Coming back from our trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, it was exciting to find that Production Operators Inc, of which I was president, had just been awarded by PDVSA the biggest contract gas compression contract we had ever received and it was to place eight 1500 HP compressors on an off-shore platform in the middle of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. When this contract was under consideration I had visited Maracaibo with Al Richards, our International Sales Manager who had an apartment in Caracas and who had been soliciting international business for POI for the first time. He had already secured a contract for two compressors for Corpoven, one of the three subsidiaries of PDVSA and was responsible for making the successful proposal to Maraven in Maracaibo. During 1990 we were working on the units for this job for a large part of the year while Al was continuing to explore other opportunities in Venezuela and also in Columbia and Argentina. This venture and the announcement of our early success had caught the attention of investors and our stock began a slow appreciation.
In Houston, we had to learn the exacting requirements of operating machinery over water and, although the rules were not as onerous in Venezuela, we decided to follow the more rigid US specifications. The major difference from our normal practice was the very strict requirement to make sure not even one drop of oil should fall into the water which required having an impervious base that could catch and retain any oil droppings. We also had to become familiar with rules and practices for preparing large machinery for export and all the never-ending paperwork.
In 1991, I made another trip to Caracas and Maracaibo and went by helicopter with Al Richards to see our off-shore units that had begun operating. Sitting in the front seat of a small helicopter was a new experience and I had a chance to see the many platforms and the concentrated activity on the lake. Landing on the rig was another first and I am sure it is easier than it looked.
I met our operators, two of whom I knew from Houston and was impressed with seeing six of the eight units running side by side and also admiring the efficient use of the limited space. I was shown the production control room by one of our customer’s foremen and again was amazed at the size and complexity of the entire unit. On leaving, I had asked our pilot to circle the platform so I could take a photograph of it and as he banked left with me in the left rear seat, the copter door came open and scared me enough for me to drop my camera into the lake. I probably could not have fallen out as I was strapped in and with the slipstream pressing on the door it would probably not open but that did not console me. The pilot said, “We’re going back” so I had my second rig landing. I remained nervous on the way back to Maracaibo.
On previous flights to Caracas I noticed our plane from Houston made a stop at the Dutch owned island of Aruba and I had planned on this trip for Doris and I to have a week there. I flew to Aruba from Caracas and rented a car in time to meet Doris who flew from Houston. I had reserved a room in one of the hotels on the long,
beautiful beach on the north-west side of the island. We spent most mornings in an open sided tent, sheltered from the sun and were entertained by a Dutch honeymoon couple who played paddle ball right in front of us, he in a mono-kini and her topless. They were accompanied by her mother who was on the large size and who spoiled the view by also going topless. We toured the town of Aranjestad, the capital and its tourist-oriented stores and gift shops. One day, we drove our car round the perimeter road shown on the map and found the Lago oil refinery that
had been shut down in 1985. It had been one of two refineries on the island and was owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey. They were two of the largest refineries during WW II and were used by the Royal Navy to fuel the convoy escort ships in the southern Caribbean and Atlantic. Knowing this, the Germans sent a wolf-pack of five U-boats and two Italian submarines, led by U-156 and its commander. The submarines were ordered to sink any oil tankers they could find and U-156 was told to attack the refineries and any tankers that were docked and loading fuel. On February 16, 1942, from less than a mile from shore, U-156 torpedoed two British tankers, the Pedanales and the Oranjestad that were docked at the Lago refinery and set them on fire with heavy loss of crew. U-156 then went around the island, sinking four more ships docked at other locations. (On a later trip to Aruba with our family, I and our three kids went on a large catamaran to the site of the Pedanales and as we snorkeled above, we watched Nigel and his wife , Donna scuba diving down close to the hulls.) Near the abandoned Lago refinery we found a nine hole golf course where the grass was tended by a very large flock of goats. Continuing on the perimeter road, we found ourselves driving at five miles an hour because the road had never been completed. We came to the site of Aruba’s famous Natural Bridge that had been carved
perfectly symmetrically through the coral rocks by the tides going in and out of a small, attractive bay. (This bridge collapsed in 2005 and is now just a jumble of rocks.) With the road so bad, we cancelled the rest of the perimeter trip. On another day, from the most westerly point by a tall lighthouse, we tried the perimeter road from the opposite direction but again gave up. We nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Aruba and promised ourselves we would return. Back home in Houston, my thoughts were mostly occupied with my pending retirement in January 1992 but that is another memory for another day.