Aberdeen was a trip down memory lane for me. I still remember catching a bus from Edinburgh to Aberdeen in January 1974 to find work on an oil rig again. My first job on the rigs had been out of Darwin, Australia on the Zapata Navigator an ex body ship from the Korean War that had been converted to a drill ship. They always said that it was haunted and if anything went missing the answer was that the Major had messed with it!
I found the Zapata Drilling Company office in Aberdeen and applied for a job on the “Zapata Ugland”, a joint venture between the American Drilling Contractor and the Ugland Shipping Company of Norway. The rig was brand new and had been built in Beaumont, Texas and sailed across the Atlantic to the North Sea. Under her own power she had averaged over 11 knots during the passage. She was as big as a football field! When I arrived on board there were already four men aboard that I had worked with in Australia and it was like coming home.
On shore leaves I stayed in a guest house in Crown Street, Aberdeen. Below is a photo of me standing outside that same guest house, now years later.
Without much to do we tended to spend quite a lot of time in bars with other oilfield hands and arrive back on the rig with the piggy bank looking rather sad! In winter Aberdeen (The Granite City) was particularly bleak and the wind howled down the streets – a thin wind that went straight through you. Fortunately I moved up the ladder and was eventually offered an Ex Patriate contract which paid better and enabled me to live in the south of England with a lot more recreational options.
I took the crew, Graham and Mike to one of the bars that we used to drink in called ‘The Moorings’ which was established in 1965 and I think that was probably the last time that the floor was washed because if you stood still for more than 5 minutes you may be stuck there for life! There was lots of memorabilia and a bikers slogan on the ceiling that said “Ride it like you stole it”. We had a drink for old times sake and moved on.
The harbour in Aberdeen was once filled with herring boats and the harbourmaster for Albert Basin said that there was a time when the entire harbour was filled with fishing boats such that you could step from one to the other and cross the harbour. Now it is all about oil. There were about 15 supply boats in the harbour and another 20 sitting offshore at anchor and avoiding the harbour fees.
One of our prime reasons for staying in Aberdeen was to collect the SSB radio that was being repaired in England. Leo kindly supplied the work address of Gordon Skinner as a drop off point for the courier which we expected to arrive on the Monday. Gordon confirmed that it had arrived and I took a bus to collect it from Queens Terrace. The bus driver did not know where it was and dropped me off at a stop one mile away from where I needed to be. I then discovered that there was also a Queens Avenue, a Queens Drive, a Queens Road, a Queens Close, a Queens Cross and probably a number of others that went undetected. Very confusing! Anyway I picked up the radio but did not get to meet Gordon as he was in a meeting.
Mike Watson (from Deloittes Auckland) arrived on the Monday evening having flown straight through from New Zealand and we welcomed him aboard. The next day we prepared for the passage across the North Sea. I knew from my oilfield days that the North Sea could cut up rough. It is relatively shallow (often only 90 metres deep) and that can produce dangerous waves. We would fly to the rig in Sikorsky 61 choppers and sometimes the sea was violent with over 60 knots of wind and it looked like someone had dipped a garden rake in white paint and combed it through the waves! The biggest wave recorded while I was out there was 67 foot (20 metres) high and I don’t ever want to meet such a wave in Roaring Meg…