Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Morning Shootout.

Every year The island of Bonaire, where we brought our oil, featured the Bonaire International Sailing Regatta and Festival, a week of sailboat racing in the bay and around the island .

The sailboat racing was for the most part serious competition but accompanied by a festive air for partying and other fun activities associated in some small way with sailing. As in other events on the island, the festival was well attended not only by the locals but by people coming from other places. In short, it was an annual fun week.

Normally, the MacVie was not at Bonaire on weekends but occasionally, usually because of delays in off-loading product, she stayed until Monday. Such was the case during the Sailing regatta and festival in 1983. None of our family was on board during the stay, however, so our captain and crew were totally in charge, not an unusual situation inasmuch as the family regularly flew back and forth to Michigan.

The last day of the festival fell on a Sunday and all the sailing was finished.. In that sailing is not a spectator sport, no one minded that the MacVie was at the main dock at Kralendijk and for the most part blocking the view of the harbor. However, the last event of the festival on Sunday morning featured a motorized race in which anyone with a power boat—fishing boat, tug, speedboat, dinghy, anything driven by a motor—was eligible to enter. It was always a fun event with the various powerboats vying for position and roaring around Klein Bonaire, a little island in the bay. They raced a couple of times around the small island performing their crazy antics much to the delight of the spectators.

Unfortunately, the powerboat race started almost directly in front of the dock on which the MacVie was berthed thereby blocking the view of the race. Because of that, several people came up to the ship and asked if they could go aboard to watch the race from the MacVie's deck. Toney, who happened to be on deck watch, agreed to let a few aboard warning them that smoking was strictly forbidden on the ship.

Well, as many good intentions, it got a bit out of hand and soon there were about 125 men, women and children crammed on the ship's fo'c's'le, the forward most deck of the ship accessible from the weather deck only by a straight, 9-foot ladder.

(Left: the ladder to the fo'c's'le is pictured to the right and just forward of the propane tanks.)

To his credit, Toney joined them on the fo'c's'le not only to watch for smokers, but to watch the race. In the aftermath Toney assured me that no one was smoking, ever.

To get on with the story, there they were, all 125 people and Toney among them waiting for the race's noisy and boisterous start. When all were lined up, the starter's gun was fired and maybe as many as 50 boats roared into action. Toney said it was deafening.

Unfortunately, the noise woke up Captain Zack who was asleep in his cabin behind the wheelhouse. He stumbled to the bridge wing to look out at what caused the noise and as he did he spotted the people on the fo'c's'le and he was stunned. Later, he told me that everyone was smoking and tossing their cigarettes around, a typical Zack exaggeration to defend his action.

(Left: Captain Zack in his usual attire.)

Because he was about 100 feet away from the people, we had to yell at them. He yelled as loud as he could for people to get off the ship. Of course, in the din, he could not be heard distinctly so everyone just ignored him and continued watching the race. After a couple of more yells with no response, Zack went to his office and opened the safe and got the ship's loaded pistol. Back on the bridge wing, he tried yelling one more time but no real response. I suppose most thought that they had permission to be there and that was good enough for them. Besides, what was that man yelling? Bare-chested and hatless, the man certainly did not look like a captain so he was ignored.

Finally, Zack fired off a shot in the air. Even then, though he had their attention there wasn't much movement because they really didn’t know what he wanted or who he was. So basically there was interest but no response.

Now Zack lowered the pistol and let off a shot aimed a little over their heads. Whoa, that got some attention and a few people began to move about looking for a way to get off the ship with the only way being down a 9-foot straight ladder, not an easy egress by any stretch.

(Left: The fo'c's'le is well forward of the wheelhouse bridge.)

But they didn’t move fast enough for Zack so he lowered the pistol and aimed directly at the crowd. Now he had their full attention and away they went, scrambling down the ladder, jumping as well, and a few went over the side into the harbor. Toney said it was the fastest exodus of the ship that he could imagine.

Well, as one might expect, many of them went straight to the police station to report this assault and of course the police responded with a couple of officers and the chief to investigate.

They started to question Zack who, with his disdain for uniformed officials, simply brushed them off asking did they prefer to have the center city leveled by the explosion. With that, they quickly sided with Zack and agreed that he had done the right thing.

Nevertheless, when I heard the full account of the event, I was more determined than ever to give Zack his walking papers and I did a few weeks later when he was caught firing the pistol at a rat that jumped off the ship and was floundering in the water. It was an amicable parting and we have been in touch with Zack ever since and visited him once in his home in Victoria Island, B.V. and he once at our home in Copper Harbor.

Two years have passed, however, without a card or note so I suspect that he is either dead or totally infirm for all my attempts to locate him have gone unanswered.

