It’s August 15, 1983. I am on an offshore supply boat in Galveston Texas. Our most recent assignment had expired and my orders were to stay in Galveston in hopes that we might pick up a job. I was in contact with our home office daily. The personnel manager took my daily report and gave me my orders. My orders were always the same – hang around Galveston.
A supply boat without a job is pretty much like a member of a leper colony. We’re not really welcome at any dock. We feel extremely lucky if we can tie alongside another boat and be only the second or third from the dock. I elect to instead find a place, any place, to put the nose on the beach and keep both engines slow ahead… for days.
Chatter on the ship-to-shore and VHF radios is our news source. There’s more talk about winds and seas. Televisions and FM radios do not work. There are too many radar signals bouncing off big metal buildings and hundreds of HF and VHF transmissions going on all the time. I spend a lot of time playing solitaire. Bourre or poker if there’s any interest. The cook is trying to figure out how to stretch three days of food into five. Or six. The muscle freaks are on the back deck pulling 600 pounds of hawser and bench pressing fuel transfer hoses. The engineer is changing the oil in the port generator. The first mate is trying to improve his English by listening to tapes. The deckhands and oilers are in the wheelhouse listening to Fleetwood Mac. The volume on the casette player is wide open.
I’m trying to decide if I want to cheat playing solitaire and barely take notice of the guy coming thru the passageway. I do notice he does not belong here. His bright orange life vest with attached water-proof VHF radio and strobe light tells me he’s different. He follows the rules. His hard hat tells me all I need to know. He asks if we’re for hire. It’s almost 2:00 A.M, August 16th. We sign the papers. He did not flinch when I quoted our day rate. I’m thinking to myself, I would not miss this for the world. If this was my boat, I’d do this for free. We’re going to evacuate an oil rig.
If this was a naval ship I guess I could order “General Quarters”. Instead, I select station three and crank on the ship’s phone. I know the engineer answered but all I hear is engine room sounds. “Jimmy, pump her down deep. Let me know when she’s on the line. We’ll be moving to the dock.”
Station one. The wheelhouse. About forty cranks on the ship’s phone and Fleetwood Mac fades. “All you guys meet me on the back deck.” They thought I had finally gone crazy. I could see it on their faces. The bewilderment shone like the sun. I know it was a strange order, “If it’s welded down, weld it again. If it’s not welded down, get rid of it. Put it on the dock. We’re going out. Yes, the hoses too. Everything!”
Even with one hundred gallons a minute pumps, it take a long time to take on twenty-four thousand gallons of ballast. Add a fanatical engineer to the equation and you have another hour or two. It’s August 17. Man, this dock is getting crowded. The cussing and hollering can be heard over the exhaust stacks and the horn signals.
I would not know for another three days why there were so many ships crisscrossing the Galveston Ship Channel. Why so many supply boats were slow circling. Galveston Coast Guard was nonstop on the VHF. Traffic control was out of control. Mother nature gave a clue as to how much fun we were going to have. We were comfortably riding twenty plus seas as soon as we cleared the jetties. Radar is almost useless – everything is painted white on the screen; continuous spray over the wheelhouse. The windshield is leaking.
We’re headed for East Vermillion 222. Every oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico has a name but knowing the name of a rig does not always help when trying to communicate with them. Some rigs move. Drilling for oil is a treasure hunt. It’s hide and seek, so some rigs move. Here today, gone tomorrow. So, instead of calling a rig by name, the norm is to call by location. Oil drilling lease areas are named. The named areas are divided up into nice little one mile square areas. We’re headed for the East Vermillion area. Block 222. We are on course for a one-on-one introduction to Hurricane Alicia. She’s headed for us. We’re headed for her. Wind? Who knows… at least a hundred. Seas? I’d say twenty-five. Maybe once in a while three sisters at about thirty.
To Be Continued