Finally!

I wonder if things are finally beginning to turn around? I heard a tip from a friend while I was at the TBEX in Huntsville about a job. I immediately tried to call the people who were looking (it was the weekend) and eventually got in touch.

Thank goodness! We were able to work things out and I left for the ship on Monday. I’ll be working as a DPO for at least a couple of weeks! A real job!! 🙂

I was glad I got to go to the TBEX in Huntsville. I learned a lot, ran into some old friends and met some new ones. I hope I will be able to turn my experiences there into some good stories and will follow up on connections asap.

Sadly, that may not be all that soon. It looks like I will be pretty much out of touch while here on the ship since internet is not up to snuff and phone is out of range. 😦

After working for over a year on a tuna boat, 3+ months incommunicado at a time, I swore I would never again work for anyone who didn’t have enough respect for their people to provide them with a minimum ability to keep in touch with friends, family and business at home.

Well, after almost 20 months of unemployment (without being able to collect even a dime of the thousands of dollars I’e paid into the system over the last 40+ years), I’ve had to change my attitude, suck it up and take anything that anybody offered. 😦

Thank goodness, I’m finally working! It could last as long as 6 weeks!!

I just hope this is a sign of better times ahead.

I’ll try to post as often as I’m able. Sorry but I don’t think I’ll be able to very often til I get off. 😦

Work

Finally! I’m going to work tomorrow! 🙂

It’s only a temp job. Maybe not even a week. But it’s the first real job I’ve had since I went as AB on that delivery job down to Colombia last August.

I’ll be going out as 3rd mate/JDPO (junior dynamic positioning officer) just to relieve someone who had to leave unexpectedly.

I hope, really really hope this is the start of something good!

A to Z: Ensco

I’m doing the A to Z Challenge. To post everyday (except Sundays) through April, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today’s post is Ensco.

Ensco is a drilling company. I’ve spent a couple of years working on a few of their drilling rigs. I’ve never been hired directly by Ensco (tho I wouldn’t have minded that). I was working as an independent contractor. So when they needed someone to fill in, they would call and I would go out to work.

I first started with them on a couple of rig moves on the Deep Ocean Mendocino (later renamed DS-5). Later I was hurricane master on the Ensco 8506 (semisubmersible). I brought it out of the shipyard to get it checked out and then on to it’s first well.

Ensco 8506

Ensco 8506

THAT was a great job! I really enjoyed my time there and was sorry it ended.

Ensco found enough of their own people so that they didn’t need to use fill ins anymore. I think that’s the same for every company in the oilfield at this point.

I’m sure most people are hoping the gas price doesn’t go back up anytime soon. I’m one of the few who’s hoping it does. I probably won’t be going back to work until it does. 😦

A to Z: DPO

I’ve been posting in the A to Z Challenge the last few days. I missed out yesterday on the post for D. I was just too busy. I’m trying to catch up today. I actually wrote one earlier today (Dreamstime). I can’t believe I didn’t immediately think to post on this instead.

I’ve been working as a Dynamic Positioning Officer (DPO) since 2002. Or, I was, until I got laid off along with so many others who work(ed) in the oilfield. My last job was as DPO on a drillship like the one in the picture below. I haven’t heard of any work since last October. I heard over a half million oilfield workers laid off world-wide a couple of months ago and still seeing more lay-offs in the news daily. 😦

Ocean Rig Apollo drillship

I’m guessing that unless you or someone you know works in the oilfield, you’re probably pretty happy with the low price of oil. I would be too, if my job and so many others weren’t so dependent on it.

I’ve been working at sea since 1977, when I went off to school. I sailed as a cadet on a couple of large traditional sailing ships. I was hooked and wanted to continue that lifestyle forever.

But the American Merchant Marine has been shrinking for decades. We have been globalized and most ships are no longer operated by Americans. Pretty much the only place to work has been related to the oil industry. Either tankers, ATBs, or some type of support vessel working directly in the oilfield.

DSV Global Orion

DSV Global Orion

I worked as an AB on tankers for about 10 years in the 90’s. I moved up to third officer and then my company sold out, scrapped all their ships and laid us all off. I was very lucky to find a job on a DP vessel at that point (before the requirements got so strict that they kept almost everyone from becoming certified).