(The next day we sailed back to Curacao as though nothing had happened.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

"You Turned My Ship Into Scrap"

I was sitting in my cabin with the Lloyd's Inspector, Mr. Varmerdam, who, despite trying everything in his power to help us, had just informed me that I had to either replace the main engine crankshaft or bring in a crew of welders to repair the one in the engine. I was sweating profusely and wiping my forehead and arms with a rag. There was a tense silence in the cabin broken only when I uttered that phrase.

(The main propulsion engine, an 8-cylinder Werkspoor, made in Holland.
Chief Yarde kept the engine room and engines shiny and clean)

The day had started with a routine inspection of our main engine, the last inspection of our Continuous Machinery Survey (CMS). The CMS is an inspection that takes place over a 5-year period and requires that the vessel's propulsion engine be completely dismantled and inspected within the 5-year period and every 5-year period thereafter. To help vessel owners, the inspection is conducted a little at a time over the period. Inasmuch as nothing had been done on the MacVie for the past five years, her CMS was about to expire. Consequently, we were dismantling and inspecting the engine over a 4-week period, two cylinders at a time. We were now in the fourth week and dismantling the final two cylinders.

I had arrived back to Curacao from Hancock the night before. Knowing that the inspector was due, I was prepared for the worse as usual but then again the previous three weeks had passed without a fault so while wary, I was confident. However, when Captain Zack said that the inspector was to be Mr. Varmerdam instead of Verloop, I was so confident I didn’t bother to go to the ship for the inspection, something that would have been unthinkable has Verloop been the inspector. In fact, I would have been at the ship by 7 a.m. to make sure everything was ready for the scheduled 8 a.m. inspection.

So here it was about 10 a.m. and I was eating a leisurely breakfast—with Betty in Michigan, I was living alone in our house and I was very tired from my flight down the night before—after which I drove to the ship at the refinery. Arriving, I barely noticed the white Toyota parked nearby but went straight to my cabin to change into my work clothes and then aft to the officer's galley for a cup of coffee. As I sat there drinking my coffee, one of the crew walked by and I asked him whose car was parked out there.

His eyes widened and took with what can only be described as a fearful look. "The inspector is in the engine room," he said without smiling.

Surprised, I asked, "Did he just get here?" '

"No, he's been here all morning." A shock. This could only be bad news.

I jumped up and went to the door of the engine room. Though I was three levels above the engine room deck, I could see that a couple of men were on their hands and knees looking into the engine. Quickly I went down the accommodation ladder toward the engine room. Pausing at the second level and leaning over the rail to see who was down there, I saw that both men were kneeling with their heads inside the engine. One had one the traditional white coveralls of the Lloyds inspectors while the other was Chief Yarde in shorts and thongs. As I was looking, the chief drew back and looked up at me, a stricken look on his face. I knew immediately that there was serious trouble.

Because of the noise of the large generator flanking the engine, all of our communication had to be done by pantomime. Using gestures, I greeted Varmerdam warmly for he had always been fair to me and seemed to want to help us. I asked what was wrong. Varmerdam gestured for me to look into the engine at the crankshaft which, with the pistons removed, stood out clearly. As I looked, wondering what I should be seeing, Varmerdam sprayed the crankshaft with white foam, almost as thick as shaving cream. And then he waited a second and a tiny but distinct red line appeared on the foam. He wiped the shaft clean and again sprayed the foam and waited. The red line appeared again and he pointed it out to me. After he had done this experiment several times, I motioned that we should go out of the engine room to talk this over.

He followed me to my cabin where, sweating from the heat of the day and especially from the engine room, we sat wiping our heads and arms and hands.

"What was I seeing?" I asked.

"A crack," he said.


"Yes, the shaft has a crack in it. I wish I didn’t see it but I did and I can't pass this inspection."

"What do you mean?" I asked. I was incredulous.

"It means that you will have to replace the shaft."

"What do you mean by replace?

"Just what I said. You'll have to replace the shaft before we can let you sail."

"But that's not possible," I said, "I could never afford that. You're looking at maybe a million dollars."

"He said, "well, there is another option. You could fly in welders and have the shaft welded and ground. There is a firm in Miami that specializes in that."

"Those are my two options?"

(A picture taken one day in the engine room. L to R: a guest, me, and Chief Yarde. The accommodation ladder in the stern goes up three stories to the officer’s deck.)

"I'm afraid so. I just wish I hadn't seen it." He was genuinely remorseful and believe it or not, I sort of felt sorry for him. Had it been Verloop, I might have lost it and God knows what I would have done.

After a long moment of silence with the drone of the generator sounding in my ears, I looked at Varmerdam and said, "You've turned my ship into scrap."

