The Perfect Storm

Most mariners are no stranger to bad weather; referred to as ‘heavy weather’ it really is an occupational hazard that we just have to take in our stride. The North Sea is a cruel mistress this time of year and has presented us with some big seas lately which has been most interesting to say the least. This post talks of our experience through the latest storm, the biggest in twenty years apparently and little on the previous storm ‘the beast from the east’ that we had last trip. Also I will outline some of the things that make storms/ heavy weather really hard to deal with.


Our current job here at Gryphon Alpha requires us to pretty much stay put and we are fairly limited in our options regarding how to navigate during these storms (mostly due to being on the end of a wire). We are using our dynamic positioning system to maintain our position due to the close proximity to the Gryphon and the system has really been put through its paces lately, we have winds in excess of 75kts. Generally speaking during a storm you are best to steam slowly into the greatest force be it wind or swell etc. But with the DP system we are stopped in one position. This kind of brings me onto the incident last time we were here when dealing with the beast from the east.
We were one of two vessels connected to the bow of the FPSO, working in close proximity to both the FPSO and the other vessel the Normad Neptun, 500 metres or so away from each. The wind was 75kts give or take and I was on watch at the time but had just been relieved by the other DP operator, suddenly the wind shifted just enough to push the bow from the required heading. This is fairly common during these extreme conditions but at the time this happened a 15metre wave hit the bow in such a way that the ship was pushed off significantly and we where pushed astern and sideways in a horrific swell causing the vessel to roll violently. Not a second was spared by myself or my colleague as he switched to manual control, we were moving very quickly towards the Normad Neptune. He regained our position and steadied up quickly as I paid out wire additional wire, gave distances to the vessels and reported our situation to the Tow Master. We spent the following two days on manual control which is incredibly difficult in such atrocious weather and once the weather improved we switched back to DP control. Unfortunately during this incident we damaged our towing wire, which shows just how bad things got in a matter of seconds, below is a picture of the weather, the damaged wire and my manual driving track which i am quite proud of considering the conditions.
I would also like to say that a fellow Mariner Joseph Laws died during this storm not all that far away from our position and my thoughts are with his family and friends and may he rest in peace. I do not wish to go into detail but more can be found here.

So on to the reasons I hate storms at sea

It’s very very uncomfortable, you literally cannot do anything normally, shower, brush your teeth… In fact you can barely stand up let alone do those things!
You can only sleep when you get so exhausted from not sleeping that you eventually just pass out, often just moments from when you are due to go back to work.
I am fortunate enough to have a cabin that has two beds, an actual bed ‘bunk’ and a day bed (sofa)  They are basically at ninety degrees to each other so depending on the type of movement; pitching or rolling, I can choose the best suited bunk for the motion, however we tend to ‘corkscrew’ that is; roll and pitch at the same time, so neither bunk is of much use.
Stuff goes everywhere… All objects that are not bolted or tied down fly about. Whatever you have in your drawers slides about banging around, clothes hangers scrape across the rail… I know you loathe that sound too!!! battening down the hatches is not as easy as one might think, there is always something that is missed.
No matter how ‘sea fastened’ your living quarters are there is always noise because the deck head (ceiling) and bulk heads (walls) creak so your cabin ends up looking like half the amazon rainforest folded up and stuffed between the joins.
It might just me but I become fundamentally lazy and my cabin quickly deteriorates into some serious squalor, I.e.. My clothes end up all over the deck and my toothbrush begins to live in the sink.
Oh and that’s just the cabin… Work spaces are often destroyed with things shifting and flying about, it is all to easy to have 4 weeks of flat calm seas and get complacent and then have the 5th week in bad weather highlighting all the things you should of tied down or all the cupboard doors you left unlocked.
You can’t drink tea (yuk) or coffee (yum) unless it’s in a beaker or a third full in your mug.
Everyone is…pardon the pun, in the same boat, so they are all as tired as you, short tempered as you, as disinterested as you, all craving some rest the same as you. So it’s not long before any and all morale is lost on board and people just want to be left alone to suffer in their own way.
The cook still has to cook only now in even more dangerous conditions, I take my hat off to them, I’d rather not be chasing about plates and knifes etc. We do our best on the bridge to let the cook know if they can expect bad weather or if we are about to turn and may cause them some disruption.
Another thing I really hate and every seafarer will vouch for me on this one, it’s next to impossible to get decent pictures of bad weather they always come out looking fairly calm.
Seasickness…. I won’t go into this too much… But those of us who get seasick suffer the worst. You can read my thoughts on seasickness here.
Injuries although they are rare do happen at sea, but with a rolling vessel in a storm the chances are increased significantly. A slip in the shower is easy enough as it is.
And finally the thing I hate the most is that there is always one utter bastard onboard who appears to be completely impervious to the weather and all it has to offer in our discomfort, one guy with an internal gimbal like no other! Unfortunately for me, I fear I shall never be that man! Ha!
Cheers to you if you made it this far,

This entry was posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013 at 2:35 pm by The Mariner. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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Comments (5)
  1. “It might just me but I become fundamentally lazy and my cabin quickly deteriorates into some serious squalor, I.e.. My clothes end up all over the deck and my toothbrush begins to live in the sink.”

    Not just you!!!

  2. Spence, the photos in this entry are just wild! They truly look like something out of a Hollywood film. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to sleep sometimes with your bunk corkscrewing in all directions!


  3. Wow – it’s clear that storms like this are dangerous…deadly even! I found myself caught in a tropical storm while aboard a cruise ship a few years back and let me tell you – I was not one of those unaffected bastards you refer to – my sea legs gave out in an instant (if I ever had sea legs). Obviously experiencing bad weather on cruise ship is a far cry from the real deal that you experience, but even that gave me a huge respect for the sea!

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