NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

A Canadian Sailing Race Gets Rigged by the Gulf of Mexico

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about getting ready for my adventure sailing in the Van Isle 360 race around Vancouver Island, Canada, and I mentioned that the sailing race followed the “inside passage” to Alaska. While sailing northwest along this passage between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, I saw a lot of fishing boats, cruise ships, and barges, and one leg of the race was even delayed for a bit because a tugboat towing a large raft of logs blocked part of the starting line. I would expect to see those sorts of things while on the water in the Pacific Northwest.

What I didn’t expect to see was a Gulf Coast oil rig loaded on the deck of a specialized heavy lift ship in the port of Nanaimo, Canada! I guess it was too much to ask for a complete vacation from work.

A drilling rig owned by Escopeta Oil being transported between the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The Gulf of Mexico oil rig being transported between Texas and Alaska, via Nanaimo, Canada. Credit: Doug Helton.

This is a “jack-up” rig, designed to drill in relatively shallow waters. The legs extend down like an old fashioned tire jack, but the legs are only 150 feet or so long. Most of the waters in British Columbia are much deeper than the Gulf of Mexico, and I wasn’t aware of any active oil exploration in this region. So I wondered, Why was it here? Where was it going?

Two weeks later when I was back in Nanaimo, the ship was gone, but the rig was tied up to the pier.

When I got back to the NOAA offices in Seattle, I did a little research and found out that the Chinese heavy-lift vessel Kang Sheng Kou was passing through British Columbia en route to Cook Inlet, Alaska. The ship had stopped in Nanaimo to repair damage during its two-month voyage from Texas. Too wide to transit the Panama Canal, the ship had to go around South America.

The ship had initially called on Prince Rupert, near the Alaska border, but that town lacked the necessary repair facilities. The ship then tried to go to the Port of Vancouver, but the rig was too tall to clear the Lion’s Gate Bridge, so the ship ended up in Nanaimo.

The rig was a reminder that we have a global economy that’s always moving, and we need to be on stand-by, even when I’m trying to get away—literally, away in a sailboat—from work.

Author: doughelton

Doug Helton is the Regional Operations Supervisor for the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and Great Lakes and also serves as the Incident Operations Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Emergency Response Division. The Division provides scientific and technical support to the Coast Guard during oil and chemical spill responses. The Division is based in Seattle, WA, but manages NOAA response efforts nationally.

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