Chazar Co. 701 1968 (1)

After joining Werf Gusto on March 1st, 1966 and being trained to function as the assistant of the assistant production manager Mechanic (Bram Vorster), I was enlisted into the team of Mr. J.F. Hage. Part of this training involved the hydraulic systems for the gate valves and bottom valves of a 9000-m3 hopper suction dredger, “Geopotus IX”. As a member of the “Hage-team” I witnessed the jacking operations of the two crane islands, “Lepelaar” and “Kraanvogel”, used for the extension of the piers at IJmuiden. In order to get acquainted with offshore- and drilling equipment I was sent to the “Ile de France”, which was drilling offshore Senegal. During this trip I also studied my course in the Russian language, so far that I could read, pronounce and write it. It was a good start.

When I returned from Senegal I was asked to support the production department of Mr. Vorster with the installation and commission of the four jacking systems of the newly built drilling jack-up “Chazar”. Five “Russians”, client representatives, had come to Schiedam: Mr. David Babajev, director of the assembly yard in Baku, Mr. Matweh Machalov, head mechanical engineer, Mr. Houseinov, chief engineer for ‘Chazar’, Mr. Filippov, head electrical engineer and Mr. Arudjev, captain of ‘Chazar’. A small army of translators and interpreters necessarily assisted with the communication between these Russians and the yard. I was also granted permission to ask them to help me with my study of the Russian language. As it turned out in the end I was able to often assist the translators in finding the correct technical English equivalents for the Russian words used by our guests. You see: once you know how to pronounce the Russian words often you might recognize the meanings, especially in marine terms (think of Tsar ‘Peter the Great’, who studied shipbuilding in Holland, many years ago!)

There was just one problem: my first name is Joop, from my second Christian name: Josephus. It happened that one of the Russians asked me for my name and since only direct colleagues called each other by first name I replied: Wittmaekers. No, they wanted my first name, so I gave them “Joop”. That shook them enormously and I was asked whether I would have a different name. They could not use this one! So I informed that my first Christen name was Alexander and from then on they all called me ‘Alex’. When I asked for the reason I was directed to the Dutch translators and they informed me that “Joop” sounds like a rather bad word in the Russian language. I found out that this Russian word means ‘making love’, which is not too bad, but not a term used when calling for the attention of a co-worker.

Chazar (Co. 701) Schiedam
Upon returning from my trip to Senegal (“Ile de France”) to the yard in Schiedam I started working together with Ken Cowley (whom I worked with in Senegal, on the “Ile de France”) and his young colleague Tony Tufts, both working for Keelavite Hydraulics Inc. We commissioned and tested the four jacking systems for the “Chazar”. The contract was between IHC Gusto on the builder side and Machino Import on the side of the client and called for the designing, building and commissioning of a jack-up platform equipped with a complete drilling installation. The pontoon, or hull, was to be assembled out of three pontoons, since transportation of the unit to the Caspian Sea would be subject to maximum size in width and length. The assembly was to take place in Baku, the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. And upon assembling the unit should be subjected to an over-all testing of all systems on board. It was stated that a (dry) well with a depth of 2000 meters should be drilled offshore.

Chazar (schaalmodel)
Scale Model van CO701: ‘Chazar’
The three pontoons: the middle section which included the engine room / accommodation and the two side pontoons, containing two jacking systems and two mooring winches.

In order to prove to the client and to our self that the jack-up systems really worked, the three sections were assembled and temporarily connected (bolted) inside the dry dock #8 of our colleague yard, ‘Wilton Fijenoord’. Special supports were constructed under the leg footings (“Spud cans”) to provide safe support of the weight once standing on the four legs. A special bed cast from “Araldite” formed a perfect support contact with the bottom of the spud cans. We then planned also to do some jacking and Mr. Hage returned from a trip overseas to perform the First couple of jacking strokes, whereupon I was allowed to continue and complete the test. Proud as a dog with 7 . . . . . . !

Krantenartikel over 'Chazar'
Krantenartikel over ‘Chazar’

Rotterdam (ANP) – The drilling platform “Chazar”, which is being built at the Gusto shipyard in Schiedam in commission for the Soviet Russians, has reached the stage to be tested tomorrow and will be transported to the graven dry dock at ‘Wilton Fijenoord’. After the tests of the platform the “Chazar” will be split up into three sections and returned to the Gusto yard. There the three sections will be prepared for the tow to Baku at the Caspian sea, via the Baltic sea and the Botnic Gulf. The planning is such that the tow may start in September and thus stay ahead of the frost. The “Chazar” is being built by the cooperation of the IHC Holland and Wilton Fijenoord.