Things happened quickly after that and in the confusion of the moment and the whirring in my brain, I heard him suggest that we bring in the drydock people to see how deep the crack was. Why throw away money now, I thought, but I consented thinking I wasn't going to pay for it anyway so who cares. I shrugged and said it was up to him.

Varmerdam left the ship and almost immediately I left too. I don't remember what happened right then but I do know that I went home to get my briefcase and headed for the Bank of America in downtown Willemstad.

Entering the bank, I signaled to the manager and he came up to see me. I told him that I was closing our account and wished to have all my remaining money in US dollars. He complied with my desire and delivered some thirty thousand dollars which I stuffed into my briefcase, shook his hand and thanked him for all the kindnesses he had shown me over the years, left the bank and headed back home.

Back at the house, I took all my belongings out of the drawers and laid my clothes on the bed in preparation for packing later. I was going home. I decided to end everything right there and then. I would get a flight out that evening and just leave the rented car at the airport and go home. It was over. I felt light-headed. Over, I thought, done.

I took a cool shower, dressed into my traveling clothes, and decided to go for lunch at the MacDonalds that was not too far away. As I sat there eating a cheeseburger and fries, my radio went off and I realized that Zack was trying to call me.

To get better reception, I went outside and called Zack.

He said that all the inspectors and workmen were at the ship and maybe I better come down. I said I would after I was through with lunch and I did.

Arriving at the ship, I saw the various cars and trucks parked at the ship and noticed that several men were departing the ship and going to their cars. The last one on the gangway was Varmerdam who, upon spotting me, put his arms out like he wanted to hug me and as I approached he did just that.

"It was a heat crack," he said with a broad smile.

"What do you mean," I asked.

He said it was a tiny heat crack and that the chief had emery-clothed it out and there was no more crack, that everything was okay, and we passed the inspection.

I think I muttered something about not knowing that was an option but before I could say much more, he and everyone else were gone.

I went aboard and thanked the chief for his work and saw that they were already putting the cylinders back into the engine and the tanks were being loaded for our next trip to Bonaire. In short, everything appeared normal.

I went home, got my briefcase and headed back to the Bank of America. Again I beckoned to the manager and said that I wanted to re-open my account. Without so much as a question, he did just that after which I walked down to the waterfront and had a cup of coffee in the outdoor café on the esplanade.

As I have written often, at best it is a shock business.

(And here we go, off to Bonaire, with a couple of the crew up on the fo’c’s’le
enjoying the ride through the center of Willemstad, Curacao.)

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Tabloid Press and the Murder of Ethan Toney.

After Toney's murder, the tabloid press, Ultima Noticia Bonaire featured the murder on the front page, a story complete with a picture of Toney being taken off the ship in a stretcher and another of the knife used in the slaying. Unfortunately, the local tabloids are written in Papiamentu, a Spanish Creole language with a mixture of Portuguese and Dutch and spoken only on the islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire and I was never able to find someone who could translate it for me.

Nevertheless, I kept a copy of the newspaper in my files for many years. On a Caribbean cruise a few years ago, we stopped in Bonaire and I met a gentleman who remembered the MacVie and when I told him about the newspaper story, he offered to translate it for me. So when I got home, I faxed the story to him and shortly after he faxed back the translation.

Here is a copy of the actual front page of the tabloid.

The translation:

Caption under the picture on the left.

Ethan Toney being carried off the ship enroute to the hospital.

Caption under the picture on the right

This is the killer. His name is Ciro Glenn Cannegieter who covered his face after noticing us taking his picture. He is shown with Detective Goeloe and Assistant Prosecutor Davelaar.

Kralendijk – Sunday morning at about quarter past six the police were notified that a sailor from the "Macvie" had been dangerously injured with a knife by a fellow sailor. When the patrol unit arrived at the ship in question they found 30-year-old Ethan Toney from St. Vincent on the deck with a knife next to him. He had a knife wound in his abdomen and was urgently transported by ambulance to the hospital. [note: he was taken in the back of a pickup truck.]

At his arrival at the hospital, his condition was assessed as critical and he needed to be transported to Curaçao. But moments later his condition got even worse and the staff feared for his life.

It was considered unnecessary to transport him to Curaçao as he would not arrive in time to save his life. Dr. Kouwe tried everything in his powers but moments later had to declare him deceased.

Quickly the police and detectives, together with the Assistant Prosecutor Davelaar started their investigation. They overheard that a fellow sailor, 23-year-old Ciro Glenn Cannegieter from Curaçao had struck the victim with a knife and then run away.

As it turned out, the murderer ran into the direction of the police station but it is locked between midnight and 8.00 a.m. and one had to press the bell for the officer on duty to open up. The murdered did not know this so he waited under the garage behind the police station. It wasn't until 7.45 a.m. when after an extensive search the police that they returned to the police station and found him sitting there. [Note: How or when Ciro escaped and hid in the countryside for six days is not described but I doubt they ever actually found Ciro until he gave himself up six days later.]

