7ony (7ony) wrote,


I've been sorting through boxes of old papers and other relics. We've had them stored out back in the top of a shed. My goal is to get rid of everything I can although I'm finding it hard to let go of some items.

This picture dropped out of a folder I'd boxed up ten years ago when I retired from my day job at a 'Big Oil' research center.
Since the 1970s, I carried this picture from office to office, always displaying it somewhere, usually on a marker or tack board. Time has not treated it kindly. It's faded. If you look closely, you can see the thumbtack holes in the corners and maybe by looking even closer, a few splatters here and there.

The ship in the picture is the Discoverer 511, an exploration drill ship. Here are two views scanned from my collection of slides. I believe the one on the right is the original for the print.
(Click on each picture for a larger view)
When these pictures were taken, the D511 was anchored off the coast of Guyana. That was over 30 years ago, but if I remember correctly, Guyana lies somewhere just over the horizon in the backgrounds of these two photographs. Our helicopter flew in from the other side and I asked the pilot to circle so I could get a picture of my part of the ship. This was my second and final visit to the drill ship while at sea.

My part of the ship was the forty-foot long white module located in the picture just above the bridge of Smit Lloyd, the work boat, and below, right, of the drilling rig. Inside the white module was a 'state-of-the-art' minicomputer which sampled over 150 drilling parameters and used them with software to optimize the drilling process. It was one of the first installations of computers on drilling ships and certainly the first used to acquire and analyze the drilling process insitu and in real time. I was responsible for the design and implementation of everything in the module and all the sensors and display panels located throughout the ship. Fortunately, the cabling and placement of the module was done by workers at the shipyard, the programming was done by a gaggle of programmers, and two technicians were available aboard the ship to fix non-design problems.

The Discoverer 511 began life as a Japanese freighter. It was cut crosswise in half at the Avondale shipyard in New Orleans and a fifty foot middle section was removed. This was replaced with a sixty foot turntable section. This turntable or spool, as we called it, allowed the drilling rig to keep the same physical orientation while the ship was swiveled so it always pointed into the waves. The center section was held stationary by an arrangement of anchors. Some of the orange buoys attached to the anchors are visible in the pictures. The center of the spool, located below the drilling rig and open to the water, was called the moon pool.

I visited the shipyard while the ship was open and gutted, waiting the fabrication of the center section. The various inner levels were seeing daylight for the first time in a long while and the sparkling mobs of welders at every level were barely visible through the haze of grey-blue smoke. It was a Japanese freighter reborn as a drill ship with the numerals 511 chosen from its new length in feet.

Of course 'state of the art' is a relative term. The PDP-1140 I put in the module had considerably less computing power and memory than my present laptop. But it did the job. The drill ship was a wildcatter, always drilling in unknown situations. The time saved by realtime optimization represented serious money. Also, the computerized sensors were better able to detect the 'kick' from dangerous underground gas bubbles, an ever-present risk when drilling.

I googled 'Discoverer 511.' Apparently, it is still in operation somewhere in the world. I do know 'my' module was removed in the 1980s when the ship and the company parted ways.

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