Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pulau Dayang

Returning to Singapore after my safety course I found myself sitting in front of the computer for 12+ hours/day applying for offshore jobs and trying to figure out the industry. Not fun at all. I haven't much hope of actually securing anything for a while so I switched gears a little and started to look for a temporary job to keep me alive until I finally do get something. Not sure if it will be in Singapore but since I was already here and hoping to stay, I randomly emailed a bunch of dive shops around town offering my services. I think that was Wed and Thurs morning and by Thursday afternoon I had a call from one of the bigger centres (Big Bubble) asking if I'd like to assist them for the weekend. Sweet!
Singapore is a terrible dive destination and nobody dives here. Instead all diving is done abroad with people either flying out to Indonesia, Thailand, Borneo, etc. or driving a few hours up the east coast of Malaysia to some of the islands there. Thus pretty much all the diving is done on weekends. So I signed up to join them from Friday night until Sunday evening. It went something like this. Meet at 6pm at the dive shop to pack gear and meet the crew. Catch a chartered coach bus for the 37 divers, 3 instructors and 4 divemasters (including me) to drive about 4 hours to Mersing (including a dinner stop). We arrived at midnight, jumped onto a chartered diveboat/ferry to get to Pulau Dayang. We arrived at 4am, checked into the resort and fell asleep until 8am when we had to get up for breakfast. I did not sleep at all and I don't know how people can really dive under such conditions....
Pulau is a tiny island further out than Pulau Tioman (the largest island off the east coast of Malaysia). I think there are 3 resorts on the island. All our very basic I think and our was typical. It had dorm-style rooms, shared bathrooms, white sand beach just outside and a cliff behind. Palm trees and and open eating area outside for the buffets. It has it's own little pier and that was about it. There was another dive company sharing the place at the same time but from what I've heard, none really like each other at all so there is no real interaction between them.
I was there to assist leading fun divers around but since I don't know the area at all, it was more like a training session for me and I just played backup divemaster to the other guy that was leading the group of 8 or 9 divers with us. We had our own little boat so had some degree of freedom on timing and dive sites to visit which was nice. The best part was that the sites were all pretty close, but I wasn't overly impressed with them. I did see something new on each dive so that was good and I can't really complain since all I really wanted was to just get back in the water. It was all Singaporeans as well so I felt a little out of place but the great thing is that if you are a divemaster you are accepted and I was warmly welcomed, no questions asked. Kind of scary though because they just assume I know what I'm doing too.
We were supposed to do 4 dives on Saturday but everyone backed out of the night dive and we only did 3. Got up early the following morning and did another 2 dives before having the long journey back to Singapore. It's incredibly tiring, but was fun. I did hardly any work and what did I get paid for it? Nothing. But it cost me nothing as well. I more or less got a weekend diving package absolutely free. Value of around $300US. Not bad. Now this divemaster thing is starting to look like a decent investment. Who knows, but if I stick around I may have the opportunity to do more diving this way as well.
So now I am back in Singapore and I am actively looking for some sort of work here that will keep me busy. I can't mooch forever and I've already been here 3 weeks....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Lesson in Safety

Having finished one course it was time to head off to the next one. In order to do any work offshore of any type, it is mandatory to take a basic offshore safety course. So I signed up for the simple 3 day one (there are others that are 5 day as well) and celebrated my 30th birthday by getting a passport stamp crossing into Malaysia and meeting my new host in Johor Bahru. As a very random aside, I swear my hair got lighter from all the sun in Thailand (no, it's not grey!)...
I can't believe how lucky I am sometimes. I hadn't really thought this all the way through before signing up so learned that the safety course was being held by a company that operates their training centre on a barge at the Johor port a long way out of town with no public transit to it. Not only is my host a really cool guy and fun to chat with, but he also drove me to and from class each day.
The safety course was similar to the ALST one in the sense that the class was really small and entirely male. It covered basic firefighting, sea survival, evacuation and lifeboat procedures relevant to offshore work being done these days.
The most exciting part though was the HUET section. HUET stands for Helicopter Underwater Escape Techniques. In it they simulate a helicopter ditching into the sea and you having to escape to the surface. This was my first time in the water since leaving Thailand and it was definitely a strange change from scuba diving. They put you in coveralls and shoes and then a very restrictive semi-dry suit. On top of that they give you a special lifejacket with Emergency Breathing System (EBS). It's a little bag with compressed air good for about a minute. For training we didn't get the air but had to exhale into it and breath that instead (not very fun as it gives you a massive headache from the CO2).
For the HUET there was a pool and above it a mock helicopter on a crane that could lower it in and out of the water. Inside were 4 seats where we would have to buckle ourselves in and be lowered under the water and then escape through the window beside us. You have to do it a total of 6 times. 3 are just a straight lowering with either holding your breath or using the EBS while the final 3 are done faster and with the "helicopter" rotating 180 degrees underwater so you end up strapped into your seat upsidedown! Again, holding breath or with EBS exits. It's a weird sensation and quite a ride but really you aren't under the water for more than a few seconds. The crazy thing is that they've got people that can't swim doing this!
I survived and so did everyone else somehow... I also had to do an offshore medical exam. Apparently I'm healthy and fit for work :) Now that I've finished I will go back to Singapore and start sending out my CV to anyone I can think of. Wish me luck!
PS. I've also added more photos to the Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore folders.
Video of the HUET training. Students are given 10 seconds to put on their EBS before being dunked.

And from another angle but without EBS so no pause...

Thursday, September 10, 2009


If only all courses were finished in 9 days! Well, actually, the whole thing was a bit of a joke. I can't believe that people were struggling with the math (which was actually quite simple) and I must be thankful for my academic background. I did the homework, showed up for class, went out and stayed up late and forgot to study and then got 98% on the final for the top mark. Yay! I'm still brilliant....
Ok, so much for modesty. But then reality hits. I'm turning 30 this weekend, have no money, no job, no home, no dating life and no prospects for anything terribly exciting in the future.... Exactly how did this happen? The real killer is that all the evidence points towards me never getting into the offshore world at all since it is one of the most nepotistic industries on the planet. There are no practicum placements and if I don't have a relative or friend out there, I'm going to have a very, very hard time getting in. Anybody here know anyone working offshore?
With our certificates we were given a list of companies here that do offshore work, but again, without a contact inside and with a slow economy all I can do is send out some resumes and wait. First I have to do the offshore safety course so on monday I will be in Malaysia again, just across the border in Johor Bahru doing the 3-day course. I will be hosted there again and then I am coming back to Singapore. The family that is hosting me here has invited me back to stay longer so that's great. I need to base myself somewhere so I can start getting organized and hurry up and wait. No idea how long I'll be in Singapore though.