Watching the sundown stretch throughout Singapore’s skyline is a wide ranging sight that Byron Birckbeck will always remember – and never simply due to the nice and cozy glow of orange on his face.

Birkbeck (Millwright ’05) loved the view from the deck of a large semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, Odfjell Stavanger, because it pulled into port after crusing 20 days from a shipyard in China.

The scene was so uncommon it stopped even essentially the most well-travelled sailors – aboard a Russian warship – lifeless of their tracks.


“We’re on this huge yellow dice they usually’re on their warship and we’re simply taking pictures of one another,” recollects Birkbeck. To full the picture, native fighter jets and helicopters buzzed overhead as Singapore’s air drive ran drills to mark a nationwide vacation.

“It was simply surreal, it’s exhausting to explain it. It was a very cool day.”

That Singaporean sundown is a favorite amongst many experiences throughout Birkbeck’s decade working and residing abroad. The NAIT grad manages the set up and commissioning of drilling methods for a few of the world’s largest ultradeeper rigs, such because the Blue Whale I and II – designed to function in three,660 metres of water and drill to depths of 15,000 metres.

These vessels aren’t fastened to the ocean ground like a Hibernia platform, however sail below their very own energy to wherever they’re deployed for deep sea oil extraction. Blue Whale I mines for flammable ice, a pure gasoline hydrate discovered at excessive depths within the South China Sea.

It’s a facet of the oil and gasoline trade Birkbeck didn’t even know existed when he was a millwright apprentice at NAIT the place many paths result in jobs in Alberta’s oil patch (together with his personal at one level). These floating engineering marvels not solely give him the chance to work one a few of the most superior methods on this planet, they’ve allowed him to chart a profession full of world journey and cultural experiences.

From rural Alberta to South Korea

Working abroad is much faraway from Birkbeck’s rural Alberta roots – he hails from Mayerthorpe, a city of 1,300 folks northwest of Edmonton. It’s additionally a world away from the work camps of Fort McMurray the place he discovered himself working – and never at all times having fun with himself – throughout his apprenticeship.

“Everyone [up north] was so cash pushed. That’s all they discuss – working time beyond regulation, the place you’ve invested.”

During his off days, Birkbeck would escape via journey, whether or not for a fast vacation or backpacking via South America. When he was again in Fort McMurray, he met an older man who informed tales of engaged on offshore oil platforms in West Africa and Trinidad.

“I used to be, like, that’s fairly wonderful. I at all times sort of dreamed about going over there,” he says.

Eventually, the previous timer had his fill of journey and provided to place ahead Birkbeck’s identify the subsequent time a chance got here up. Next factor he knew, he was on a aircraft for South Korea in 2009.

From shipyards to open ocean

When working at big shipyards in Korea and China, he’s often called a “nearer.” Birkbeck oversees crews of 40 staff to make sure gear is working correctly earlier than the large vessels set sail for deeper waters. Crews are sometimes lifting 400 tonnes of kit and have capability to raise as much as 1,200 tonnes. The scale is awe-inspiring, however so is the work. They’re the “first-line problem-solvers” who work carefully with engineers to troubleshoot methods.

“The gear is getting greater, extra succesful, extra superior, extra automated, extra protected, however that’s why we’re right here,” Birkbeck says. “There’s at all times issues to resolve. There’s at all times a chance to study new technical expertise day-after-day.”

“Being from the Prairies, I’m not a giant fan of the ocean.”

Life on an enormous floating oil rig (Blue Whale vessels are as tall as a 37-storey constructing with a deck that’s bigger than a soccer subject) isn’t for the faint of coronary heart (although Birkbeck doesn’t really dwell aboard until it’s to check gear in…

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