December 81, for the fifth time this year I find myself working again in the GOM (Gulf of Mexico) on the TARASCO barge. My arrival on board did not happen without some mishaps that I think are at the root of my first three gray hairs.
It all started on November 30, the day of my departure on the AF 067 flight to Houston. That day, as usual, I chose a seat next to a window in the right row.
On board of the plane, all was quiet, the afternoon film was over and most of the passengers were reading or dozing while waiting for lunch. I had opened my window pane and to pass time, looked the Atlantic Ocean scrolling some 40,000 feet below.
No land or no boat was visible,water out of sight everywhere. Then suddenly at the horizon a small black dot followed by a white streak appeared.
- Look, a plane! I thought immediately.
Of course, at this altitude the horizontal visibility was excellent and exceeded several tens of kilometers. While continuing my observation, I could now see that the other plane which was flying at two o’clock of our axis followed a course more or less perpendicular to ours.
As the seconds passed, I could see that the angle of approach of the two planes did not change. Clearly, this therefore meant that we would cross. What worried me a bit was that the other aircraft was flying at about the same flight level that we did.
Having myself passed my private pilot's license a few years earlier, I knew that theoretically the vertical distance between the two aircrafts should have been at least 300 meters. It was now about one minute that I started to observe the other plane and as time passed, that one seemed to come dangerously close.
- What are the pilots doing I thought?
For sure they have each connected the autopilot and do not pay attention to what is happening outside.
- Do I have time to ring and inform the hostess of the situation?
- NO TOO LATE! Through the window, I can see the other plane rushing right on us and then suddenly disappears from my field of vision. He just passed over us at less than fifty meters. In the cabin, we suddenly heard the reactor noise during a brief moment which was immediately followed by some turbulence.
Nobody in the cabin except a few passengers realized this near miss, apparently not even the pilots. I knew that we had a narrow escape.
Result, during the evening in Mexico City I need to have some tequila's in the Zona Rosa bars to get rid of these emotions.
Next morning up at 04:30 a.m. with a small headache.
For I do not know why, we need to get to Ciudad del Carmen via Mérida in place of a direct flight as we did to the accustomed.
06:30 a.m. departure of the flight to Merida in Boeing 637.
The flight is proceeding smoothly. Then shortly before to begin its descent, the captain made us the following announcement:
- Señoras y señores,
-We soon arrive in Mérida.
- Landing conditions are not very good because there is a thick ground fog.
- We will try one approach, but in case of failure, we will be diverted to Cancun where the weather is better.
- Now please straighten you seat etc. etc. etc...
Once again I am sitting next to a window at the back of the plane. Slowly, the pilot reduced speed and began his descent to the airport.
A few minutes later, flaps down. We are always in the clouds. Lowering of the landing gear. Another turn to the left and here we are in final approach.
Pilots have set full flaps and are now playing with the throttle to maintain a good descent angle. Through the window, still nothing to see, we are in a pea soup. Instinctively I tightened my belt a little more.
From the noise of the engines, I think we must not be far from the runway.
That's it, I see the ground. We are already very low, 20 to 30 meters at most. Suddenly under the cabin, grass. We are not at all over the runway.
At the same time, in the cockpit the pilots set full speed on the engines and after a few seconds the aircraft starts to climb towards the sky while taking the landing gear in.
But the Boeing had barely come up a few meters that I saw at once the right wing pass just above the control tower.
-Wouah! we still escape.
Moments later, once the situation was well under control, a new announcement came through the microphone.
- Señoras y señores as you were able to realize for yourself, ground visibility was not very good. As the airport is not equipped with an adequate approach system, we will divert to Cancun. We apologize for the inconvenience etc ....
Few tens of minutes later we made a normal landing on the said airport.
Around noon, we learned that the fog rose in Mérida and we could leave. Finally, in the late afternoon we arrived safely at Ciudad Del Carmen where we found our usual hotel where we will spend the night.
Needless to say, we felt obliged to go for some ” cervezas” in greasy local bars to (again) get rid of our emotions.
Third day of this long journey, meeting at 9:00 a.m. at the heliport.
There, a great, big, fat and sticky security officer controls our papers before allowing us to go into the waiting room for the people embarking on the offshore installations. Once the formalities completed, an officer picked us up to lead us to the chopper.