A witness, also a sailor aboard the ship, told us that the whole problem started early in the morning hours when the Victim Ethan Toney cut another Curaçao sailor. He himself bandaged the would which wasn't very deep.

But the problem got worse when in the morning hours Ciro Glenn Cannegieter, a Curaçao native, got into an argument with the victim who hit him (Ciro) vary hard in the face. The eye-witness told us then that Ciro came to him and told him that Ethan had just hit him without any cause. The witness would have spoken to Ciro and told him not to worry and to tell the captain.

But after that Ciro waited for Ethan to go to bed. When Ethan was asleep Ciro would have cut him with the knife in his abdomen. After Ciro ran away the eye-witness who is also from Curaçao went to call the police. [Note: First, Ciro Glenn went on duty in the engine room for his 4-hour shift starting at 2 a.m. During his watch, he must have fumed over the slap which happened about 1.30 a.m. and as soon as his shift was over at 6 a.m. he went up and got the filet knife and did his act.]

As we understood it for quite some time the three Curaçao natives had to undergo all kinds of abuse from the rest of the crew who were from the English-speaking islands. When they would report this to the captain he would tell them that if there were problems on board not to fight on board, but on land.

He also overheard some claims by the murderer that he had to undergo all sorts of abuse because he was the smallest on the ship. For example, he told the police that some time ago one of the sailors on board lost his wallet and accused Ciro of stealing it. He hit him and he fell and broke his knee. It was that particular morning that he got fed up because he had no problem with Ethan and the latter had hit him without cause.

He (Ciro) looked to us like a peaceful person and this was confirmed by the other Curaçao sailors who did not want to stay on board anymore as they too were often targeted by the other English-speaking crew who disliked or hated them. It was not easy to get Ciro to become angry at the other sailors as he was such a peace-loving person.

This witness was also accused of stealing the wallet and consequently threatened.

Our deepest sympathy goes to the family of the victim.

July 18, 1983

It is interesting to me to see how the reporter turned the murder into a Curaçao vs the English-speaking islands and by the end of the story had Ciro, the murderer, a peace-loving person and Toney an abuser.

The "eye-witness" was our former cook, Sha Sha, who I had encountered later that day and he was afraid for his life though that evening until he had to go to the airport for a flight to Curaçao he attended a Raggae concert featuring the widow of Bob Marley, a concert attended by about 5,000 people (the island population was only 9,000). And, worse, he carried a knife under his pant leg and sheathed in his sock.

At best it was a frightful affair. Ciro spent a total of nine years in prison though with the sympathy expressed in this article probably got off early for good, "peaceful" behavior.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Affair With Gypsies

(The MacVie anchor windlass and chain. "Gypsies" are the lugs that grab the links of chain as the drum (wildcat) revolves.)

After receiving our charter and making several once-a-week round trips to Bonaire, our first serious problem arose. It occurred suddenly one fine morning after an evening during which Betty, daughter Susanne and her husband Jack, and I were at our rented house and clowning around celebrating the receipt of our charter money which we had in a bundle of US dollars. I remember laughing and singing the song from the musical, Evita," "When the Money Comes Rolling In…" and at one point throwing the wad of money up against the ceiling and watching in merriment as it floated down around up. Betty never approved of such antics but it was a way to relieve the pressure of the business, something we needed at times.

Well, as I was saying, the morning dawned hot and sunny as usual and, after a leisurely breakfast, I went to the MacVie where I knew that Lloyd's inspection F.J. Verloop was due to make another one of his interminable inspections. Unfortunately, he beat me there and had made his inspection and put a "NO SAIL" tag on the ship. Apparently, he had determined that one of the gypsies on the anchor windlass was worn down a bit too much. Gypsies are the lugs that grab the links of the chain as the windlass drum revolves when weighing the anchor. Each gypsy is about 3 inches wide, 1 inch thick, and sticks up about 2-3 inches and the windlass drum (wildcat) has about ten of them.

(The "gypsies" are located aroung the wildcat pictured here.)

Verloop, who was still on the ship when I arrived, said I had two options: 1) replace the drum of the windlass, or 2) repair the gypsies by adding weld to them and grinding them to the correct size and shape. The first option was completely out of the question so I was left with the second: reluctantly I agreed to have the gypsies welded.

That simple decision led to many complex and expensive actions:

1. First, we had to wash all ten tanks, tanks that held over a quarter of a million gallons of oil, and certify them "gas free." This process involved hiring a crew of four men with masks and air tanks as well as hoses, washing equipment, and tank trucks with pumps to take out the wastewater. All told, it took two complete days around the clock. When we thought they were they were "clean," we called in the chemist who went into each tank with his Gas Detection Meter to test. He pronounced the MacVie, "Gas Free."

