Autumn Leave

Since my last post (yes, I’ve been tardy again!) I have had my first trip on the Seven Rio then a  leave in Michigan. – I shall post more about the Seven Rio later, but for now I’m going to talk about this last leave.

A leave in Autumn – I still can’t bring myself to say ‘Fall’, even though I have been in the US for so long, it’s one of those quirks that I like to maintain while projecting myself as ‘an eccentric Brit’  – is usually one of my favourites. (continuing to use ‘u’ in words like favourite, colour and harbour is another of the aforementioned quirks that I will be maintaining for the time being!)

I do like the Autumn colours, though clearing up the fallen leaves is a bit of a pain, and the weather is usually the most agreeable, but most of all I like it because it tends to be one of the few times when I’m neither getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes nor having to shovel snow! It is usually a good time to slow down a bit, take stock of what we have achieved over the Summer and make any final preparations for winter.

We didn’t manage to do that this leave, or more accurately, we did it all other than the ‘slow down’ bit. Every leave this year seems to have been phenomenally busy, and this last one was no exception.

We did have a hugely sad event at the beginning of the leave when we had to say goodbye to two of our dogs, Tessa and Domino. Apart from the two most recent arrivals, Willow and Ceiba, all of our dogs are in the ‘senior’ stages of their lives and we know that their days with us are getting fewer, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.


Tessa in Colorado
Tessa in Colorado

Tessa was our first dog and has been with us for almost as long as we have been married (Melisa got her while I was on my first trip offshore after our wedding) so she was almost 16 years old. Though she was a border collie, she was a ‘smooth blue’, meaning that she had a shorter coat than most collies and was predominantly blue-grey in colour. When we first got her, my father dotted on her, and as we added more dogs to the pack I think he thought we were slightly mad. He gradually came to accept the others, but Tessa remained his favourite. And Tessa, in particular, loved it when we headed to the car saying that we were ‘going to go see Grand dad’! Like our other Scottish Border Collies, Tessa came with us from Scotland, first to Colorado, and then on to Michigan.


Domino on the mountain
Domino on the mountain

I think that Domino may have been the first of the dog to join us in America. We knew about him while we were still in the UK and Melisa had made contact with his foster family before we moved. Domino was an Aussie who was deaf and mostly blind. He had been turned in to a kill shelter in California were he was rescued by a lady who tries to rehome Aussies. Once we moved over to Colorado, Domino’s foster family took him to us via what must have been a 2000 mile round road trip. We were told that he was very friendly, but preferred women to men. Obviously no one told Domino that as he seemed to favour me over Melisa! Domino was a very ‘rough and tumble’ dog, something that seems to be an Aussie trait – while the Collies were Soccer players, Domino was definitely more a Rugby player, bowling over any dog that got in his way. We have no idea of how old Domino was, we were told originally that he was seven when he was turned into the shelter, then he was with us for over nine years, either way he was no spring chicken. In the last few months he was experiencing increasing pain in his hind quarters and some mornings, he could barely stand.

We took Tessa and Domino together to say our goodbyes, and after the vet, we took them home to bury them in our pet cemetery where Prue and Todd are. We didn’t realise that, while we were losing two, we were gaining one.

A New Cria

New Cria
New Cria

After the sad events of the morning we went to check on the other animals and found that in the course of the morning Glenda, one of our llamas had presented us was a new male Cria. We knew that at least some of the four llamas could be pregnant (and two definitely LOOKED pregnant) but we had no idea of when they were bred, or when they would be due. The new boy had literally arrived while the two dogs were leaving us. When we found him he was ‘all legs’ trying to stand up but hindered by the after -birth that had dried round his hind legs. After helping clean him up a bit, we watched him take his first tentative steps. He seemed to be a little small but, so far, he is surviving. His arrival, and the facts that if the others are pregnant they can’t be far behind, and that winter is coming, put pressure on the timetable of getting some shelter built in the llama pen. The adult llamas, being used to winter in the Andes mountains, tend not to mind the cold and show too much, but we didn’t want any young ones to do with out at least some form of shelter.

loafing shed
loafing shed

It had been on the job list for this leave anyway, but the unexpected arrival of the Cria pushed up the urgency, so we built a ‘loafing shed’ for the llamas in their back pen. Having ‘put a wiggle on’ to get it built, I’d yet to see the llamas use it up to the time I left! As we wanted it to at least look the part, we build the loafing shed in our, now signature, white metal siding with copper coloured roof. I hope the llamas appreciate how stylish it looks!

