Rig Life: My Love-Hate Relationship (Part 2: Hate)

As I’ve previously discussed the upsides of my work adventures on the rig in this post, it’s time now to examine the not-so-great parts of the endeavour. Here are a few irksome things about the rig life:

1. Forgetting I’m a woman. Now, you might find this contradictory to the first point in my previous “pros” post, but consider this. Having showered just once a day for a month, worn nothing but torn shirts, crocs or safety boots, had contact with maybe one or two other females, not had a blow-dryer, let alone curling iron to my hair, I begin to forget what gender I truly belong to. This is particularly alarming, as even on the most ceremonious of occasions I’m not what you would call a girly girl – quite the contrary actually. However, when my sojourn at the rig ends and I return home, and after a generous three days of recuperation and hibernation have elapsed in which I undergo various bodily landscaping projects and at-home spa treatments, I find myself frantically polishing my nails and fishing out the dressiest dresses I own, all in a bid to remain relevant as a female presence, as if every second wasted would diminish what femininity I have left.

2. Fire drills. Imagine this: so you’ve just knocked off after a long, twelve-hour shift. You’re tired and sweaty. No gym today, thanks very much. All you can think of is the smoky hot spray of the shower soothing your aches away. You finally get in there – the foamy shampoo sitting in your hair, the jets working their magic on your back – when suddenly you hear what is perhaps the most dreadful sound a rig worker knows. Novelists would describe the sensation as a “crippling fear”, one that sends literal shivers down your spine. I have, upon hearing the fire alarm on one occasion, rolled off my bed (top bunk) from a deep slumber, stumbling around the tiny cabin in circles like a headless chicken, bumping into my roommate (who was doing the same thing) and asking no one in particular, “what’s happening, what’s happening?!”. It is not the prospect of getting trapped in a fire that brings about these incidents of buffoonery. It is rather an anxiety that is induced at the thought of getting caught unawares in various vulnerable positions – asleep in a tank and boxers, sans bra; taking a long-awaited dump in the toilet; or, as in this particular scenario, naked, wet and soapy. How could I possibly rinse and dry off, get into some clothes, don a lifejacket, and scramble my way to the muster station quickly enough to avoid public shaming as a late-musterer – an example of what not to do – in addition to having everyone already assembled gawking at me as I join them, grey in the face for lack of time to use some lotion, hair a dripping mess, and probably still struggling to put on the lifejacket? I believe the modern term for that state is “hot mess”, a position in which no self-respecting female wishes to find herself. It is a fact that no impending inferno could elicit the panic that ravages my soul and sets my person a-trembling, at the thought of being naked in the shower when the alarm goes off. Most of the time these drills are scheduled, and everyone is informed prior. Sometimes though, Management decides to spring us all a surprise. This is where one’s insider friends in high places come in handy, as they could sympathetically allude to the forthcoming drill before it takes place. Therefore when the potential for an unscheduled fire drill exists, I shower at the speed of light, and go to sleep wearing a bra.

Adriatic-IX-1
Stark contrast between this hunk of metal…
Pacific Santa Ana
…and this sexy behemoth.

3. Jack-up rigs. So maybe I should have specified old jack-up rigs, but you would please forgive me, as 95% of those I’ve been on fall into the category I’m about to describe. For the non rig-savvy, a jack-up rig is one that has giant legs that extend to and are planted in the seabed, as opposed to a drillship which is indeed a ship, only outfitted for drilling oil wells. Asking which I prefer to work in roughly translates into inquiring if I’d rather pass a month at a roadside inn or at the Burj Al Arab. The differences in the living quarters (my area of utmost concern) are astounding. Where there are mostly two-man rooms in modern drillships, such that while one is on shift, his back-to-back has the room to himself and vice-versa, anything is possible on jack-ups. I once spent four weeks in a SIX-person cabin – something I scarcely knew existed at the time. Six strangers working different day and night shifts but sharing the same shoe-box cabin meant someone was always sleeping (hence someone was always snoring), always tapping at a keyboard or switching the lights on or Skyping with family or opening a locker or farting or watching TV! After going the first four days without sleep, your body realizes that this is the new face of “off-shift tranquility”, and adjusts by featuring your roommates’ fretful activities in your dreams during a low-energy state of semi-consciousness, which ultimately suffices, leaving you to marvel at its resilience. Be that as it may, the rest of your stay would feature baggage beneath your eyes and awkward, zombie-like movements. God help you if there’s a fire drill. To make my hell even more “fun” in this particular six-person congregation, there was no bathroom en suite. Therefore at shower time I’d walk along a heavily-plied corridor, arms spilling with toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, bath towel and a change of clothes (trying desperately to hide the undies), all the way to the bathroom at the other end and back – if Lady Luck was smiling on me. On a bad day, I’d make the round trip unsuccessfully – maybe five times in fifteen minutes – praying God’s healing on the guy taking a worryingly long dump, and eventually on the return leg post-shower, having to shoulder through a hallway full of men – in my nightwear.

