Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Offshore Adventures

We are still waiting on weather. As I am typing this in bed, waves are crashing into the side of the vessel. The first time I heard it, I thought the vessel crane had dropped something on deck!!! It was that loud. Now I'm getting pretty used to it, clanging and banging in the still of the night. The waves are also swaying me in bed. Macam tido dalam buai. There is also the wind - strong gusts of wind that some people say can help you imitate Micheal Jackson music videos. Moonwalker, specifically. I haven't had the guts to try it.

Anyway, this post is to share my offshore adventures so far. I can't share much on the project progress, but I can certainly give you a taste of what an offshore life feels like.

The last time I was offshore, it was back in 2011 and you can read it here. Back then, I joined the vessel at sailaway. This time, I took the chopper in. It was my first time on a chopper too. It was so exhilarating to be in the chopper... something so small just swaying in the air at take off, before finally stabilizing itself and flying low above the beautiful city, seas and islands of Sabah.

As mentioned in my previous post, I had to check in an hour before departure at Terminal 2. After filling in some forms, everyone had to do an alcohol test. Fail that, and you are not allowed to continue. Next our bags had to go through not just a scan, but they made us open our bags and show us the contents. We then had to put our phone in the bag in front of them and then they secured the lock with zip ties. After that, my bags were weighed.... And I was weighed too! *giggles* Malu seihhhhh.

(Damn if  Westerners were used as a benchmark per person weight, I should demand for additional luggage capacity in lieu of my lighter weight!)

The quiet terminal. Getting our bags checked. And the weighing machine at the check in counter.

After that, we were all plonked in a chair to watch a safety briefing video. Pretty much a refresher of what I learnt during my BOSIET training. How to put on my lifesaving vest, the brace position, how to activate my breathing apparatus in case of helicopter ditching etc.

While waiting for the chopper to refuel, we were allowed to walk around and stretch our legs. There was a small table at the side, filled with tid bits, and a plastic container for depositing money. Seriously, it's like the honesty jar or something. No one manned the place, so you can jolly well just take something without paying and no one will ever know. I didn't buy anything as my wallet (and phone) were already in my luggage on the way to the chopper.

The chopper experience was so surreal. It was both exciting and nerve wrecking experience at the same time. The rotor blades were going on at full speed just a meter above my head. I was given a headphone as it was rather loud. I was assigned a window seat right across someone about the same weight as mine... to keep the chopper balanced. Everyone got settled in, seat belts on, and the helicopter deck assistant started doing his last checks. The helicopter doors were then closed, and it was time to go!

As the chopper taxi-ed down the runway, the pilot crackled on the headphone. He introduced himself and his co-pilot and wished us all a good journey. We stopped mid-way for quite awhile; an Air Asia plane was landing so they were given priority. After that we continued to our take off point, and then we started ascending upwards! (It felt more like floating up like a balloon.)

During the first few minutes of the flight, I felt jittery watching all those houses and cars getting smaller and smaller. After awhile, the helicopter motions stabilized and I felt much more relaxed. I was awestruck by the scenery and the great visibility from my window seat. The flight then flew towards the sea and I could recognize some of the more familiar islands of Sabah - the jetties and snorkeling boats, evoking memories of our last trip to Pulau Gaya.

The weather was lovely hence the flight was just perfect. Despite going through some beautiful white clouds, there were zero turbulence. Thanks to the headphones, it was overall a very comfortable flight. Unfortunately no photos because phones were not allowed on board. Next time I'm going to bring my camera out!

Landing was smooth, and as soon the helideck officer gave us the green light, we walked out and into the helilounge. We were then given a vessel safety briefing, instructions to emergency muster point and a tour of the ship. It was my second time here, so I sort of knew my way around. But for the first few days, it still felt like a maze. Every door and turning looked the same. It took me about 4 days onboard to get my orientation right.

This vessel is by far the biggest I've been on so far. It has 8 floors, with the construction deck on the 2nd floor (B deck) and the bridge on the 7th floor (G deck). Entertainment room, smoking room, cinema room and gym on A deck, the mess room on B deck and helideck on T(op) deck. There is also a dedicated prayer room onboard.

A candid photo of my colleague cleaning up a spill he made in the lift. Only one lift onboard, so I usually take the stairs.

