First step of Elf in Brazil
In early March 1978, I was transferred to Brazil where Elf had obtained a prospecting block in front of the Amazon Delta. Brazil then opened up to foreign companies.
If the base of management was in Rio De Janeiro, the operational base was in Belém, capital of the state of Para, located on the south coast of the Amazon Delta.
An anecdote: In preparation, the person in charge of the positioning of the apparatus had torn off the roof of the church of Amapa by wanting to put the Puma on the place of the village. Elf had been for a new church. The boss was happy!
It was my first big trip abroad because we can not consider the Middle East as a distant destination.
The obligatory passage was Rio de Janeiro. No direct flight between Paris and Rio at the time, my trip to Belém was therefore a series of jumping chip: Pau - Paris - Dakar - Rio then Rio - Belo Horizonte - Teresina - Sao Luis and Belém. No stop over in Rio where I arrived in the morning and left after 6 hours of waiting. Of course, the ticket Rio - Belém was not valid and I had to pay a surcharge.
At Belém, the apparatus that was to be drilling for us was being navigating. This new SEDCO unit was coming from Alaska via Cape Horn (it had made a hole for ESSO on the Pacific coast).
After 6 days in Belém, I got into the apparatus. The journey to get there was such an experience again. With Shell, we built a helipad on the northern mouth of the Amazon Delta (Cabo Norte) to refuel with kerosene.
But for this first trip, it was necessary to go through Amapa, capital of the territory of the same name, to the North of the Amazon, to take the representatives of the customs service. So we put our helicopter on a helipad that was used by Petrobras (Brazilian national oil company).
While waiting for the passengers, a Lider helicopter returned from a relief. It was an S58 (Sikorsky), one of the first large aircraft with star engine and a cockpit located high above the engine. The most extraordinary: a 200-liter kerosene keg was installed in the cabin (passenger part) with a simple hand pump, to compensate for the low capacity of the tank, and on the pilot's orders, one of the passengers was charged with pumping for transfer the kerosene to the main tank.
Fortunately, we had a dual-turbine Puma helicopter (EADS) operated by pilots and mechanics from Héli-Union, a French company specializing in helicopter transport.
The normal stages of flights were Belém - Cabo Norte - Rig (name given to the platform) - Cabo Norte - Belém. Cabo Norte was a fishing village located on the north coast of the mouth of the Amazon. The helipad had been made on the edge of the forest and a decking was placed on the trunks of trees cut above the maximum level of the tide.
During the journey Belém - Cabo Norte, we flew over the Amazon Delta and the island of Marâjo which has a surface equal to Belgium. During some trips, I was treated to terrible storms during this crossing. No, not really the "jitters" but, of course, the tripe a little knotted.
The second part of the flight was partly on the area where the muddy waters of the Amazon mingle with the blue water of the Atlantic: this gives an incomparable two-tone patchwork in the form of large meanders. A round trip Belém - rig - Belém took 6 hours. Needless to say that in the event of a serious accident, the speed of evacuation was impossible.
Communications with the base could only be done via a SEDCO radio that was not functioning properly because Elf had not yet obtained the agreement from the Brazilian authorities (still under dictatorship at that time) for the use of local radio frequencies. So I stayed 4 days without contact with my base but I started the well with some problems that I had to solve alone.
The base not knowing what was happening because of the impossibility of passing the daily reports by radio, the 4th day, a helicopter arrived with the assistant to the chief of base to have information and know where I was of the construction site as they were not sure that I started the operations.
That same day, a call from another helicopter arrived on the platform to ask us for an emergency landing because soon lacking kerosene. In fact, it was a Lider helicopter that was taking over a SEDCO unit working for Petrobras farther north. These helicopters (S68: see above) were very poorly equipped in navigation equipment and after a storm, the pilots had lost the direction and derived from the rig road. Seeing a derrick, they hit us but it was not the point of arrival. So we gave them kerosene and set the right direction to get to the right destination.
But back to our site, fortunately I had the well program and I did not wait for the green light from the base to start drilling. It lasted about 2 weeks with weak communication but the work was progressing well without major problems.
It was at the time of the descent of casing 20 that the only major problem occurred. The funny thing was to find the float collar of the first tube 20 "welded" upside down ". It was therefore necessary to drill it with a 12 "1/4 tool before descending this casing. It was on this site that I used for the first time fairing (airfoil shaped profiles) which were mounted on riser joints to counter the Wortex phenomenon due to the very powerful current in these zones (minimum 5 knots).
On this first campaign, Elf drilled only one exploration well with negative result.