Conditions in the North Atlantic can be too rough to work. “If the wind gets above 45 or 50 miles per hour, you just don’t try; it’s too dangerous,” Baker says. Thanks to patrol reports and radar, he usually has several days’ notice about any berg on a collision course with a platform. That usually means he’ll have time to let a storm blow over and still get the job done.
But one day in the 1980s, a complacent observer on a now-defunct floating rig somehow let an iceberg get to within five or six miles of the rig. Typically, bergs move at a clip of about one knot.
“There was a mad scramble,” Baker says. “The weather was too rough to tow the iceberg. Three of the deckhands on one boat and two on another were washed around the deck and got hurt.” The only option left was to try to pull the rig’s eight massive anchors up and move the rig out of danger. But one of the anchor chains on the rig got tangled; there was no question of breaking free. It was far too late to deploy helicopters or use rig-to-ship baskets to evacuate the crew on the rig.
“The guys on the rig were watching to see which way the berg was going,” Baker says. “At the last minute, the supply boats managed to pull the rig 100 meters sideways. The berg came straight over the wellhead where the rig had just been. That was the closest call.” In times like those, says Baker, “your heart rate starts going up and you hit maximum blood pressure. There are so many things that can go wrong.”
Still, with a son, Chris, at MemorialUniversity in St. John’s studying engineering, a daughter, Amanda, heading off to college next year, and an 11-year-old son, Andrew, at home, Captain Baker has no plans to hang up his foul-weather gear anytime soon. The pay is good, about $100,000 a year. As for that incomparable feeling he gets when he spies an iceberg on radar?