The other outstanding things that we got done this leave was repairing the paths around the pond, then moving on to starting to clear our planned ‘park’ area between the house and the pond. The felling of trees for the clearance also doubled up with us continuing to set up wood for the wood stove over the winter. It is one of these things, the more we clear, the more we realise how much more we have to clear!


In between clearing the park and building the llama shed, I did, finally, get around to wiring the inside of the garage and my woodworking shop, getting lights up, and insulating and skinning most of the inside walls. This is a job that I had been wanting to get done for a long time and it is a huge relief to me that it is, if not completely done, at least in a usable condition.

All the big dogs have been taken to the vet for a check up and, because of their size and age, we got the VW Bus out of storage just for this purpose. The side door and low height of the floor makes it so much easier to get them into it than either the Suburban or Land Rover. (In fact, this was my very argument for investing in the bus in the first place!) I will admit that I have missed having the bus on hand and, as we had it on the Ranch, every time I needed to go somewhere that didn’t require one of the other vehicles specifically, I found myself using the bus. Alas, with winter on its way, the bus now must return to it’s storage bay.

Scorpion Super Stinger
Scorpion Stinger

As well as all the other things mentioned, Melisa had a trip to Bellefonte, PA for a few days to attend the opening of a museum exhibit that features one of her fiber creations.


Arctic Cat Lynx
Arctic Cat Lynx

Just before my leave ended, we did make a couple of purchases. Melisa had expressed a desire to get a couple of snowmobiles. Not just for fun (although I think that may have been a big part of it) but also for the practical purpose of mobility around the ranch, and even the surrounding areas, given how much snow we can get in this area over the winter. New snowmobiles are rather expensive (and big, and complicated) so Melisa thought that we should stick with vintage (after all, didn’t the 1970 Bus just prove it’s worth!)
After researching and searching online for a while, we ended up getting a red 1973 Scorpion “Super Stinger” for Melisa and a black 1992 Arctic Cat “Lynx” for me. So now, I’m almost looking forward to the winter snow!


Uncertain Times

Idle Oil Rigs
Idle Oil Rigs

I’ve just returned to Michigan after a short trip off-shore. This last trip was to Scotland, the first time that I have been ‘home’ for almost exactly a year. The ship was working out of Invergordon, a small port on the Moray Firth, not that far from the town that I grew up in. Moored in the waters leading into Invergordon are more than a handful of Idle Oil rigs, some just laid-up, waiting hopefully for their next contract, others at the end of their working life being de-commissioned  A lot has happened in the year since I was last in Scotland, especially in the Oil and Oil Support industries. A year ago, the price of crude oil was almost $120/barrel, in the last 12 months it has plummeted to under $50/barrel.

For most people, this is great news, it means that gas for their cars is cheaper, prices in the stores should be cheaper, lower airfares for holidays. Even those of us who work in the industry don’t mind the lower prices when crude drops a little. But with prices at less than 50% of what they were, the knock-on effects are huge. Oil companies themselves start to tighten their belts; no new exploration or drilling, new developments are put on hold, only those projects that are already close to completion continue – on the premise that when so much money has already been invested then it’s silly not to complete them and start to get some return, however ‘small’ on their out-lay. Even routine maintenance is cut back to save on costs.

Hardest hit are the support companies, the ones that exist to supply services to the BP’s the Shell’s and the Exxon’s that they can’t (or wont) do ‘in-house’. And that is where I am, along with many workers from my home area. Now facing an uncertain future, wondering if our industry can stagger along until the price of crude starts to creep up again, will we be able to cling on to our livelihoods, or is a change of vocation on the cards, forced or other wise. The effect on whole communities can be devastating, as, one way or another, so much of the money generated in them comes either directly or indirectly from the “black gold”.

For myself, I know that in a short time, I’m going back off-shore, on a new vessel, a new position as a “mentor’ to a Brazilian crew working on this ship for Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras. What I don’t know of course, is how long that will last. Is it the twilight for my career, or just the darkness before a new dawn?

Twilight or New Dawn?
Twilight or New Dawn?





Road Trip

For these last few months work has taken away from my usual, month-on-month-off, schedule on the Skandi Seven and, instead, I have been working at various locations and ships around the southern US and Gulf of Mexico.

Skandi Neptune
Skandi Neptune

I’ve had a factory visit to an FMC facility in Houston, TX; maintenance on a carousel system at Core Base in Mobile, AL; a short trip on one of our pipe-lay vessels, Seven Borealis, in the Gulf of Mexico; a trans-spooling job on the HLV Stellaprima at Aker’s yard in Mobile; and a couple of trips on the Skandi Neptune, another of our cable lay vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the end of my last trip on the Neptune I got off the vessel at Core Base in Mobile and, instead of getting flights home to Michigan, opted for a hire car instead. The ulterior motive behind this was that Melisa had arranged for us to get a new livestock guardian dog and,  now that we were getting into the summer months, she couldn’t be air-freighted up to Michigan.

