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Commercial job yields more pay, insurance

After 36 years in yachting, Capt. Charlie Kiss landed a job on a 106-foot Burger with no future, no benefits and making the same amount of money he’d made 20 years ago. So he decided to put his resume in the ring for a commercial job. He landed one this summer, joining an 85m platform supply vessel.

He’s completed three hitches (stints of 28 days on, 14 days off) and is enjoying the schedule and results. Now he’s earning more than twice what he earned on that Burger, has full medical, dental and vision with a low deductible.

The lifestyle is different.

“The first day I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’ ” he said. “Everything was totally foreign, but within the first week, I was in the groove.

“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “The only bad part is 28 days of not being home. But I had that in yachting, too. Only now, when I go home for two weeks, the phone does not ring. And after my 12-hour shifts, I’m off. I could be in the middle of docking and the relief comes in, he or she takes over. When I’m off, I’m off. They don’t bother me, not even for drills.”

And he doesn’t miss yachting.

“I have enough pictures from the tropics, and I have fond memories of the good owners I worked for,” he said. “All I have to do is watch one episode of Below Deck and I don’t miss it at all.”

Now he’s looking forward to getting more sea time and larger tonnage endorsements, not to mention all the new terminology and technology he’s learning. Here’s a bit from a journal he’s keeping for family and friends, which he shared with The Triton.

Capt. Kiss reporting from 200nm off the Louisiana and Texas coast. My ship is 280 feet in length with a 60-foot beam, 24-foot draft, and 2,998 gross tons. Currently stationed next to a 750-foot drillship off loading cargo and bulk stores since 0130. The trip out of Port Fourchon took 25 hours at 9.7 knots.

We off loaded 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel in approximately five hours. The flow is nothing like I have ever experienced. Drill pipe, drilling mud, Barite, 200kw genset, and a couple of well reamers that rent for $175,000 a day.

The seas are 2-4 feet and clear sunshine. I have my own room below the bridge and an adjacent head. Learning curve is steep and I’m taking it all in. Last night I was on solo watch in dynamic positioning mode as we off loaded the fuel. (By the way, we carry over 300,000 gallons.) With dynamic positioning, the ship will maintain position within 1m or less. Yes, less than 39 inches. Still getting used to most functions and what buttons to press. Many of the monitors are touch screen and as you would expect from a Windows-based program, it does act like a home PC at times. However, there are a total of three control computers and when one acts up the other seamlessly engages. Basically, its pretty cool.

On another hitch in the oil patch. I boarded the ship just in time to oversee loading of risers and various other types of drilling pipe. A riser is a section of drill pipe that connects the drill ship to the seabed. A section is 75 feet long and 4 feet in diameter and weighs up to 60,000 pounds, $37,000, plus color coded for buoyancy properties. A section that is placed near the sea floor in 6,000 feet of water will need less buoyancy than one at lesser depth. Think of a string of pearls in a pool of water and if held in a vertical line the lowest one will be the least buoyant. Increase the buoyancy as you surface and theoretically the sections of risers will float vertically without support from the surface or seabed. This connection from the drill ship to the seabed and further into the earth’s crust is called a drill string. A BOP a.k.a. blowout preventer is secured to the seabed and controls the flow of oil/materials to the surface. This is what failed to close during the Deepwater Horizon incident. At the last minute, we loaded four large boxes weighing 5 tons apiece added to our manifest. Everything from a 15kw genset to frozen food is inside the boxes. The drill ship we serviced last hitch has moved closer inshore from 205nm to 33nm and is basically called a replenishing move. This morning our run was approximately 4 hours compared to the 24 hours previously. We arrived at the 500m exclusion zone just in time for a squall to pass. Conditions went from 2- to 3-foot seas and 15 knots of wind to 6- to 8-foot seas and a steady 25 knots of wind, gusting to 40. My ship rode it out like a charm.

It’s now Saturday morning and the Gulf is slick calm. Since the drill ship is an international entity and cargo was transferred to/from, we are waiting for customs clearance before departure back to Port Fourchon.

