It’s now been three weeks since I arrived on the Lun-A gas production platform in the Sea of Okhotsk. So what has it been like?
In a word: odd. As I said in my earlier post, all anyone does is eat, sleep, and work. There are no weekdays on the Lun-A. There are no Monday mornings, Friday nights, Saturdays, or Sundays. There are no days off. All there is is day shift and night shift. Other than a slight variation in the work, one day is identical to any other. There is little to mark the passage of time, as going to work one morning doesn’t seem like starting a new day as much as repeating the previous one. I’m still on night shift, so I don’t even get to notice changes in the weather, although I have noticed that it has been blowing a gale for the past two weeks almost without letup. And it’s got colder.
People work like this for 28 days before they go on leave for 28 days, then return for 28 days, and so on. They arrived at this period having found that men on platforms turn into violent beasts capable of murder on the 29th day offshore. Tales abound of the scaffolder who missed the helicopter off the Brae-A in 1986 and went on to devour one of the drilling crew in a fit of fury over a missing pair of Redwing boots.
Where was I? Yes, that’s right. People adopt personal techniques to manage the effects of 28 days of utter sameness. Some religiously cross off the date on the calendar. Others deliberately don’t follow the dates at all. Looking out for new faces from a crew change, meaning you no longer have the longest to go, is another trick. Me? I plodded through the nights for the first two weeks, then this week started counting down the days. I couldn’t honestly say that it’s boring, because it’s not. It’s just…the same, every day. A bit like building a railroad, I imagine. It’s hard to find a word for it. Just to get a reference for a single day, I’ve been looking out for something, anything. Even an albatross, but none has flown by. Besides, crossbows are banned on the platform.
Anyway, next Wednesday I’ll be frogged off the Astoria – an operation which still takes place in a howling gale – and go back to the island in the boat which made me seasick in calm waters. Apparently, this boat can clear a reef in 45cm water depth, which tells you all you need to know about its ability to stay level in rough waters. I’ll be relying on the tablets again.
Did I mention people get 28 days holiday after a month on the platform? I don’t. Ordinarily I don’t work offshore, I was seconded here on a one-off assignment, so I’m back to my normal job in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk as soon as I return. Well, not quite. First I have to take a 4-hour trip in a Kamaz bus to some lighthouse in the north eastern outreaches of Sakhalin Island to do an inspection of a staircase, a trip which I am told will involve at least two river crossings. The lighthouse is in an area of the island which is supposed to be stunningly beautiful, a place where scientists gather to watch the whales. When I was on the boat out to the Lun-A and looking out the door I glimpsed a huge, black dorsal fin emerge twice from the water off the stern. I’m hoping, once I’ve done the inspection, I’ll be able to spot a whale or two and get some photos.
Then it’ll be back to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, my home, and my wife. I’m looking forward to it.