Life is a Journey: My First Time Offshore

An offshore oil and gas production platform   Photo courtesy : Shutterstock

An offshore oil and gas production platform

Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

Today’s post is a little different in that there is no angle to the story. Here, I am simply describing a new experience I had some years back: that of traveling to work far away from land. If you have never been offshore, you may find this interesting.

You are in a yellow helicopter, an Sikorsky S-92 model, the size of a school bus, with 18 other offshore workers, all encased in a personal flotation device or life jacket, heading to an oil and gas production platform many miles away from land. You expect the helicopter to reach a cruising altitude, because that is what the only other flying object you have been in—the airplane—does after a while in the air. But it doesn’t. Instead, it flutters to the tune of the vibrating, powerful motors that turn its main rotor blades; it feels like it is ready to come apart at any moment, as if it’s constantly correcting for something. If you held a cup full of water inside the helicopter, its contents would splash out, because as the helicopter hovers, it shakes everything in it. Hence, you are in this continuous cyclical shaking motion, as though convulsing, the entire flight. Even though you wear noise-cancelling headphones on top of ear plugs (double hearing protection), you still can’t escape the jarring noise of the engine. How can you? An engine powerful enough to defy gravity and lift 20 people and 2,000 pounds of cargo can’t be noiseless, not when it sits right on the roof of the cabin.

You look out the window and all you see is the vastness of the ocean, endless miles of deep blue water, waves waxing and waning, rising and falling, as if the water wants to move one way, but then decides against it. You see a school of fish swimming to nowhere, circling nothing, enjoying life. In the distance is the occasional ocean liner, sometimes carrying crude oil from the far ends of the globe. You ruminate on how interconnected this world is. Sometimes the ocean liner is a cruise ship, filled with people who have paid to enjoy the journey itself perhaps even more than the destination. Your mind wonders if that is the recipe for good living: enjoy each day, for life is a journey.

You are snapped out of your thoughts by the announcement that you will soon be landing. What? Landing where? There is nothing in sight except the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing except water 3,000 feet deep. Nothing except the birds flying in v-formation in the sky and the kingfisher looking to get lucky. You look and look and still see the same thing you have seen for the last 75 minutes: water, sky, fish, birds, and about once every ten minutes, a huge ship. And then, on the horizon, you see a small immobile structure, moored to its location by strong steel ropes anchored to the sea floor, breaking the monotony of the ocean waves. The closer you get, the bigger it becomes, big enough that you now believe that the helicopter can land on it; big enough to believe that 250 people actually live there 24 hours a day; big enough to believe this ocean factory truly churns out hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil each day.

You land on the helideck, descend the stairs, and are greeted by gusty winds slapping your face and whipping your clothes. You feel the coolness of the ocean and are in awe of its mysterious majesty. You look down one side of the stairs and realize all that is separating you from 3,000 feet of water, from the two sharks gliding below, from certain death…is the handrail you are holding. So instead of just holding it, you clutch it. If you are afraid of height or water, this is where you will probably puke, as your friend, Sam, another first-timer, just did.

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