I recognize Rambo a veteran of the Vietnam War that given his way to fly, has apparently kept certain nostalgia of this period. Quietly, after putting our luggage in the hold, we sit on the benches.
Rambo greets us and asks us to attach the belts and put our ear muffs on, then once his checklist completed starts the engine.
The rotors begin to turn. The more they turn, the more noise and vibration in the cabin became intense. Here it is, the rotation speed of the blades must be good.
The pilot takes a quick look left and right, and then activates his sticks. The helicopter slowly rises 2 to 3 meters, inclines slightly forward and begins to fly toward the runway.
Small turn to the left , there it is, we are facing the sea and our Rambo begins its ascent.
- BANG ! - BANG!
Suddenly, an explosion is to be heard above our heads.
- What is it?
We get worried because apparently the situation is not normal. Indeed, in less time than it takes to say, the pilot lands the chopper on the ground and shout us to evacuate.
No need to tell us twice, we open both side doors and get out quickly from the helicopter.
Outside, a liquid is spurting intermittently below the main rotor. In our minds immediately the signal "DANGER OF EXPLOSION" lights and we start to run as fast as we can to get away from the danger zone.
Great moment of stress, will it explode or not? Luckily, nothing happens. The rotors are now completely stopped and nothing sprays from the engine anymore.
Apparently a simple hydraulic hose that is broken. Clearly, this is not yet the time we will go to heaven.
An hour later, another helicopter was ready to take us to the field where we finally arrived safely on the 2 December 81.
So I'm finally back on board after this eventful trip, Kuku our administrative informs me that I am doing the night shift.
Shit, I don’t like this shift too much because I always find it difficult to fall asleep in the afternoon and so have the most difficulties to get up at 11 p.m.
Fortunately for me, I wouldn't support this for long because it is expected that I will go in sat in 3 days.
Indeed, on the 6 of December at noon, I’m back in the recompression living chamber with my colleague, the great Laurent. Just time to do a small siesta and we are ready to go for a first dive. As it’s already 15 hours that I am up, Laurent, who was doing the day shift, offers to make the dive. I will therefore be his bellman.
Everything goes well on this first dive and at 11:30 p.m. the diving bell is back on deck. Quick, a little shower, a small meal and here I go for a non-stop twelve hours sleep.
Presently, we are making pipelines connections by hyperbaric welding, which means that most of the dives carried out during the following days are intended to prepare the installation of an underwater welding Chamber.
Friday, December 11, 11:15 a.m. It's again my turn to dive. While my colleague goes into the diving bell to make the check-list, my Belgian compatriot Eugene, who is the diving supervisor of the night shift quickly explains me what I will have to do.
-Eugene: Hi Francis slept well?
-Me: Yeah thanks.
-Eugene: Good I explain you the situation on the bottom. The two ends of the pipelines are side by side. Patrick, the previous diver has made the metrology on the butt to be removed, and has started the cutting. But apparently, he had some difficulties and he preferred to stop the cutting. So the first job for you, finish the cutting.
-Me: No problem.
Of course, on board everyone knows that I like cutting jobs and I must say without false modesty that I defended rather well in this discipline. 11:50 a.m., we are at the bottom and I'm ready to get out of the bell.
-Me: Surface how do you read me?
-Eugene: Five on five Francis.
-Me: Ok I go.
Slowly I let myself slide into the water. Standing on one of the bell counterweights, I throw a quick circular glance to well identify the situation.
Along one of the pipe sections, I can see the big 10 tons parachutes that sway slightly in the current. Then there on the bottom, a few meters from the bell, the end of the pipeline on which I have to work.
-Me: Ok surface, slack my umbilical, I go down.
Within a few seconds I'm on the bottom.
Shit! I know that my colleague Patrick is, with one handful of other divers, the King of deep diving but as what concerns his cutting hability it’s to cry. What would have been a neat and clear cutting through the steel is in reality just a series of holes poorly aligned on a distance of about 30-40 centimeters.
OK no problem, I'll be able to repay his mistake by starting a new cut just beside his.
But what worries me more is that he has also made a 10 cm askew cut on the top of the tube.
-Eugene: Yes I listen.
-Me: Tell me, has Patrick explained you what he did?
-Eugene: Yes, as I told you, he began cutting, but then preferred to stop because it wasn’t going well.
-Me: Well I can tell you that he did a nice shit job and before continuing, I will first take a few measurements because at first glance his cut is outside the tolerable limits.
