senipah jetty, operated by Total Indonesie, I checked-in at 6am in my coveralls, picked up a life vest, and boarded a light and fast crew boat.

Given the reasonably benign environment for most days of the year in the region, Total was perhaps the first regional operator to favor surfers, in lieu of the expensive helicopter operations for logistics. Surfers are high-speed boats that carry crew and light cargo on its bow. Here’s one I came on.

Surfer

I am used to visiting platforms via helicopters, so this was my first taking the boat, and then traveling around to the normally unmanned satellite offshore facilities around the hub. We were warned that the sea would be rough, but I was not expecting boat transfers to become exclusive events.

To improve personnel transfer safety and accessibility, Total developed a unique boat landing system in 1980s 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 upward heave.

V-dock boat landing

Being built at various periods, not all platforms feature these, and therefore I had no prior information on what kind of vessel would pick us up at any given time of the day. They had a fleet on contract, and depending on availability, they’d send us either an FSIV or a supply vessel, or any random vessel that was in the vicinity of the platform my colleague and I were surveying.

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, and then, back to the boat via the swing-in, and head out to another facility. Back to the mother platform’s living quarters at lunch, and head out again. The routine repeated.

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.

Boat landing view from FSIV

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 get accustomed to fear and it stops bothering you. You don’t feel blood shooting through veins anymore, 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.