I’m well into my third hitch (term for work schedule) out in the Gulf of Mexico. Every day brings a new adventure and additional knowledge. Therefore, I thought you might find the subject about Dynamic Positioning interesting and will make an attempt to describe the technology as simply as possible. (Obviously you can Google the term, but let’s see how much I have learned.)

DP is separated into three classes. Class 1 has no redundancy built into the system and is considered old technology. Class 2 has redundancy that will allow any single function of DP to fail and in turn facilitate an immediate safe departure away from the drilling installation until DP is restored 100 percent. Class 3 has the same redundancy as 2, but will include a separate fire and flood proof control area.

An ice breaker, drill ship, MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit), FSPO (Floating Storage Production Offshore) and any other specialized vessel will most likely be Class 3.

When a vessel transitions from normal propulsion to DP mode, the vessel must come to a full stop downwind of the drill ship or platform and perform a set-and-drift test. This procedure is completed outside the 500m exclusion zone and usually a mile or two away. No vessels are allowed inside 500m unless cleared by the OIM (Offshore Installation Manager).

A set-and-drift test takes 15 minutes. Let’s assume the vessel is drifting 2.1 knots and maintaining a bow heading of 167 degrees. This info, along with complete vessel propulsion and generation power checklists, are e-mailed to the drill ship, which in turn will let us know what location at their hull side to approach.

Do note that we are officially in DP mode at the information transfer. Most of the time we are instructed by the OIM to position on the leeward side because it offers a favorable scenario to perform an emergency punch out (basically, get away from the drill ship immediately). Windward side approaches are rarely requested due to the simple fact of blowing onto the installation. Not a good thing at all … not even a tap.

Once we are given the go ahead to enter the 500m zone, a DPO (Dynamic Positioning Officer, or me in this case) will use a joystick and move into the 250m zone. Rules are changing and it may become position moves (more on that later) starting at 500m zone. The following photo will show you the screen a DPO monitors throughout the entire time the vessel is in DP mode.

Another function of DP is called Weathervane. Think of a wind vane on a roof or other structure; it’s always pointed into the wind. Weathervane mode will keep our bow into the wind and seas to achieve the best angle of comfort.

This feature works well when we are in standby mode during rough weather or in the situation of holding position behind a FSPO vessel. The sensors on board to make DP possible are as follows:

3 gyros to provide true heading

3 DGPS to provide satellite position

3 windvanes to calculate wind speed/direction

2 VRU (Vertical Range Units) to calculate roll/pitch

2 ROT (Rate of Turn) to calculate speed of rotation

1 CYSCAN unit to provide non-satellite position. This unit uses a laser beam reflecting off a fixed reflective beacon on the drillship in the same idea as radar, but more accurate. We’re talking tighter than a millimeter. The sensors are fed into a Kalman Filter and it’s this filter that creates a mathematical model of what position you are asking DP to hold. That’s it, simple as that.

We are nearing the end of a crew hitch and making a run out to the rig one more time before crew changeover. There is very little above-deck cargo aboard, therefore, for crew leaving on Friday, they are optimistic that this is a quick out-and-back trip.

Since it’s a 22-hour run one-way, we need to hightail it inbound by 0600 Thursday morning to accommodate the scheduled transfer by 0700 Friday morning. In reality, a few hours over is not a big deal. The beginning of my hitch was delayed by three days due to the boat being called out 12 hours before crew change. It was great to get paid and catch up on some new movies in the theaters. In some situations, crews are transferred with a crew boat that can run at 25 knots or via helicopter.

My last hitch was 1200-2400 and this one is 2400-1200. I went from sunsets to sunrises. Here are a couple of sunrises with the drill ship.

Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are dead calm. Come October, the cold fronts will start working their way south and conditions are bound to get dicey. I see it as an opportunity to experience gulf weather and the sea capability on my ride. When I first came aboard I was told the ship rode out a hurricane 6 years ago and handled 50- to 60-foot seas. Not that I need to experience the same, but 20-25 sounds like a piece of cake.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com.

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