-Eugene: Oh shit! Well Francis, I will leave you with Jean Pierre now because it is noon. It is he who takes the suite.
-Me: Ok, then have a good night Eugene.
It is now the turn of Jean Pierre G. supervisor of the day shift to greet me.
Very quickly, I explain again the situation while I took a few measures. Indeed, the piece of pipe that has to be removed must be cut to the precise distance of 100 centimeters from the end of the second pipeline, as it is between this gap that the future spool piece will be welded between the two pipelines.
Unfortunately, what I feared materializes.
-J.P: yes I listen.
-Me: Okay I just re-measured.
The like a machine gun cutting of Patrick lies plus or minus 90 to 98 cm from the stipulated axis and there, no problem I can retrieve the cut.
On the other hand, the small cut he made on the top of the pipe is ranging from 102 to 110 cm, thus behind the axis.
What am I doing, cut at 110?
-J.P: Hum! Stand-by.
After a few seconds of reflection, Jean-Pierre informs me that I have to cut at the planned cote, i.e. precisely at one meter. It leaves me a bit puzzled.
-Me: Are you sure?
-J.P: Yes, don’t bother for the small cut; welders will work it out in the chamber.
Let me some time, I install my cutting guideline. Indeed, to achieve a perfectly straight cut, I manufactured a template consisting of a single piece of rope that I passed inside a rubber hose to avoid the rope to burn.
The set is then passed around the tube just in front of the cutting line and maintained in place by a strongly tight knot. Before beginning, I make sure that earth clamp is in place and that oxygen flows out correctly outside the Craftsweld torch. I then put the end of my electrode against my cutting guide and announce:
-Me: Surface I'm ready, make it hot.
On the surface, the tender closes the circuit safety switch. Immediately, the 400 amps sent in the cables generates an electric arc at the end of my rod and a soft and regular crackling is heard as I move it.
-Me: Make it cold!
Immediately the tender opens the safety switch.
-J.P: it is cold!
The cutting of the current allows me to place a new electrode into the burning torch without risking electrocution. The electrode change takes about twenty seconds, then once the tip of my new rod in place where I had stopped I ask contact again.
While I’m cutting, I ask myself why so many divers from the company are poor burners. Ok, this is understandable when there is no visibility because then divers have to work on touch and on hearing and this is only acquired with long hours of practice, but with a visibility as today, frankly I do not understand. Already if the famous school of Marseille would learn the future divers to not be afraid of this tool and taught them to hold the rod at 2 or 3 centimeters from the electric arc, it would be a major step forward because they could move the electrode in a more stable and regular manner.
While I'm wondering, time passes and I have now burned my ninth and final cutting rod.
-Me: Surface, you can cut the juice I finished cutting.
-J.P: Ah Francis, damn! how are you doing this, 15 minutes to cut 2.87 meters, it's not possible I can't believe it!
-Me: But sure it is possible, you know why?
-J.P: No -Me: Because at the bottom the Belgians are not so clot Hi! Hi! Hi!
-J.P: good point you're right. Can you still cut two holes for the slings at the end of the butt?
-Me: It's good I do it.
A few minutes later, it’s finished and I inform the supervisor to pull up the cutting gear to the surface.
-J.P: Ok Francis, the material is on the surface. Can we send the crane cable to fix it at the end of the tube?
-Me: No problem, send it.
A ten minute later the butt is slung and ready to be recovered. As the visibility is excellent, I move myself a little before beginning the recovery procedure.
-Me: Surface you can pick up the slack from the crane gently.
-J.P: we take it up gently.
Slowly, the excess cable begins to ascend to the surface and then slowly tightens under the effect of the weight.
-Me: Surface it is ok, everything is clear, you can take it up, I'll put myself away under the diving bell.
I use these few minutes of stand-by to quickly go back into the bell for a drink because I know that what awaits me in a few minutes will be a little harder. Indeed, now I have to start the removal of the concrete protective layer from one of the pipe ends to a length of about 7 meters.
To do this, the surface will send me a high pressure gun through which a fine jet of water passes at a pressure of 1400 bars and with this I will be able to cut the 14 cm thick concrete that surrounds the pipelines. The tool is pretty darn efficient, but needless to say it is otherwise more dangerous to handle than the oxy - arc torch because the slightest clumsiness may cause very deep wounds.
