21 April 2012

The Next Time I Buy 5 Gallons Of Petrol

Oh, for a pint of cider, beef and onion pie and a nice Orwellian book to go with this sight!!
I was mildly excited when I perused the flight detail chit this morning and found that I was due to Belumut Alpha and then onward to East Piatu. Looking at the operational offshore map, I knew that this meant the same thing the last time I was on this very same leg: I was going to refuel offshore. It wasn't a big deal but every little ripple in the monotony was still a welcome ripple. Besides, I could recur what I knew about offshore refuelling procedures. My aircraft captain arrived after I had prepped the paperwork, and asked me if I had refuelled on a rig before to which I answered in the affirmative.

"Good," he said. "Because I haven't."

Helideck hands emptying the baggage before refuelling
Somehow we were assigned to fly only after every other offshore flight had departed. We had just one passenger to East Piatu, with 3 from Belumut and 10 from Piatu respectively returning home to mainland. Somehow it seems like refuelling flights are destined to take off late. This time it happened because the preceding flight encountered an unserviceability and hijacked our aircraft. So we were reassigned to the unserviceable aircraft pending its rectification and being rendered serviceable. Ok, that was not so bad as it allowed my captain and I to gobble lunch. As we both looked under the food warmer lids our enthusiasm was quickly stymied upon finding spiral snails cooked in coconut milk and chilli. These mangrove snails brought back flooding memories of our survival training in the swamps of Pantai Remis where this very same specie boiled in swamp water became the staple diet for our fortnight; my course, his course eight or so years later and every aircrew survival course the RMAF has run. Memories such as these especially vis a vis a meal can be an effective anti-climax.

But we finally mustered the requisite appetite as we knew our flight time would cross the meal schedule and even though we would shut down to refuel, we didn't envisage a casual visit to the galley. As we fed, the helicopter was drawn out at a reluctant tractor-driver's pace from  the hangar and placed upon the dispersal. This ended our meal without much regret at the rush. Start-up and departure was without incident and at long last after an hour's flight at 5000 feet, the twin-platformed rig of Belumut Apha/Ensco 106 floated into view from the horizonless sea.

My Vertical Limit
As the prevailing winds were now from the south-east, it was the captain's approach to land. Shut down was swift, thankfully, as again as I did the last refuelling, I needed the immediate use of the facilities.  I have been on offshore operations for four months now. I must be getting used to the sights on deck. As I went down the same old stairways suspended over the sea, I didn't start quaking at the knees the way Donkey did when crossing the suspension bridge over a boilin' lake of lava. In fact, I took my time to look around, and as I did, I wondered what would go through the minds of these offshore brats living the way they did. Nah, I couldn't feel anything except gratitude that I was getting back to shore. Ok, so that's what they felt when they saw a helicopter coming to pick them up.

Interestingly, this the refuelling process didn't consume as much time as the previous one. Perhaps it was closer between, in about 3 months almost to the date when  I was here for the same purpose and the refuelling before that had lapsed for eight months. The deck crew had their currency, or what these civil world guys called "recency", making them more on the ball this time around.

In fifteen minutes flat, they were done and we were ready to start-up. Kindly, the helideck landing officer asked us if we needed anything courtesy of the Belumut Apha galley. My captain said yes, something light would be nice. Then in a few minutes, after the rotors were running and the passengers were on board, one of the helideck crew handed him a bag of goodies.

My Cup Runneth Over
After lift-off,  a  familiar hollow feeling stirred in our tummies. The captain rummaged in the bag and clicked his tongue in startlement.  He held in his hand a crystalline tumbler. "They gave us cups!!!" he said, his eyes wide with genuine amusement.

Well, I guess there are always free gifts whenever you fill up a full tank at a petrol station.

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