Capt. Gregory C. Daley

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Sea Stories
Mud Boats In Mexico

Tidewater operates over 50 boats out of Ciudad de Carmen and Paraiso in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico. A mud boat delivers mud, drill water, chemicals, diesel, and supplies to platforms, rigs, and vessels. The oilfield is owned and operated by Petroleos Mexicanes, PEMEX, the national oil company of Mexico.

Mud is probably the most important component used in drilling a well. Due to the viscosity and density of the mud, it enhances the drilling rate, cools the drill bit and returns the drill bit cuttings to the surface as the well penetrates the earth. In addition mud also coats the side of the hole with properties that inhibit the hole from caving in. But most important is the weight of the mud. The mud needs to weigh enough to hold back the pressure of a well coming in when you drill through the producing zone, but not weigh so much that the mud is lost to the porosity of the producing zone. The weight of the mud is controlled by its density. Additives help all of the required mud properties in different ways. It is a science and an art it is a multimillion dollar industry. There is so much science (and art) surrounding drilling mud.

Mud boats are supply boats with specialized equipment and modifications allowing the vessel to make and transport drilling mud and drill water. Mud boats in Mexico are usually over 200 feet long. I commanded the Man O' War which is 220 ft. by 48 ft. They typically have two engines totaling 3800 hp to 6000 hp. They have a bow thruster enabling sidewards movement.

The pictures on this page are cropped from a full size picture which gives a better perspective to what is being shown. To see a picture full size, simply click on the picture and it will appear full size in a new browser.


Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Man O'War is a 1971 Halter Bollinger Shipyard Boat, well built and suited for her tasks. She has a gross tonnage of 1124 international tons and 498 domestic tons. Her max displacement is 2,413 long tons which is 5.3 million pounds and has a max draft of 13 ft. 5 3/8 in.

Her high smoke stacks are called North Sea stacks and are able to withstand significantly worse weather than the low stacks. Her deck is loaded with chemicals used to make mud.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Man O'War is a DP 1 boat (dynamically positioned). However the client is not willing to pay for the use of the DP system. We can use it even though we have a fully functional DP system on board.

The forward helm is laid out well. All of the controls and electronics are within easy reach. To port is one radar and alarm panel. The digital fathometer is aft of the alarms.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. In the center are the helm controls, auto pilot, DP controls, engine throttles, bow thruster throttles, magnetic compass and emergency engine shutdowns. She has a gyro for the DP system but there is no read out at either helm.

On the starboard side are a myriad of radios, GPS, second radar, AIS, and the ship's voice powered phone.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. To the left is a view of the autopilot and DP system controls.

To the right is the steering control panel. There are two hydraulic steering pumps to choose from. The rudders can be controlled independently of jointly. They can be controlled from one of two joy sticks, the wheel, the autopilot or the DP system. Quite a nice, complex system.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The aft helm station has most of the same features as the forward station. It has more display information regarding the dynamic positioning system as much of the DP work is done with the stern to the platform or rig.

Most of our working hours are spent on the aft helm.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. There are 25 persons on board, 14 crew, 10 mud contractors, and one PEMEX rep. Consequently space is at a premium. This is the captain's quarters. A bit small, having been converted from an electrical closet/lounge. But it is the only private room on the boat. The old captain's quarters is a four person room and is used by the three chemical engineers.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. We are moving into position alongside a jackup rig in order to pump new mud and receive old mud or deliver or receive chemicals. Although we are much bigger than the oilfield workboats we have to get in closer to the structures to place the hoses correctly. This takes some getting used to.

There always seems to be some appendage sticking out from the structure making our job more challenging. Here you see the flare. We could easily damage it and the superstructure of our boat if we weren't careful.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Here we are moored with a single line to a fixed platform with our hose pumping mud up to the drilling rig's tanks.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. I find the night work to be the most interesting. We work 24 hours a day. Here we are moored to a platform alongside a semi-submersible work barge also moored to the same platform. The barge is used to lift our hoses to the platform and to carry personnel to and from the platform. The barge also performs a variety of construction work for the platform.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. The barge, Semi 1, is a dynamic positioned vessel and can safely get very close to other platforms and vessels. Its DP system is working.

Passengers on the personnel basket stand outside of the basket on a wooden ring. You can imagine what the ride must be like, especially at night. The view is fantastic. It is better than any Disneyland ride I have been on.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. We wanted to transfer diesel to another boat. Neither of us had DP. The seas were too high to tie up to each other. We anchored on 7 shots of chain in 60 feet of water - that's 630 feet of chain giving a scope of 10 to 1. The other vessel then tied to us stern to stern with one line on opposing corners. This was very stable.

We pumped diesel to the other vessel with no difficulty at all.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. Most afternoons and evenings in the tropics in the summer and fall we tune one RADAR for squall watch. These squalls come up pretty fast and move fairly quickly. The lightening and torrential rains make work very unpleasant. The accompanying winds and seas making mooring much higher risk.

This was one particularly nasty squall which came in very quickly on us. We had about one hour from the time we identified it on RADAR till it was on top of us.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. We began asking the rig to let us go (hoses and lines) about 45 minutes before the squall came. They refused so they could finish the work. When the squall finally hit, they realized what a mistake they had made. We were able to get free without incident as the downpour began.

Hopefully they learned from this and there won't be a next time. But if there is, I will be ready with saws and axes to free us from the hoses and lines. The guys on the rig are usually pretty clueless about boats and risks.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. Chancey Lee Ramon is my Chief Mate. He is from Honduras. He has been handling boats for over forty years of his life. Needless to say, he is an excellent boat handler. However, there are more aspects to the job of Chief Mate than just handling boats.

Ramon Zablada is my Chief Engineer. He is from Honduras. He has been on boats for over 40 years as well. We never had an engine problem during my entire assignment to the Man O'War with Ramon. He knows the value of preventive maintenance.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. Safety Drills and safety training are very important. Two AB's are suited up to fight a simulated fire on the aft deck. All STCW training is supposed to be standardized world wide. However, none of my QAB's had ever put on fire fighting suits before. In the United States, you can get an STCW certificate without fighting a real fire in full gear. This is true for both Mexico and Honduras.



Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. Everyone on board enjoyed participating in the drills. We are required to do a fire drill every two weeks and an abandon ship drill every two weeks by US regulations (46 CFR Subpart L - OSV's).



Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. After the drills we all meet in the pilot house for a lesson on safety. This day we had 3 - one on aft deck safety, one on load lines and stability and one on safety around mud operations.



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Click on picture to see an enlargement. There is a lot of science to properly making drill water and mud. Here the chemical engineers are testing the salinity of the drill water. This determines the weight (density) of the water. Given the depth of the hole may be one to three miles deep, the salinity has to be very accurate so you don't have too much or too little weight when drilling through the producing formation.

The PEMEX engineer is verifying the density of the drill water. You can see how serious everyone takes these measurements. A million dollar well can be damaged or destroyed by having the wrong water or mud weight. Worse yet, if it is too light, a blow out could occur which could create major environmental oil pollution.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

Click on picture to see an enlargement. Sacks of chemical additives are stored on the stern for the drill mud and drill water.

Here are some of the types of equipment used in the creation of the mud and drill water.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. These four tubes are the tops of the mud tanks. Each tank can store 75 cubic meters of mud. This could be as much as 100 tons of mud in each tank.

This is one of two tubes which are the tops of the drill water tanks. Each drill water tank can hold over 11,000 gallons (over 47 tons each) of drill water.

Click on picture to see an enlargement.

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Captain Gregory C. Daley
PO Box 3826, Lafayette, LA 70502

email: info@CaptainGreg.net

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