Because of the delivered pressure it is also very tiring to use and is hard to maintain the trigger in working position. Because of the risk of accident, it is of course forbidden to attach the trigger; the machine must stop working as soon as the trigger is released.
Third downside and not the least, the noise, to me this is the most terrible to bear. Once running, the gun emits a sharp whistle similar to the noise made by a fighter jet engine and in my helmet it certainly exceeds 100 decibels. It is simple, in general and in spite of the depth of water, the noise issued by the unit is even heard in the cabins of the barge.
Here, at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the concrete removal procedure is simple. A kerf at 12 O'clock, one at 5 O’clock and a third at 7 O’clock.
Afterwards the making of a circular cut at the end side of the 7-meter will be enough to knock the three pieces down.
Of course the cutting of such a length in the concrete is not made in a few minutes but rather in two or three hours as at a regular interval, I have to stop to avoid cramps in the hands. During one of these periods Jean-Pierre asks:
-J.P: Everything all right Francis? Is the concrete is not too hard?
-Me: Repeat I have not heard.
-J.P: it's not too hard?
-Me: Speak louder I don’t understand
-J.P: I ASK YOU IF THE CONCRETE IS NOT TOO HARD?
-Me: Ah, no it's going, it’s a Belgian concrete.
-J.P: AH, WHY? -Me: Because the concrete is fried (crumbling) (Belgian joke).
-J.P: Ah! Ah! Ah! You fool.
I am continuing my hard work. And then after a while, the supervisor asks me if I want to be replaced by Laurent. Phew, I'm not angry because I have tinnitus full my ears.
As a result, the same punishment for my colleague who also has to do his four hours of HP jetting.
Now all what will remains to do to the two following teams is to clear the concrete debris, install the plugs inside the pipes, and then align them so that they are in line before the descent of the welding Chamber.
Saturday, December 12. That's it, everything is ready on the bottom and it’s our turn to dive to install the welding chamber.
As the work requires the presence of two divers in the water, Laurent and I leave this time with a third colleague.
During this dive, I will be n° 1 so in clear it means that I'll spend a long time underwater water while the other two divers will be able to swap during the dive. But for me this is really not a problem because I always feel good under water.
Once again we're on the bottom and I am announcing to the diving supervisor in charge that I leave the diving bell. Eugene notes my departure time in the dive report: 02:22 a.m.
As Laurent prepares to join me, my first job consists to fix two guidewires on the pipes to prevent that the welding chamber turns on herself during the descent, but also to bring her to the right place because we have only very little tolerance.
Once installed, it’s up to the crane to lift the enormous mass of steel and bring it gently, despite the movements of swell over the side to let it slide along these same guidewires.
-Surface: Divers, take care the chamber is ready to be lowered. Put your self’s away under the bell.
-Me: Understood, we go under the bell. Tell me, did you put the plumb-line inside the chamber? -Surface: Yes the centre of the chamber is well marked out, and we have also put a flare so that you can properly locate it.
This plumb-line that represents the centre of the chamber is very important because it is thanks to it that I will be able to check if the position is correct.
-Surface: Divers, chamber is coming down.
As the depth is not that important, I quickly distinguish the (HWC) Hyperbaric Welding Chamber.
-Me: Ok surface I can see the chamber, come down slowly until I say stop.
At 2 meters from the bottom, I stop the descent and returns on the pipe. After having checked the lateral centring, I gently put the HWC on the bottom.
-Me: OK surface chamber stays on the bottom; I’ll go inside to check the alignment.
-Surface: Understood you go inside.
I carefully pass through the chamber lock, then once inside thanks to diffused green light I immediately locate the plumb-line. I put myself between the two pipe ends and check. Oh, the HWC is not well centred.
-Surface: I listen
-Me: Well there is a longitudinal offset of about 1 foot, it will have to come up a little and do a little move to twelve o’clock.
-Surface: It's ok; we'll move the barge a little to 12 o’clock.
Perfect, the small displacement was sufficient and I can lower the HWC again onto the bottom. After a final check, where I inform the surface that position is correct, they allow me to unhook the slinging and let it come up.
The following step now consists to lift the ends of the two pipeline sections so that they can be tighten into the hydraulic clamps. To do this, we need Laurent and me to blow up all the parachutes that have been installed at regular intervals on the two pipelines.
Tens of minutes later, the pipes are raised and chock up against the jaws.
