What is a wild dream for most people is an everyday event for Svenja Hoferichter: flying by helicopter. Where other people take a bus to get to work, the 29-year-old has to board a chopper. After all, her workplace is located on a huge offshore converter platform more than 30 kilometres off the island of Helgoland.
|Svenja Hoferichter||Workplace:||30 Kilometres off Helgoland|
“The HelWin platform looks like a huge yellow postbox in the middle of the North Sea,” says Hoferichter, describing her workplace, which she visits every two weeks. She then stays there for a fortnight and that becomes the focal point of her life. Her desk and her bed are located on the steel platform and she spends more time there than at home in Wilhelmshaven. And the quickest way of getting there is by helicopter. “The flight,” she says, “has almost become a routine affair. It’s now like taking a bus.”
Practising survival out at sea
The “bus”, which takes the project manager at Rhenus Offshore Wind to work, is an AW139. This is a multi-purpose helicopter built by AgustaWestland and it has 14 seats and a striking long nose. However, before Hoferichter was able to board this kind of chopper for the first time, she had to complete a training course lasting several days. For a flight above the sea is not quite as simple as a bus trip.
“We completed a basic offshore safety training course lasting several days in Bremerhaven for this purpose. This not only involved how to handle a life jacket, but also using protective suits and life rafts or fighting a fire that might break out. We also had to climb up nets as if we were boarding a ship after an accident,” the young Rhenus employee explains.
There was only one thing that Hoferichter did not enjoy during the training course. “That was the HUET exercise – that’s to say, the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. We had to learn to climb out of the helicopter there. You are buckled up in a cabin under water and it’s still turning. You then have to practise leaving the cabin safely in a set sequence.”
Life at sea
The helicopter journey to the platform takes about half an hour. She then settles down to everyday life at sea. “That’s exactly what has excited me ever since I was young,” Hoferichter admits. She grew up on the coast and always had the sea in her sights. As a result, she dedicated her bachelor’s degree dissertation at the Jade University of Applied Sciences to the exciting subject of offshore wind power. The work experience that she gained at a deep-sea tug company or her work at an agency, which looks after sea-going vessels, was also exciting, in her opinion. The word “exciting” occurs frequently when Hoferichter talks about her career – which is always linked to the sea and storms.
“Two years ago, Rhenus was looking for people for its offshore department. I responded and was accepted. Since that time, I’ve been working on a so-called converter platform, where I’m responsible for supplying all the materials. Everything, which arrives at the platform by ship or helicopter, has to be registered and taken to its final intended destination. Everything passes through our hands, at least in terms of planning,” Hoferichter explains.
During the initial phase, this involved as many as 15 containers per vessel; however, the figure is now far lower. It was also necessary to develop and set up complete storage concepts. To handle these tasks, Hoferichter swaps her workplace with a colleague every two weeks. “We’re well-known on the platforms as the “Rhenus girls”!”
Even if a converter platform is firmly anchored to the seabed, life at sea is not easy. “During my job interview, they told me that there’s absolutely nothing out there – not even a tree. Just water. And they asked me whether I could cope with that.” Then there was the fact that offshore activities are normally jobs for men. “As a woman, there are certainly benefits. But you must be able to stand your ground,” says Hoferichter, and adds with a smile, “At times, I was the only woman among as many as 120 men. You naturally hear a few amusing remarks. But that doesn’t bother me – I can shout back too. Then we get on pretty well.”
Spending half your life somewhere else
Everyday life on an offshore platform is exactly that: everyday existence. The shift starts at 7 a.m. and lasts twelve hours every day – whether it is a weekday or the weekend or a public holiday. “Many people, who hear about where and how I work, just think that it’s great to work 14 days and then have 14 days off. But 14 days’ work offshore means exactly that: working through for 14 days – from morning till evening. You miss birthdays or family celebrations. And you cannot just cook what you’d like in the evening. Despite this, the platform has become my second home.”
Can an eight-storey steel container on stilts really become your home? “Yes,” says the young lady with a sense of confidence. “Not only the daily work is varied, because there’s no real routine here. You also get to know your colleagues like very good friends. There’s no finishing time for work here – you discover everything about everyone,” says Hoferichter. “The community is the key element and the team too. You should not forget the sea either. It’s always different – every day and in every type of weather. It’s amazing how many colours the North Sea has,” says the young lady with a sense of enthusiasm – and adds after a short pause, “I like being out there.”
A Rhenus child
The variety at Rhenus Offshore Logistics is exactly what appeals to Hoferichter. Naturally, offshore work involves tough 14-day shifts. In addition, the employees come from different countries and have different cultural roots. And her office does not have a window. You have to climb a few steps to get some fresh air. You have to cope with going down to the stores a few decks lower to inspect what is there without having a lift either. That means a few dozen steps every day. “You often just collapse into bed in the evening.”
Despite this, Hoferichter would not like to change her job. She always wanted to do something “related to shipping”. She started to gain work experience at Rhenus in 2007 and later completed her training as a clerk for freight forwarding and logistics services. She subsequently studied shipping economics and the port industry and worked at a Rhenus clearance agency on the side. When Siemens finally needed a materials coordinator for one of its platforms, Hoferichter began working in the offshore sector. For Rhenus offers this service too.