Life on the Lun-A

Well I made it offshore okay, a bit of sea sickness on the boat out aside.  For some reason to do with how they’ve parked the Astoria (the floating hotel) beside the platform, they aren’t helicoptering people in and out this summer, and instead we’ve got to take a 2-hour trip on a supply boat with a load of seats right in the front, beneath the deck, with no proper view outside.  The sea wasn’t rough, but there was a bit of a swell and I think somebody designed our tub to go up and down Bayou Teche not cross the Sea of Okhotsk, because it was pitching far more than was good for my wellbeing.  I am normally okay on boats, I’ve been on loads of ferries and dive boats, but this wasn’t like being on a boat: it was like being in a dark room which is being chucked about.  Standing by the door looking at the horizon helped a bit, and the sea-sickness tablets even more so, purely because (and I believe this is how they are designed) they sent me straight to sleep and I awoke beneath the Lun-A being yelled at by some huge seafaring Russian to get into my survival suit.

Access to the Astoria is via a personnel transfer capsule called a Frog, in which three people sit and get snatched off the deck of the boat by a crane, hoiked in the air, jiggled about a bit for everyone’s amusement, and plonked on the deck of the Astoria having hopefully managed to keep hold of their baggage which was sitting unsecured on the floor beside them perilously close to making a large splash in the waters below.  It’s not half as bad as it sounds, no worse than having to clamber into the rubber survival suit beforehand, and much better than trying to get the damn thing off afterwards.

The Astoria is a semi-submersible vessel, which I think means it is sinking but in a controlled manner, which is operated by a Norwegian outfit and therefore carries an air of being able to remain semi-sunk without danger of becoming completely so.  There are a few salty old Scandanavian sea dogs running the tub, sporting bushy white beards and looking exactly as a ship’s officer should.  I don’t know their names, but I’d bet at least one of them is called Olaf.  It’s not the prettiest of vessels, as can be seen from the picture here, but inside it is spotlessly clean and extremely functional.  I am in a four-man room which comes with a small en-suite shower and toilet, and two sets of bunk beds which are, I was pleased to discover, long enough to sleep people like me.  Laundry is done on a daily basis, just like in a hotel, with ruthless efficiency.  Were the Astoria to run aground, it would probably be the best run hotel in Russia.

The food is magnificent.  We have two soups, a salad bar, a dessert bar, three different kinds of potato, two different kinds of rice, a pasta dish, two different meats, fish, a fridge full of fruit juice, a freezer full of ice cream, cold meats, cheeses, bread, jam, peanut butter, and fresh fruit.  And most of it varies with each meal.  I’ve not seen anything like it in years.  Nor have the Russians.  They are piling their plates as if the siege of Leningrad restarts at midnight.  Self-discipline is required if you want to return to the mainland the same size and shape as you went out.

Access to the Lun-A is via a large and sturdy gangway between it and the Astoria.  I am working the night shift, which has the advantage of me being able to sleep in the room alone, my three roomates working the day shift.  It has the disadvantage of me falling asleep halfway through your first shift.  You also don’t tend to see any sun, so you have to come to terms with the fact that you will soon assume the complexion of pimps and vampires, although there are not too many of either on the Lun-A platform.  On my first day on the rig I was struck down with a terrible piercing headache, unlike one I’ve ever had before.  It came on suddenly almost as soon as I’d crossed the gangway, and it got worse as I walked around.  I wondered whether it was a side-effect of the sea sickness tablets, then wondered whether it was dehydration, then wondered if I should go and see the medic and get some paracetamol, then wondered if this was some weird affliction that offshore workers get, culminating in the pressure in their head becoming so great that their brain explodes all over the galley one breakfast.  Then I thought I’d try loosening my hard-hat, which I’d screwed so damned tight on my head thinking it would blow off on the wind to the Kamchatka Peninsular, and my headache vanished within a minute.

Life on this platform is simple, being reduced to three activities: working, sleeping, and eating.  I have brought books which I haven’t read, there is a TV which I haven’t watched, and there is a helideck which – I don’t like to boast – I have walked around twice.  The view is quite nice, and although it doesn’t consist of much other than sea and the distant coast of Sakhalin Island, the sunsets can be spectacular and the breaking dawn worth stopping and looking at.  The sea sloshing around the huge concrete legs sometimes takes on a lovely deep green colour normally reserved for brochures of the Seychelles, but at night it turns to an inky black moving threateningly a hundred feet below the deck.  It is not a water into which you would want to fall.

So that’s pretty much it.  Other than possibly changing to the day shift at some point, this is how I will be living until 1st October when I will hopefully become a landlubber again.  If anything exciting happens between now and then, such as the mysterious disappearance of one of the concrete legs, a kraken attack, or an impulsive decision to join a band of marauding pirates, I’ll let you know.


15 thoughts on “Life on the Lun-A

  1. I have only just picked up on your change of, er, address! “Good luck on the ice next year” used to be an ironic New Year’s Eve greeting but it seems appropriate here.

  2. Sounds like quite an adventure. I am curious to know more about your work. Can you describe it or is that classified?!

  3. I’m basically supervising mechanical engineering works in preparation for the commissioning of the platform and the introduction of produced gas (which will eventually end up as LNG being shipped to Korea and Japan). It’s all pretty dull stuff, such as carrying out minor modifications to separator vessels, reapplying insulation to pipework, fireproofing bits and pieces, etc. It might interest an offshore engineer for bit, but a layman wouldn’t be much interested. The whole process and project is interesting enough, but I am alas a very, very minor cog in a huge machine.

  4. Sundowns at sea…Scandinavian sea dogs with salty beards (why is it that in Russian it’s a “sea wolves”? always exaggerating, aren’t we?)…er where was I? right, the seamen, the sunsets, the entertaining food, the gangway above the Depths…And the strong silent type mechanical engineers tending to firestopping details…

    You want us to die of envy?

  5. No way! I spent 3 weeks on the Safe Astoria back in 2006 when it was in Australia attached to Yolla ‘A’

    Be sure to locate the ping pong table in the bottom of one of the legs and have a game with the waves crashing all around you.

  6. Be sure to locate the ping pong table in the bottom of one of the legs and have a game with the waves crashing all around you.

    Heh! I’ve not found that…I’ll have to ask about.

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  9. Hey Tim,….I’ll take credit for changing the catering contractor on the Astoria -:) glad you enjoyed the Sakhalin Holiday accommodation I arranged for you. If you stop complaining about the crew boat and be nice to the captain then they will invite you for their annual fishing trip maybe….where ofcourse you only get to watch other people fish who do have licenses (or are called the harbour master -;) ) Regards also to Yulia from Sunny Texas, Maartje

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