-Me: Surface diver 1
-Surface: I listen diver 1
-Me: It's good, the pipes are up, and I go back in the chamber to secure them. Can you start the hydraulic so that I can close the jaws?
-Surface: it's alright diver 1 hydraulic is on.
While I operated the joysticks, I can see that the first pipe end enters correctly into the clips. A few minutes later, the second pipe suffers the same fate.
-Me: Ok surface you can stop the hydraulic, the two tubes are held in place.
-Surface: Well received Francis.
Once secured, we must now place the first of the two sealing doors around one of the pipe.
These are hanging somewhere in the middle of the HWC and through a hoisting system we need to drag them up gently around the tube to the end of Chamber walls, where they will be held in place by a series of bolts.
The closure of the first door, reduced already strongly the light coming from the outside, but no matter, Laurent and me are used to work in the dark.
For us now starts the most delicate part of the operation, which consists to carefully unwind the double rubber skirt that will seal around the pipes and fix them with metal clamps. We must proceed carefully, because the clamp bands are very sharp and can easily puncture the rubber.
If that were the case, we would be in big shit because to install such a skirt on the door at the surface is already not easy even with three men, then doing the same thing only with two at the bottom of the sea and without too much visibility, no, it is better to avoid it and therefore work without rushing.
The installation of these two doors took us quite some time, and it's already time to make the change of diver.
But before that, I will take the opportunity to go back to the bell for refreshment. Once quenched, I return quickly inside the HWC while that in the diving bell the bellman and the Laurent switch.
-Surface: I listen
-Me: Ok, I'm back inside; you can begin to pressurize the chamber to expel the water.
-Surface: Understood, we begin to pressurize.
Slowly, the heliox pressure flow sent inside the open bottom chamber begins to blow out the thousands litres of seawater. During this time, the Baron Arnaud, my new team-mate has joined me. Some ten minutes later, our heads begin to emerge from the water, but as it is still too high, we lie on the floor for a few more minutes to avoid having to bear the weight of our helmets.
OK, the water level is still coming down but there is now no more than a little meter and we can begin to mutually rid ourselves of our diving gear with the exception of course of our hot water suits. The welding chamber is now completely emptied of its water, but in the beam of our torches, we can see that there are still a few leaks at the doors.
But no problem, we have a miraculous sealing product.
At this time, online communications with the surface are not yet connected and I must again go to my diving helmet to talk.
-Me: Surface diver 1
-Surface: go ahead Francis
-Me: It’s ok, the chamber is empty, but there are still some small leaks that we'll seal with the "monkey shit" before opening the door of the underwater welding intervention module (UWIM).
What we call monkey shit is nothing else than clay, but it works very easily and fills perfectly the slightest leak. Half an hour later, everything is watertight; we are now able to start the rigging of the HWC.
-Me: Surface everything is sealed; I will open the door of the UWIM and begin to install the gear.
-Surface: It's good; you informed me when I will be able to pass on the chamber communications.
Behind the door of the UWIM we find all the links that will help to supply the chamber in energy: Communication, lighting, ventilation, control, video, analysis of gases, water and of course welding current. Making all these connections and controlling them has taken us another 3 hours.
Phew, it's over. Everything is now ready to host the Kings of hyperbaric welding.
-Surface: I listen
-Me: It’s ok, everything is clear we have finished. We are going to dress up to get out.
-Surface: Well, good work guys, you call back as soon as you leave.
Finally, after 10 hours spent at the bottom of the sea, the diving bell resurfaced.
Inside the living chambers, there is some excitement. Welders have taken possession of the place. They generally only stay for the duration of the welding, but even so, for most of them they don't want to sleep on the top bunk and so some divers have to move for them.
But no time to lose, a team of welder / pipe fitter with a diver-bellman, has already taken over for a new departure to the bottom. It must be said that every minute counts because there are a bunch of money at stake.
I'm tired but happy because the dive went well and we didn't have unexpected problems. So, now I will be able to rest during a long time.
Yet, barely in my bunk, can I hear that the bell transfer hydraulics is switched on. Hoh! this is not normal, it's barely an hour thirty the guys are gone and already they come back.They have probably forgotten something?
However, outside the saturation living chamber, in the diving control room and without we know it, the atmosphere is explosive. Our beloved JPB the Diving Superintendent fulminates.
-WHO CUT THE PIPE?
Little look at the daily report of December 11. Which name can be read? Mine of course.
