In 1934 when he took up Star Class sailing, life in Maracaibo was much changed from the early years in the fields, or indeed in Maracaibo, when he first arrived. Things were improving fast but his life was centred on work and the social clubs run for the families in the oil camps. There was always a great competitive spirit between the various companies, especially between Lago, Gulf and Shell and this spilled over into the sport of sailing as well. While "hacking out" his sailing career he held down a demanding job and also had to support a wife and five children, so both spare time and funds were precious. That he accomplished so much is amazing to us, his family.
My Father's description of his Star Class sailing days with the Maracaibo Fleet follows:
Prizes were distributed yearly at either the Lago Petroleum (Creole/ESSO) or the Gulf Petroleum (Mene Grande) camp clubhouse, with club grounds appropriately decorated. These events were run under the excellent direction of Dave Porterfield, George Johnston and Charlie Schultz, with other members giving a helping hand. Arrangements were made to hold a dance after the prize giving function and all members were allowed to bring guests, making the necessary table reservations, etc. This dance was, without doubt, one of the best and most gala functions of the year and quite a number of persons both in the city and the oil camps looked forward, with keen interest, to this event. Naturally, we always had the best live music available and drinks were sold at quite moderate prices thus helping ensure the function's popularity.
In 1934 I became a member of the Yacht Club and was made official starter. Later I became Secretary/Treasurer, a position I held for many years. As Secretary I was also in charge of the clubhouse and grounds and during my administration we installed a new dance floor (concrete) which was an open air affair near the lake shore, sunshades under the palm trees, asphalt walks, as well as a bar and snack-bar. These improvements were made possible mainly through various generous corporate and or company donations. In particular, I recall Mr. Frank C. Laurie, of Lago Petroleum, who was Commodore of the Fleet, donating the materials (second-hand) from his company, to construct a new pier. The donation included the free use of a floating pile-driver. The pier was built of concrete slabs over driven piles and was approximately one hundred and twenty five feet long with a platform at the end, on which a proper flagpole, with yardarms was erected and used for starting and signalling during races. We were very proud of our new pier and that clubhouse site is now the location of one of the finest yacht clubs in Venezuela.
In 1935, the yacht "Chuckle" No 284. was put up for sale and Fred Smith, Managing Director of Maracaibo Oxygen Plant and I decided to buy it and try our luck at sailing. Well, being what one would call "novices", we were almost always near the tail-end or actually bringing up the rear. Fred was usually the skipper and I the jibman. We sailed together for about a year, and in 1936, the Maracaibo Oxygen Plant opened their head-office in Caracas and Fred was transferred there leaving me as sole owner of Chuckle.
After Fred's departure I continued sailing recruiting jibmen from friends who worked at Lago Petroleum. Unfortunately, as with Fred, without much success and I almost always ended up in the tail end. I can still remember my sailing companions laughing at me for being such a dependable "tail end Charlie".
On Christmas morning 1938, Mr Frank C. Laurie, very generously gave me a new set of sails as a Christmas present. He must have noticed that my sails were in terrible condition being very baggy and out of shape. It took me a little while to break in the new sails, which had to be done slowly, otherwise, they too would have gotten out of shape. After having broken in the new sails, which were for heavy weather, being thicker material, I decided to cut my old lighter sails to try and take out or to reduce, as much as possible, the baggy parts and also to shorten its length, which had also stretched considerably. To achieve this I laid the sails flat, both main and jib on the tennis court, pinned them down as tight as I could and then went to work as best I could, not having had any previous experience. When that was done, my wife Olga sewed it where it was marked or pinned together. As Ripley said "believe it or not" my sails fit perfectly and the difference was observed immediately. I was seldom bringing up the rear and more usually ended a race close up to the front. I never looked back from then onwards, winning many races and series, including the "Fleet Championship Series". I especially remember one set of special yacht races sponsored by the "Asociacion Atletica del Zulia" in both 1939 and 1940. This event was held annually on the 12th of October, the "Dia de la Raza" and for those years the President was Sr. Rafael Echeverria G. The prizes were donated by the "Executive of the State of Zulia", and presented by the President of the State.
Lake Maracaibo is very large inland but not quite land-locked lake. In the 1930s the lake, fed by many rivers, held mainly fresh water as the narrows connecting it to the Gulf of Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea were narrow and shallow with relatively little salt water entering. Since then the entrance has been dredged for ocean going vessels and the lake's ecology is changing. The lake's weather makes for variable sailing and is generally calm with moderate breezes, ranging from ten to twenty miles per hour. On occasions it can also be "dead calm" with hardly any breeze, if any, at all. However, during the "Chubasco" or stormy season, it gets very rough indeed with storms suddenly appearing and winds between fifty to sixty miles per hour or more. On such days when it was very rough many yachts broke their masts or tore their sails.
End of my Father's sailing entry in his memoirs.
My Father ceased sailing abruptly in about 1942, sold his yacht Chuckle and never sailed again. Why, I do not know. However, he continued to maintain an interest in the sport and remained close friends with his ex-sailing chums for years. He was always proud of what he had accomplished with his boat and cherished his trophies for the rest of his life.
Oster worked for Lago/Creole for 27 years ending up in 1953 as Superintendent of the Marine Department, responsible for 13 shallow draft ocean going tankers and 1,000 staff. He took early retirement to return home and work in a family business in Trinidad with his three brothers. After a comparatively peaceful sojourn in the land of his birth, he died in 1973 leaving a wife and seven grateful children. For the last few years of his life he undertook to write his memoirs describing his eventful life in the "wild west" type environment that were the oil fields of Venezuela in the 1920s and 30s. The book was never published but is a treasured document for children scattered all over the world. It is from this source that I have taken the words describing his sailing with the Maracaibo Fleet from 1935 to 1942 in commemoration of his 100th birth year.
Oster J A Bayne
Civil Engineer, Retired,
31 December, 2003
For further information on Maracaibo and the Venezuela oil fields in the 1930s-1940s go to:
http://www.cclausen.com, click on Ursula Bayne's Journal and look at the shared photos.
http://www.randytrahan.com, click on oil fields of Venezuela, Maracaibo, Gallery No 1 for views of the Creole club in the 1940s.
© Copyright 2007 by starclass.org