Easy bit first. Business class to Moscow, Business Class to Sakhalin. Airport a bit of a shambles and you have to declare your luggage and show them your receipt (which I guess is not a bad thing). Then to the Strawberry Hills hotel, which turns out to be quite swank. Then it all starts going pear shaped!
Phoned office told to come in, have to phone somewhere else to arrange transport. Get there and get my passport photocopied and wait around for hours. There was another guy there as well and we were like 'what the hell are we doing here', eventually we said 'can we go now'.....'oh yes we have all your details thanks'....grumble, mumble grumble.
Next day checked out and went to the office, had a ten minutes meeting then sat in there all day wondering what the hell was going on. Eventually bumped into someone who was also going up North and he told us that we would be getting on a train and that someone would meet us with our tickets and a packed lunch (alarm bells ringing anyone). Anyway, arranged our own transport again to the train station. Eventually met by rep who gave us tickets, in Russian I may add, so no idea what carriage, or car we where in, let alone where we were going to. I was told that the train would stop at 0615 the next day and we would be picked up!
Got on the train and the first class cabin was two day beds (with two of us in it) with about 0.5m between (literally). Man, going up in the world. Needless to say after 12 hrs on this baby we were real pleased to get off at the station and find that there was no transport arranged for us. Using our sat phone (no GSM here mate) we rung the office!....expecting the yellow school bus to come around the corner at any point 'oh, sorry must have fell through the gap' nice. Luckily there was another van there that had ships crew for the same job so we piled in that.
Then two hours later after navigating a rally stage (no made roads here), we arrive at some student accommodation. We get ushered into some rooms whilst our passports and border passes are taken away (oh yes, have to have a pass to get through to another county, that would solve our immigration problems in the UK! And also you have to account for every single night you are in the country, and get a stamp per day).
Next we get taken to a restaurant (loose definition) where we get a severe dose of the runs from some dodgy omelettes. Then onto the docks where we have to clamber across first a coal barge, then onto a grotty tug (a lot worse than the one in Cuba!) and get taken out to the crew boat. Normality at last, or is it! Find out that they have just changed captain and need a pilot so the journey that would take 8hrs is now going to take 12hrs.
Finally get there to board one of the two ships 'Trinity Supporter' (the other the 'Geco Beta', now the 'Beta'). Just to top it off no drinking water and the customary rusty shower. Just what I signed up for.
First shift was 24hrs which was nice, and you have to get transferred from the accommodation to the trenching barge via numerous boat transfers on workboats and tugs. I couldn't be arsed to go back as it was too much hassle and got into my rotation.
The trencher is experimental and doesn't appear to work (when do they ever). I enquired how they intended to get the USBL system working in 18m water with 6 agitation jet injection pumps running on the trencher and two plus Detroit diesels thumping away on the barge 'why wouldn't it work', why wouldn't it indeed!
Tune in for the next instalment....