I’ve been fairly happy sailing as DPO since then. I worked my way up from third officer to master. I sailed mostly as second officer/senior DPO. I really enjoyed the job most of the time.

A DPO’s job is to operate the DP system onboard a vessel. Sounds simple, right? Most companies would agree. Plenty of them seriously think any monkey could do it. Sorry, but it’s not.

No, it’s not ‘rocket science’, but it’s not all that simple either.

First of all, most clients ask for a licensed officer to run the desk (they would always be required on the bridge anyway). Requirements changing to reflect that now too. It is not easy at all to become a licensed ships officer. There are a few different ways to go about it. You can either take the easy way and go to school (if you can afford it), or you can work your way “up the hawsepipe” (the hole in the ships bow where the anchor chain comes aboard).

It takes at least 4 years at a maritime academy to earn your third officers license. There is also a requirement for sea time. Then there is the US Coast Guard exam. You have to pass the Rules of the Road section with a 90% score. No, it’s not at all like the one for driving on land! The other sections are a tiny little bit easier, but you still have to get over 80% on most.

Then there are all the new ‘assessments’ added since the STCW came into effect. They are required for both academy grads and hawsepipers.

To work your way up the hawsepipe, you will probably spend much more time to get that license. You will spend quite a bit of cash to get those assessments signed off. But at least you’re able to work and earn some money along the way. You can still study on your own to pass the US Coast Guard exams.

So, after you get your US Coast Guard license as Third Officer, then you can start the process of getting your DP certificate. First you have to take an ‘induction’ class. That only takes a week and a couple thousand dollars.

The hard part is: you have to get onboard a DP vessel to get your log book signed off before you’re allowed into the ‘simulator’ class. Since most companies have cut crew levels to the bone (even before the latest crisis), they do not want to take anyone onboard who’s not fully capable and qualified (licensed) to do the job. This makes it almost impossible for any prospective DPO to get certified.

Those that do get lucky (and that is what it takes- LUCK), go on to take their simulator course. After that, they’ll need at least a couple more months onboard as a ‘trainee’ DPO (so still facing major hurdles in getting that position onboard any vessel).

If they finally manage to make it through the training stage (before the allotted time runs out), then they were in high demand (up until last year).

They would be in charge of keeping the vessel safe and steady in position for it to do the work it was hired to do. They controlled the computers that controlled the vessel. Keeping a drillship positioned over the well, or a dive boat over the top of the divers, or a pipe layer on the right track while they laid down the pipe.

These jobs might sound easy to some, but they are actually working in some pretty exact tolerances. For instance, a drillship in shallow water (<500 ft) might only have a watch circle of 9 meters. That means that the DPOs must keep that 6-800 ft ship’s moon pool inside a circle with a diameter of less than 30 ft. In ALL conditions. All the while contending with helicopter traffic, supply boats wanting to come alongside, stability issues, permits, phone calls, pages, etc.

It’s very important for DPOs to know the weather, and how their vessel will react to differing conditions. Storm fronts can change the wind direction 180 degrees and increase from 5 knots to 50+ in less than 10 minutes. A DPO had better be on his toes and know exactly what to do and when to do it!

And the weather is only a small part of the things they need to know. There is so much more, but too much to get into for this post.

If you’re interested and want to know more, let me know. Comment and ask questions if you want.

Busy in Houston

I came up to Houston yesterday for a meeting of the Nautical Institute about DP (Dynamic Positioning). I figured since I am a DP operator (DPO), I ought to go and see what they were talking about.

It was actually pretty interesting. I saw quite a few old friends and also got to ask a few questions of the panel. I brought up some of my concerns about the new scheme the NI has brought out on certification of DPOs. I hope the discussion there will cause some serious thinking about some of the problems with this new scheme (more on this later).

I got out of the meeting about 1630 and met up with some friends for dinner. We went to the “Grand Lux Café” over by the Galleria. We sat outside so we could smoke, but they STILL had to complain! I thought that’s why they had outdoor areas now. The food was good, but overpriced. I had no idea til I saw the bill, but it was over $100 for 3 of us (and only 1 drink each)! Next time I’ll stick to the Cheesecake Factory.