Road Trip pt1, Mobile, AL to Shawnee, OK
Road Trip pt1

The new dog wasn’t named, so we had chosen the name Ceiba (pronounced Say-Ba) for her, and she was located in Oklahoma, not exactly a straight shot on the road from Alabama to Michigan.

I left the ship on Wednesday and wasn’t due to pick up Ceiba until Friday morning, so the first part of the journey was quite leisurely. I took a route that wasn’t a direct run as I wanted to avoid Texas and have as short a time in Oklahoma as possible due to the severe thunderstorms and flooding that was happening in those states at the time. From Mobile, out of Alabama, through Mississippi and up into Arkansas.

Ceiba on Road Trip

I had hoped to get as far as Little Rock, AR on the first day, but after a delay in the morning with picking up the car I was starting to get tired sooner than I expected, so I made it as far as a little town called Pine Bluffs which looked like a reasonable place to stop for the night. As I checked into the hotel I was greeted by one of the strongest London accents I’d heard for a long time. The hotel owner had emigrated from the UK 30 years previously, but still had his London accent even after all that time. Of course, when he heard me, he wanted to know what part of Scotland I was from!

Thursday, the second day of the road trip was a leisurely day too as I only had about 300 miles to go to get near to where Ceiba was. Through Arkansas, past Little Rock on I-40, over the Mississippi river and into Oklahoma and on to Shawnee where I knew there were a number of motels where I could find a room for the night. Shawnee was only 30 minutes drive from where Ceiba was, so I knew that I would be able to make good progress on Friday after picking her up.

Road Trip pt2, Shawnee, OK - Home
Road Trip pt2

Friday morning saw a quick visit with Ceiba’s owners who’d just come back with her from her vet checks ready for the trip to Michigan. On the road by 10:30am, heading back out of Oklamoma the way I’d come the previous day. Again, I was avoiding the shortest route, as that would have taken me up through St. Louis, MO. I wanted to avoid St. Louis as I’d driven through there twice before and hadn’t enjoyed the traffic congestion there much. I headed back east, out of Oklahoma, through Arkansas headed towards Memphis. Just before Memphis, I turned north and headed up out of Arkansas and into Missouri on I-55. I branched off I-55, as that would also have taken me through St. Louis, onto I-57 which took me out of Missouri and into Illinois. Pressing on north on I-57, I drove until late in the evening then looked for a rest stop where I could get some sleep. Having Ceiba with me meant that I wouldn’t be able to stay at a hotel or motel. Even if I could have found a ‘pet friendly’ one, I really didn’t know how Ceiba would react to that as she has only ever been an ‘outside’ dog. I did find a rest stop where I was able to get some sleep until the small ours of Saturday morning, so I was able to hit the road again, if not refreshed at least not totally exhausted.

Ceiba, Larick and Willow
Ceiba, Larick and Willow

Saturdays drive saw me continue up I-57 until I met I-80 and then head east until I got into Indiana. In Indiana I branched off I-80 onto I-94, continuing eastward and angling north into Michigan. I still had 150 miles to go, but at least I was now in my eighth, and last, state. Past Breton Harbor I joined I-196, then at Saugatuck I left I-196 for US 31, ‘our’ road, and only one and a half hours from home. I arrived home at 10:30am, almost exactly 24 hours after picking Ceiba up in Oklahoma which I felt, for almost 1200 miles, wasn’t too shabby.

The total miles for the trip was a little under 2000 and time from start to finish 70 hours, though I probably could have done it in 48, there was no need to push it. Once home, Ceiba was introduced to Willow, Larick and the goats. She gets on well with Willow but already she seems to have a special soft spot for old man Larick.



Two years in Michigan

While I have been off-shore this last few weeks, a small landmark slipped by almost un-noticed. On the 6th of May it was a full two years since we up-rooted Alba Ranch and moved the whole lot, critters as well, 1500 miles across the US to Melisa’s home state of Michigan.

As with many endeavors there are grand plans that, once embarked upon, take longer than expected to come to fruition. This is what we are currently experiencing!

One of the attractions of the New Alba Ranch were the outbuildings. We knew that they weren’t perfect, but could be molded to what we wanted. I just don’t think we fully realised how much work it would be.  The workshop, studio and storage room had all originally been built at different times, expanding from the garage in a bit of a higglty-pigglty manner, all different shapes and sizes with different roof-lines.