My room is superb. Unlike my last vessel, this one has two single beds (no bunk beds, yeay!), a desk, a working TV with pre-loaded movies and TV series, an acceptable size cupboard and a decent shower. Probably twice as big, if not more than my last offshore abode.  The toilet uses a vacuum flush system (like those on airplanes). Built in hot water piping and top notch water filtration system. You can drink direct from the tap! As always, laundry and housekeeping services are provided onboard. Towels are even changed daily! There is a small shop selling basic provisions, open three days a week, but because this is a mat salleh vessel, the shop (and the vending machines) only accept payment in US Dollars or Euros.

Single beds! You can also pull the curtain around your bed for more privacy. Very spacious room too...

Decent cupboards. On the left is the door to my shower room.

Bright and clean shower room. And post unpacking - just to show you the minuscule amount of clothes I brought on this trip.

My room is right at the end, so I have not just one, but two windows! On certain days, I can see the platform right outside my window.

We have a pretty decent client office. Proper workstations (albeit not enough) and monitors to be able to watch the deck and ROV work underwater. There is also a coffee shop at B deck, where people usually go to for a quick cup of coffee/tea and biscuits. It is also connected to the male changing room. Usually I walk through the changing room to get to the construction deck, but one unfortunate morning I walked in while a guy was changing. It was pretty awkward. *shakes head in dismay*

Half of the client office. Notice our new ROV inspector on the monitor? *chuckles*

Coffee shop on B deck, where you can get an endless supply of biscuits!

There are three other ladies on board; a metocean specialist, a surveyor and a doctor. But since I am the only lady from the client team, I didn't have to share my room with anyone else. I couldn't have asked for more!

During my first week onboard, we had beautiful weather. The sky was blue and the waves were benign (about 1 meter max). I even managed a boat transfer to the platform without getting seasick. (An hour to platform, an hour back and another hour waiting inside the boat because the vessel crane wasn't free to pick us up for basket transfer.)

There are several ways to transfer people between vessel, boat and platform. You can do a chopper transfer (expensive) or a water transfer using basket or FROG. For this project, to get off the vessel (to boat or barge) I was transported using a basket. And from the boat to the platform, I was transported using a FROG. I won't get into the technical details of which one is better than the other, but I've uploaded my journey on the FROG and the basket in the videos below. All I can say is... hang on tight! I usually like to look front (not down) and chit chat with my fellow passengers to conceal my fear of heights.

(Yes, yes, I do have a fear of heights; I don't do roller coasters and I don't like being trapped in fast moving vehicles. But when you're on the job, you've got to put on a confident face and just do it!)

The platform crane bringing the FROG down to the boat to pick us up.

The vessel crane sending the basket over to the barge to pick us up for basket transfer.

Weather was so good that we managed to complete quite a big chunk of installation activities that week. Then came my second week onboard. Typhoon Nida (google it!) started soaking Philippines before making landfall in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, we got the tempias of it - tropical storms, wave heights of up to 2.5 meters, 35 knots of wind and swells of up to 12 seconds. Weather even worse than my last offshore trip, but because this vessel is so big with an impressive dynamic positioning system, I haven't felt seasick even once. (It's either that, or I've well adapted to the motions.)

Wearing a life vest in preparation to board the FROG. 

Awaiting lift off.

A close up of our platform.

In the boat, returning to vessel. The vessel was brightly lit up like a Christmas tree!

Since this is a Dutch vessel operating in Asia, the food spread at the mess hall is quite impressive. We have both Western food and Asian food, ~4 types of meal for each cuisine, not including soup! Excellent salad bar too. Unfortunately the Asian food is usually a hit and miss - not spicy enough for the Asians onboard, and no chili sauce too! (Tabasco doesn't count as chili lah!) Western food on the other hand, is usually lamb chops and steaks - but the medium well type without sauces. Some Asians can't eat meat with blood still oozing out, and they are used to steaks with barbecue sauce lah, mushroom sauce lah. Thankfully, Hubby is a great fan of bloody barbaric Western steaks so I found it pretty acceptable. 

Candid photo of me in the mess room by a fellow colleague. This is how I dress onboard - loose running shirts, comfy pants and crocs!
The Asian food section - four kinds of lauk for lunch. Just beside it (not seen in picture) is the Western food section with four kinds of food too. Dah macam buffet! On the right, the fruit and salad bar.

