A Personal Tribute to Captain “Lucky"
by William R. Carr

On Sunday, the 2nd of November, 2003, the ashen remains of a great seaman and wonderful friend were committed to the sea in a fitting ceremony held at the pier of the Oasis del Pacifico on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. Lucky had followed the sea most of his life, and though he had long ago retired from his sea-going career, he seldom strayed very far from salt water. The Oasis was Lucky's paradise on earth — an idyllic place of sprawling tropical gardens and palm trees, hugging the shores of the Gulf of Nicoya, and he loved it.
     Lucky shared his paradise with his loving and devoted wife, Aggie — and the hundreds of friends and guests who visited them there over two decades. They raised their only son there. The simple service was held by Aggie, and their son, Piet, and friends from far and wide attended. The local community turned out in force for the solemn event. Nobody had more friends than Captain Lucky, and hundreds (if not thousands), including many who could not attend the service, are mourning his passing.

In a tragically ironic twist, Lucky’s fatal instance of profoundly bad luck came right in the sanctuary of his own idyllic home in peaceful, friendly, Costa Rica. It happened during the early morning hours of Monday, the 27th of October, 2003 at the hands of unknown assailants. The motive was apparently robbery.

I wasn’t present at the memorial service held on the pier that sad day, but I wish I could have been. I should have been there — for Lucky was about the best friend, and best person, that I have had the honor of knowing. That goes for his wife, Aggie, too — and though I had not seen them for many years, they have often been on my mind. And I was always planning to get down to Costa Rica — some day. Many times Lucky and Aggie had reiterated their standing invitation, with such admonitions as “Bill, we aren’t getting any younger, you know,” or “Please come while we still have our little piece of paradise” (for Lucky and Aggie had begun looking toward retiring from the hotel business and had the Oasis on the market). But I put it off too long, for which I am much the poorer.

     My friendship with Lucky goes back to Singapore in 1971, when he was the captain of the Offshore Logistics Corporation's new flagship, the M/V Great Republic, a large combination oilfield supply and towing vessel, which he had recently delivered to Singapore from the U.S. Gulf Coast.
    At that time Lucky had already completed a career as a oil tanker captain. Then he'd done a stint as port captain for SeaLand Services, Inc., working out of San Francisco, helping to pioneer the budding container ship industry. After he left SeaLand, he took the job with Offshore Logistics as a favor to a friend, to deliver one of several new 4,500 H.P. vessels to Singapore. Once in Singapore, he found the job of supplying and towing oil rigs around Southeast Asia sufficiently challenging to stay on for an extended period. Aside from finding the job challenging, Lucky had been fortunate enough to meet his future wife, Aggie (who was a secretary at one of the major oil field support companies), not long after his arrival.
     Offshore Logistics hired me as a trainee mate a month or two after Lucky’s arrival, and shortly before he married Aggie. Being new to “oil patch,” I was assigned to the Great Republic for my initiation into supply and towing operations. Lucky took me under his wing and became my mentor in the offshore oilfield business. He took a special interest in me because, like him, I was a "blue water" sailor, rather than a former shrimp boat captain as were most of the other captains. I wasn't to be with Lucky on the Great Republic for long, however. He broke me in rather quickly.
     Less than a month after becoming a trainee mate — just as I was beginning to think that maybe I’d bit off more than I wanted to chew — a captain’s position came available on a similar vessel. It was an emergency situation, as the captain had fallen ill on the very eve of an important charter. Lucky, always a master of positive thinking, assured the management that I was ready for the job, expressing much more confidence in me than I had in myself. Previous to my arrival in Singapore, though I had a brand new 1000 ton master's license, my experience had only been a few years as an able bodied seaman and a couple of years as third mate on tramp steamers.
     The choice that management had was between me and a tried and true boat captain — but one who didn’t have any large boat or towing experience. Management was in a quandary, but favored the old hand. Lucky, however, adamantly insisted that I was the man for the job — though I'd only been on two short rig moves with Lucky. Much to my alarm (which I dared not express, lest I disappoint and embarrass him), Lucky's judgment swayed top management in my favor, and I got the job!
     My first order of business (immediately upon going aboard and taking command!), was to get under way for the west coast of Borneo and (along with another vessel), take the biggest oil rig in the region under tow and deliver it to a location in the eastern Java Sea. Lucky said I could do it, and I did, partly because I simply couldn’t let him down. He had literally launched my career as a supply boat and towing master.