4. Working with people. I’m positive that the resumes of everyone reading this advertises them as having “great people skills” and being “good team players”. This was a quality I thought I had before joining the industry. I mean, I KNOW I’m good with people. Sure, many folk refer to me as “uppity” and say I snub them, but that’s just because I wear glasses and walk with my head down so as to avoid eye contact. I’m quite certain that those who work closely with me proclaim me as being down-to-earth, kind, and an all-round nice gal. But these are normal folk. Sane, level-headed, rational folk, and unfortunately the world is not full of their kind alone. Through the years, I’ve often thought I’d be better off, happier even, working from a dark cubicle at the basement of some complex in the middle of nowhere, dealing with humans only via email and maybe telephone. Human interaction is by far the most challenging part of my job for me. It’s a breeze with good, reasonable people. The challenge comes from those falling outside the spectrum of professional civility, ranging from the intensely ill-mannered to the outright insane. There’s a myriad of characters out there; where do I start? I feel a sub-list coming on…do bear with me.

Troublemakers. “Keep Right” is a common road practice, and I think also an unwritten etiquette for pedestrians alike. It’s been my experience to encounter such guys that would very deliberately cross over to the wrong side of a walkway once they see me at the other end. They then set their jaws outward and fix me with a glare that’s meant to frighten and induce cowering, as if daring me not to move out of their paths and on to the “wrong” side of the path. I always smile inwardly (and many times literally too) at their foolish, trouble-inducing acts, and determine to keep walking right up to them and insist they move out of my way and on to the “right” part of the path. However, being the hater of confrontations that I am, I’d usually get just close enough to ruffle them and set both fixed jaw and confidence a-wavering, before gingerly stepping to the left at the last moment and barely diverting a collision. This is a classic male-female power tussle on rigs, one I receive especially from those too cowardly to approach and make small talk, and so resort to mischief making. Funny, but mostly annoying.
Gentlemen. Then you have the classic gentlemen. They open doors, help carry heavy loads, nod and tip their hardhats when they walk past, calling me “ma’am” or “miss”, and generally make me feel like a little princess. Even when circumstances call for a firm hand and some raised voices, they always step it down a notch when dealing with the ladies. Certainly one of my favourite kinds of people. (Forgive me, this was supposed to be a hate list.)
“Stare-gazers”. Maybe they’ve never seen a female up close before, or maybe just never on a rig…whatever the case, this crop of guys just stare, sometimes open-mouthed. At first I think, “Okay, I guess a female’s still an unexpected sight here”, but then I stroll past and speak a hello – nothing, just gawking. I may even walk right up and ask a question – nothing, just a puzzled look like, “Huh! It talks too!”.
Skeptics. These consist of the classic old-school men who are of the opinion that the rig site is no place for a woman. Your mere presence annoys them. (For some reason, I say “your” when I mean “my”). They get irritated and lash out if you dare ask a question because this is their case in point: an incompetent woman has abandoned her kitchen and come to meddle in matters which she does not comprehend – matters best left to men. They feel you are more a bother than a contributing member of the team. They question your every action and every figure in your reports. If they call my work cabin, they ask for “the other guy” – my back-to-back, who happens to do EXACTLY the same job as I do, only on the following 12-hour shift. If Other Guy is unavailable they may even, preferring to await his return, leave a message, a task specifically for him – one I’d no sooner take care of and report back to them. They continue in this fashion until one glorious day of vindication when you prove your worth in an incontestable manner, maybe saving the company some time, money or both, (you walk slowly backward with arms wide open like, “what say you now, homie?”) at which point they either start to acknowledge your existence with a curt nod and a grunt, or ignore you completely.
Overachieving women. I’m glad I recalled this particularly nasty group of people, because some may start to call me sexist after the above rant (which wasn’t a rant at all, I insist). The playing field is perhaps leveled when you throw in these unfriendly, downright cold females who believe another lady’s presence on the rig somehow diminishes theirs as a “woman in a man’s world”. You are a woman, same as they, hence you have come to steal their shine and rob them of some glorious spotlight. Perhaps all the stares were for them alone before you came along; perhaps more free chocolate was given them before you showed up and shortened their ration. Whatever be the case, they tend to go on the offensive with the intruding female. In their defense however, it’s not just the same sex that gets a lashing. They come on board expecting that all men are like the Skeptics above, so aggressively set out to prove their worth. I generally deal with these types with a long spoon, steering clear of their literal and professional paths except when unavoidable. “Relax, babe, no one’s competing with you” – my silent response to their antagonistic airs.

Reading this over, it seems my hates list was a caveat to the ladies but I assure you, that was purely coincidental. My list is not exhaustive, but in case you were mulling over an opportunity involving the rig life, I daresay you are now sufficiently discouraged. Therefore my work here is done. Adios!

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