On a rig where I was not wanted.

ByFaizal Sohaimi

I was a young junior field engineer, on my first assignment. On an oil drilling rig where I was not really wanted. A senior field engineer was in charge of our operations on this rig, Dulang-C. He was (supposed to be) assisted by another junior field engineer who was posted to the location five months earlier than I was.

While I was fresh from training school (a sixteen-and-a-half-week boot camp), she was my senior of five months. She should have been promoted to a full-fledged field engineer but was not. No idea why.

There Was Nothing Much To Do, But I Was Expected To Do A Lot Of Things!

She was supposed to do the work, to be observed by the senior engineer. The observing engineer had to be satisfied that she had achieved a certain level or standard or performance before she could be independent and promoted into a full-fledged field engineer. There was really a lot of stuff and a high standard to achieve.

As she was supposed to do the stuff there, on the drilling rig, there was nothing for me to do, almost. This curtailed or retarded my development and promotion. Suffice it to say that the engineer-in-charge (EIC) of the operations i.e. assigning engineers on offshore rigs, though he was good-looking like a Bollywood and a decent engineer, management wise he was an idiot! His name rhymed and also was synonymous with “Rubbish”. This Bollywood idiot thought I should be fired!

So, I spent my first three months on the rig, “lepak-ing”! Not much different from my first few months working at a power plant. That idiot EIC in fact suggested to our location manager that I really should be fired! Very smart suggestion eh? To cover his backside.

Getting Used To Storms

This place was offshore, floating and when a storm came, the rig/barge would rock from side to side. Some liked it, like a swing rocking you to sleep; some hated it as it gave sea-sickness for some people. I was sent offshore in early January. Right, smack in the middle of the monsoon season on the east coast of Malaysia.

Talk about “baptism of fire”, this was “slushy”! Fortunately, it was not as cold as it was in the North Sea, and the waves were only half the height of those in the North Sea!

Imagine, you were sleeping on the top bunk (bunk bed) in a room where there was no window, and rocking side to side and sometimes back to front… Vomit/headache already???

Many of us spent our “free time” in the TV/video room. This was the day of the VHS.

Movie Time

In one room, it was continuous karaoke. Alternating between regular English/Malay hits and “dangdut” (Indonesian folks beat) songs!

In a larger room, it was alternating between the latest movies and porn! Three to four weeks offshore and watched that much porn! What the???!!!

Well, that was twenty-five to thirty years ago. During my offshore/wellsite days.


Bored of all that, I tried to learn something. Among the very few people who were willing to teach me was Andy Chong. He was a directional driller with Baker Hughes Inteq then. Years later he joined Schlumberger as a directional driller and then became an LWD/MWD engineer.

A very talented man.

Imagine a drill string i.e. a string of connected drill pipes (each was about ten meters long), finally connected to a drill bit at the end, snaking into the earth. The drill bit was about ten to twelve inches in diameter, connected to a drill string that was probably two to three kilometers long, going up and down in the earth below.

You would either twist and rotate the whole drill string, or, just twist the drill bit with a mud motor, down there. Either way, the driller, on the rig floor, three kilometers away from the bit, couldn’t see the bit. Thus, he also couldn’t see where it was or where it was going!

Andy though could hit a window somewhere down there, with three meters by three meters given target area, right into the bull’s eye!

Yes, a ten to twelve-inch drill bit, The driller was about two to three kilometers away hitting the front door of your house, if you want to imagine! A few talented directional drillers like that!

Not that I ever touched the drilling steering or instrumentation/equipment, but watching Andy work – from hand calculating the well trajectory using a scientific calculator to compare with the computed results, to guiding the driller on the rig floor – was high tension and fun!

I learned a lot from him!

Lost and Found

After our project was completed and we were demobilized from our rig (Dulang-D/Teknik Berkat) we lost touch. I was soon transferred to Karamay in Xinjiang, China. This was before we had GSM mobile phones and widespread Internet access and usage. I did not even use nor have a laptop yet.

After more than twenty years, I found Andy again via Facebook. He was fighting cancer. He won!!!

Then I had an accident last year. He was among the few old friends who visited.

Ten months after the accident, I rode my other motorbike to his home in Dungun, Terengganu to visit him.

It was great to see an old buddy who is also free of cancer for a year already!

Once Bitten…

Many would say “Once bitten, twice shy”. Not necessarily applicable to me, at least in this situation.  When he saw me, he said “Nothing deters you!” while I walked to him, in the cafe, holding my helmet.

It was only half true. It depends. I was not deterred from motorcycling though I have had accidents, twice with motorcycles, and saw what happened to two of my good friends who spent more than six months in the hospital and continuous physiotherapy sessions for a few more months.

Bitten In Business

In business, I was bitten deep. Took me way longer to bounce back and make a “comeback”. Though I had been in business as a director and a partner in a few businesses after the failure of my first “own” business, I did not start my own business until last year. For nineteen years, though I honed my knowledge and skills in sales, marketing, and business development, to be honest, I was scared.

I was scared and stayed away from starting my own business for nineteen years. It took me many months too, before I could admit that I was starting and building a business. My wife is running one side of our business and it’s administration and I started building the other side.

Lessons From Andy

It hit after I came back from Dungun, having visited Andy. It’s about him steering a twelve-inch drill bit three kilometers away, snaking away from him to meet that three-metre by three-metre target.

  1. If you could see Andy’s face, he was always full of confidence. He knew and was very sure of his stuff. Not sure? He will go and read, to be sure. Performed his hand calculations, with a scientific calculator and with his computer. He even took me through the process, showing me how to do it, and having someone to double check his work. He did it to the point that he was absolutely sure. He didn’t want to waste a few days of rig time (read – millions in US Dollars) only to veer away from the target!
  2. If you could see how Andy interacted with the rig crew, from the driller, the mud logger, the mud pumpman, and a few other rig floor hands, you’d realize that though Andy worked alone and actually for a different company than those I mentioned, he worked with them as a team. He coordinated their work and his at every moment, to ensure that the drill bit reached the right place or target. He would give them ALL the credit and often made them happy.
  3. If you could see the energy that he put into his continuous shifts, often more than twenty-four-hour stretches, and still treated and interacted with everyone well, you would understand how he would hit the bull’s eye every single time! He would spend time chatting with the galley hands and cooks!

The End – Just Water?

Though Andy was not in charge of the rig at all, he worked hard at maintaining harmony and closeness between the rig crew. This ensured that everyone worked happily, his work became easier, he hit his target, and also easier for me to do my work. I came in at the end to check, if the hole or well that Andy drilled, has oil or gas, or just a lot of salty water…

I realized business is just like drilling. You just have to be:

  1. Sure of your knowledge and skill. If not, go learn and learn more.
  2. You need to understand that everyone around your work does their stuff. You have to work well with them, for them to help you to get your work done. And done well.
  3. There are people who seemingly are not directly connected to your work. But, they can help. Maintaining a good relationship with them gives you peace of mind to do your work well.

But of course, just like drilling an oil well, not all the time you’ll get producible oil, a lot of time you’ll get water too. That’s business.

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