Reminiscing: Scary and Wondrous

Sorry all. The food and laughter yesterday wore me out. Didn’t mean to fall asleep before posting. Hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was a good one, filled with love and family.

For some reason the after dinner conversation here turned to having worked offshore, when oilfield rules were relaxed enough for rig workers to fish off the platforms during their off hours. Sometimes they caught a huge grouper or even a massive shark (I’m talking if you’re diving and look up, it’s as if a VW bus just passed overhead) on rods and reels. If their time ran out before they landed the fish, they often attached tail-buoys to the line and cut it free. A tail-buoy is a six to  twelve-foot tall, tear-drop shaped, super-grade rubber/plastic blend inflatable with a ring on the narrow end,  used to mark a dropped section of drill stem until recovered, or other such item.

Or huge fish.

If one is found free-floating it’s considered salvage, and by rules of the sea can be claimed by whomever tosses a line on it. They make great tree swings, and you can see them in many South Louisiana and Mississippi yards, so they get loose fairly often. (There was an incident in the eighties when a semi-submersible rig broke loose from it’s escort tow, and drifted free in a storm. A Cajun in a Lafitte skiff tied a line on it and claimed “salvage” rights. Now he was being dragged around the Gulf by the rig, looking like a flea on an elephant, but he had a line on the thing. Oil company was forced to quickly negotiate and pay the man salvage rights to reclaim their rig. See? Easy-peasy to understand.)

Well, we came across one such tail-buoy floating nearly a mile from any platform. Sterning up to it (reversing; 145 foot crew boats are mostly low bulwark-ed deck for hauling cargo), my father-in-law leaned over the edge of the vessel to catch the trailing line with a boat hook.  Just as he went to hook it, it took off.

From the stern controls–a misnomer because they’re at the front of the vessel, just outside–I watched him circle a fist in the air, signaling me to back up after it. I did. He leaned over the bulwarks; it took off. Three more times we attempted to catch the thing, but it escaped. Each time he yelled, “That has to be one big fish!” He circled his fist again, and when I got to it he kept circling.  I backed further past it, he snagged the line and wrapped it around a cleat. I put the boat in forward and slowly pulled ahead.

The thing pulled back.

Pulled ahead harder. When it pulled back I slapped all three throttles down and took off. The line hummed it was so taught before it snapped. FIL pulled the buoy on deck and we cruised back to the dock. My last sight of the thing was it disappearing down the road in the back of FIL’s pick-up, bound for it’s new life as a tree swing.

Still can’t remember who started it, but along the lines of Cinderella’s “Please wicked stepmother, may I go to the Ball tonight?”, some of the crew began saying “Please wicked step-Captain, can we go to the bar tonight?” (Use your imagination and say it in a gravelly male voice for full effect.) We were dock side due to weather for shift change, and I went to collect my guys after finishing paperwork to head home. Walked in to this little bar with an entrance from both the road and the water. There were as many boats tied to the dock as there were vehicles in the parking lot. Before I could track the boys down I had to pass two guys sitting at the bar with sullen expressions. Very, very sullen.

One had a cut on his forehead and a bruised cheek. The other’s nose was taped and had two beautiful shiners. Me being a Smart Alec, I grinned and said “If you guys would learn to duck they couldn’t connect like that!” That comment opened a conversation I’d rather forget.

“We weren’t in a fight,” I was informed with disgust. The man pulled the most aggrieved expression I’ve ever seen on a human, leaned forward and continued, “A couple of days ago we were out in the two-man sub checking pipeline between rigs for leaks, when some sonofabitch hooked onto us!”

The other guy’s head began bobbing up and down, furious all over again over the incident. “Yeah! Dragged us halfway across the Gulf before we finally broke free! Tossed both of us into the dash when the tail-buoy line finally parted!”

“I’d kick his ass still if I could find out who did it!” the first one declared.

Didn’t take me long to make the connection. Memories of the tail-buoy we’d chased two days earlier before catching it danced in my head. I could just picture them pulling ahead, and being jerked back. Pulling ahead, and being jerked back. And I believed him sincere about the butt-kicking part.

Spotted my guys in a pool game and began edging toward them. Twice they waved off my nervous, “Uh, guys, we need to go.” Even ignored my subtle hints of urgency when I indicated the door by hopping up and down and repeatedly throwing both thumbs over my shoulder while screaming, “NOW! Please! For the love of God, NOW!”

They finally took a look at my face. They dropped their cue sticks and followed me out. I’ve never left an area so fast in my life.

I think enough time has passed for tempers to have cooled, the statute of limitations to have expired . . . if it was ever applicable. I still contend there being no radioed  “Pan . . . Pan . . . Pan . . . Notice to mariners . . .  Submersible unit will be working in area blah-blah-blah coordinates blah-blah-blah” absolves me of guilt. Because every mariner knows you’re supposed to notify the Coast Guard when actively working in an oil field. It was their woops! by failing to do so.

That’s my side of the story, and I’m sticking to it. And if they find me because of this post, I’m swearing I made this up! After all, I write fiction!

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4 Responses

  1. What a wonderful story, Runere, as always. Says a lot about perspective. Hope you don’t get caught out. RitaVF PS second try to post this.R

  2. LOL! Too funny and I can totally see you doing the little thumbs dance- in fact, I think I HAVE seen it. Love these stories.

    Plan to read the short story soon- trying to get the NaNo done tonight. Almost there-

    • I admire your tenacious abilities! NaNo was a no-go for me this year with all that was going on. But I can cheer everybody else on! Go sfcatty!!

      This is one of the tamer tales. Thinking of including a few in a book or two. Think they’d work? lol

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