2. Inasmuch as we were now officially off-hire, all expenses in moving the ship accrued to us. A pilot was hired to move the ship to a "gas free" dock where the welding could be done. Upon arriving at the repair dock, Verloop came to inspect the operation and said that since the ship was now gas free, we would have to make some other repairs requiring welding. There was a long list but suffice to say the added repairs took longer than the original gypsy repair.

(The "gas-free" repair dock and welding equipment.)

3. Meanwhile the island of Bonaire, because of limited storage capacity and our inability to service them, ran short of gasoline and had to institute gas rationing. Moreover, they were desperate for propane and diesel fuel to fire their water desalinization plant.

5. After seven days, Verloop certified that the repairs were acceptable and we re-hired a pilot to bring the ship back to the refinery where she was loaded with fuel, a process that took a full 24-hour day. We were now 8 days off hire.

7. Finally, fully loaded, we sailed to Bonaire and arrived at about 10 p.m. on the 9th day off-hire. A workman from the local bakery immediately jumped on board to grab two 200-gallon propane tanks so that they can make bread in the morning. Meantime, we connected our discharge hoses to the manifolds of the gasoline station and begin all-night pumping.

Our load was not large enough to supply the pent-up demand however so we had to make an immediate trip back to Curaçao for more gasoline and diesel fuel after which the lines at the gas station ended and everything returned to normal.

But "normal" in Bonaire is a rarity. Within hours, the governor of the island thought, "what if this happens again?" His solution: he instructed his secretary to get a large barrel and have it filled with gasoline and stored in his garage for emergencies. The secretary subsequently decided that the governor knew something she didn't so she spread the word and then got some storage for herself and her family and soon the word was out like wildfire. Back came the lines of people with their containers of every size and shape and soon Bonaire was out of gas again. Away we went back to the refinery and another round trip.

Finally, things returned to normal and everyone was happy. What a great business

(sailing back to Bonaire with a load of fuel and some propane tanks)

I was never able to unearth the reason Verloop was so down on us and going out of his way to find fault with everything. Moreover, it did no good to complain to the managing director of the Lloyds' office in Curaçao, Mr. Sleuter, because he was even worse. We would just have to find a way to live with it.

I had expressed my frustration to our agent and he suggested a subtle bribe, an expensive lunch perhaps or a small gift to Sleuter who, he said, was not averse to receiving a gift or two. In fact, he said that his office had delivered and "old, used" refrigerator to Sleuters's house one day, a gift of the Holland America Line, except (wink, wink) the "old" refrigerator was in a brand new crate. I did arrange to take Sleuter to lunch at the best restaurant in Curaçao but nothing came of it. I simply didn’t know the fine art of bribery.`

Monday, March 02, 2009

Just Another Ho-Hum Day in Paradise

Ethan Toney, a deckhand, was originally from St. Vincent but when I owned the ship his mother lived in Curacao in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of Willemstad. Several relatives also lived nearby or boarded in the house; I was never sure.

Toney, as we all called him, had a winning smile and a mellifluous voice with a nice Caribbean lilt. He also had a mean streak.

He was the closest to our family and took many pictures of us to put on the wall of his bedroom, a practice unbeknownst to me until I had to visit Toney's family home after he was murdered.

We had owned the ship for a year and a half and were thinking seriously about how to extract ourselves from the business when one Saturday night upon returning to the ship after a late dinner I heard a good deal of partying in the crews quarters. The porthole of Toney's cabin was at my eye level as I walked past the ship and someone inside spotted me. Toney stuck his head out of the open porthole and asked me to come in a have a drink. No way, I said, and warned them about making so much noise lest they wake up the Chief who would go nuts. The last thing I said was. "pack in it you guys and get some sleep."

I was asleep on Sunday morning when I awoke with a start. It was an unrecognizable yell from outside my forward porthole. I got up and looked out and I could see Toney leaning against the rail and waving his fist at someone. I went to the side porthole to see who he was waving at and saw one of my crew half running down the pier toward the town. Returning the he other porthole I looked again and Toney was gone. I remember thinking that they most likely were chasing an intruder off the ship. So I went back to sleep; but for a moment only. Something made me get up again and look out the porthole. Still no Toney. I then craned my neck and looked straight down from the porthole and there lying akimbo on the deck with a knife in his hand was Toney.

In a daze -- more like shock -- I pulled on a pair of shorts and my flip flops and ran up a flight to the navigation room behind the wheelhouse where the first aid station was located. Unfortunately, everything in the cabinet was in Dutch so I had to rip open box after box after box to find a compress.

