Its been 8 consecutive days now and the repetitiveness will continue into the weeks ahead along with the lost time with my loved ones.
After an unsettled sleep due to the noise of pops and rattles caused by volumes of heli-ox gas flowing through the pressurisation valve into my thick impenetrable steel chamber that I call home when here, the internal temperature has changed to a warm and sticky environment as the storage depth has increased as we descend deeper to continue the decommissioning work on the platforms ahead.
It’s midnight, its that time again to start another 12-hr shift, the time passes so quickly whilst confined to a constant, continuous pattern.
This is mine. As I struggle to open my eyes as the lights turn on in the system, I hear a familiar voice over the comms saying “Morning lads, pot of hot in the lock” I clamber out of my bunk to be greeted by my 2 team mates and a nice cup of tea.
We sit and discuss what we imagine has been carried out whilst we have been off-shift and what today will bring… hoping a weather day is in the near distance. At 0100hrs the breakfast arrives which is pre-selected by us before being committed into saturation, I often opt for a bowl of tinned oranges, a yoghurt and a large bowl of porridge and honey to slowly release the energy needed for the continuous midwater finning ahead.
Its sufficient and fills the current void within me. Once fed and watered, at 0130hrs the freshly washed and bagged dive gear from yesterday’s escapades arrives via the space like pressurised equipment lock controlled by the life support crew.
Next to arrive is the dive plan & TBT which we review and discuss with our appointed supervisor over the chamber systems communications, planning the job ahead before the bellman travels through the hard steel chamber complex like a hamster into the round encapsulated diving bell to carry out the internal bell checks.
0245hrs - Whilst he is isolated and occupied I get dressed into my diving gear placing my body in the thick black neoprene hot water suit that assists in keeping me warm when entering the cold, black and peaceful environment known as The North Sea, which has now become my worksite for 4-6 months a year.
Whilst sitting dressed in and patiently waiting that familiar voice informs us that they are ready for us, at this point there is no turning back it’s time to get wet.
We slide through the long telescopic trunking that joins the TUP to the fishy smelling bell which is where we become separated from the chamber complex after shutting the door and taking a seal.
The handling system transports us over the moonpool before plummeting into the great big ocean beneath us.
We stop our descent at the working depth where we will remain for the next 6-8hrs known as the bell run.
The bottom door goes pop as we equalise with a rush of freezing cold water passing across the deck plate. I place the tight, heavy yellow helmet on my head which is the only part that remains dry throughout this whole process after confirmation of main gas and communications to the hat, I drop into the abyss through a small diameter hole known in the industry as locking out.
As the job progresses, it’s now time to take my mandatory break before the 4hr point where I scurry back to the illuminated image of the bell in the distant murky waters for a short refreshment break, I clamber into the bell and remove my helmet and start a conversation with my team mate whilst sipping bottled water, updating him on what’s happening subsea, as he doesn’t get to see the job today.
Then a voice comes over the comms asking if I’m suitably refreshed, meaning I’m wanted back in the water to commence the rest of my dive, so the other diver can return for his break. Once in the water and back on the job you know the end is near and the time left is limited.
Before you know it that time approaches and I am asked to secure the worksite for the next team and make my way back to the floating ball of steel. As the maximum in-water time per diver is 6hrs.
Once both divers are inside, and the bellman has stowed and secured the umbilicals and tidied up, the bottom door gets shut, castellated and we get gas blown through the small-bore pipework within the enclosed bell to create a seal separating us from the worksite, we then get brought back to the surface within the bell maintaining a positive pressure, so we can re-attach ourselves with the chamber complex and escape the claustrophic space of the closed diving bell.
The wet gear is removed from our skin and sent back out to be cleaned for tomorrows adventure, whilst we pick our food off a restrictive menu and shower separately.
The food arrives in large foil trays via the pressurised lock.
The meals vary daily but there is always some form of meat and veg with a vegetarian option to replace the large number of calories just burnt.
The whole shift is accomplished within the 12hours allocated (0000-1200hrs) but once the above is all completed its now time for me, my time to contact my family and friends by email and WhatsApp only due to the distortion in my voice, due to residing in the helium atmosphere for long durations this is the only method of viable communication.
Once I have caught up on emails etc I tend to jump in my bunk bed and put my iPad on to watch a new series someone has recommended to me months ago that I often fall asleep too….. Why? It really is an amazing experience in the water, which is why I find myself continually coming back, every job is different, presenting new challenges, the work sites vary, the sea life you may encounter changes on locations, the feeling of isolation and peace, the satisfaction of completing the job ahead, the excitement of working as a team with new and old colleagues and trying different tasks and equipment that very limited people do in this environment.
I do this to give my girls the life I never had, and they deserve.