The port of St. Eustatius looms in the twilight of the early Saturday morning. This is the Redsborg’s last stop on her route from the Netherlands to the Caribbean. At last, after a voyage of nearly four weeks without delay the vessel glides across the glassy waters to the quay at the oil terminal west of the island. For the next ten years this will be the work area for the Redsborg, a so called ‘diving support vessel’ (DSV). We reminiscence with captain Jasper Jansen and Chief Engineer Bor Dubbel about their time in Delfzijl, the voyage to the Caribbean, their expectations for the future and the devastating force of hurricane ‘Irma’.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to the reader? How long have you worked for Wagenborg and what was your occupation before the Redsborg?
“Before joining Wagenborg I’ve worked in several disciplines, such as diving support, ultra-deep water drilling, offshore construction/heavy lift, rock dumping, short sea ferries, heavy lift shipping and gas tankers.”, Jasper describes. “I’ve been with Wagenborg since February 2016. First as a substitute Chief Officer on the Kroonborg, where Bor was also employed, and since mid-December together with Bor on this project”.
Why did you choose the Redsborg?
Bor continues: “We’ve known each other from the Kroonborg. I started here in 2015, after working for Wagenborg doing commercial shipping for seven years. I’ve had two interesting years on the Kroonborg, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to become Chief Engineer on the Redsborg. This is a really important chance to experience diving support, which is a different branch of DP (Dynamic Positioning).”
Jasper nods in agreement: “Working on a DSV is indeed very interesting. The Redsborg is a multi-purpose vessel, where we have to perform an array of tasks with only limited resources. Tasks that come to mind here are saturation diving, air diving, bounce diving, anchor handling, towing and vessel supplying. And as captain and SDPO (Senior Dynamic Positioning Officer) this is a nice project to gain experience from: we do a lot of manoeuvring by hand and have a 4-point mooring system, a beautiful sailing area and a lot of freedom to arrange matters by ourselves.”
Can you describe the conversion period from Serkeborg to Redsborg?
“When Jasper and I arrived in Delfzijl mid-December, the conversion of the Serkeborg was already in full swing. It was immediately apparent that this was something different than the Kroonborg project, where everything was laid out and prepared in great detail.“ Bor recounts. “Converting the Serkeborg into the Redsborg, a multi-purpose diving support vessel, had to be done with a relatively small budget and in a short period of time.”
“You can see why the construction period was somewhat hectic and challenging.” Jasper adds. “From mid-December onwards I’ve been working on ISM and writing the DP operation manual, amongst other things. Bor and I shared an office in Delfzijl and we paid regular visits to the shipyard. As a seafarer, you can’t spend all day in an office!” Jasper laughs.
And finally the time for departure came: what did your planning look like?
Bor recounts: “After the hectic conversion of the Redsborg the departure date was postponed a few times; but eventually we did leave Delfzijl. First we stopped in Harlingen to stock up on bunkers, provisions and drinking water before heading to Las Palmas.” “The voyage was to consist of two parts”, Jasper explains. “The first part of the voyage went to Las Palmas at Gran Canaria. Here we stocked up on bunkers and provisions once again. Furthermore, we underwent a change of crew for the second part of our voyage: by way of Trinidad to St. Eustatius. But before we could finally depart we had divers in Harlingen aid us in installing a door under the moonpool. This door was required, since otherwise the waves would strike the deck through the moonpool in heavy seas.”
How did the first part of the voyage elapse?
Jasper: “Departing from Harlingen was truly a relief. Finally we were on our way after planning towards it for so long. Moreover, it was my first ‘real voyage’ as captain of the Redsborg. We were packed to the rafters: a complete crew, our client AND last minute we received a tanker loading arm as deck cargo. With a lot of measuring and some good seaman’s skills we managed to get it on board and sea-fastened.”
“In regard to the voyage we were prepared for heavy rolling and we were not disappointed. As expected the former ‘shallow draught’ icebreaker proved to be not the ideal traveling companion for this type of voyage. Luckily after a week of rolling Las Palmas came into view”, Bor recounts. Jasper adds: “I was indeed not disappointed. The vessel held up decently; even during two days of bad weather. The speed did also exceed our expectations.”
All-in all smooth sailing?
“We did not suffer any delays sailing to Las Palmas. As far as I know, the second part of the voyage to Trinidad went by without any delays as well.” Bor states.
Jasper illustrates: “Two days before we reached Las Palmas a crewmember became ill. He was diagnosed with kidney stones. After consulting the RMA he was given heavy painkillers and we sailed full speed for Las Palmas. We had him checked in a hospital immediately, and luckily he was able to board again for the continuation of the voyage. Bor and I were relieved in Las Palmas”.
“The Redsborg is a multi-purpose vessel, where we have to perform an array of tasks with only limited resources. Tasks that come to mind here are saturation diving, air diving, bounce diving, anchor handling, towing and vessel supplying.”
Wat exactly are the activities of the Redsborg in St. Eustatius?
Bor: “The Redsborg will be operating for the Nustar oil terminal St. Eustatius.” Jasper continues: “We will be performing standard maintenance tasks, such as bunkering tugs, pilot vessels, and the likes. Furthermore we will be deployed as an oil spill response and firefighting vessel.
From September onwards we will be working on a saturation project, where we will be diving at a depth of 65 metres. As it happens there is a ‘Single Point Mooring buoy’ here at the terminal, where large tankers are moored in order to load and unload. This buoy has various pipes and anchoring chains attached to it under water, which need to be replaced. Here the Redsborg will be providing support. It will be a challenging period. We are currently in the middle of mobilising for this task.”
How many men are currently on board?
Bor explains: “Whenever the Redsborg is assigned a DP-task, the crew is supplemented to 13. This is our maximum capacity and also the minimal number of people needed for any 24 hour DP-operation. When we are not assigned a DP-task, part of the crew disembarks the vessel.” Jasper adds: “So currently we have 13 project crew on board for the saturation project, in addition to our 13 marine crew. This includes divers, amongst others. Furthermore, about 30 are driven to our vessel daily by crew tenders in order to cover the day shifts.”
What are your expectations for the upcoming period?
“We are awaiting a large project, but this has been postponed until further notice. As we speak we are offshore from Martinique waiting for hurricanes Irma and Jose to pass.”, according to Bor.
Jasper adds: “We were busy working in St. Eustatius when the forecasts regarding hurricane Irma came in. Gradually it appeared the hurricane was passing us more closely. There were still a few high priority operations to be completed, and by comparing several weather forecasts and keeping in close contact with our client we managed to plan the departure to our port of refuge Martinique so that all operations were completed yet we still were able to leave in time for the hurricane to arrive.”
Bor reports: “Last thing we heard is that the island has sustained significant damage at the hands of both hurricanes. The coming time we will mostly be deployed for damage control and surveying.” Jasper continues: “Hurricane Irma seemed to break all records. It was the most heavy and persisting category 5 hurricane from the Atlantic ever. We left Monday afternoon and the hurricane hit Tuesday night. Since then little contact with the island has been possible. We know that everyone involved in the project is unharmed, thankfully. When hurricane Jose has passed, we will return to the island to check the status and find out what we can do to help build everything back up.”
What was most memorable about the voyage to St. Eustatius?
Bor: “What stayed with me the most is our departure from Harlingen. After many months of converting and postponing it was finally time to take off. The vessel has never been this far offshore since being converted and we were curious how the Redsborg would fare.”
“For me it was the crew member suffering from kidney stones: to see a kickboxer, who can normally take a punch, lying there in complete agony. And then it is up to you to solve it.” Jasper concludes.