From Birkenhead to Bandar Seri Begawan and Bishkek
The Ramblings of a Wanderlust Builder
Chapter 10: Pedal Power and Seaweed
Chapter 10: Pedal Power and Seaweed
Das Island had many memorable characters and early in my second year ensconced there a guy arrived who certainly ticked all the boxes. Among the planes used to service the island was an aging four engine Heron, hired from a New Zealand company. Along with this reliable old plane (it must have been reliable as Queen Elizabeth had one), came a Kiwi pilot. This was Sean, a tall, chisel jawed fellow, about 25 years old, who choose to do his job as his Biggles alto ego, complete with flying boots, suitably well-worn fur trimmed leather jacket and the white silk scarf associated with his boy’s adventure hero.
While chatting over dinner one evening, Sean asked if I would care to accompany him on the flight deck for the round trip to Abu Dhabi that evening. He had a routine 8pm flight taking staff out to start their contractual leave and returning soon after midnight with an incoming group for another tour of duty. It was highly irregular, but seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m still not sure how I managed to get through procedures without being on the manifest, but I somehow got to sit in the vacant co-pilots seat.
One abiding feature of the narrow cabin of the Heron that I distinctly recall was the door into the flight deck that replicated a coffin lid. It was always the subject of black humour which became more pointed, when some of my work colleagues saw me following Sean into the working end of the plane and closing the door behind me.
After climbed to the optimum elevation, Sean instructed me to balance up the duel foot pedals and hold the hand controls so that the bottom of the windscreen aligned with the horizon. He also explained to me the functions of the various dials and indicators on the control panel, while I reveled in this little bit of schoolboy joy riding.
About halfway into the hour long flight, Sean took up a clip board and began monitoring dials and ticking off boxes on a check sheet. Noting he had both hands off the controls, I blithely enquired where the auto-control indicator was. “This plane doesn’t have auto-control” he responded, ‘”You are flying it at present”. My immediate reaction was to stiffen with shock, causing me to press too forcefully with one foot on the pedal controls and push the stick forward, obliging the plane to bank and dive sharply to the left, before a chuckling Sean calmly took over and corrected the situation.
The incident only took a few seconds but the guys in the cabin behind me hammered on the door and made it clear in explicit Anglo-Saxon terms, that they had no confidence in me as a pilot.
Working in an isolated environment requires anticipation of unexpected technical failures that may occur, especially if supplier’s expertise is based outside the country. To prepare for such emergency situations, some international suppliers ran seminars and workshops to prepare onsite staff in specialist repair technics and procedures.
My Engineering Dept. was formed into four basic groups comprising of Electrical, Mechanical, Instrumentation and (my section) Civil & Building. If a job or project didn’t fall into the first three categories, then all other out of the box tasks landed up on my desk. Consequently, I attended several workshops to gear my team to be self-sufficient, when challenges surfaced.
Unusual jobs ranged from repairing submerged concrete structures under fast flowing water, Injecting resins to strengthen structures that were in danger of failing, but could not be immediately replaced unless production was closed down, (a big no-no) and the refurbishment of huge composite fenders damaged by tankers while maneuvering to or from their moorings.
For operational reasons, the 70/20 work/leave cycle for Das Island Senior Staff was revised in that year to 58/26. This was a huge boost to those of us who looked forward to spending more time with our families. Any extra relief in reducing the time spent in the intense summer heat was always welcome, regardless of how well the conditions were.
For reasons I cannot remember, but undoubtedly was done while indulging in some sort of liquid celebrating, I took up a challenge to compete in a Pedelo race. The single proviso for this bar-room wager being, that competitors must construct their own boats.
I had a joinery shop and my pal and recruited crew member Dave, was a mechanical engineer, who could fashion anything in metal, so I just couldn’t resist the chance to indulge in this bit of eccentric madhouse fun..
Incredibly, some wag pledged to sponsor the event with trophies and provide the post-race beers. A triangular course was set out with marker buoys on the water and launch ceremonies were solemnly undertaken with the wetting of boat bows. A lot nautical Wacky-Races type chicanery ensued as competitors baulked, barged and attempted to obstruct rivals. By dodging most of the chaos on the beach we grabbed a healthy lead and peddled home to collect the trophy (and the bubbly) from the race commodore.
Experience (and common sense) had led to the scheduling of as much inside work as possible to the summer months, inorder to keep the maximum number of people out of the intense heat. Dehydration was always a present threat and so salt tablets and isotonic powder were freely available on every dining table in the mess, as well as in all offices and work points, to help counter the debilitating effects of over exposure in the extreme conditions.
Nevertheless, due to a silly oversight on my part, after spending long periods outside dealing with an urgent job, I earned myself an overnight stay in the Das Hospital hooked to a saline drip. It was a very uncomfortable 24 hours but did serve to ensure I never got caught out again.
Kelp and other seaweeds are widely acknowledged to have multiple properties that make it useful in various cultures as food, fertilizer, medicines and dyes etc. However, it proved to be hazardous to our operations and created major problems.
At a particular period of the year it released its-self from the sea bed and rose to the surface to form massive floating mats up to a half a metre deep.
Das had huge sea water intakes which were needed to feed the massive desalination plants that converted millions of gallons of sea water to potable water every day. This was essential for the cooling systems that feed the cryogenics process that changed natural gas to a liquid form and essential also for providing all the drinking water neared by 4,500+ inhabitants.
The seawater intakes were purposely designed and located to face the natural tidal movement from the Gulf unfortunately this meant that kelp also floated in the same direction. Fine mesh screens were built into the sea wall that separated the open sea from the water collection bay where massive intake pipes drew in the water and pumped it into the process plants. These screens were intended to prevent fish and flotsam from getting into the system and were removable for cleaning on a regular basis. However the huge volumes of kelp clung to the mesh screens and clogged them so solidly it prevented sea water from passing through. Consequently the water in the intake side of the sea wall dropped dramatically, to well below a safe level and exposed the intake pipes to the danger of the pumps sucking in air instead of sea water.
It was literally all hands to the pumps while engineers worked on a more a permanent solution. All my team was employed to manually remove the kelp, using cradles suspended off cranes over the open water. It was messy, wet work performed on a 24/7 basis with maximum effort applied and Safety Officers monitoring every action.
Floating booms were deployed in the sea, much as would be used for an oil spill. This slowed down the bio-fouling and gain time for the emergency measures being undertaken, which included the islands workshops going into overdrive to make a system of secondary filter screens, that when fitted in front of the existing filters, forming a parallel layer of defense.
One screen could be taken out for cleaning while the second held the kelp. The cleaned unit was then returned into position before the second screen was removed and cleaned similarly. With 4 sets of double steel filter screens in place, it became a continuous rolling process with two cranes and three teams running around the clock. Screens when lifted to shore were quickly cleaned of the clinging kelp, with high powered fire hoses and then swiftly reinstalled to hold back the endless flow of vegetation.. Drying quickly in the sun, kelp would have been a useful commodity elsewhere; but we were left with little option, other than to burn it.
Kelp had not been a problem in the first year of operation of the intakes, but ironically, a report, identified that kelp beds had grown massively due to nourishment provided in the discharged water into the sea at the end of the process.
We may have had some fun on Das Island but this was definitely one of those times.
This is the tenth chapter in a series of blogs narrating the life of an Expat – from childhood years to his ascend as a veteran of the Travel and Construction industry.
Bernard C. Dagnall, CIPM
Bernard is a highly experienced professional Project Manager with credentials earned over a span of 35 years with VVIP Clientele and Blue-Chip brands in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. He is also a creative writer having penned many industry-related articles and blogs.