Chapter 12: Back Home

I did 1 more job in Indonesia during this period, working for SubSea Ocean Services. It was an unusual set-up for diving companies. They specialised in underwater welding, and approached this by taking coded welders, and putting them through a diving course. Instead of being “free lance”, their divers were employees on contract.Their tours of work were different, too. They would work offshore for 3-4 weeks, then a flight back to UK, but instead of being on leave, they had to report into work at their headquarters, 9-5,  5 days a week,and write up reports, make sure their welding codings were up to date, and generally not go out on the piss like normal divers. Still, they made up for that on the occasions we managed to get ashore during the job. Graham G and I had been taken on as rigger/divers. Our job was to erect the welding habitats, and clean marine growth from the welding locations. It was good, interesting work. Graham was on the midday to midnight shift, I worked opposite, starting at midnight, and finishing my shift at noon. It was so hot then that sleep was impossible, so we’d have lunch, then climb on top of one of the containers and take a bottle of whisky with us. We’d listen to cassette music (Barbara Streisand “Woman in Love” was favourite over most of the trip) smoke cigarettes and finish the whisky, finally rolling into our bunks around 3 or 4 pm, and try to sleep in the heat. A frenchman, Jean-Pierre, was the barge foreman, again a pleasant chap, very sociable. When he came on board, he’d bought a young  parrot, and had its wings clipped so it couldn’t fly off. He used to leave it overnight in the container used for laundry, with 2 washing machines and 2 dryers, and some washing lines hung up inside. The parrot used to sleep on one of the washing lines, with its head tucked under its wing. I’d go in there at dawn with a piece of fruit for his breakfast. It would be a bit grumpy when I woke him up, and bite me on the finger until he got his fruit, then I’d carry him out to the dive shack. We had a washing line outside the shack, for hanging overalls and wet suits, so I’d put him on there, where he’d run up and down watching the action all day. Jean- Pierre would come along after breakfast, and spend 10 minutes with the parrot, trying to get him to speak French. The parrot would look at him in stony silence as Jean-Pierre mouthed loving Frernch phrases in a forlorn attempt to get the parrot to speak. There was a deck speakerfrom the dive shack to pass on instructions from the supervisor to the deck crew, and which also relayed conversations between the superviasor and the diver. So you’d hear “Left Surface” from the diver, also “On the bottom”, “leaving bottom” “On my stop” and various other bits of chatter. After a couple of weeks, Jean-Pierre was less than impressed when he came along for his morning talk with the parrot.

“Bonjour, mon petit perroquet” said Jean- Pierre

“Left Surface” said the parrot.

It also came to a bad end, I believe. There were plenty of sea-snakes around, and the supv, Pete F was bitten on the wrist by one. He was a roughie-toughie Hell’s Angel, so he grabbed the snake, and pulled its head off. He decided to skin it, and make a belt for himself. Next day when I brought out the parrot, I wondered what it would make of the snakeskin. I brought it out, dangled it in front of the parrot, which forgot he’d had his wings clipped, and shot into the air, flapping like a good ‘un, and disappeared over the horizon, never to be seen again. With any luck, it ended up in a Jakarta brothel saying “On the bottom” for clients.

The dead snake thet did for our parrot

The whole diving  set-up was on a dumb barge (one without it’s own propulsion), which would be towed to location by a couple of small tugs, which would then lay our anchors. About 10 containers housed accommodation, laundry, messing, toilets, showers, workshop and diving equipment.  Routine inspection had revealed a number of faults in the welds on many of the jackets,which had to be repaired. Once in position, we’d establish a swim line to the jacket, and then take a down line to the repair site, which we’d secure around a bracing or leg. Sections of the habitat would be lowered down by the onboard crane, a “Cherry Picker”, and we’d manouevre these sections into positionaround the repair zone, and bolt them together. Each habitat had been designed to fit a specific location, and would have to be built around a leg with its connecting horizontal and diagonal braces (called “nodes). Once in position, all the gaps around these members would be sealed off with rubber inserts. So you now had a metal hut constructed around a “node”. You entered from underneath, taking an air hose, and if your rubber seals were working, the air from the hose would displace the seawater from the habitat, leaving an air filled space, in which the welder/diver could clean off the weld repair, then grind out the fault, and finally repair it. An independent inspector would then dive down, to assess the repair. If all was well, we’d dismantle the habitat and move to the next repair site. It was a good job for me, with a good bunch of lads, a job I was happy to be on. I signed up for 2 x 3 month trips, with a short break inbetween. Unfortunately, the last trip ended prematurely when the barge was hit by a hurricane which snapped our moorings like rubber bands. It was a surreal experience, surrounded by water spouts, Lightning bolts hitting the water steam rising at each strike, thunder rattling our teeth, the anchor wires singing before they snapped, and the wind giving a constant low howl, as if the demons of Hell were after us. We had absolutely no control over the barge, and lost a lot of equipment over the side. We were lucky not to sink, dressed in lifejackets all the time, and were ready to jump into the liferafts at any moment. The storm continued for more than 24 hours, after which it abated sufficiently  for us to be picked up by the tugs, and towed back to Jakarta. This coincided with a takeover bid for the company by another bigger diving company, who wanted to employ their welding expertise in the North Sea, so that was the end of that contract. Just a little footnote on that; Charlie was our Company onshore liason, responsible for the day to day requirements for the barge, and he was also charged with disposing of all the equipment. When I talked to Charlie about the barge, he said I could have the barge with all the contents for nothing – no cost, but I would be responsible for returning it to Singapore, after which I could do what I wanted with it. I talked it over with my mate Graham – our own diving company for nothing! – but we bottled out, finally, too scared to take it on.

