“Dash Me” A Year in the Life of a Cajun Boy Working in Nigeria, West Africa!

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 Deck contractor Meridian ID 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.