Sweating profusely, confused, terrified I guess, a practically jumped down the three flights of stairs to the weather deck where Toney was lying with some white stuff oozing out of a small wound in his stomach. There was no blood. I pressed the compress on the wound and as I wondered what to do next, pumpman Jim came out on deck. I ordered him to hold the compress on the wound while I went to get an ambulance. Away I ran down the pier toward the police station a few blocks away. Arriving, I discovered that the doors were locked and nobody around. My mind was racing. A hospital! I remembered a large building that looked like a hospital on the other side of the city several blocks away. Irritated with myself, I thought, why hadn't I been more observant.

I ran through alleys and streets in my shorts and flip flops and got lost in the maze of alleys until finally reached the street where I had seen the building and there it was, very institutional looking. I ran inside, panic on my face I suppose, and saw several people milling around in the halls. "Doctor!" I shouted. "Where is the doctor?" One woman uttered a benign "Bon Dia," and another one just looked at me blankly and smiled. Most just ignored me. Suddenly it hit me: this was an old folks home; these people were senile. I was near collapse with heat and panic when I saw in the distance a woman in a white outfit outside in the back courtyard. I ran out there and asked her for the doctor and she indicated that there was a clinic in a small building in the rear. I ran to the clinic arriving just as the doctor was getting up and stretching and also just as a pickup truck roared up to the emergency entrance with several people on board and Toney on a stretcher.

We grabbed the stretcher and quickly got him into the operating room and shut the door and I went to the waiting room. I could see Zach standing outside next to the truck talking to reporters from the local press who were arriving quickly and I remember wondering what he would be telling them. I wished at that time that I had gotten rid of him sooner. What next? I thought

What was next was the doctor coming out to the waiting room and in a matter of fact voice announcing that Toney was done for. I suggested that we could fly him to Curacao if needed to be operated on there but the doctor said he was dead, finished, that he bled to death internally.

I was stunned. What should I do? The doctor assured me there was nothing I could do. And after a moment's hesitation, he returned to the operating room and I was left alone in the waiting room. So I left and as I walked past Zach and the reporters, I told him that I wanted walk back to the ship by myself to clear my head and I left the clinic. It was not yet 8 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning. Cars were starting to fill the streets. People were walking past dressed in their Sunday clothes heading for Mass. I had just had a murder on the ship.
Sitting on a park bench I realized that I had to gather up what was left of my strength and to do my best to deal with this ugly mess.

The rest of the day was lost in a fog: there was the police search of the ship; the cars and trucks full of police and militia tearing around town looking for the killer there rifles on the ready (doubtful they had ammunition in them) and waving to people they knew as though it was a festival parade. Meanwhile, back at the ship I had the rest of my crew to deal with.

(Bonaire police depart after searching the ship for Glen)

At one point, Sha Sha, our former cook, came to me and said he was frightened and that they were out to get him too. He said that he had given one of the oilers, who was going home on holiday in Dominica, his handkerchief and his picture and that the oiler showed it to a shaman and the Shaman said that he, Sha Sha, did not steal any money. Now understand that Sha Sha was a Catholic so I said , "Sha Sha, surely you don't believe in shamans do you?" His response surprised me: "Yeah mon, they know." But what worried Sha Sha on this day was that Peter had left the ship for good and could not testify as to his innocence to the rest of the crew. And he asked me to get him back home to Curacao and to protect him.

So that was it. Stolen money. Apparently, during the party, it got a little ugly with accusations floating around the cabin when in a rage, Toney slapped one of the oilers and accidentally scratched him on the chest. The oiler was due to go on watch so he left and went down to the engine room where he sat, half drunk, and probably seething with anger. At about 7 a.m. as soon as he was relieved from watch he went to the galley and took a filet knife and then went to Toney's cabin where he found him fast asleep on his bunk. He plunged the knife into Toney's stomach and that was that. If Toney had not pulled the knife out, he might have been saved.

In any case, Sha Sha asked for protection and to be returned to Curacao where his family lived so I brought him to the police station and asked the guard if he could stay there until the plane departed at 10 p.m. that evening. They agreed and I bid Sha Sha good bye and went to my agent's office to make arrangements to get him home. Then, to clear my head, I went for a long walk into the countryside along the coast.

The aftermath: The murderer, from Curacao, was Glen, an oiler on the ship. It took six days in desert-like conditions (Bonaire is semi-arid) amid the cactus and sand without water before he stumbled into town and gave himself up. For his sentence, he received six years in prison. Unfortunately for him he escaped again after the sentencing and this time spent only three days in the wild before giving up, an act that got him three more years in prison.