- DECOMPRES HIM IMMEDIATELY, HE IS FIRED!
I, far away in my saturation chamber do not know what is happening up there. Luckily for me, my compatriot Eugene is not yet sleeping and although he is out of shift, suspects that something abnormal happens, and comes to the information.
By chance, he enters into the control room, precisely at the moment when the big boss fires me. Immediately, he intervenes.
- Look Jean-Pierre, it is true that Francis cut the pipe, but he reported all these problems to the Supervisor who told him to cut at this location.
Jean-Pierre remains doubtful.
-So, why is this not registered in the daily report?
New look at it. Strangely, this report seems to be modified because none of my comments are written down.
-Who made the bullshit then?
-Well it is Patrick.
Silent moment. As for myself, I will only have hearing of this scene a few days later when I came out of sat. But I got a narrow escape, without my colleague, I would probably be banned for life from the great Comex Diving Company.
Strangely, no sanction was taken against the real responsible. But after all, it wasn't my problem since my reputation was intact.
Nevertheless, this incident required us now to bring back the HWC to re-install a longer spool piece which was made in haste and then again reposition the welding chamber. This meant two more long dives as with consequences: a loss of more than one hundred thousand dollars.
Finally, two days later, the welding chamber was again ready to receive the Welders.
As the two other teams had spent their time to re-positioning the HWC, it was now our turn to go down with the welders. Bad luck for me, as I had been diver one during our last dive, I was now becoming the bellman for this one. Let’s hope that this time I will have more luck than during my previous stay with them where due to a weld repair, I had spend nearly 19 hours in the bell.
This time, they will not have me and to not piss me off, I plan to take sufficient books and some crosswords. Important also, not to forget the sandwiches, two or three fruits, the bottle to piss, and the most important: a piece of rope.
About 20 minutes later I’ve done the bell checklist and the two welder’s specialists have joined me. We are ready to go down.
Because the shallow water depth, the transfer to the welding chamber is very short.
-23 meters, the bottom door of the bell opens due to the equivalent pressure.
-Me: Surface door open STOP the descent.
-Surface: It is stopped.
Through the hub, I can perfectly well see the welding chamber receptacle to which we have to connect.
-Me: Ok surface, you can come down slowly about two meters on the bell until we are above the top of the cone, I'll tell you stop.
Gently, the diving bell resumes its vertical displacement.
-Surface: It is stopped.
The lower part of the hatch is now at the height of the cone.
For a few moments, I analyze the amplitude of the movement made by the bell. Indeed, I’ve to avoid that the bell smashes into HWC because of the swell, docking must be smooth, a bit the way of a spacecraft.
Here it is, for a few seconds the up and down movement of the bell is at a minimum, I react immediately.
-Me: surface down easy
-Surface: Coming down
-Surface: it is stopped
-Me: It is good; we are engaged in the cone. Hold yourself ready to come down for the last 2 feet.
-Surface: When you want to
Then again after a few seconds:
-Me: Down, down, down
Little shock, the bell no longer moves.
-Me: Surface, bell is docked; give a bit more slack in the cable and umbilical.
-Surface: Ok, I give you 3 meters more and I stop.
This latest maneuver is meant to reduce the risk to tear the diving bell from the welding chamber following a bad swell movement.
Inside our bell, stand by again for some 30 seconds to ensure our stability. Perfect, it no longer moves. I will now slowly pressurize the inside in order to flush the water from locker. Once completed, I still have to install the four fixing screws between the trunk and the HWC and the welders can go to work.
-Ok guys it is up to you now, good luck and do not forget to close the door of the chamber immediately if you do not want to drown.
Indeed, the transfer into the chamber is the most perilous moment, as for sure it would not be good that our dynamic diving support loses his position at this time. Because despite the screwing docks the bell would be torn off and the chamber immediately filled with water with the consequences that one can imagine. This kind of incident occurred in the past, but fortunately, the welders were in the chamber with the door closed.
The bellman however had the fright of his life because the bell had fallen on the bottom and was reversed, flooding the entire interior. Fortunately, everything ended well and everyone was recovered safe and sound.
Here, everything went well and now I am alone in my capsule that suddenly seems much more spacious. Okay, as I'm here for a bit of time, what will I start with? If I looked to the fishes that swim around the bell projectors? As they are not exceptionally pretty, I’m quickly fed up.
