Monday, January 30, 2006

The Challenger and Changes

In late 1985 I was working offshore in the Persian Gulf for Brown & Root. We took on a job in Egypt in the Gulf of Suez to install two GOSPs (Gas & Oil Separation Platforms) for PetroJet (Egyptian National Oil Company). This entailed making a journey of over 3000 miles by sea at 10 knots max.

We sailed from Bahrain and headed south being careful to stay out of the Iranian economic zone. We passed through the Straits of Hormuz into the Indian Ocean and then coasted along the shorelines of Oman, South Yemen (The two Yemens were separated at the time), past the Russian anchorage at Socotra, up through the Straits of Bab el Mandab, up the Red Sea, into the Gulf of Suez within sight of the Suez Canal. It took 31 days.

I navigated and it was the pinnacle of my offshore career. We were excited to make this voyage and wound up being there for almost 4 months before weighing anchor and coming back. All in all it took 6 months.

During this time we were cut off from the world. There was no internet, cell phones, etc. All we had was Telex and SSB radio as well as short wave. AFN, VOA, BBC, and the like were our links to the world. While we were in Egypt I drew night radio watch and listened to multiple frequencies all night long as this was an active shipping area.

One late night I was tuned into Radio Prague as the commie radio stations played the best Classical music. Radio Prague, Radio Moscow, Radio Berlin were all good sources for this. You just tuned out the commie rhetoric and listened to the music. During the broadcast there was a news flash that the US Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up during the launch. I did not believe it. Like most young Americans I believed NASA to be almost godlike when it came to technology. It just couldn't happen.

I spun over to AFN. Nothing. I tried VOA. Nothing. I found the BBC and they verified it. I knew then it was true. I was crushed. It could not happen to us. We are Americans. We lead the world in technology. I found out that the world is not what I thought it to be and that we make mistakes just like everyone else.

Yesterday was the 20 year anniversary of the crash. We still fly the Space Shuttle. I am still working in this God Forsaken hell hole part of the world. NASA still makes mistakes. The world has changed in many ways but in many ways it is still the same.

My youth became my adulthood on that day 20 years ago. I understood that everything is fragile no matter how well designed or engineered. I understood mortality. I feel my mortality now. I know how fast people's lives are snuffed out. War has taught me that.

I did not see the video of the explosion of the shuttle. We did not have internet, we did not get TV offshore. I was in Egypt another 5 months and did not make it to CONUS until December of 1986. I was at my Mother's house and there was a room full of people. While we were gathered one of the networks was running a compendium of the year's stories. It was really white noise while we talked. They played the lift off and explosion. I watched intently. While I was watching one of my relatives started to try and talk to me. I waved him off as I had never seen this tape. He kept trying to talk. I finally turned and told him to please be quiet as I was trying to watch. He said out loud so everyone could hear that everyone had seen this a thousand times on TV. I looked at him and told him that I had been overseas and had never seen it. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. My entire family at that point suddenly realized just how isolated I had been all those months.

Choosing this lifestyle causes you to miss many things. There are trade offs though. I have seen and done things athat most members of my family never will. I continue to trade off but I can see it rapidly drawing to a close. My father made those same trade offs. One of the things he traded off was his relationship with his children. I won't let that happen. I will be home when my son starts to school.

Of course as Fritz stated, there are those of us who are destined to live this life and wander the earth, not seeking anything profound, but just soaking in all that the world has to offer. If the opportunity arises I will take my family to another place for a while and let them experience some of this.

Youth is fleeting. The world is fascinating. Trouble exists everywhere. Beauty exists everywhere in some form. There are so many places to see, so many people to meet, so much to do, and so many ways to die. To wrap it up; I want to die like my grandfather, peacefully and in my sleep, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.

If you can't end anything on a positive note, use some humor!


Anonymous Fritz said...

I would love to say a few things but I simply can't see the keyboard for the tears in my eyes, I can just see them all now, screaming. Your too much!

6:39 AM  

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