I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
The Tie Down
As I mentioned earlier the jacket section of an oil rig is the large part that sits on the sea bed and extends to the surface where the top sides are built over it. This is usually done by the construction of an LRS1. All of this section is in what we call the 'Splash Zone', the area between the surface of the sea and the modules above the LRS. This area is always shot-blasted and painted to protect it from the elements. The rest of the jacket, which remains under the water, is fitted with Anodes; these attract all the barnacles and the like to protect the structure from the wear and tear below the surface.
Some of these jackets were really large. One, in fact, that I worked on was so large that even laying on its side, the high end which was at the bottom, was higher than the Houses of Parliament. It took us twenty minutes to walk the length of it on the scaffolding that went along the top of the jacket. There were two lifts which took us to the top, with several stops along the way. In fact, on one occasion I was heading for the top in one lift while a large section was being lifted into position. The rigging supervisor, who was in charge of this lift, took a heart attack on the job and died! The lift, which was taking his body down, was stopped halfway in order to hand the dead mans radio over to his replacement who was heading up on the other lift to take over the job. I suppose this may have seemed callous to some, but it just showed the importance of the deadline we had to complete these structures. This was due to the short weather-window they had offshore to sink these structures into position.
The last part of the construction was always what we called the tie down. This was where the jacket was slid onto a barge tied alongside by means of Teflon coated sheeting on the skids, which was also greased to aid the hydraulics. The whole process could take up to three days just to get it onto the barge. Then and only then could the actual tie down commence. This type of work was not suitable for all the welders, as the rods we used (called Gravimax) were actually supposed to be used in ship building where the force of the arc actually pushed the rod along on a wheeled jig, to weld the seams of a deck. They also required the full power of an electric welding machine to burn them. It was quite common to burn these machines out during a tie down, so the old diesel
generator types were brought alongside to power the welders as well as give lighting, so we could work all night.
Now the deck of the barge was not what you could call flat so they used to pack the gaps between the braces and the decks with steel plates called 'packers'. These were just sheets of steel that were welded on top of each other as they were made smaller every layer until they filled the gap, which could be up to three inches. The deck of the barge was always covered in hydraulic liquid and grease, along with pools of diesel and water from where we used to cool off the hot welding tongs. These used to heat up very quickly due to the machine being on full power for so long. It took around two minutes to burn of these Gravimax rods so, after you had burnt a few, the tongs used to get so hot that you could not hold them any more, not even with gloves on!
It was a messy, noisy job and not all the welders could do it. We had to wear wet suits due to the deck being so messy. The fumes that came off from welding through all this dirt and paint used to catch the back of our throats, so we wore masks; usually just a rag tied round our mouths, but it did the job.
Because the barge had to sail on a certain tide, we used to work around the clock in order to complete the tie down on time. It was quite common for us to be asked to work a Darker; this meant a twenty four hour shift, with a twelve hour break, then back to work. Like I said earlier, this was not every welders ideal job, so the incentive of the overtime was used, but even then we could still be shorthanded.
The noise and the fumes from the diesel generators did not help much either, as they were either on the deck with us, or close by on the shore. This was due to the shortage of cables as we used to burn a lot of them out as well with using these machines on full power. It also made the job of the fillers who kept the machines running easier, as they had to carry the fuel containers to the generators.
It was always a hectic time during a tie down, where there would be a lot of men crammed onto the barge deck all trying to complete the job in time. It was noisy and smelly. Between the diesel fumes and the welding fumes you couldn't even taste a cigarette so there was no point in stopping for one. Besides, your hands were always wet and the chance of an electric shock - well that just came with the job!
In the end, however, when all the gear was taken off the barge and piled up in a smoking heap on the jetty and you could see the majestic monster lying on its side ready to go, it was a sight to see. A feeling of achievement would waft over you as you saw it being towed away out to sea. After all you had just spent the last couple of years making that monster and saw it grow from its small beginnings to its completion let alone the tie down, which was always the worst part of the job. But when you turned round you could see this vast empty area where the giant once stood, blocking out the daylight.
Well it's time to clear up and get ready for the next one. Mind you, I am not looking forward to the tie down!