I was working as a mechanic at Hyster Forklift in New Orleans, La. and a friend of my boss “Mr Pat Horn”came by to see him as he was on leave from working offshore (mainly) and onshore in Nigeria, West Africa. His name was “Deano Pablo Vincent Martini”. He was a character to say the least. He had a heavy Italian accent, was short and stocky and he came to the USA when his submarine was captured when it surfaced in the Gulf Of Mexico and was trying to buy fuel from a shrimp boat. Martini met his wife at Camp Plauche Prison when she came to write letters home regularly to Italy for him. He asked my boss “Pat” if he knew of anyone interested in going to work on a Derrick Barge #11 mostly offshore in Nigeria, West Africa.
I was single and in my early 20’so I said yes! The company that I worked for was called “Oceanic Contractors” on the door of the building located in downtown New Orleans, but the company name I signed up with was called “J Ray McDermott”. They are a hugh, perfectly run company worldwide. I had to go get an extensive physical locally, a series of painful shots for my new international medical record that went along with my passport. The nurse said: “take your weight off of this leg” my left, and she stuck a big needle in my rear, then she said “take your weight off the other leg”and she stuck it in my other cheek and gave me the other half! It was a “Gamma Globulin” shot. Man was I glad that was over! They also gave me some pills that I had to take everyday for a month before I left to prevent me from catching Malaria. I had to take a pill everyday when I was over there from a big pill canister located in the galley where we ate meals and we had to take them when we returned home for 3 weeks too.
It took about seven weeks to get the flight to Nigeria, they had a military coup and killed the leader of the nation over there. We flew to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, France first and I scheduled a two day layover to see the city. It was a fancy airport, they had these big tubes that shuttled people in several different directions. I went to the Meridian Hotel in Paris, at the front desk I found a cab driver that spoke a little English, and the lady at the desk told him a list of all the places that I wanted to see in French! We spent half a day driving around to see all of the sights, and I ended up at the Eiffel Tower. I chose to walk up all of the winding stairs to the big deck where you could see everything for miles around. It was great fun! The next day I was walking around a mall near the hotel and I got some real “French Fries” at a McDonalds! Later, I ran into a blond headed girl walking around the mall, her name was “Stephanie”, I started talking to her and she was a prostitute!! She took me to a little hotel with a French Maid that worked one of those exposed metal cage elevators that took us upstairs to our room. The room has these giant pink lips on the wall and a bed shaped like a heart. They had a B-day, and a toilet, we both washed up and you can imagine the rest.
The next day I caught the flight that took off for Nigeria, we had to land in Accra, Ghana, West Africa and wait until daylight to take off again and land in Nigeria. The airport was near Lagos, Nigeria. It was a mess, after getting off the plane everyone had to run for the Air Nigeria flight! Then, I got lucky and caught a Widgeon Airplane for McDermott that took off from land, then was going to land in the river near the yard in Warri, Nigeria. It had pontoons and it landed in the water at the Warri River at the J Ray McDermott yard. They took me to a hotel, it was shocking! They had a motel with a rack of skeleton keys for all of the rooms, they were all the same! The view out the window was a giant pile of trash in the center yard. When it got dark, all of the power in the area went out, I found out why they had a candle in a bottle in the room with matches! That night, I took the mattress off the bed and put it in the foyer against the door to the room and slept on it. Twice that night someone tried to steal all of my stuff in the room but I was sleeping on the mattress, they woke me up and I punched the door hard and they ran away. Glad the doors opened up to the inside!
The first time I went to the Derrick Barge (DB11), I got on a tug boat called the “Gulf Wind” with a captain named “Captain Wally Hebert”. It had just come over from the United States, and on the way to the Barge offshore near the country of Angola, (used to be called the Belgian Congo”. We got fired upon across the bow of the tug, and were stopped by a Russian gunboat, with a Cuban crew! They boarded the vessel and Captain Wally had a 22 caliber pistol and they took it and left. I was seasick as a dog, stayed in my bunk and could not wait to get off! I got on Derrick Barge 11 (DB11), it was a relief or so I thought, I had to go up and down 14 flights of stairs all day unloading the tools that were sent out on the tug. We were working 18 hrs a day and it was very hard. We finished laying the pipeline to the shore and we took off going north and then we heard that someone blew up the refinery! Working in these third world toilets anything can happen!
One day the Nationals (Local Workers) all got on the tug boat the Gulf Wind and they mutinied! They got tired of the Camp Boss (a Lebanese guy) serving them sacks of “Gary” (the food the locals eat) being full of Weevils. They commandeered the vessel back to the dock in Nigeria! They came back to work after it was straightened out days later. I remember going out with the tug boat “Gulf Wind” to pick up barges of the pipe we laid and having to bring a big 12 volt battery and tools with me in case I need them to start the anchor winch and get the anchor up. I rode on the front of the barge watching the Dolphins in the crystal clear blue water as they played as we moved along! Most of the barges had hydraulic starters though. Sometimes the batteries would be gone, yep, someone paddled all the way out there in their dugout to steal the batteries so that they could have lights in their village hut!
