Written for DIT by Londi Gamedze
First Offshore, Then World
Three DIT grads-turned-instructors who started their careers working offshore on the Gulf have continued to pursue different career paths in diving but they all reminisce fondly about their formative times offshore. Jeff Stiffel, Britt Coates and Jake Dow, all DIT grads, collectively put in over six years working offshore gigs in the Gulf. Jeff specializes in pipelines and oil rigs, Britt in HazMat and salvage diving and Jake in the whole gamut of offshore work. While tending and diving on the gulf of Mexico ensures something of a regular day in the life of an offshore diver, outside of that there is almost no such thing, with offshore divers engaging in such a variety of tasks and projects happening in very different places in the world.
Jeff: A Business and Family man
“Adapt and overcome,” is one of Jeff’s cherished philosophies – something he truly has done. After breaking out with US Underwater Services in 15 months, Jeff joined Central States Underwater Contracting, where he worked as a diver. Only a few years later, he became a project manager, meeting with top oil companies – including BP, Shell, Chevron – to plan projects that met their various needs. Eventually Jeff left to start his own dive company offering a broad array of both inland and offshore dive services.
Jeff’s life these days consists of visiting and checking on his company’s dive sites, spending time in the office and with his family. It’s pretty different from life on an offshore rig, and with patience, excellence and hard work, Jeff has made a business, a career and a home life from diving.
Britt: The Adventurer
Britt is an instructor at DIT, specializing in Hazmat and offshore diving. He has had a varied and exciting career, with all sorts of jobs keeping him on his toes. He now works daily with DIT students preparing them for the challenges of life underwater. Like many active divers, Britt has traveled extensively and there is not much in the way of a typical day for Britt when he’s in the field.
Last year Britt worked on a research base in Antarctica for the National Science Foundation. After a grueling six-day trip – two days of flying to Chile and a four-day boat ride – Britt and the dive crew arrived at the station. If you can imagine the middle of nowhere, imagine it in the icy ocean. This was not going to be the rowdy prankster environment of a Gulf project, but something entirely different.
Britt says, “Instead of roughing it with a whole crew of construction workers and other divers, we shared the site with scientists working on research out there. Life was more toned down from what I was used to: the scientists would bring us coffee and pastries or hot soup if we were working a little longer. Once a week someone would present a talk on a scientific topic or their research; everyone on the site was invited. It was pretty cool.” On this project, Britt and his co-divers spent around three hours at a time in the icy Antarctic water working with underwater jackhammers, ultrathermic cutting rods and other heavy equipment building a ramp for the researchers’ boats to enter the water.
On the flipside, Britt has worked jobs with days that included up to six hours of diving in warmer, shallow waters – about 15 ft deep – doing underwater construction on long, long days of physically taxing work.
Jake: 1400 Days on the Ocean
Fourteen hundred days, sixteen thousand hours – that’s how long Jake’s been out diving offshore jobs before moving out to instruct offshore at DIT. If you want experience, Jake’s your man. “When you start you’re all nervous, don’t know who you’re going to meet out there, but I was out there so long I knew everyone.” He started his career in construction and carpentry and one day heard a radio commercial for DIT. He can still hear it in his head today: “Have you got what it takes?” Jake knew that he did, and has never looked back. As well as time spent in the Gulf of Mexico, Jake’s been out to Nigeria and the Bahamas – two very different sites. On a pipeline job, the massive pipelay ship combated rough waters in Pirate Alley off the coast of Nigeria and the Nigerian navy cruised constantly around the vessel to maintain safety. The ship was surrounded with razor wire and alert level was high… this is the real deal. This is not America, nor the stunning blue, clear visibility diving of the Bahamas.
Offshore diving will take you places you had never dreamed of, will challenge your body and offer a lifestyle like no other. And since many divers move in other career directions, it opens up all sorts of opportunities – business ownership, project management, education, research and more.