Baku, Azerbaijan
And on the 27th of December I departed for Baku, together with two technicians of R & H, Aart Ligthart en Joop Biemans. (we soon found that Joop Biemans had to become: “Little Alex We spent our first night in the USSR in Moscow, Hotel “Russia”. A monstrous concrete and glass building with some 6000 rooms (so we were told) on the brink of the Red Square. Amazed about the length of the line waiting for admission into the Lenin Mausoleum what surprised us most was the wedding party, including the white dressed bride, in that line. The following morning we took a flight from the national airport of Moscow to Baku. We flew a “turboprop, Ilyushine 18”. It was my third flight and upon arrival I failed to find my hand luggage! Don’t ask me how I managed that! My suitcase made it, but my shaving gear I had packed in my hand luggage! It was my “Samsonite” briefcase and it arrived four days later. But without the Playboy magazine, which my brother had presented me with for my long stay away from home! We joined Mr. Vriezen in the Hotel “Intourist”. Room 451 for me, next door to Mr. Vriezen (450) and

Aart en Little Alex shared Room 449, on the 4th Floor. The room contained 2 beds, 2 arm chairs, a table, a 2-door closet and 2 chairs. On the table stood a small lamp and a radio. The radio was more like a speaker with a regulator to turn down the sound, but never completely off! Always local music, even in the night! There was a way to silence this speaker: knock it hard, very hard, onto the table. But that only lasted for a single day; the following day the sound was back on. We found out that this “radio” also contained a secret microphone, through which the security people in Room 100, on the first floor, could listed in and thus secure our safety!!

We also found out that as soon as we left the hotel, for a walk or other, we were recorded by the door man and this recording was checked with the reports made up by the “followers”, persons stationed outside the hotel who had to follow us and report where we went and when we returned. The doorman again checked this with the recordings. Strange that we still didn’t feel happy and or grateful for being so good taken care of!!!! We just didn’t give it any attention; all we wanted was to hand over our project to the client and get out of there as soon as we could!

Back to our first working day in Baku. That morning we met our interpreters (Alla, Tanya,Zima and, as only male, Isar) and with a couple of “Wolga” sedans we left for the ship yard. It was made clear to us that our passports needed to stay at the hotel for registration with the police and authorities. Upon return from the yard the passports would be returned to us.

On this photo from left to right: Mr. Vriezen, Torben, Tony, Paul, Herman, Aart, Helmut, and the interpreters: (German) Zima and (English) Isar, Alla and Tanya.

Mr. Vriezen had arrived already two months earlier in Baku, together with the Gusto welding specialist, van der Vlies. But van der Vlies had fallen ill of home sickness and had been replaced by a welding (NDT-) specialist from Denmark, Torben Kiersing. So when we arrived the three pontoons had been connected (bolted) together and the welders were completing the connections from inside the cofferdams. On the mooring/assembling pier the yard had installed an old generator, which would provide us with electric power for the lighting and welding. It was a good thought to bring our own personal flashlights! On the jetty we had an old hut for the storage of our assembling materials, such as hydraulic jacks and welding rods. For our lunch meal we were expected in the “restaurant” on board an old ship moored along the same pier. We were served Borsj with Bread! Borsj is a kind of soup with cabbage, chunks of potatoes, a little meat and a lot of fat. After a week we decided to bring our own sandwiches from the hotel. For this Mr. Vriezen bribed the headwaiter with a box of Dutch cigars!

Assembling pier/jetty with our “Lunch Room” alongside to the left.
Assembling pier/jetty with our “Lunch Room” alongside to the left.

A few days later we invited our interpreters to the New Year party in the hotel restaurant for which Mr. Vriezen had booked us a table. It was a night to never forget, with a lot of reasonable food, lots of Russian champagne and caviar, life music, etc. We had a good time and didn’t realize that this was to be the beginning of a real tough period which would last for nearly a full year. A rough and difficult time indeed. With our daily fight to prevent the disappearance of our welding rods, tools, etc. Almost daily we could see unknown persons walking away with our Dutch supplied welding rods, which was explained with the remark that these electrodes were of such high quality that the locals couldn’t live without them anymore. So just be proud and don’t complain!

It also happened more and more that our transport (our cars) wouldn’t show up in the morning. The contract with our client had made the yard responsible for our transportation and therefore Mr. Babayev, the yard director, had arranged for the two or three Wolga sedans to pick us up in the morning and bring us back to the hotel in the evening. However Mr. David Babajev liked using these cars for himself and thus we often had to wait. It also gave the client the possibility to determine whether or not we were present at the yard.

