In August 1988 I did a very well paid ‘nixer’ for Oceaneering International, while home on leave from Saudi Arabia.
My day rate while with Oceaneering leapt to 850 pounds sterling, that was an example of the big-pay packets, rumored at when I trained for the profession initially; very handy money if I could do my shift in a month, because I did not wish to give up my day job in Saudi Arabia.
A huge pod of dolphins skimmed the surface below us on the way out in the helicopter; it’s hard not to feel uplifted in the presence of these ever smiling cetaceans.
The job in Kinsale was quite a step up in professionalism from what I was used to in Saudi Arabia. We wore hot water suits and Kirby Morgan 17 helmets, there was absolutely no scuba-diving.
The diver was delivered directly to the job via a basket lowered from the surface, and instead of being festooned with tools hanging from every available D-ring of his waistcoat; everything needed came down separately in a work basket.
The water was still crystal clear, but very cold; those hot water suits were needed.
As in the Persian Gulf, marine life abounded around the Marathon Alpha and Bravo platforms about 30 miles off the coast.
Our job was to clean both platforms followed by an inspection programme of critical nodes, from the surface down to the seabed at 370 feet below.
From the surface down to 10 m of any structure in water, is known as the Splash Zone. It’s the most difficult area to work in for divers. The swell and heave, even in relatively flat conditions, will make life very difficult and uncomfortable, as you hang on for dear life, while trying to do your job.
Because sunlight it is strong at the surface and penetrates to a depth at about 20 feet, it is also the area of most marine growth buildup.
Mussels proliferate in colder water and even in the short space of a year since the last cleaning programme; the Splash zone of every brace and leg was covered in about 500 mm of them.
Because the platforms had to be cleaned to relieve them of the weight and drag of hundreds of tonnes of mussels, we had a ‘mussel bashing’ team and an inspection team.
I was one of the inspectors, so I got to wait while the heavy cleaning was going on.
We could watch from the surface as, just like in the Persian Gulf. A rare feast was provided for the local marine inhabitants of these artificial reefs. Shoals of mackerel, cod, halibut and sea trout appeared, from our vantage point they appeared to be attacking the diver as he cleaned, smashing up the colonies of crustaceans.
Big crabs and Atlantic lobsters came from every nook and cranny to partake of the unexpected feast.
A pilot whale showed up a few times, coming in very close to the diver, perhaps attracted by the light or the noise or the food in the water, or maybe just having a look-see.
It took about a week before things were ready for the inspection part of the programme, and on my first dive it came in around the diagonal and horizontal braces, to have a look at me and me at it.
From a distance of about 6 feet we eyeballed each other, it having to look at me sideways because of where it’s eyes are, but he or she was looking at me, maybe trying to understand who and what I was.
There was a lot of talk about pods of killer whales in the area, but we never saw any.
I would not have minded one bit.
The only instance of a killer whale harming a human was from the movie Orca where there was a need to show Bo Derek’s legs to maximum effect, just before the eponymous Orca bit one off, and he (Orca) was on a mission to avenge the killing of his mate and their unborn calf.
I worked on Marathon Alpha for three weeks, earned a lot of money, enjoyed the experience, but I went home when it was time to go back to the Persian Gulf.
Most of the time that I worked in Saudi Arabia, there was a war being fought between Iraq and Iran, and much of the action laid out not very far from where we were.
There were always a lot of American warships moving around in the Gulf , and fighter aircraft regularly screamed past us responding to tankers under attack in the Straits of Hormuz.
One of our captains was not a dour Hull trawler skipper, he was an extrovert Swede and his name was Sven.
During the day if there was a crisis somewhere, he would patch the emergency radio channel through to the galley, so that we could listen to the panicked May Day from the tanker captain as his vessel was attacked by the Iranians fast patrol boats.
The John Wayne response from an American warship, and then count the seconds before two F-16s went screaming south in response.
Usually the fighter aircraft showing up was enough to discourage the attackers.
The war ended in 1988.
From 1986, when the contract on Juaymah trestle finished, to 1990, with the exception of the job in Shuaibah when I did a five-month trip, I did the normal one hundred and ten day trips with thirty days at home.
The majority of the dives that I did were in the crystal clear, full of life, waters of the Persian Gulf.
I saw incredible things and thinking back it’s difficult to say which one was the most incredible.
Who would hope to see whale sharks moving gracefully through the clear water, or hundreds of manta ray, the ever present barracuda, octopuses, grouper, sharks, moray eels? Every day that I dived I saw these amazing things, and I often took time out from my job, to just watch and marvel.