Now that’s the way Lucky initially “touched” my life — but that was only the beginning! We became fast friends and Lucky made me more than just a welcome and frequent guest in his home. Though I had a budding family in Saigon, I was alone in Singapore. Lucky was insistent that I had a place to stay ashore whenever I happened to be in port. And that's the way it was — and their hospitality was genuine. Lucky and Aggie practically adopted me! Lucky's trust and generosity always amazed me. In addition to providing me a place to stay when in town, he urged me to use one of his cars, or the motorcycle that he soon acquired, whenever I might need them. That's just the way Lucky was.
     Aggie said Lucky looked at me as a brother, but I looked to him as more than a brother. Several years my senior, he seemed more of a father figure — yet he was as affable and easy-going as any friend could be, and always treated me as his social equal. I could never think of myself as his equal, but did the best I could to measure up to what appeared to be his measure of me.
     While I enjoyed a special relationship with Lucky, he touched many other lives in similar ways, always boosting them to their maximum potential. He was a demanding person at the professional level, and those who worked with or for him all had to measure up — and most did. Few ever wanted to disappoint him or occasion his disapproval. Lucky could bluster when occasion merited it. He could cut one down to size in a hurry when he wanted to, but he usually extracted the best from those he put his faith in.
Lucky was a truly rare breed. He was a dedicated company man, but at the same time dedicated to his crew — provided they earn it. He worked hard on behalf of the company, and took good care of his men.

Lucky was a mover and shaker who lived life on his own terms. He made things happen and was an eternal optimist. He was aggressive in getting what he wanted, but what he wanted was always the right things. He knew people and how to handle them, but there was not a vestige of meanness in his head or heart. He always put himself in the leadership role, and put absolute trust and loyalty in his friends, crew, and employees. And that trust and loyalty was usually returned. Not very many let him down.
      Captain Lucky left Offshore Logistics after his contract was up, and moved on to bigger and better things. After a period helping to organize a couple of start-up companies for others, he and Aggie, along with another partner, founded SeaMar International, an oilfield support company based in Hong Kong and Singapore. They started with a single large wooden fishing boat which they converted to a special survey vessel. In time, SeaMar owned and operated an oilfield helicopter service barge and ocean-going tugs associated with various projects, both oilfield and construction related, around Singapore and the Indonesian archipelago. Once SeaMar Singapore, Ltd. was well established, and I'd completed my contract with Offshore, I accepted Lucky's standing offer to go to work for him. My title was simply “operations,” basically meaning that I helped out doing anything that happened to need a willing hand.
     It was about this time that Aggie delivered their son, Piet, and there was never a prouder husband and father than Lucky. Though he had had a child by a previous marriage, they had been estranged, with no contact, for many years. He was starting a family (again), rather late in life — so the birth of a son was the answer to his fondest dream and most fervent prayer. Not that Aggie stayed home for any lengthy period before or after the delivery. She was a full partner with Lucky in SeaMar, and managed the Singapore office with a firm and skillful hand. Piet didn't suffer any neglect, though, by any stretch of the imagination. Besides a doting amah at home, he had his own nursery and nursemaid at the SeaMar corporate office where his mother could see that his every need was met.
     In 1974, Lucky decided to expand SeaMar into South Vietnam, where oil had recently been discovered, and Lucky (once again kicking me upstairs before I’d dried behind the ears as a shore hand), made me the official Manager of SeaMar Vietnam, Ltd., a company with big plans to get in on ground floor of that troubled country’s budding offshore oil industry. The goal was to be the company selected to build the first offshore oilfield supply base in Vietnam. It was a bold and ambitious plan. Lucky’s optimism was somewhat disappointed in the case of South Vietnam, however, and the company and my position were to be very short-lived due to the communist take-over, which came not long afterward.
     My family was located in Saigon, and I was back in Singapore when South Vietnam began to crumble at an alarming rate. True to his nature, Lucky offered me the use of one of SeaMar's vessels to effect a rescue of my family. I opted to fly to Saigon first and see if a vessel rescue was in order. With Lucky's approval, I offered the use of the SeaMar vessel to the American military authorities, but they were in confused turmoil at the time and turned the offer down — assuring me (after considerable run-around), that there was no evacuation from Vietnam going on, or likely to go on. This was in early April, 1975, about three weeks before the total collapse of South Vietnam. In fact the air evacuation of American dependents and non-essential personnel was already going on, and would soon be expanded to include Vietnamese.
     I flew my son out with friends about a week later, and Lucky and Aggie took him into their home. Soon, it began to look as though I was going to stay in Saigon to see the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese march triumphantly into the city. But, before that end came, I found that the military was evacuating "any American and all of their dependents," whether or not they had any documentation. Myself, my wife, her young sister, and our daughter joined the exodus, and flew out on a C-141 Starlifter. We ended up in Guam. The next several months saw me attending to my refugee family rather than to my job. But I never missed a paycheck!
      I'll forever be grateful to Lucky and Aggie for their unremitting support during that time of great personal trial, tribulation, and grief. I can't imagine anybody else ever being as generous and supporting as those two wonderful people. The story doesn't end there by any means, but I won't make this tribute any more lengthy than necessary. I think I've made my point.