While the barge was being towed into Jakarta, most of the divers were doing deckwork. One of them, Jan S, an American had total alopecia, not a hair anywhere on his body. He was doing some grinding on deck, when the grinding disc shattered, and hit his kneecap, bits embedded all over his leg, blood sprayed on the deck, and poor Jan rolling in agony in his own blood. We got him strapped up, and called for a fast launch to take him to Jakarta hospital ASAP, and he was soon whisked off. It  took another 2 days for us to get back to Jakarta, and then we had a few days onshore to de-mob the barge, before being de-mobbed ourselves. It was soon back in the old routine, holed up in the hotel, down the steps with the John Keats quote  “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”  to the “massage parlour”. I’d managed to avoid encounters with any of the girls there, due to the high incidence of VD, but I enjoyed having a drink and the craic in there, always something going on. After a couple of days, I asked how Jan was getting on, and was told he was still in hospital. I thought I’d go up and visit him, and Charlie decided he’d come with me. We took a cab up, and found out which ward he was on. He was recovering OK, but was quite fed up with everything – little English spoken, poor food, not very clean general wards, etc, and was even more pissed off when we told him where we were staying. This was his first trip, and he’d not discovered any of the available delights of Jakarta yet. He was so pissed off, in fact, that we decided to kidnap him, and get him down to the brothel. I went and borrowed a wheelchair, told the reception that we had to take him to the office, as there was an enquiry into the accident, and they needed to interview him, but we’d have him back later. They were happy enough to go along with this, as we were white men, so must know what we were doing. I signed a release form, we got him dressed in underpants and a blanket, loaded him into the wheelchair and called for a cab. He was chuffed to bits when we got him downtown, and all the divers came out to lift him and the wheelchair down the John Keats steps into the dim world of women, booze and music, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He was soon downing beers, while the girls all clamoured round, fascinated by a completely hairless white man in underpants and a blanket, with his leg strapped up, in a wheelchair. They were all most solicitous about his injuries, and decided amongst themselved which girl should do the honours -“Aan go with him – she very gentle!” but decided that 2 other girls would also join in the fun, to hold his hand if anything hurt, and also to stroke his bald head, which fascinated them all. Jan was in there almost 2 hours, having sent out for intermediate beer supplies, before eventually returning to our table with an ear to ear smile. He said the room was cleaner than the hospital, and decided he’d stay there until he’d recovered sufficiently to fly home, which he did 4 or 5 days later – going home for a rest said Jan, looking completely knackered and firing blanks by that time. I also returned to UK around the same time, but Graham had decided to stay out there, and eventually met a girl from Liverpool who he hooked up with, and finally married. One final note about Jan; by pure chance I met him out in India a few years later, when we were booked on the same flight to UK. He had no ready cash, but I’d just finished a 2 month stint on the Bombay High, and had taken a $100 sub from my company to pay for the expenses going home, but they had given me the sub in Indian Rupees. We were on an Air India flight going from Bombay to uk, with a stop in Delhi. Jan and I organised seats together near the back of the plane, and as soon as the plane took off, we called for service, and asked for 2 bottles of champagne – we hadn’t seen each other for some time, we’d both been working hard for weeks, and hadn’t had a drink since forever. We didn’t expect free drinks as we’d ordered champagne, so when the steward came up with the trolley, I asked how much, and he gave me a price in dollars. I asked him how much that was in Rupees. He stared fascinated at the hairless white man Jan, and said, “sorry Sir, we don’t take Ruppees, only dollars or Sterling”
“Hang on, ” I said, “We’re on an Air India Flight between Bombay and Delhi, and you don’t take Indian Currency? That can’t be right?”
Our beaming steward gave that little sideways shake of his head, and said, “I’m so sorry Sir, but Indian currency is a forbidden currency! You cannot buy drinks or anything else on this flight with that currency!”
Jan looked at him, locking his eyes, and said “I’ve just done 2 months offshore without a drink. I have a 2-day series of flights, and although we have cash, you expect me to sit on this airplane without a drink because you don’t accept your own fucking currency in your own fucking country?? Do you think I am stupid???”
The steward beamed, and said, “Please let me go and speak to the Purser” He returned shorly, saying “Air India is delighted to give youy complimentary drinks for the remainder of your flight, and we would also like to re-seat you both in Business Class” What a fucking result! Fly Air India!!!!

I started looking for work when I got back, and soon ended up back in Denmark with OTS. I worked the rest of the season, up to October, after which we were all demobbed. The new season wouldn’t start until the following March/April, so I decided to look for work in the Middle East or India. I soon picked up a 7 week job with Wharton Williams, as Inspection Co-ordinator on a barge working the Bombay high. Shortly before I left, I was contacted by Mobil Oil in Libya, asking if I’d be interested in a full time job with them. I told them I wouldn’t be available for a couple of months – that was OK, as there was a heap of paperwork to sort out, so off I went to Bombay for my 7 weeks, then returned to UK and a couple of weeks later out I went again to Ras Lanuf in Libya, for the next 4 or 5 years.
© mick binns 2018