Work Hard Offshore, Play Hard Onshore
Written for DIT by Londi Gamedze
We know that love is what makes the world go round, but it’s oil that makes us go around the world. Up to 300 miles off the coastline of the gulf of Mexico, there are over 5,000 men and women who work the thousands of jobs that the productive deepwater oil reserves offer. They are scientists, engineers, divers and more, working to supply more than one-fifth of the US’s oil production. For the most part, the divers here are young, hard working and tough: life out in the middle of the ocean brings them together and binds them like a band of brothers. It’s exciting and intense, the granddaddy of commercial diving: the biggest bucks, the deepest dives, the widest dive community and the most gigantic machinery.
It all starts when crew are transported from the mainland out to sites on rigs and vessels, and get ready to put in fourteen consecutive twelve-hour shifts hopping from rig to rig before returning to land. The sheer size of the rigs and equipment used offshore is staggering and the immensity never gets old. Humans are tiny beings operating a huge, oversized mechanical world out there. Offshore diving work is not for the faint of heart – it is physically demanding and can be dangerous, requiring great attention to safety practices, but the atmosphere is warm, light-hearted and fun.
Day-to-day on the Gulf
Rigs operate 24/7 so there’s always something going on: on a single job, there are typically two crews consisting of four divers, four tenders and one lead tender, and the crews switch it up on a 12-hour cycle. On day one, personnel arrive at the vessel after rough rides on enclosed boats smelling like diesel. Some get seasick, some don’t. It’s often a somber ride, like a Monday morning at a nine-to-five office. Once close to the vessel, everyone lines up in single file and a massive crane swings its Billy Pugh basket over. You drop your gear in and hop on the outside of it – riding a crane’s basket for the first time is pretty cool, an exciting thrill. Once aboard, the lead tenders take charge and select their crews. Bunks and duties are assigned and everyone attends a fire drill, orientation and a few safety briefings. Lead tenders are typically divers next in line to break out – they are deck foremen who are also responsible for maintaining work equipment and act as mentors to new tenders. Life on the ocean has begun.
One team wakes up in preparation to start at noon. Days offshore begin with workouts, brunches, joking around and some chores. During shift change the retiring crew gives a briefing on the work conditions and progress, and then the noon team heads off to the crane, rig, pipeline or other current project. Divers suit up, get ready with their heavy equipment and get down there, to lay pipeline, repair a rig or inspect a platform while tenders keep everything going smoothly. Each diver underwater has one tender monitoring health and safety conditions and being available to assist where necessary. At least one other diver and tender are on standby in case the current diver needs underwater help. Dives typically last for about three hours and depending on the depth, divers require up to another three hours to fully decompress. Shared mealtimes and the jocular camaraderie of working on a great team break up the intensity of these taxing and serious jobs.
Friends play jokes and tricks on each other and there’s a lot of laughter and fun onboard. All of a sudden, it’s over until the next time: two weeks of high-intensity work culminate in thankful sighs and eager trips back to loved ones. And then, just when you start to get bored again, it’s time to grab your gear, head out the the great blue yonder and knuckle down for two more weeks of good, solid hard work.