I stayed overnight so I could get up early to go get my visa for Angola, I’m supposed to be going back to the ship over there on Monday. They want me to be there by 0800 and I really didn’t feel like dealing with horrible Houston traffic for 2 hours first thing in the morning. Especially when I’ll be dealing with government officials! Better to spend the money for a good nights sleep.

So, I’m hoping it won’t take all day, waiting around the embassy. I’d like to check out some other things while I’m up here in Houston. Maybe go to the zoo later. Or a museum?

A Typical Day On A Drillship

I decided to join in on Jasons’ challenge over at the Opinionated Mans blog. He’s collecting a pretty cool collection of posts from people all over the world. Everyone is posting about where they’re from and what it’s like there. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from everyone.

I really have 2 totally different places I could call home. I live in a small town in Texas, but I actually spend more time out here at work than I do there. So, this is really more my home, out here (at sea).


For at least half the year, I live onboard something like this ship I’m on right now. It’s about 228m long and 42m wide. We usually have between 165-180 people onboard (almost all men). There’s not a lot of space on these ships for living quarters, so almost everyone shares a room. I am lucky to only share with one other person. We are on opposite watch so we’re never in the room at the same time. Some people have 4 to a room and also share heads (bathrooms). I am also lucky to have a private bathroom in my cabin. 🙂

It’s small, but comfortable enough for only a month at a time. Most people are regular on board here and they can bring things from home to fix things up a little bit. I’m still in the resource pool, so I can’t bring much with me. I’m just happy that they have a catering crew here that keeps the room clean and does the laundry. That saves a lot of time. They also take care of all meals. 🙂

I can really only give a very basic description of what it’s like out here, since every ship is different in some ways and the same in others. I’ve been on this one now a couple of times since July. We’ve been working offshore Angola, about 85 miles W of the Congo River. I’m working here as DPO (Dynamic Positioning Operator). My typical day out here (this hitch) goes like this…

Wake up at 22:30. Take a shower. Get dressed. TRY to get online to check email (internet access is very iffy out here). If that doesn’t work, fiddle with my photos in Lightroom on the computer. Head up to the bridge by 23:30 for watch.

Take the elevator up 2 decks to E deck, walk up another flight to the bridge. Get a cup of coffee and chat with my relief before starting to go over the checklist. Go through the checklist. Call everyone for communication checks (engine room, drill floor, standby boats). Then stand my watch for 12 hours on the bridge with a half hour break for ‘lunch’ at 06:30. Since I work from midnight to noon, this meal is actually breakfast that is being served. We have eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, ham & cheeses, fruits, and something usually left over from last night so that people who’ve been up all night can have a different choice.

I work until noon on the ships bridge, looking out for traffic and monitoring the DP system while the drillers are doing their thing. We’ve been working in shallow water lately, so things are more stressful than usual. The difference for us is; we don’t have very much time to react if things start going wrong.

When watch is over, I walk down the 3 flights of stairs to my cabin (or 5 down to the galley for lunch). Then I try to check my email and work on the computer for an hour or 2 before bed. If I really get motivated, and the weather’s nice, I might go walk around the helideck for a while.  I TRY to get to sleep by 1500 but I usually run late. I never manage to get enough sleep out here. 😦

There’s not usually much to look at here. We might have a supply boat alongside to watch. We can see the flares of the FPSOs (Floating Production Storage Offloading) a few miles away (they’re very bright at night). That’s about it at this location, but sometimes it can be really awesome at sea. Just to see the wild ocean in all its many moods. Or the night sky in all its’ glory, with no lights for hundreds of miles to interfere with your vision. Or schools of hundreds of dolphins keeping you company as you steam along. Those are some of the reasons I love it out here at sea. 🙂

Maersk Finder, Offshore Supply Vessel (OSV)

 

So, the entire month I’m here, it’s basically: eat, sleep and work. Nothing else to do out here but look forward to getting off and going home. 🙂

I only have 5 more days til I’m due off. Or, as we say out here, 4 more and a wake up! It’s always good when you get to the single digits. 🙂