27 November 2013

Some Days Are Stone

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First of all, please forgive the quality of the video. I don't know why that even after 2 hours of video uploading time, the video here is as great as VHS as viewed through frosted glass. I just thought it would be a change to share some footage of an orbit at a rig where our friends were carrying out a passenger drop-off and pick up. The other one below is one of me passing over FSO Bunga Kertas(Floating Storage and Offloading) or Bougainvillea.  We often land on FSO Bunga Kertas. Anyway, on with the matter at hand.

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There are days when I get the feeling that the Fellow Upstairs has nodded off in the rising hours of the local sun. Yesterday was one such day. This seeming to be the incipient monsoon, and the fact that I was scheduled for the 0930 muster, egged me on to take an early morning ride to Kemasik and back. I dutifully roused myself from sleep, reverse-engineered myself into the cycling shorts and vest, then set out the gate with Colbie in compressed audio barking through the headlamp mp3 player. A left turn, past the hamlet of Kampung Cabang where I unsuccessfully cast my vote during the general election this mid-year and skimmed past the cow-pie punctuated windies to Kemasik. I struggled my way up the gradients, and kept my butt off the pogoing Selle as I came down at 53kmh, the wind roar rewarding my burning lungs with the mist-laden, chilled air from a very rainy night that rested over the winding streams of the back valleys of Kerteh. The air was so saturated that my rearview mirror clouded up as no matter how often I glove-polished it. I have not seen mornings such as these since Dorsett in winter.
 
At the end of the road where route T129 joins T13 I checked the time, and debated whether or not to press on to Air Jernih, making a neat 33km circuit for what it was worth on a morning after ten dull days into the cycling hiatus. It was 0745. I had about 6km to Air Jernih, and 16 km on the turnback therefrom. I could make it back home by 0845, with time for a second brewing of espresso. A right turn began the hot and heavy ascends over the rolling road towards Air Jernih, without the option of Milo at the roadside shack for replenishment of body fluids and sugar (!!) before panting my way home.
 
I made the turnback successfully at the canteen shack when I noticed something peculiar. This is never good news on a two-wheeler. Peculiar always spells disaster. The peculiarity at hand being, that I sensed that the directional control on the Apollo Exceed was getting iffy, but as I gazed down the steering stem, the front tyre looked as turgid as ever. The fact that I was huffing and puffing uphill may have masked the symptoms, but as the road leveled, I had to  conclude that if the front wasn't going flat, then the wandering front was because of a deflating rear tyre.
 
I had the dreaded feeling that my morning routine was going to be cruelly interrupted. I stifled the profanity which strained against my chinstrap, because it's bad enough having to apply novice tube-changing skills, but to have to do it on a tight schedule before a 0930 muster, at the roadside, knowing full well that mud and other FOD would get into the rims and undo my efforts was enough to strike my name off the canonisation nominal roll. I looked at the clock on the odometer. 0815-ish. I had best get to it. Things went not too annoyingly save for a hand pump tube that was too short to reach the presta valve, threatening to sever the valve where it joined the inner tube and certainly snap the valve tip. It has happened. I considered transmitting a PAN call to me better half, but I opted for the long and winding road so as not to have to unfurl the white flag. But lesser miracles did prevail, only to be thwarted when in my desperation I couldn't align the rear wheel back into the rear dropout. The tyre snagged against the brake pads. I was hard pressed for time, so just snapped the wheel in place with the v-brakes undone as I pedaled my way home drowning my frustration in James Blunt's music.
 
Thankfully I made the muster on time. Perhaps the Fellow Upstairs had blinked His eyes open before rolling over for an extended nap. That's why I made to work on time. The rest of the proceedings seemed to be uneventful. I prepped the multi-sector log, the platform chits and what have you. Departure was the captain's, and all three stops were my approaches. It was looking up, till the captain looked down at the instruments as I was executing a base turn to Tapis.
 
There was a red flashing light. There was a numeral value of zero to think about. An emergency was at hand. Spurious as it may have been, it still needed crew handling. It was not about panic. But when you see this, you start thinking, "C'mon!!!!!", in the voice of Ian Gomez's Andy Torres from Cougar Town. "C'mon"!! You have people to whatsapp in the evening, websites to look into, facebook to send snide remarks to, fish curry to drink down and spending the night without so much as a night stop kit on a rig isn't the evening you foresaw for yourself.
 