Studio before
The Studio Before

We found that a lot of the roof was in poor condition and needed replacing, so we took the opportunity to make some changes. Keeping the basic foot-print the same, we re-built the storage-room in line with the studio area, and when re-roofing the building we extended the old roof-line of the garage to give the finished building a much more consistent look. Now it looks like one single building rather than four that had been built separately and added to.

Studio Finished
The finished Studio Building

Then we finished it off with new white metal siding on the exterior walls and copper coloured metal on the roof. – We had used the same copper colour on the roof of the house, and once the house is stuccoed in white, I think the overall look of the place is going to be stunning.


2015 UK Election, the view of an exiled Scot.

I don’t often comment about politics in my blog – (in this case “don’t often” is a euphemism for “never”) – but in the wake of the UK general election, and the subsequent wave of misinformation and sour grapes that I have heard, I’m now going to make an exception.

The overall result of the election came as a shock to almost everyone. All the pundits, pollsters and talking heads were predicting a “hung parliament” or at the very least a shaky coalition government with even a debate about which major party would end up forming the coalition. Even as the exit polls were compiled (under UK law, news outlets are not permitted to publicise even exit poll figures until the polling stations have closed) they were starting to suggest the Conservative Party being two seats short of an overall majority. The only thing that was becoming very clear was that there had been a huge surge of support for the Scottish National Party in the Scottish constituencies.

The word “Landslide” wasn’t enough to cover it; “Tsunami” was barely adequate; as the results started to come in, and in the cold light of morning, the major UK parties were all but wiped out in Scotland. Of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster, SNP won 56. Conservatives (perhaps miraculously) held the one seat they had prior, the Liberal-Democrats were literally decimated from 11 seats to 1, and Labour, historically used to Scotland being a solid base, were reduced to a single solitary seat from the previous 41 that they had.

In the UK as a whole, the other major surprise of the election emerged in the shape of what has been dubbed “the Shy Tory”. Despite all polls to the contrary, Conservative support has actually increased slightly since the last election, but the big point being, that opposition to them has splintered more. At the end of the count, the Conservative Party gained a surprise overall majority

This brings us to the point that has prompted this posting, the outpouring of contempt, disgust and sour-grapes aimed at Scotland, the SNP and Scottish voters by the many people who are, by and large, dismayed at the idea of five years of a majority Conservative government (just a hint here, the Scots aren’t thrilled about that idea either). I’ll highlight the complaints they’ve made, debunk them, and then explain exactly why this situation has come about.

“Thanks Scotland, you just handed power to the Tories for another five years.”

  • “Um, no we haven’t. Tories had 1 seat in Scotland before, and they have 1 seat now. Taking 50 seats from one minority party and giving them to another minority party is not going to reduce the Conservative majority”

“Thanks Scotland, you’ve just destroyed the Labour party”

  • “Seriously? No, they did that themselves – though admittedly the Labour leader publicly saying that he wouldn’t form a coalition with the SNP to defeat the Tories really didn’t help gain support in Scotland”

“The SNP only got 1.5 million votes, but have 56 MPs. UKIP got 3.9 million votes and only got 1 MP. That’s not fair”

  • “Actually, it’s simple Arithmetic. By their very nature (the clue is in the name) the SNP only contested 59 seats. UKIP contested 625 seats. The SNP garnered an average of 25,000 votes for each seat they contested; UKIP only got an average of 4,000 votes for each seat.”

“The SNP only got 1.5 million votes, but have 56 MPs. Lib-Dems got 2.5 million votes and only got 8 MPs. That’s not fair”

  • “Okay, instead of complaining to us, go explain to the UKIP why you have 8 times the MPs that they have, after only getting 66% of the votes that they got, while contesting as many, if not more, seats. That ought to confuse the shit out of the UKIP”

“The SNP only got 1.5 million votes, but have 56 MPs. ITS NOT FAIR!!!!!”

  • “Sigh. Look, I’ll try to put this another way… SNP only contested 59 seats. Literally 50% of voters, who had an SNP candidate on their ballot, voted for them. The level of support for the SNP in Scotland at the moment is unprecedented.”

“Why is there massive support in Scotland for the SNP now?”

  • “Fucking finally, you ask a sensible question, the one question that none of the leaders of the other parties even thought to ask, which is why – for Labour and Lib-Dem leaders – their political career is now disappearing down the plug hole. Let me explain…”

I really can’t comment on what happened south of the border, other than the fact that the Liberal Democrats, across the UK, lost 49 of the 57 seats that they had before, purely and simply because in their desperate haste to join the Conservatives in a coalition government, they basically abandoned all their principals and election promises. Their supporters were understandably unimpressed.

