Matt Charest: Bluffton resident loves life far from shore


Growing up, Matt Charest always wanted to be around water.

The attraction was so great that it pulled him from a small town in Vermont to the Maine Maritime Academy, where he pursued a degree in marine engineering.

"I was looking for something exciting in life. My parents suggested the academy. I wanted to see the world and I heard that merchant mariners made a decent living," he said.

Matt Charest2For much of his life, Charest, 47, of Bluffton has been happiest at sea. He's worked as a marine engineer onboard oil tankers sailing up and down the East and West coasts and through the Panama Canal.

A few years ago, he heard about a job working on a dynamically positioned drill ship. He’s worked on rigs in Brazil, Colombia and Malaysia, and now is assigned to the Ocean Black Lion, a 750-foot, ultra-deep-water drill ship. He joined the ship in South Korea while it was being built and helped move the vessel to the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, instead of being at sea aboard an oil tanker for three or four months at a time, he boards a helicopter every 28 days to either head to the rig 100 miles offshore or go to his Bluffton home. With a wife and young family, he liked the schedule much better and the new technology intrigued him.

"I work 13 hour days when I'm out there,” he said. “When I'm working, it's work, eat and sleep, maybe read a little or exercise. With three engine rooms, three pump rooms, six thruster rooms and a mini city of auxiliary machinery, it keeps a crew busy.”

Matt Charest3As the night shift first engineer, Charest’s job is to make sure he and his crew keep the drill ship on location. Drilling takes place about 3,500 feet under water and 30,000 feet beneath the mud line. Six thrusters that rotate 360 degrees keep the vessel on location, triangulating its position via GPS signals bouncing off satellites and transponders pinging off the ocean floor. The ship can only deviate 50 to 75 feet from its location before the crew would be forced to perform an emergency disconnect.

About 200 people, mostly men, are aboard the vessel at any given time, coming and going at different intervals.

Charest recalls only one instance where the sea frightened him. A raging storm off the coast of Alaska tossed around an 800-foot oil tanker in 60-foot seas for days.

Fortunately, the drilling ship can sail out of the path of incoming hurricanes or dangerous storms under its own power.

Matt Charest4But these days, Charest said it gets harder and harder to leave his wife, Darlene, his 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, and 2-year-old son, Fenn.

“The hardest part of my job is actually saying, 'goodbye, I'll see you next month,’” Charest said. “The best part, however, is the reunion upon my return. I get to be with them for 28 days and have the time to do a lot of things. Most people will only stay in this field for five to 10 years, and then they start families and don't want to be gone that much. It's not easy doing this, but I have the support of Darlene and it's an honest living.”

When on land, he spends as much time as possible with his family, gets in a few golf rounds and goes camping.

He also loves to fish offshore for wahoo, dolphin, and blackfin tuna.

At sea again, with no land in sight.