The meal times are quite weird too. Day shift hours are between 6am-6pm so breakfast and dinner starts and ends at 530am/pm and 7am/pm respectively, with lunch in between at 1130am/pm. Since breakfast for the day shift is also the night shift's dinner, expect to be served rice for breakfast (with the occasional pancakes and croissants). This is also the first vessel that I've been on, that closes their mess hall outside meal hours, and even worse - doesn't have desserts! Only ice-cream, and since I've been here, we've ran out twice. They make occasional desserts as Sunday specials, but even then you've got to ask. Food is not allowed outside the mess hall, apart from some biscuits or a piece of fruit. But even then I've had to use my lady charm twice, to get some biscuits delivered to the client office. (Typically on other vessels, the client's office is always fully stocked up with munchies and soft drinks.)

Check out that huge piece of lamb chop. And fresh giant prawns!

Left and middle: Poffertjes (a traditional Dutch batter treat) - small pancakes served with powdered sugar, and Crepe Suzette with whipped cream and sweet sour syrup. Right: breakfast pancakes the size of the plate, drizzled with my favourite maple syrup.

Last but not least, again being a mat salleh vessel - there is no free flow of instant noodles! Thankfully our sister in-field vessel were gracious enough to send us a care package.

A local vessel (that had unlimited supply of limited noodles and chili sauce) took pity on us and sent this by boat. I didn't have a proper bowl so had to make do with eating Maggi out of a paper cup!

I have more photos, but I think this post is long enough as it is. Will save that for a separate post.

InsyaAllah, if the weather eases up and all goes well, I will head home this weekend. By then I would have been fifteen days offshore... I think I've been offshore long enough to last me a whole lifetime. *giggles*


  1. Wow Liz, you are one tough woman. Adore you!

    1. Awww I don't know what I did to earn your adoration but thank you so much for your kind words. I guess all mothers are tough in their own ways. Motherhood can be intense and challenging at times, so kudos to you too ;)

  2. bestnya...priceless experience tau

    1. Definitely a priceless experience, especially for sharing with Aiden and Ian ;) Banyak jugak video I amik to show to them. Can't wait to get home.

  3. Replies
    1. Sue.. takde lah sampai supermak :P But thanks for the compliment ;)

  4. bestnyaaa! my bro is involve in pflng 1 so i salu dengar dia cerita offshore stories and wpun maybe tak sama i boleh la relate hehe

    1. Oooo Petronas FLNG kan? Yeah, duduk offshore nie memang ade macam macam stories. Everyone onboard is like family (cos we're all stuck in here together) hehehe

    2. aah petronas flng. my hubs with oil and gas jugak but onshore doing contracts. he always said o&g world is so small everyone knows each other.
      keep on updating k :)

    3. Yup, my husband said the same thing. Jangan buat jahat dengan people you meet in your career. Pusing pusing nanti jumpa balik ;)

  5. wow liz,a new experience for me.very tough women
    dah macam mengembara dlm petrosains pulak.
    anyway Liz how long u stay at the sea?

    1. Hehehe Zie - kat Petrosains kurang feel sebab takde feeling feeling ombak, mabuk laut gitu. Hahahaha insyaAllah if I can go home this weekend, means 2 minggu kat laut.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences offshore.


  7. amazing! tough job for tough woman.. you go girl!

    1. Thanks dear ;) Alhamdulillah despite being the only lady in the team, I have a great team offshore who supports me here ;)

  8. seriuslyyyy.. menarik gila. tp sgt mencabar kan. hehe

    1. Yes, offshore life memang mencabar in its own way. But very interesting! ;)

  9. Been your silent reader for quite a while...I've always enjoy reading your blog....this post especially....very interesting job....thanks for sharing ur experience...and keep on writing 😀

    1. Hi! I love it whenever a silent reader leaves a comment :) Thanks for reading :)

  10. Hi supermommy...
    Knowing you from lentera creative...
    And been reading your blog ever since!!
    Im loving every piece of ur writing..
    Especially here. It gives me a better understanding on how offshore life is..coz
    Insha Allah I'll be marrying one too..hehe
    So its relatable whenever he shares his experience with me. Thank youu supermommy.
    I don't know how you do it..u must be a toughie!👏👏

    1. Awwww, I love it whenever new readers leave a comment on my blog. Marrying someone in the offshore business is like getting married to the industry too! InsyaAllah, I doakan semua dipermudahkan. Thanks for reading. I sincerely appreciate the compliments :)


Thank you in advance for leaving a comment. ;) All comments are moderated. Liz

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