Star Class Association
Maracaibo Fleet 1935 to 1942
Recollections of Oster RA Bayne

Maracaibo Yacht Club Star Class Race circa 1939
My father, Oster RA Bayne, was born in 1903 in Trinidad, then in the British West Indies. He was the eldest son born to Samuel Howard Russell and Emily Leonora Bayne. The first Bayne had migrated to Barbados, another British Island Colony, from England in the 1790s to pursue a new life as a planter and then merchant. Subsequently, three generations were born there including Oster’s father who arrived in Trinidad in 1880. In 1925, with the local economy in poor shape, he decided to try his

luck in nearby Venezuela, then experiencing an “oil rush”. He arrived in Maracaibo in November 1925 and was employed on the gold payroll, yes, paid in gold coins, working for an American oil company called Lago Petroleum. The company was later re-named Creole, a subsidiary of ESSO.

Oster RA Bayne at the age of 21 in 1924.

He commenced work as a “Yields Clerk “ in the oil field on the eastern shores of the lake under rather primitive conditions but was then transferred to the Marine Department in Maracaibo in 1929, where he worked for the rest of his career with the company. He married Olga Margarita Ortega Echeverria in 1932 and settled down to family life living in the Creole camp with his children attending EBV.

Olga Ortega Echeverria. Engaged to Oster Bayne, 14th May 1931.

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 centered 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:

——————————————————————————

"The Maracaibo Yacht Club was formed, as I recall, in the latter part of 1929. Subsequently an old residential home on a large piece of land along the shoreline at Bel1a Vista was rented and used as a clubhouse. All yachts were of the "Star Class" type, and all registered in the United States in the "International Star Class Yacht Racing Association". All races were run strictly in accordance with the I.S.C.Y.R.A., racing rules and regulations. Schedules for the year's racing were always prepared early in the year. In general, local commercial houses or representatives of manufacturers of oilfield equipment donated the prizes. All races, or each series, consisted of six to eight races, including the "Lake Maracaibo Championship Series" and prizes were awarded to yachts finishing first, second and third, in each series. When there were no scheduled races for any given period, we would sail for silver cocktail cups, donated by the Club.

"Maracaibo Yacht Club - Star Class Fleet Skippers with their 'Perpetual Trophy' - 1941.
"Photo taken at MYC dance floor lakeside grounds - note palm sunshades at far left.
"Standing L - R: Buck, Hindson, Spicer, Van Rassel, King, Maar, Riley
"Seated L - R: Frisbie, Bayne (Highest Season Average 1940), McTear (Highest Season Average 1941) Douglas."

Note that this photo was found hanging in the Mystic Star Class Museum in Connecticut with the information in this caption written on the back, probably by Oscar RA Bayne himself.

"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 Shultz, 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.

MYC Fleet Skippers and crews on new pier from Star Class Log for 1937. George Johnston 3rd from left, Mr. Laurie front 3rd from right, Oster Bayne rear right.

"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.

 
MYC Lakeside seating with sunshades from palm fronds and new pier in the background.
 

Map showing former site of the Maracaibo Yacht Club.

(Original map courtesy of D. Becker)

"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 "Asociación Atlética del Zúlia" 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 Zúlia", and presented by the President of the State.

Skipper Bayne & Jibman Claugh with Zúlia Cup won by Yacht No. 248 Chuckle, 1939.

"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.

"I remember, in particular, one race early in 1940 sponsored by Chester M. Crebbs, then Manager of Gulf Oil Corporation’s operations nation-wide based in Caracas. Mr. Crebbs had once lived in Maracaibo and had been on many occasions, Maracaibo Fleet Champion. As a matter of fact, at that time, either Frank C. Laurie or Chester Crebbs normally won the prestigious Championship Series. Well, in 1940 Mr. Crebbs came to Maracaibo on a short business visit with Sr. Carlos Henry and while there arranged to have a special race. On the day in question, soon after the race started, gale force winds suddenly began to blow, getting stronger and stronger, resulting in several boats breaking their masts and or tearing their sails. Sailing that day was particularly difficult and you might say “challenging”, given the terrible conditions. Of the eight original starters, only four finished the race, with the yacht Chuckle crossing the finish line first and with Mr. Crebbs in Star Baby in second berth, quite some distance behind, an unaccustomed position for him. I received from Sr. Henry a lovely wristwatch for having won the race and believe I am right in saying the event is registered in the Star Class Log Book for the year 1941."

Lake Maracaibo Fleet - Log of the Star Class Season's Averages, 1941.

 

 

 

Charlie Shultz with his second prize cup circa 1937 at Lago Club Prize-winning. Note the MYC's Perpetual Trophy to his right. It was inscribed something like this:
1937
M.Y.C.
Championship
Crews Prize Second
C. Shultz
Maracaibo Yacht Club Star Class Prize Giving at Creole camp, 1937. Top Table: Oster RA Bayne Secretary/Treasurer, Mr.s. Laurie, Mr. Frank Laurie presenting, Mr. C. N. Newell, Royal Bank of Canada.

——————————————————————————

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.

Bayne family in 1940.

Oster worked for Lago/Creole for 27 years ending up in 1953 as Superintendent of the Marine Department, responsible for the operations of a fleet of shallow draft ocean going tankers with Headquarters in Los Haticos then on the outskirts of Maracaibo. 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 his 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,
EBV Pupil 1946 to 1953
Civil Engineer, Retired
Hertfordshire
England, UK
8 January, 2004

 

• This article, in modified form, can also be found at the website of the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association, under the "Human Interest" section, located at:

http://www.starclass.org/artman/publish/article_89.shtml

 

To view the roster of the Skippers and Crews of the Star Class Fleet as noted in the International Star Class Log for the years 1936 to 1942, click on this image: