Fly to Africa. Survive helicopter death flight to oil rig. Do no work for three weeks. Repeat

Pro tip: Ship kit and clear customs before you send people to oil rigs

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On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, our end-of-week wander through readers' reminiscences of being asked to do dumb things in nasty places and unsociable hours.

This week, meet “Ashley”, who wrote to tell us of the time he was asked to install some kit on an oil rig off the coast of Africa.

Ashley and his colleagues built and tested the machines and, because it's costly to spend time on rigs, prepared an installation plan that should have taken a day or two.

The kit shipped on Friday afternoon, at what Ashley said were “ungodly rates” required to move it fast.

Ashley was the next to move.

“Due to visa requirements I had to fly from Heathrow to a friendly African nation to get a visa which took 24 hours, then to our less friendly African nation where I managed three hours in a hotel room to try and get some sleep before a third flight to a small island where I got onboard a suspiciously third world looking chopper for the flight out to the rig,” Ashley told us.

“While I was waiting for the chopper flight one of the local ground crew decided to practice his English on me and regaled me in halting English punctuated with gesticulations with the story of a flight a few months back that had taken off, climbed into clouds, turned right rather than left and flown into the side of the mountain that took up most of the island.”

Ashley's flight was uneventful and a couple of hours later he landed on the rig after 52 hours of travel!

But the computer wasn't there. So Ashley started waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

“After a few days it became apparent that the gear wasn't through customs,” he recalls, so he “started a routine of checking with the office each day only to be told that clearance was imminent and then finding out 24 hours later that it was delayed again.”

“This went on for 21 days. During that time I read 19 books (no streaming videos allowed over the satellite internet link) and got to know a whole lot about 1960's oil rig technology, middle eastern food, and the horrors of Texans 'dipping'.”

Dipping? Please explain, Ashley.

“For those who haven't experienced such a thing, just imagine a bunch of guys walking around all day with a clear plastic bottle that contains a rancid mixture of spit and black goo. It's vile.”

Maybe we shouldn't have asked.

After three weeks of waiting, Ashley cracked and “requested forcefully” that he be allowed to go home. 36 hours later he was home on Friday evening. And on Sunday evening the call came to tell him the computers had cleared customs.

So off he went for the 52-hour plane, visa, plane, chopper routine.

“As I stepped off the chopper I was met by the guy who was 'supervising' me,” Ashley told us. “He told me that they had had a problem with the rig while I was in transit and had had to evacuate to the lifeboats. They had cancelled the drilling program and my gear was no longer needed.”

So he hopped back on the chopper to head home.

Remember that mention of a mountain one could quite easily fly into?

Ashley says that on the return chopper flight “The weather was bad with rain and a low overcast. We climbed straight into the clouds where we stayed for the first half of the flight. After that we started des cending slowly towards the ocean still completely ensconced in cloud with rain.”

“As we got down to 4,000 and then 3,000 feet the pucker factor was coming into play. To make it worse we were on a direct course for the airfield which happened to be on the other side of that mountain.”

“Eventually we popped out of the bottom of the cloud at a little under 2,000 feet and after a bit made a left turn to take us around the mountain that we could see disappearing up into the cloud. From there the flight was uneventful and my blood pressure was more or less back to normal by the time we landed. It took three more flights to make it back home.”

Ashley's tally from this gig was:

  • 29 days away from home;
  • 23 books read;
  • 25 per cent increase in bench press personal best, thanks to lots of time to spend in the oil rig gym;
  • Six pounds lost;
  • Zero sightings of the kit he was hired to install.

“So all in all I guess it was a productive trip,” he reckons.

Have you had a longer combination of travel and waiting before a gig? Write to me with your story and you, yes you, might find yourself in a future On-Call! ®

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