It’s boring, I rather do some crossword. In 6 letters which begins with a D and finished by S: the first two professionals were Charles and John DEANE. Damn, this told me something, but what? While I try to be concentrated on this game, inside the chamber our two craftsmen bustled loudly.
Apparently, the pipefitter is busy grinding a bevel on a pipe extremity, while the other installs the hydraulic pipe cutter on the second pipe to cut it to the exact length of the spoolpiece.
Slowly, the time passes. For the moment, I’m reading of a very informative book. A kind of sexual education book that tells me the prowess of His Serene Highness Prince Malko Linge with his girlfriend Countess Alexandra.
Ah! Interesting to remember. Oh! The bastard. But finally, I do not know if it makes me good to read this kind of book after two weeks on board. Result, a new sequence of fish watching.
-Surface: I listen
-Me: How does it go in the chamber?
-Surface: Everything goes well; they are busy to position the spool piece between the two pipe ends.
Good, a quarter of the time has already gone over. If I was doing a little siesta? Of course no question for me to rest curled on the small seat, I have much better. I take out the coil of rope and start to make a hammock between various fixing points present inside my bell.
Here it is finished. Obviously, it is not that big but still long enough so that I can lie half of my body in it. For the legs, sorry not enough room they will remain hanging out.
-Me jokingly: Surface, you can turn off the light?
-Surface: And then what again!
-Me: You're a bastard, no compassion for the little bellman I’m.
Of course, that I will not sleep while I have two guys in the chamber, but at least now I'm a little better installed to rest. Inexorably, the time passes, midnight, two O’clock, five O'clock, nearly 10 hours that they are working.
-Me: Surface, How far are they?
-Surface: They are doing the last pass.
Phew; it should not be so long now, I can already begin to disassemble my hammock. Indeed, three quarters of an hour later, the surface informs me that they have completed their work and are now preparing to x-ray the weld.
7:20 a.m., the welding chamber door finally opens and our two welder appears.
To avoid the radiation generated by the radioactive source, they are forced to take shelter in the bell at each shot. Not sure that even here our balls are safe because the source is only a few meters from us.
Now it is 9:05 a.m., the job is finished I can remove the screws and close the inside door of the bell.
-Me: Surface, door closed, you can come up at the bell.
Once on the surface, the NDT surveyor immediately retrieves the x rays shots and goes to develop them in his lab. Suspense! There it is: Verdict: Everything is good, no welding defects.
In the saturation chamber, welders congratulate each other while making at the same time the gesture to pull on the handle of a slot machine and win the jackpot.
Normal that they have a smile, because for every successful weld at the first shot, they pocket a substantial bonus of several thousand euros.
Of course, this may seem excessive, but isn't hyperbaric welder who wants to.
As there is no other weld to be done in the aftermath, Serge, our chamber operator informs them that they must pass into the decompression chamber.
Phew, we have again a little more room for ourselves.
As for me, I will still make a few dives during the following days, and then finally, on 21 December, the day of delivery rang for Laurent and me. After 19 hours of decompression, we finally review the sun.
As always in such cases, we look like two zombies because we lost quite a lot of red blood cells from the fact of having breathed a gas mixture with a partial pressure of oxygen higher than normal pressure.
Fortunately, there remain a few more days to go for us that we can use on the helideck to become tanned again.
29 December, the day of departure has arrived. This morning, I showered longer than usual.
10:00 a.m., ATTENTION! ATTENTION! the chopper is announced please stand by. Quickly a last goodbye to the colleagues who remain here and:
-Damn where is my travel bag?
I still had it at the foot of the stairs. Immediately I know where I need to look. I look up to the sky and as I expected, see my bag hanging there in the hook of the crane.
-Please Mr. Crane operator gives me my luggage.
Meanwhile, the helicopter has landed. Whew, my bag is down and I run to grab it.
-Fuck, it weighs a ton. It's again this bastard of Philippe who put 2 large 15 kg shackles in it. I got them out in haste and throw them on the bridge, then run on the four steps leading to the helideck. Unlike us, the guys who just landed don’t look so happy. Normal, they will spend New Year on board and fume a bit.
Fortunately within a few days they will be again used to this kind of life. As for me, first a very short stop at Ciudad de Carmen
And then off to my little Belgium where I will get just in time to spend New Year’s Eve with my family.
Some pictures are taken from Internet