27 November 2013

Some Days Are Stone

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.

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?


  1. Jeffrey,Greetings!!!! As the North East monsoon releases it's seasonal deluge, we hope you and the family are ok and dry. It must be hard to live in Kerteh at this rime of the year. As for working, I cannot imagine a more challenging time of the year to operate a helicopter. Please fly safe.... There are a few question that I would like to ask you, both personal and professional, however I don't think putting it in the comments section of this blog is fair to you and the readers. Try as I might, I could'nt find your email.... so if I give you my email, perhaps I could reply to yours. hanjourtime@gmail.com BTW another great post with "Some days are stone"!!!! advance seasons greetings and fly safe. I might reply late as I am on the road. Take care and blue side up

  2. Mate, please stay safe on the road.
    You are welcome to ask questions of any nature, and I shall answer in the spirit of this blog, which is to protect the guilty!!
    I thank you for your thoughts, and yes, it is challenging to fly in this hellacious weather. Please agree that instruments are so invaluable at these times!!!! we are holding ground so far in bonny Kerteh, and we pray that His grace will break the onslaught for the sake of many who suffer worse than we do.
    Merry Christmas, and may naught mar the spirit in which He came to make us His own.