Though I finally made it back to Singapore with my family, my lengthy sojourn in the Far East began coming to an end as the result of the fall of Vietnam. The Singapore authorities soon insisted that my Vietnamese refugees leave the country — this, in spite of Lucky and Aggie's extraordinary and sustained efforts to gain them the right to remain through all sorts of guarantees. I eventually ended up back home on the farm in Illinois with my family, where we have remained while I continue to follow the sea for a living.
     While the Vietnam venture came to nothing, things were cranking up in the oil fields of the Middle East. Lucky turned his sights westward. SeaMar set up a joint venture in Saudi Arabia, and he, along with Aggie and Piet, went there to manage the new company. Lucky took with him some of his loyal Singaporean employees, some of whom had followed him from his Offshore Logistics days. The Saudi venture looked good for a while, but a catastrophe soon occurred. Some barges, loaded with several hundred thousand dollars' worth of equipment, being towed to Saudi from Singapore, were lost somewhere around the Indian coast. The Saudis had already paid for the equipment, but their loss was not reimbursed. In the period prior to the Saudi Adventure, new outside partners had been taken on to provide financing, and they proved to be neither friends nor loyal partners. Lucky's Singapore partners had left him in the lurch. Ultimately, while Lucky languished in a Saudi jail, those partners completely high-jacked SeaMar, and the company was renamed, counting Lucky and Aggie completely out of the enterprise which they had founded and nurtured.
     Lucky and Aggie found themselves in dire straights on a hostile shore far from home, with Lucky held legally liable for the financial loss. He was thrown in jail, and this ushered in one of the most difficult and trying periods in the saga of the life of Lucky Wilhelm and his family. Aggie managed to find employment with an American firm (though it was illegal for women to work in Saudi Arabia), and managed to hold things together. Finally freed through the good offices of some influential Saudi friends, Lucky nonetheless effectively remained a prisoner, and was barred from leaving the country.
     Handed a very sour lemon, it wasn't long before resourceful Lucky contrived to make lemonade out of it. Rather than falling into misery and despair, this irrepressible entrepreneur counted his blessings and decided to start a new business! He took stock of his resources and, using the loyal help that had remained stranded with him, set up a marina in Jeddah — the first and only one in the country. They hosted visiting yachtsmen, berthed and managed the yachts of rich Saudi princes, and provided crewing and charter services, as well as doing boat repairs. Before long Lucky and his crew were doing a booming and profitable business. Lucky had managed to turn betrayal and adversity — things which would have broken the spirit of most people — into a gold mine.

While still in Singapore, Lucky had become interested in Cost Rica, and had purchased some property being developed on that country's west coast. The property was being marketed among American expats in Singapore as a future retirement community for oil field management types. When Lucky's legal problems in Saudi Arabia were finally resolved, and he was free to leave, he and Aggie, along with Piet, took a trip to Costa Rica to look the country over. It was on that trip that they spotted a local resort hotel that was for sale on the Gulf of Nicoya across from Puntarenas. They returned to Saudi Arabia and wound up their business there. In 1981 they visited the States and then Costa Rica where they purchased the property that became the Oasis del Pacifico.
     I saw Lucky and his family during their visit in 1981, but only one time since then. In 1985 the ship on which I was employed called at Puntarenas for a few days with a cargo of wheat. Lucky and Aggie personally met the ship, coming alongside in a 50 foot sailing yacht, just as we were dropping anchor. Talk about an impressive welcome! They whisked me off to their "little piece of paradise." It was all and more than I'd expected, complete with Lucky and Aggie's splendid and unreserved hospitality. We had a great, but all too brief, reunion. I hoped the ship would begin to call there regularly, but in this I was to be disappointed. Little did I dream when I sailed, that I had seen Lucky for the last time on this earth — eighteen incredibly short years ago.
     Seldom or ever do I travel for pleasure. Thus, I stalled on a return visit to Costa Rica. Yet I always imagined that my wife and I would end up there once I retired from the sea. We would go for a visit, without any particular return schedule — when the time was right. I have been happy with my little piece of ground in the hills of Southern Illinois. I think of it as "paradise north" — but in the back of my mind, I've always considered that the "real" paradise was "south" — under palm trees and warm tropical skies, with waves lazily lapping a sandy beach. Where else but the one that Lucky and Aggie had created, with those two wonderful friends? But, alas! Even paradise hosts thorns, and fate is sometimes inexplicably cruel!   

Lucky was indeed one of a kind. They don't make them like that very often. He will be sorely missed, and always remembered, by a widespread network of family and friends that only such a man as Lucky could have.

Aggie and Piet, our hearts are heavy in grief and sympathy for your irreparable loss. It is our loss too.

Lucky, I'm sorry that I didn't make it down there. We had a lot of old times to talk about, and new adventures to pursue, but the time we were allotted for doing it was shorter than either of us imagined. Rest in peace, my friend.

Family, April 2003, with grandson, Ryan




Lucky and Aggie Wilhelm's wonderful Oasis del Pacifico in Costa Rica has passed into history after 25 years (1982-2007). The Oasis is in new hands and has a promising future in another incarnation. (See: J.P. Wilson's Web Site at: http://www.costaricabeachandlake.com/.) The Oasis del Pacifico web site, which I maintained for several years was closed down, with many regrets, on 3 May, 2007.


Bill Carr


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