Day 38 - Act III - we inadvertently sailed into the middle of one of the largest offshore oil fields in the world
Some 150 miles off Rio de Janeiro we inadvertently sailed into the middle of one of the largest offshore oil fields in the world. Between drilling platforms and supporting vessels is enormous. And risky picking our way through. This was the highlight of the past few days where I reached a new low.
For a time, with the Carnival just over, Rio was a real possibility as we came within 80 miles before going back east again out sea - in reality all the boat and psychological problems were problems looking for solutions, which we are finding - and will be found - as we creep along.
Winds have almost been non-existent as we went from cloud to cloud. Power had become a a problem. This is critical from Nav, to self-steering, safety lights and making enough water. With the auxiliary engine and charger out of action, we did not have enough speed to power hydro-generator.
To boot, it was 30 degrees C with no protection from the sun to the South West, as we sail North East - at the height of Summer - I was cooking and could have been eaten - rare.
First I thought it was another sailboat - given the unusual vertical shape of the large oil rig, Then it kept getting bigger and bigger. And, as darkness came, gas was being burned off and the massive flames from the other rigs, made it seem like Christmas - on steroids.
We discovered it to be the Lula Oil field on the Santos Basin. It is considered to be the western hemispheres largest discovery of oil in last 30 years. Upper estimates put it at a 30 billion barrels. And not so long ago we were being told that our planet is running out of oil….
Discovered by Petrobras, the Brazilian state oil conglomerate in 2008, it was 2011 that the first oil delivery was made and currently the oil fields are targeted to reach 500,000 barrels a day. Former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, after whom the find was named, says its discovery is a " Second Independence for Brazil".
The oil is located in water about two miles deep and then another three miles through salt, sand and rocks. Its working is the product of major steps forward in the technology of extracting oil - heralding a massive growth in offshore oilfields - driven by super computers new materials coatings, sub-sea sensors and much more.
The attractions for the major oil companies is that resource nationalism denies them access to three quarters of the worlds known reserves. The economics and politics offshore are simpler.
Out here they only have to contend with obscure organizations such as our South Atlantic Residents Association - and nobody else to object for thousands of miles on this vast open space.Sometimes, something as simple as a glass of whiskey and a good cigar can do the trick. Indeed I recollect driving through remote parts of oil rich Venezuela where it was $5 dollars to fill your car and a bottle of whiskey was $30!
That said, given the complexity of the geological formations deep down, there I a lot of risk and development does not come cheap.They had spent $1 bn before extracting anything and the ultimate costs of extracting all the oil is put at between $50 Bn and $100 Bn. - telephone numbers, you might say !!!
Also developing this massive reserve was not without controversy. On the way to getting started,there were several accidents, massive explosions, men died. Also what was said to be one of the largest rigs in the world, sank.
Back on board our comparative little ship, navigating through the oil fields, in conserving power everything from the Sat phone the electronic barometer had to be turned off. Also for several hours I hand-steered - saving on the big power consumption of the self-steering system.
And so the voyage of your Le Souffle du Nord Kilcullen Team Ireland gang continues through its ups and downs. As we all inhabit our own little worlds, whatever they may be, through trials and tribulations and whatever you're having yourself. One day at a time.
And each day the Equator gets closer and closer. A remarkable contrast to our last big turning point, Cape Horn - and tough - in another way. Its crossing will be a "mile-stone" having passed through on the way out when my grand-daughter Feile was born.
And, as they say:
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going
And the big secret to good navigation
Is to steer around the rocks
Power be damned"