In February 82, it's been several months now that I was working in the Gulf of the Mexico and every five weeks TARASCO became my second home.
Diving missions were pretty varied but most of them were to perform pipeline hyperbaric welding connections.
That day, I woke up peacefully around 8 o'clock in the morning after a long and good sleep.
The pressurized chamber in which I slept was still plunged into darkness as my two dive companions were still sleeping.
The rise of the diving bell was planned around noon and therefore I really appreciated to relax a bit more in my bunk while listening to a cassette of this sacred Julio Iglesias who at that time was making all women crazy (including mine) with its songs.
After half an hour, I turned on the small light over my head and now decided to study my 2 daily Spanish lessons.
From time to time I threw a glance through the porthole of the chamber but as it was located below the main deck there was not much to see except a life support technician whom was busy to change the soda lime from the gas regeneration unit.
Through the wall of the chamber I could hear that the colleagues on the bottom were busy to remove the concrete protection of the 36" pipe with a 1500 bars high pressure water jet so that our team could then install the hyperbaric welding chamber during the afternoon.
It is at this moment that all of a sudden I heard a slight noise which was immediately followed by a shock against the hull.
Probably a supply boat that had come along the side a little too violently I thought while continuing to look outside.
It was pretty strange, but a few minutes later there was an abnormal activity around the chamber.
People were coming and going and seemed relatively nervous.
Then suddenly everything came in almost simultaneously: The general alarm signal rang, the lights that were turn on in the all the compartments of the saturation chamber and the diving bell which came up at full speed.
My two colleagues woke up and immediately asked me what was happening.
I related them the small collision but also told them that I did not understand why there was such an excitement outside.
Of course, we were trying to get news via the chamber operators, but apparently they were too busy bringing up the diving bell.
Outside, events seemed to have taken a pretty dramatic turn because all those who passed now wore a life jacket and all faces expressed great stress.
Meanwhile, the bell had come out of the water and the surface team realized probably the fasted TUP of the world because the three divers passed very quickly in the wet pot.
Off course we all rushed to the hub in order to ask them what had happened but before they could answer us an order was heard on the radio. It was the chamber operator.
Without any comment, he ordered us to take all the blankets, our water bottles and our CO² masks and all together go immediately inside the chamber n° 3.
Again we tried to ask some questions, but the only answer we received was to move our ass and quickly close the inside door of the chamber so that it could be pressurized to the pressure of the bottom + 1 m.
Again, TARASCO was shaken during several seconds and even inside our room we could feel the gnashing of the steel.
Outside, we could now hear that the surface team was busy to disconnect the diving bell from the wet pot.
Shit! We are certainly in a beautiful mess I thought. If they remove the diving bell to leave the hub free and want to pressurize us deeper as the bottom then there is only one explanation: WE WERE GOING TO SINK.
No one was panicking but mentally we prepared ourselves to spend a few hours of anguish on the bottom of the sea.
Fortunately, the water depth was only 38 meters and we knew that several other diving supports were working in the vicinity and so we were confident that we could be quickly rescued.
Again the boat was strongly shaken for a few seconds, and then came a strange silence.
A few moments later, we could see that the people that ran outside seemed calmer.
Then a few minutes later, the voice of Serge our diving superintended came through the radio.
He immediately reassured us by saying that everything was now back to normal but that we had escaped a disaster.
What had happened?
While we were working very close to a jacket, the dynamic positioning systems of the vessel at once suffered a total blackout which had the effect of putting the boat at the mercy of the current.
As a first, the boat had drifted toward the nearest platform and there it had stricken the boat landing (first little shock).
Then still due to the current, we drifted slowly to a gateway that connected two platforms and on which was installed a pressurized gas pipeline that fed a huge flare.
The stern of the vessel passed under the pipeline without problem, but for TARASCO’s bridge it was too just.
Only the lower parts could pass but not the rest. And so because of the slight swell, the vessel began to hit into the pipe.
That day “luck” helped us as it decided that it was not our last day on earth.
And so rather to punch the gas pipe it was the bridge of our boat which was flattened as the drift progressed.
Finally, after some very long minutes, the wheelhouse was flattened enough and TARASCO could now drift to safer waters.
Later in the day, we learned that the blackout was due to the extreme heat generated by the immense flare.
Of course, the job must go on but the diving superintended refused to resume work until the flare was not extinguished.
Obviously, the extinction could not be done immediately and thanks to that we were happy to go on stand-by for two days during which we enjoyed to recover from our long dives that could sometimes last more than 12 hours.
Each diver attended to his favorite occupation. Some slept all day, other read, others like me got on the nerves of the colleagues by doing some jogging between the bunks.
As scheduled, two days later the flare died and the barge moved again into the working position and so we could install the welding chamber.
During the welding of the pipe, the flare was lit again, but this time, we had received the assistance off another boat which had for mission to cool down our good TARASCO with her powerful water guns.
The worst of this story that could have been dramatic is that at the time of the blackout another boat was in close proximity of our vessel. But as soon as they saw that we were drifting to the pipeline, the brave captain preferred to run his boat to the opposite direction to protect them from an explosion.
Can we blame them?
Conclusion: Believe in your luck.
Photos from Tarasco and jetting diver taken from Internet