We paid for Toney's magnificent funeral in Curacao and everything resumed as normal. Easy.

(Left to right) Toney, deckhand Elvis Jack, daughter Susanne, Sha Sha, and son Don displaying a Marlin they caught on the way to Bonaire one day)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Part XI: The Crew of the MacVie (continued)

Jim, from Antigua, was our pump man. In that capacity, he supervised the on- and off-loading of gasoline and gas oil of which we carried a total of about 4,500 Canadian barrels or 180,000 gallons. Typically, to protect his own value to the company, he would not share his skills with other crew and quite frankly I didn't know how to operate the pumping system either and was, therefore, at his mercy. Being a deckhand as well, when he wasn't pumping, he chipped and painted as the rest of the deckhands, a chore I knew only too well.

(Here's Jim smiling and posing for a picture.)

Capt. Zach said that Jim had several wives scattered around the Caribbean (probably a Zach overstatement) but I do know that he would send parts of his pay to difference destinations and as the Chief, he always sent cash.

When he was off duty, he worked out in a makeshift gym under the fo'c's'le, which is at the forward end of the ship near the bow and he had the body to prove it.

(Jim with son Capt. Don Jr.)

Though diffident most of the time, when provoked, he could throw a withering look that kept his adversaries at bay. As on many ships like this, the gulf of friendship between the deckhands and oilers was very tenuous: arguments and fights, usually very short, could break out at any point for a myriad of reasons but most centered around perceived insults. Moreover, since there were no locks on their cabins and the door always open, thievery was always suspected which led to many an altercation. Moreover, there was a natural dislike between oilers (engine room crew) and deckhands.

(Pumpman Jim at the offloading manifold in Bonaire.)

Before taking over the ship, I had stopped in Barbados to sign some insurance papers. I was already a little apprehensive about the crew situation, i.e. would I be able to cross the cultural divide between us to effectively manage them. Having completed my business, we had dinner with Capt. Vieweger, the former owner, and his wife, Madalyn. Vieweger was an inveterate story teller and spent the evening reminiscing about his ownership of the MacVie. We were starting to get pretty tired and a little sleepy when he told a story about the ship that woke me up and gave me pause to think what we were about take over. Let me try to recall the exact story as told to us by Capt. Vieweger: "We were sailing down the Pacific from Vancouver to the Panama Canal and bringing the ship over to Curacao, eh? [Viewegere was a Canadian, eh] Well, one night they knocked on my cabin door screaming that two crewmen were at each other with knives. Well, I grabbed a piece of green heart lumber four feet long and an inch on the sides -- you know it's the densest wood there is. It doesn't float." He went on, "Well, I keep that stick in my cabin for just this sort of thing. I took that stick down to the galley where they was facing each other down, eh, and I slammed that stick on the table with a WHAP and I said, 'DROP THOSE KNIVES!,' and they damn well did too? You know," he paused for effect, "they can smell fear." After that story I couldn't wait to get on that ship.

Next, Ethan Toney, the deckhand who was murdered on the ship.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Part XI: The Crew of the M/T MacVie

A period of over 15 months have passed since my previous post about the MacVie. One of the last things I wrote was that I would recall some vignettes about the crew and their antics. For some reason, I exhausted my motivation; perhaps it was my weariness or the memory of the episodes that got me down. Well, we are back in Florida for three months so I thought I would do my best to continue the epic.

The next few posts will introduce the crew of the MacVie; today's will focus on the captain and chief engineer

The men pictured are Jack Eberhard (at the time, Jack was my son-in-law who with his wife, Susanne, my daughter, spent significant time in Curacao assisting us in the daily operations and representing the MacVie in business matters) and my captain, Chris "Zach" Zahariaczewich, a former Polish citizen but now a Canadian naturalized citizen who carried enormous emotional baggage which he acquired during his youth in Poland.

Zach was born in the city of Auschwitz, Poland, in approximately 1930. His father was murdered by the Russians in the early stages of WWII as one of a mass murder of Poles who were fighting against the Russian army. After the murder, the men were bulldozed into a huge, common pit. When the Nazis drove the Russians out of Poland in 1939, they uncovered the grave site and, according to Zach, with great publicity the Nazis showed the international world how heartless and barbaric the Russians were. Soon after, Zach said the Nazis "rounded up my mother and me and we were put in a labor camp where we were abused and kept for the rest of the war." Baggage indeed.

Freed in 1945 but now under oppressive Russian rule, Zach worked diligently to get his seaman's license and after receiving it, got a job on a Polish steamship where he bided his time until the opportunity to escape Poland arose. It was on a trip to Amsterdam that the chance presented itself and he jumped ship and sought political asylum from the Dutch authorities. While awaiting adjudication of his case, the handsome young man spent his nights locked up in jail and his days in the "care" of the prison warden's beautiful wife ostensibly doing her errands.

