Riding Out a Hurricane on a Gulf Drilling Rig
Most of you know that we’ve had a hurricane come through the Southeast recently. Living in Georgia has been a blessing, though, because we have been spared any big storms for years. Last big one was in ’62, I’m told. The Carolinas weren’t so lucky. It was mostly a water event, not too much wind damage, but some others had a bad time. Everything missed my house, my rig and my water truck, so all is well. We couldn’t go to town for a couple days without four-wheel drive, but that was not a problem.
It was different when I lived in Texas. We could count on a storm almost every year, and some of them tore things up pretty good.
One year in the late ’70s, I was running fishing tools out of Houston when a pretty big storm came in the Gulf. Standard procedure was to secure all operations and evacuate all the offshore rigs. I was at the shop when we got a call that a rig had stuck a storm plug and needed a fisherman. Seemed strange that everybody was coming in and I was going out, but that’s the way it works sometimes. The storm was getting closer, with heavy rain when I left.
It was normally a two hour drive to the dock, but it took quite a bit longer that day. I got to within 20 miles, and there was a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper blocking the road. Told me it was flooded and I couldn’t go. I told him what I was doing and why. We argued for a while, and he made me sign a piece of paper that said I was responsible for myself, and nobody would come get me if I drowned or blew away. The road south of Anahuac, Texas, is dead flat — no trees, no landmarks of any kind and covered with about 8 inches of water from horizon to horizon. I used the power lines as a guide, and tried to stay in the middle of the road.
When I finally got to the dock, the weather was pretty bad, and the guys were amazed that anybody would be foolish enough to come in. They hoisted my car up on top of a conex box and tied it down. They told me that nothing was going out, and I’d just have to ride it out with them. They had a big concrete bunker-type building, so that was no problem. We drank coffee and watched the storm. After a while, a Coast Guard helicopter radioed the base and asked if they could drop off a couple shrimpers they had saved, and go back out. We said “Sure, if you’ll take somebody back out with you.” We explained the problem, and they agreed.
Even compared to Vietnam, that was one of the roughest rides ever. I gotta hand it to that pilot. He sure could fly. We got to the rig and made a couple passes to figure out how to land on the helicopter deck. The crew had spread a big cargo net over the deck to secure things just in case. When we finally came in and I got ready to get off, I glanced at the airspeed indicator and realized that in order to hover, we were making 70 knots forward air speed. Like a snake, I slithered over the edge of the hatch and latched on to the cargo net. When the helicopter left, I crawled to crew quarters.
The rig was an interesting one. It was a tender rig. This means that the wells, the derrick and the draw works were on a permanent platform sitting on bottom. Everything else was on an anchored barge tied to the platform. The only way to the floor was a stairway called “the widow maker” that came down to the pipe rack. With 10 foot seas, you had to time things just right. I went to the floor to assess the situation, since I didn’t have any tools, and didn’t expect to get any right away.
As the day wore on, they evacuated everyone but about 10 of us. By that time, the storm had the temperament of an ex-wife and mother-in-law combined. By dark, I had worked the pipe enough to free the storm plug, and we were able to set it, when the anchors on the barge gave way, and the rest of the rig disappeared into the storm, leaving us without power 60 feet above the waves. The platform was secure and the well was secure, but we were stranded. I found out later that ocean-going tugs chased that barge almost to Corpus Christi before they could get a line on her. We waited two days, getting by on peanut butter and boiled eggs. I carry toilet paper in my tool box to this day.
I still chuckle at my neighbors here in Georgia when they talk about how bad this year’s storm was.
For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/wayne.