A full minibus. Mr. Vriezen still used the sedan “Wolga
A full minibus. Mr. Vriezen still used the sedan “Wolga”

This proofed to be handy for them in case they had to entertain special guests on our project without us being around! Mr. Babayev also locked our passports in his safe at the yard and when we insisted to have control over our own passports he told us that in his strong box the documents were safe. When we argued that in case something happened at home, with our family or other, and we had to travel to our homes in a hurry we would need to have these passports immediately. But Mr. Babayev argued that in such cases we could find replacing female partners in Baku. No problem! In case I had done to the man what I had in mind I would still be somewhere in Siberia, for sure. (and I had entertained this man in my own home!) Our team expended and for our transportation we managed to get use of a minibus.

Trainees, interpreters, Tony and Torben guided into the minibus by our driver.
Trainees, interpreters, Tony and Torben guided into the minibus by our driver.

Also a personal cook was arranged: Mosa! A Russian (or Ukrainian) woman of about 40 years of age, who had experienced the misfortune to not have been shot to death in the “Great War” (2nd World War) but was made prisoner by the Germans. Upon returning home, at the end of the war, all these prisoners were sent to labor camps in Siberia. When Nikita Chroushev granted them amnesty they could return to their homes. However their income could never surpass the 65 Rubles per month. A medical doctor as well as our driver or our welders were paid 90 to 100 Rubles. So Mosa was very happy with her new assignment and we rested assured that she would “fight” for us. Mr. Vriezen also added some Rubles to the meager budget she received from Babayev, which allowed Mosa to make our bus driver bring her to the market and buy fresh food products. She worked every day, since we also ´worked´ every day and on Sundays she would bring her little daughter.

Aart, Herman, the little girl, Helmut, Alex (Joop) and Paul.
Aart, Herman, the little girl, Helmut, Alex (Joop) and Paul.

But most people were very friendly and kind. Such as the chief electrician. He planned to celebrate his birthday and invited Aart and Little Alex, but also me(!) to join the party. Two of our interpreters, Alla and Tanya, had also been invited. It turned out an unforgettable evening with lots of food, drinks, music and dancing. A number of different tables (borrowed from their neighbors!) filled the living room and sagged due to the weight of all the splendid food and drinks. It was fantastic!

I was allowed, no, even urged, to play the piano and when we Dutch started singing “Aan de oever van de Rotte, tussen Delft en Overschie, enz . . . .” all our Russian speaking new friends sang the old Russian folk song. And we just met, only two weeks ago!!

My own 28th birthday was oncoming and Mr. Vriezen proposed that we would make a party. At the hotel seemed a bit dull and on the platform proofed unlikely, since the freezing cold, accumulated when the platform (the three barges) were towed through freezing cold Russia could still be felt inside the accommodation. So, what could we do? I talked to our friendly electrician and it was decided that the party was going to be arranged in his apartment. My condition was that I would pay all the costs for food and drinks (and possibly others). Actually this idea came from Mr. Vriezen! Mr. Matweh Machalov, the head engineer for our client, who also had spent some time in Holland and at my house, asked me to arrange for the “western Drinks”, such as Gin and Whisky; they would take care of the rest. Even, when I had booked a phone call to my wife, he arranged for the call to be transferred to the apartment of the electrician.

It turned out to be a wonderful evening and everybody enjoyed it tremendously. The following day, or was it some days later, when we all met again at the yard, I asked the electrician and Mr. Machalov to inform me about the expenses of this wonderful evening. No reply!! A few days later I asked again and was answered with the question: “Do you wish to remain friends with Juri and the others?” When I said that off course that was my wish Mr. Machalov said to be happy with the answer and advised me to never mention this item (the costs for the party) again. In all my years travelling the world I have never again met with such warm hospitality! In the mean time our team was strengthened with other specialists, Dutch, English and German. Although the locals didn’t like the Germans very much, they all were soon accepted. Not only the Dutch and British but also even the Germans. TV reports showed a protest demonstration on the “Maliveld” in The Hague and a protest demonstration of London dockworkers. The Americans were even worse: TV showed a white American policeman beating a black person over the head. One feature showed the life of a German engineer; how splendid life was in the DDR! Sure, it was all propaganda, but if one wouldn’t know any better . . . . .?

All our mail was censured! Note the closing flap on the letter envelope, which has been steamed open!

We couldn’t let our relatives at home know how our life really was, here in the “workers’ paradise”. All our mail was censured! Note the closing flap on the letter envelope, which has been steamed open and after the contents were checked closed again with some glue. It often happened that some letters arrived home glued to the envelope.

Naar deel 2

Report and memories assembled and written up in December 2014
by: Alex Wittmaekers
Service / Jacking Engineer of IHC Werf Gusto

Stichting Erfgoed Werf Gusto

Laatst bijgewerkt op: 22 januari 2023