In time, Zach's asylum was granted and thereafter he applied for and received a work permit as a seaman in the Canadian Coast Guard. He went to Victoria, Canada, to live and work and in time got his Canadian Merchant Marine Mate's Certificate.

Later, during the Vietnam War, Zach signed on as a First Mate on a U.S.- owned mercenary helicopter carrier that operated in the Gulf of Tonkin. One stipulation of the deal was that if he stayed aboard for two years he would receive American Citzenship as a reward. After 23 months, Zach decided he had enough and quit. The captain of the carrier tried to convince Zach to stay one more month for the citizenship but Zach was done and he signed off and returned to Victoria, Canada.

When he told me about this one day, I expressed amazement that he didn't want to wait another month for the citizenship but he just looked at me quizically and laughed: inscrutable and typical.

Eventually, back in Victoria, he was hired by Capt. Vieweger, the owner of the MacVie, as its captain and to operate her in the Eastern Caribbean under charter to Texaco Refinery out of Trinidad. He worked for Capt. Vieweger and our company until he retired. I remember the first time I met Zach.

Upon arriving at the MacVie for the first time to inspect her before buying her, Capt. Vieweger and I were met by Zach in the captain's quarters behind the pilot house. He was standing there in the gloom--we were experiencing a torential downpour which was uncharacteristic for Curacao--with nothing on but shorts and sandals and he was combing his chest hair. The first thing he said to me was, "You look like Richard Widmark."

After some chit chat, Vieweger instructed Zach to take me around to see the ship and meet the crew that were aboard. We started out in the engine room where we found the Chief Engineer, Edison Yarde, a Barbadian national, working on an engine. Speaking loudly over the noise of the generator, Zach introducted me to the chief as "Richard Widmark." The chief didn't smile and warily shook my hand and after a brief but awkward pause during which I tried unsuccessfuly to explain that the Richard Widmark thing was Zach's joke we left. I was to lean later that Zach and the Chief were never not on speaking terms unless it involved serious business matters.

We contnued the tour and whenever we came across a crewman, Zach invariably introduced me as Richard Widmark; he was enjoying his joke and the crew sensed that they were being fooled somehow and I was totally embarrassed. To say the least, Zach had a perverse and strange sense of humor. In time, I was to alternatively enjoy or be driven to madness by that humor. Unfortunately, if I bought the ship I would inherit the captain as well.

Zach worked for us for 24 months at which time we had to ask him to retired from the MacVie and he did. Since then, we have visited him in Victoria where his behaviors again drove me to distraction and reminded me of his previous antics and in Copper Harbor where he drove to see us and stayed in town for a day before heading back to Victoria. We exchanged cards every Easter (from him) and Christmas (from me) but nothing has passed between us for a couple of years now so I have been wondering if he is still alive. Someday I will try to locate his whereabouts.

The last time I saw him was in Florida where we were staying for the winter. He was was on his way with his girlfriend to take a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale. We had a pleasant visit during which I asked him if, as a youth, he knew about the death camp on the outskirts of Auchswitz. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, "Of course. You could smell the burning bodies."

(a picture taken of the Chief Engineer, Edison Yarde, in the engine room of the Macvie. The chief is on the right facing my friend and me on the left.)

Chief Yarde, as long as he worked on the ship, never left her to go anywhere except on the dock or quay to which it was berthed and once a month to the post office to send his pay home. He was a meticulous man who spoke so fast that the words tumbled out of his mouth one on top the other and that coupled with his Barbadian accent and a slight stutter made him almost incoherent. Invariably I had to ask "What?" every time he said something to me and that tended to slow him down. Though I often tried to start one, we never had a real conversation. In fact, I was so worried that he might quit the ship that I tended to coddle him and do his bidding which he soon realized would get him almost anything he needed. Without the chief, I soon realized that I was doomed.

As with all the crew, the chief was paid once a month in US dollars, cash, which he promptly mailed home to his wife in Barbados. Once I expressed concern about mailing cash through the antiquated Caribbean Basin postal system and suggested it might be better if I gave him a paycheck. Absolutely not, he said, adding that he had no faith in paper checks. As far as I know, he never lost a dime.

The chief kept to himself either in his engine room or his quarters and only occasionally came on deck and usually only then to inspect a repair of some equipment. When he was in the engine room, he always carried a wiping rag in his hand to clean up a spot or a drip. It was the engine room, spotless and organized, that sold me on the ship. Mistakenly, I thought the whole ship was in the same condition.

When we left the ship two years later, the chief was still aboard and preparing to work for the new owners.

Next post: Jim our pump man and Ethan Toney a deckhand.