Saturday, September 08, 2007

Part VIII: The MacVie Story. We are chartered.

(Curaçao Dockyard personnel starting the repairs to the MacVie)

The reader might be interested in a little background on what happened before we bought the MacVie. Prior to my owning the ship, three people had negotiated a Shell Time Charter for her if there was to be one. You see, Shell Oil owned a ship, the Debbie, which had for many years transported petroleum products to Bonaire. However, the Debbie was very old and in terrible shape and finally, Lloyds Register declassified it so it had to be scrapped and replaced.

Fortuitously, the owner of the M/T MacVie, Capt. Vieweger, happens to have a ship almost ready to sail and it is already in Curaçao and available for charter. As I mentioned earlier, there was an Aruban businessman, a personal friend of Joop deVries whose father had been Medical Director of Shell Oil, who knew of Shell's need. He had flown to Holland in search of a small tanker with which to make a bid on the charter. I was to learn later that he found a ship but that coincidentally while the US and Antillian dollar had remained stable (Curaçao having a large off-shore banking community pegs its Antillian Guilder to the US dollar) the Netherlands’ Guilder in Holland floated with the world market and suddenly the world money market collapsed about 15%. As a result, the ship that the Aruban had found in Holland now cost 15% more and he would not be able to take a $900 per day charter. He needed time to find another, less expensive ship.

Meantime, Shell Refinery, with a declassified vessel, was forced to negotiate with the owner of the MacVie, Capt. Vieweger, thinking that the MacVie was not only in class but had been chartered recently by Texaco Oil Company in Trinidad. So, they assumed, it must be okay.

Meantime, the Aruban businessman (I can’t find his name among my notes) called his friend, deVries (hearsay), to ask him to try to delay Shell from awarding of the charter until he found another ship. Months later, when I learned of this story, I wondered if deVries' inspection was designed to knock the MacVie out of contention. If it had been, he didn’t know the tenacity of those of Finnish heritage.

In any case, the strategy didn’t work. Lloyds declassified the Debbie and Shell had to have a ship; now. Three men were present for the negotiating session: Mr. Steen, Manager, Shell Refinery Marketing, J.K. vanden Berg, an agent from from Dammers and van der Heide (all ships must have an agent to take care of the ship when it is in port), and Capt. Vieweger of the MacVie. It was agreed that if there was to be a charter, it would be a Time Charter at the rate of US$900 per day. Furthermore, to compensate for this low rate, the Time Charter would have numerous restrictions as to what the Shell could do with the ship and where they could send it. Specifically, the MacVie would be chartered to run petroleum products from the refinery in Curacao to the island of Bonaire, one of the six Dutch Antilles islands—Aruba, Curaçao, Boinaire off the coast of Venezuela, and Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten in the Windwards—as directed and no farther, a trip that would occur about once a week. Shell would supply all fuel and port costs to the MacVie and the MacVie's owner would be responsible for keeping the ship available whenever needed around the clock. The charter would be paid in advance on the first day of each month. It was agreed that the agent would receive 5% of the charter and that it would be taken out of our check. All that remained was for the ship to pass the Antillian and Lloyds inspections.

Suddenly, Capt. Vieweger sold the ship to us and when we arrived on the scene, we were contacted immediately by Shell Oil and asked if we would agree to the negotiated terms. It was apparent to us that we had no choice. We agreed to abide by the negotiated terms of the Time Charter. Good, they said, so all that remained was for the inspections to take place. And that, good friends, was the behind-the-scenes story leading up the arrival of Joop deVries to inspect our ship.

Incidentally, it is important to note that everyone who negotiated the original terms of the Time Charter was now gone from the scene. Mr. Schoonbrood replaced Mr. Steen as Manager, Shell Marketing, Mr. Jack Ponson (his first name was Joop but he loathed being called Joop because most Americans pronounced Joop rhyming with “hoop”) replaced Mr. vanden Berg, and we replaced Capt. Vieweger.

Now, back to the story: Joop deVries had his lunch with Mr. Schoonbrood, of Shell Oil Refinery Marketing, during which he said that he would give the MacVie his blessing when the needed repairs were completed to his satisfaction. Moreover, I was to learn that he gave Betty and me a rave review.

(Here's a picture of the venting system. These are designed to carry the fumes from the tanks below high up over the mast of the ship.)
With that good news and the list of 150 deficiencies in hand, I went to work raising the necessary money. Concurrently, the dockyard went to work repairing the most important item on the list, the entire venting system. For the next many days, I could see my vent pipes strewn about the dockyard as the men worked 24 hours a day rebuilding them to our specs. During daylight, the Chief Engineer and our crew attacked the deck problems which were on the list. It was a busy time with work going on all day and long into the night on the ship and all night in the dockyard sheds. Betty and I got busy too looking for a place to live in Curaçao and enrolling our youngest son, John, in the American School in Willemstad. Betty left for home to arrange for our youngest daughter, Lisa, to be home-studied in Curacao during part of her junior year. To our great relief, the Hancock Public Schools were helpful in deciding upon a suitable curriculum for her to follow.

(A deckhand cleaning up a venting valve.)

Somehow, somewhere, the money came to us in the form of loans and savings and we were able to complete as many repairs as necessary to be approved to sail and in mid November, 1981, a little over six months since learning of the MacVie for sale, I signed a Letter of Commitment for a Time Charter with Shell Oil Company at the rate of $900.00 per day. Our first check for $19,800.00 (pro-rated for November) was waiting for me at the Shell office the day after signing the letter. I took it downtown to the Bank Of Boston, introduced myself to the manager, and opened an account where I deposited the money. When I arrived at the ship to pay the crew I was to learn that they accepted no checks, that they would work only for cash and US dollars only. Back to the bank I went to get the ship’s payroll in cash, thankful that it wasn’t coming out of my own pocket. The moment was glorious and memorable.

(Betty and I celebrating our charter at a little outdoor cafe on the esplanade along the river that bisects Willemstad. It was and is our favorite location.)

The next day, personnel from Shell Oil Marketing and I flew to Bonaire to check on the piers and quays to which we would be berthed and to be introduced to local Bonairian officials. Despite that Curaçao was the seat of the entire Netherlands Antilles, protocol called for Shell Oil and us to pay respects to them.

Now deeper in debt than ever, I left for Hancock to prepare to bring the children to Curacao to run our new business, Caribbean Shipping Ltd., a Tortolan firm with a lawyer and mail drop in Roadtown, Tortola.

While we were gone, the ship was moved to the Shell Refinery wharf where she would be stationed. Within days the MacVie made her first trip to Bonaire. The ship was slowed because of the heavy algae growth on her hull and upon arrival back in Curaçao we had to pay to have her hull cleaned, or as they called it, “a shave and a haircut. “

There was one thing left undone, something that would create a great problem for both Shell Oil and us within two months: Since we had not actually read the Time Charter, an extensive document with many clauses buried therin, we were operating solely on their word that the document was “in the works.”

Part IX: My First Trip to Bonaire.

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