For the turn of tide in Scotland it goes back almost exactly a year, to the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence. All the major UK parties were united in their assertion that the UK would be “Better Together”, against the SNP’s lone call for independence and self-determination. The “Better Together” won the day, 55%-45%, with their campaign of fear-mongering, disinformation, and vague promises of more autonomy if Scotland stayed part of the UK (and, obviously, continued to hand over the royalties of North Sea Oil to Westminster). Once the matter was decided, those self-same parties promptly turned their back on Scotland with the disdain that they always had, and carried on with the same disregard to the views of the Scottish people that they had always displayed. To be honest, I totally understood that attitude from the Conservatives and didn’t expect anything different from them, but for the Liberal Democrats, and Labour in particular, it was a bit more perplexing. Without their traditional support in Scotland, Labour frankly has little chance of ever forming a UK Government again. Was it really wise to stab us in the back so obviously?

So while the rest of the UK bemoans Scotland’s rejection of Labour and the Lib-Dems, try to remember that we’re not the reason the Conservatives have a majority; you need to look at your Southern brethren to figure that one out. And perhaps, the next time you make a promise to get your way, it might be an idea to make good on it, because that’s the reason Scots have sent 56 SNP MPs to Westminster, to be a loud (and hopefully, disruptive) voice to remind those there of the promises that were glibly made to retain the revenue of the black gold.




I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Willow.

Last year we had the sadness when we lost two of our long time dogs, Prue, one of our Border Collies that emigrated with us from Scotland, and Todd, a trained Border Collie the we got in Colorado.

Not long after we moved to Michigan we got Willow. She came from Colorado too, but was too young to travel when we moved, so she had to join us a few months later. She’s one of our Livestock Guardian Dogs, but she may be alternating between looking after the Goats and looking after Melisa when I’m gone. She’s a gorgeous Akbash, a relatively rare breed of livestock guardian, and she just loves her daddy and the little goat kids she has to look after.

Willow cleans faces
Willow loves her Dad
Willow after the “Fluff and Buff”

Update; into 2015

Yet again it’s been a long time since my last blog post.

snorkel hot tub
Snorkel Hot Tub

In the last real post I was telling you about the new hot tub area that we had created. Well, it has been completed for now and our new Snorkel Hot Tub assembled and used over the autumn. Now that we are well and truly in the depth of winter we haven’t braved the snow enough to go for a dip, but we have occasionally had the stove burning to keep the temperature up. We’re looking forward to the spring and not having to dig through 3 feet of snow to get to it!
Other projects over the winter have included refurbishing the milk parlor, which now has metal siding and roof to match the other buildings.
Work wise, over the last six months or so I have been bouncing around various locations on-shore and different vessels off-shore, partly as my usual vessel, Skandi Seven is not too busy doing the type of operations that I am normally involved with, and partly because I have started the process of gaining US citizenship through naturalization.
This winter has been another long haul on the ranch with the weather being very cold and lots and lots of snow. The spring thaw will be very welcome, and already the planning for this year’s projects is in full swing.
One of the recurring problems that we encounter is that we seem to be too busy trying to get things done, that we don’t have time to enjoy them. That’s something that we want to endeavor to change going forward this year.

Really? I mean… really?

This was a story from earlier in the year that I remember reading and chuckling about at the time. For some reason, I stumbled across it again today.

Drones or UAVs? The search for a more positive name

Apparently, some people do not like it when their Hi-Tech ‘Unmanned Ariel Vehicles’ are referred to as ‘Drones’, as they feel that the term ‘Drone’ has negative connotations, presumably believing that it may result in a failing for them in the popularity stakes.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, a leading manufacturer of UAVs, went as far as to described the ‘Drone’ reference as having pejorative connotations’.

Really????? Your model line-up contains UAVs called, ‘Avenger’, ‘Prowler’, ‘Reaper’ and ‘Predator’ and you think ‘Drone’ has negative connotations???? If I was building shit like that, I probably would have paid a PR company to promote the term ‘Drone’


Orchard and Hot-tub area

As promised, here are some pictures of the new Orchard and hot-tub area that Melisa and I have been working on for the past month.

Melisa’s (more articulate) thoughts on our progress can be seen here.

Now that I’m away for a period of time, I’m looking forward to seeing the changes that will come about in the time I’m gone as, when I return, grass will be sprouting and Melisa will have woven her magic with all the flowers that she will be planting.