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Pond life

Marine geophysicist and author/screenwriter Alan Fleet has no regrets about taking a road much travelled.

Geoscientist 19.10 October 2009

Alan FleetIt will be 30 years ago this August that I rose to the challenge of the offshore world and strode manfully to the survey vessel Sperus in that former university town of Fraserburgh (before the plague closed it down and the students had to go to Aberdeen).

After two days of flat calm the sea started to move. Was I sick! I didn’t surface for two days. Where had I gone wrong? I’d studied “hard rock” Geology at Manchester, hardest of hard rock departments in the 1970s, and yet here I was – offshore on the Herring Pond. Somewhere along the path of life, there must have been a fork in the road. I hadn’t noticed that I had veered off (bit like an online surveyor, really). But if I could go back and find that fork in the road, would I go the other way? Not on your life!

So what’s the attraction? It’s certainly not the bread and butter rig site surveys and the endless annual pipeline inspections or the ‘save the planet’ wind farms - which leaves us with what? It’s the port calls; that’s what’s interesting, and anyone who tells you different is on another planet. It’s those times when you mobilise to a far-flung place, and nobody meets you, for example, sitting on your suitcase in the midday sun on the Bulgarian/Romanian border, with only sleeping dogs for company. Or the delightful ten-hour wait at Luanda airport where they considerately turn off the air-conditioning so as not to give you a chill. Yes, it’s those times when you see parts of the world that you couldn’t imagine existed, and would certainly never take your family to; yet of which, when you return home, you always say: ‘No, it wasn’t dangerous at all’.

The North Sea Tigers were the men who trained and worked in the North Sea before going to sunnier, calmer seas. In Force 11s we used to dream of the delights of Lerwick and the Thule bar, now second- rate compared to Captain Flint’s (whose polo shirt I am now wearing, courtesy of the pub quiz we won with an Englishman, a Scot, a Russian, and a drunk), or the final welcoming sight of the Crown and Anchor in Aberdeen, especially Friday because it was karaoke night (unreserved apologies, Mr Orbison).

Some old friends have now departed this life - too young by far - and their departure serves to remind us that there is only “now” (even for us geos who think we know about time). I doubt I could have met any more colourful characters than I have in this business, and each with his own story. I have lost count how many times I have heard them say “You could write a book about this industry”. Well, now I have. The places are authentic, but the story is fiction. Or is it?

Alan’s novel “North Sea Tigers” is published by Pegasus ISBN: 9781 8438 649 36