There was a medic on DB11, he had a small portable house up under the heliport. He had giant bottles of prescription drugs from overseas, England mostly. We used to get: “Cement pills” to plug you up and “Dynamite pills” to get you going again! The camp boss and the food was cheap and inferior! They had the hairs still on the slices of bacon! It was nothing like working offshore in the Gulf Of Mexico, they had great food there! A guy that I worked with “Jerry” was hooked on “Darvon” pain pills. He had hundreds of them! Anything that was wrong with you he would say: “You want some Darvon” he was always out of it.
We went back to the McDermott yard in Nigeria for 2 months to change the swing gear in the Gantry Crane from steam driven, to electric driven. There were several places where we used to go eat near Warri, one was a place that served delicious Escargot, I never thought that I would enjoy snails, but they were truly delicious! Another time, we were coming back to the yard and they had a big gathering of people all walking to this place where they executed people. The policeman said: “You’ve never seen an Execution?” We said no and he took out his billy club and beat all of the people out of the way and took us right up front to watch! He said no pictures and we went along with that. They shot a man and a woman that they tied to two big poles with the Warri river in the background. They shot them both at the same time. One of them stole a watch, and the other 8 Naira (8 Naira was about 12 dollars at the time). Capital punishment is the name of the game. It was unreal. I used to say:”Today another dollar, Tonight another Naira”. Another time I was in a cab coming back to the yard at night, it was stopped by the police (they wear camouflage clothes with AR15’s) I was arrested for murdering a guy at the beach. I had $112.00 on me and that was what it cost me to get out of it! If a cab driver got in a wreck, the police would take him out of the car an beat him right there on the spot! These are the most crooked people I have ever seen!
Another time, I went in a local bar with other engineers and when we sat down there were instantly 4-5 girls on us all with different colored wigs, blonds, redheads etc. They were all grabbing our pants and trying to get us to go with them to a Hotel! Unreal! There was a whore house located right outside of the McDermott gate, it was called “The Block House” It was always open to visitors and there were plenty of girls there.
I went for a truck ride to this magnificent place to go swimming. There was me, a rigger and a welder. We cut up and split a fresh pineapple on the ride there. All the while I was singing to myself:”Oops there goes another rubber tree plant”! We were driving through rubber tree plantations! The river was a spring that flowed fresh water that you could drink right out of the ground and it flowed into a muddy river somewhere. We met the Chief who owned the land when we were there, a real nice guy, I took his picture and I took several pictures of the place and some young locals paddled by in a small dugout. I have a picture of me paddling the small dugout with a piece of wood for a paddle in the crystal clear spring water!
When I was leaving Nigeria the first time, there are guys at the airport where they take your luggage away to the plane and the guy in my line says: “Dash Me, Dash Me” it means they wanted a Naira tip or you would never see your luggage again! They say “Dash Me” everywhere in Nigeria. Hense the name of this story. After about 6 months I had to come home for a week and get my impacted wisdom teeth removed, I did it in the dentist chair and man, was I glad when it was done! When we were flying back overseas I made a listening device from a pen and a funnel shaped piece of paper so that I could listen to the movies they were playing so that I did not have to pay for the headphones. I just raised the armrest up! When the jet landed an elderly Cajun Boat Captain sitting next to me said: “Hold on there cuz, the shit is hitting the fan”! The jet blew out a tire when we were landing and the pieces of tire were flying up near the window! The pilot leaned the plane over and we landed OK!
I caught the McDermott Widgeon in Lagos “The Capital Of Nigeria” to fly to an airstrip in the middle of nowhere, he dropped me off and said I will be back in a couple of hours, he had to refuel the plane and do a couple of other things at the McDermott yard in Warri, He never came back! I found out and saw the wrecked plane later, when landing the plane in the Warri River he forgot to pump up the landing wheels that were down and when the plane landed it instantly flipped over, crashed and sunk! No one was killed! Thank God, he got banged up real bad. The plane was ruined, he left me out in the bush, all I had to spend the night with was a sheet, a local had brought it to me, that was it. I fell asleep that night and when I woke up the sheet had moved off my face, I was under it when I went to sleep. My face was covered with all sorts of bites and whelps, from mosquitoes mostly, and I know that is when I got Malaria!!!!! It never got to me until after I came home for good, (more on that later) the next day a British “Bristow”chopper had picked me up to fly me offshore to a heliport near DB11 where a boat could pick me up and take me to the Derrick Barge. When the Chopper took off the tail rotor few off and the Chopper made a slow descending spiral into the Atlantic Ocean!!!! The pilot got out OK, the Big Gantry Crane on DB11 picked up the very wet Chopper and put it on the heliport for later repairs I guess??
After I finished my one year contract, I flew to Brussels, in Belgium to pick up my bonus check on the way home. An interesting town! After I got home I fell in love with a local girl and we were on Lakeshore Drive at night in New Orleans and we were making out in my car and that is when I got these terrible chills, I was freezing and shaking, then I would get red hot, sweating profusely and I knew I had Malaria!!! It is not fun. They put me in Mercy Hospital and they brought me 4 pills to take ever 2 hours in a small white cup and I gave them the bottle of pills when I checked in! Someone at the Hospital called a lawyer and told them about me I guess, because a lawyer called me while I was sitting in the Hospital bed! We sued McDermott under the “Jones” Act. They gave me back the bottle of pills when I left the Hospital.
This entire story is True, and this 1 year contract with J Ray McDermott was the most event filled, exciting trip I have ever been on! I really did enjoy it immensely!!!
Robert P Bertaut Sr.