I concentrated on the approach while the captain flipped through the checklist. Our symptoms were not listed. We diagnosed collectively that this was spurious. Decisions were made following the diagnosis. I sat in the cockpit while he went down to oversee the passenger drop-off and pick up. Other than for that flashing caption, all else about the mammoiselle stood steady.
Plankton playing under the waters
I was the handling pilot en route back to Kerteh. The sun was blazing cheerfully through broken clouds. As the monsoon had not gained its full swing, the plankton had sunbathing schedules to jostle for. I am still in awe at this sight, as I never thought they would be visible to the naked eye. Sometimes marine scum can come close to looking like plankton when viewed from a distance, but having cruised close to the surface as their cheesy streaks tossed below the waves, you know that it's neither flotsam nor jetsam. This somewhat dismal evening the sight of plankton lines dancing just beneath the rippling crystalline sea surface like submerged cirro-stratus almost seemed consoling, encouraging even, that we were ever surely heading home. I gazed at their patterns lost in my many thoughts, till the next range call reeled me back to the necessary descent profiles as we adjusted for an approach to Kerteh.
 
A fishing boat harvesting in the rich waters
We all know that we can fall back on our training when the lights start to blink. But we hate having our routine interrupted. Most certainly we hate getting our feet wet.
 
And Fellow Upstairs. Wake up already okay?



06 November 2013

Rainbows Chasing



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The weeks have begun to roll into a borderless mass. I forget where the preceding  month ends and where the one I am in begins. It appears to me that time has passed like flipping pages consisting of flight routes and sector details, local instructions and operations meetings and days off that get consumed in the periodic punctuations of attending mass at church.
 
The mornings have grown darker. The sun has been veiled in thick clouds that descend to ground, an alarm buzzer that wakes me up to the patter of rain on the driveway and mornings wet from the afternoon before. Cycling is a rare and thereby celebratory event. This hobbit's breakfasts, second breakfasts, elevenses et al have placed upon him a growing girth that would make proud the stoutest grizzly in preparation for a very enduring winter. It is certain that the monsoon has arrived, albeit not it full fury. The certainty that the monsoon has begun its reign, pun inadvertent, is that the captains execute approaches less than half as frequently as copilots, and surely as anything else they like this development less than half as well as they should, seeing that they can gloat about their classic approaches a mere quarter of the time.
 
This year the monsoon foretold its arrival with frontal rains replete with lightning plunging in bright but noiseless bolts into the darkened sea. I wouldn't know if it was really noiseless or that we can't expect to hear anything above the double jeopardy of the aircraft noise and good insular headsets that carry the noise of radio chatter eclipsing every other sonic nuance in a flight time. Whichever way it went, the sight of lightning is most discomforting as nobody wants one of those on his tail as it heralds the loss of all directional devices such as compasses and radio magnetic indicators, and in the poor visibility which comes with bad weather, not knowing where we are headed.
 
Along with the gradual change in weather, the management  has done the routine thing by organising the "monsoon brief" which outlines the manner in which we are to conduct our flight operations during this rather testy time. Ticking off currency checklists on precision approaches and special visual arrivals in order to be sure that we can make it home in inclement weather, and if not, select an alternative place to set down, has become the season's in-thing.
 
It has been three continuous days of departing in bad weather and returning in the same. For now, the nasties sit in the 15-30 mile band offshore, but as I have been witness to, will gradually menace the areas closer to the rigs once they tire of taunting us too close to recovery. But we deal with this year in and year out. The business of drawing black gold out of mother earth is relentless. And right here where we dwell, all the more important it is to drill unabated to buffer our errors in governance.
 
The offshore theatre has been colourful of late. With the interplay of frontal rains and the sun's track across the meridian, we have often ended up being chased by rainbows. I can't place a smiley here in blogger, right? Last year at this time we were not flying much, with the EC225 being grounded. Today we contend with not just our competitor, but with guest operators from the Middle East.  They were signed up on a contract to fill in where our competitors across the tarmac couldn't in our technical absence. All this makes for a crowded indeed offshore airspace. For instance, it is becoming increasingly common to loiter a mile off from a rig while waiting for our competitors or guest alike to complete their drop-off/pick-up at the rigs of our destination. More mobile rigs and jack-ups have invaded the sea, crowding up the oil rig clusters encircling Kerteh's oil and gas epicentre. I suppose this is why there is always a shortage of helicopter pilots in the oil and gas industry; not just because it's a frenetic industry, but that the drilling points and the operations support barges keep increasing and adding to their existing numbers.
 
And with that, I believe, I am settled into this job at last.