Thursday, April 26, 2007

Part II: April Fool's Day, 1981

On April 1, 1981, while exploring a boat business opportunity in Miami, Florida, I was shown a drawing of the M/T MacVie. At the time the ship was in drydock in Curaçao, Netherland Antilles, undergoing repairs to her propeller and shaft. Apparently she had run aground while off-loading gasoline in a small bay on the coast of Barbados . The broker, Fred Driver, took time to describe the ship’s itinerary: “She picks up oil at the refinery in Trinidad and then sails to several islands in the Lesser Antilles to off-load her cargo. Meantime, the owner, Captain Vieweger—a Canadian from B.C.—and his wife live in Barbados in a lovely home. Once a month Vieweger flies to the island where the ship in off-loading to make the payroll. Occasionally, rarely, he sails with the ship. “ Then Fred Driver, with the ease of someone who had spent languorous afternoons under fluttering tents while sipping tea and watching cricket marches being played on lush green lawns, described Barbados in stunning detail and concluded with, “Barbados is very very British, you know. Not at all like bloody Trinidad where nothing works.”

I was hooked. Pocketing the drawing, I went to lunch alone to study it. By the time I finished lunch that April Fool’s Day afternoon in downtown Miami, I was captive to my imagination. In an instant my life changed; I had fallen in love. I returned to my motel and called Betty. With extra emphasis on living in Barbados, I described the ship and the business. She listened patiently and said, finally, “Go for it.”

One month later, with a letter of introduction in hand, I flew to Curaçao to examine the ship while she was in drydock. The pictures were taken at that time. The first was taken overlooking the forward end of the ship with its discharge hoses lying on the catwalk over the tanks, and the second is of 75-year old Captain Vieweger posing in the pilot house. It looked like a scary proposition, but with those cricket matches and all floating around in my head, I decided to "go for it."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Part I: Introducing the M/T MacVie

Welcome to a new series of blogs about the M/T (Motor Tanker) MacVie, a coastal oil tanker we owned and operated from November, 1981 through December, 1984. The MacVie was under time charter to the Shell Oil Refinery located on the island of Curaçao for the purpose of transporting gas oil (diesel fuel), gasoline, and 200-gallon propane tanks to the island of Bonaire, both in the Netherlands Antilles.

The MacVie was been built in 1959 by the Standard Oil Company of British Columbia and used there to move refined oil around the near coast and harbors. She was 170’ in length with a 33’ beam and had capacity for 211,232 Imperial gallons of cargo and 8000 of fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Accommodations: the top deck contained the captain’s quarters and office, a chart room, and the ship’s bridge. One deck down were the officer’s deck consisting of the chief engineer’s stateroom, five officer staterooms, a galley, the officer’s mess, and the crew’s mess. Down one more deck and we find the crew’s quarters, a cold storage room, and a small recreation room. The minimum number of men needed to operated the ship for an eight hour-hour shift was 6-7 including the captain, officers, oilers and deck hands. Finally, we go down to the engine room where the Werkspoor 825 hp, 8 cylinder diesel engine dominated; in addition there were two 250 hp diesel generators, one of which was running at all times.

During most of our ownership the ship's complement included:
Chief Engineer
Assistant Chief Engineer
2-3 Oilers
2-3 Deckhands who also acted as wheelsmen
Pump operator

None of the complement were US citizens; all, except my captain, a naturalized Canadian, were from the Caribbean basin countries.

It was an interesting time in the kilpela family, a time which we look back on with whimsy and sadness sprinkled liberally with nostalgia. But let me start at the beginning...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Home Again

Awaiting us upon our return to the Copper Country from our vacation in Florida was a good covering of snow, the results of a blizzard that passed through a couple of weeks ago. Reported was a snowfall of 45-54 inches at Delaware, a defunct copper mining mining location 10 miles west of Copper Harbor and 67 inches in Painsdale, a small village about 12 miles south of Houghton. It is melting fast, however, and if we could get a good spring rain it would all but disappear.

Our friend Jim Junttila from Laurium, an outdoor writer for the Daily Mining Gazette and other publications was out on a photographic prowl on April 11 and captured the Isle Royale Queen IV frozen in a swirl of ice. With the Houghton-Hancock lift bridge in the backgfround, it makes for an interesting picture which we will add to our extensive collection. Jim can be contacted at

The Queen lies at her winter wharf on what is called the Portage Canal (technically it is Portage Lake), a waterway the final mile of which was dredged long ago to create a passageway completely across the Keweenaw Peninsula. With minimal ice movement, the boat is quite safe and weathers the winters well. Every five years we have her put into drydock for a hull inspection and cleaning. Presently, our captains are getting her ready to sail to Isle Royale National Park on May 14, the opening voyage for the 2007 season.

A great number and variety of Isle Royale and Queen pictures and be seen at Captain Ben's blog:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Heading North

Hearing about the massive blizzard heading for Copper Harbor, we found every possible reason to delay our arrival. We visited friends in St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Bradenton which gave us a few more days of warm weather. Then, as is our wont, we stopped in Okemos, Michigan, to spend two nights with son Ben and his family. While there, we got a chance to go to his new office building which is attached to the West side of the football field and soars high into the air. We especially wanted to see the pictures that he had taken of MSU buildings and environs, pictures that MSU Development Office purchased from him and displayed them around the halls of the building and in the entrance.

The top picture was taken in the Cedar River Conference Room where four of his photos of the Cedar River are hung.

Next is a shot of one of the buildings on campus with Capt. Ben standing next to it.

The third picture is one of two one the wall of the reception desk at the Entry.

There were a total of 17 pictures on display for all donors and employees of MSU to see and enjoy. Needless to say, Elizabeth and I are extremely proud of this accomplishment.

Photography is Capt. Ben's avocation. Nine months of the year he is employed by the MSU Development Office as a writer and the other three months he is in Copper Harbor working, along with his two brothers on the Isle Royale Queen IV. In short, he has a varied and interesting life and you will be interested in seeing his Copper Harbor and Isle Royale blogs.

(Ben's blogs with their interesting pictures are at and From these you can connect to his wedsite as well for some wonderful photography of Isle Royale National Park, etc.)

End of the Vacation

I have been remiss in posting to this blog so I have a couple of additions to make in the next day or so. First, just before we left Florida, we visited our nephew Kevin Koski and his dad, Steve Szyszkowski, at Kevin's condo overlooking Collins Avenue in South Beach, Miami. That's my wife, Elizabeth, looking quite happy. The condo is a block off the ocean and about four blocks from the infamous Versace mansion. Nice neighborhood. I tell you it's a whole different world down there. Unfortunately, when we went for lunch and a walk on the beach....well, I should have brought my camera. As the kids say, it's unreal.

Kevin was home for 30 days from his job as a consultant at a Marathon refinery off the West coast of Africa, 30 on, 30 off. Steve was biding his time at the condo between trips to Lake Worth, where he just bought a condo, and Costa Rica and other points. He's a man on the move. I wish he would publish a blog featuring his own travels when he was a prospector and gold mine operator in Costa Rica.

Hot, windy, noisy, full of activity by youngsters on Spring break and oldsters in retirement, South Beach is a place everyone should visit at least once; and oh yeah, bring lots of cash.