Oral History Transcript — Captain Henry Conrad Kohler
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Interview with Captain Henry Conrad Kohler
Henry Kohler; May 28, 1996
ABSTRACT: Discusses childhood and upbringing in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, as part of a seagoing family of German immigrants; his education to become a master seaman; recollections of experiences onboard Verma; his relationship with Lamont-Doherty and Maurice Ewing.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:Let me just say, again, this is Ron Doel and this is Session 2 with Henry Kohler. We are continuing this recording on the twenty-eighth of May, 1996, in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. One of the things that Iím very curious to hear about is how you first came to know about the possibility of sailing with the Vema. When did that first take place?
Kohler:In 1957. I believe it was in June. My good friend who was the managing director of his own firm here — my good friend Jim [James] Kinley called me. Both natives in Lunenberg and I think mutual admirers. I was on shore at that time with — rather the end — the demise of the Canadian merchant marine. And I —
Doel:Iím sorry. What was happening with the Canadian merchant marine at that time?
Kohler:The Canadian merchant marine was then being, to use the term, downsized and flagged out. All the companies were taking their ships to England at that time. They were putting them under British flag for a cheaper operation. I had my offer to go in command of a British ship — Canadian owned — and didnít want to do that. I came home and promoted a large fishing vessel and I sailed it. Iíd never been a fisherman, but I sailed it successfully for four or five months.
Doel:Was this the scalloping operation?
Kohler:Yes. I passed it over to a young man whom I knew would do well with it. I was then awaiting a commitment of an appointment to British American Oil on a foreign-going tanker as a captain. That seemed slow coming along and my friend Jim Kinley called. He asked if I would be interested in the Vema. I knew something of the Vema, just from knowing sheíd been in Lunenberg. I saw her here on one occasion. I knew her former owner. So he said would you be interested in going with Columbia University as master of the Vema? I said, ďWell I certainly would be interested, but I have to ta& to the people.Ē He had been called by Mr. [Sigourney] Romaine who was marine manager at that time. I donít know what his real title was, but thatís really what he was doing. He was a very fine man. Romaine I think. And, so he was — Jim was the liaison I guess. I went down to New York, and they picked me up I went over to the institute and I had a meeting with Joe [J. Lamar Worzel] and Doc [W. Maurice Ewing] and Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and John [John I. Ewing] and a few others — they sized me up. They gave me a pretty good grilling.
Doel:What were your impressions of them?
Kohler:Well, my impressions were — I wasnít afraid of it. I hadnít quite dealt with people in this field. My impressions were it was like I was on trial.
Doel:More than youíd ever been in any previous interview?
Kohler:Yes. Yes. And then they wanted to know how long Iíd been at sea. Well, I said Iíve been at sea now more than twenty years. Joe says, ďThereís a lot around here who trod the deck for twenty years.Ē I said, ďThatís nice,Ē which you can well believe. They seemed to be quite satisfied with the answers which I gave. They asked if I knew anything about sailing, and I told them my experience with sailing ships. That seemed to please them very much. They were taken by that. Then eventually they asked me to stay another day. They took me into New York City for a physical because of my disability which was obvious and which I had told them. That seemed — the result of that was fine. So I came home — I —think we settled it all there. When it came to salary and believe it or not, then the Canadian dollar was worth more than the American dollar by six cents. So I insisted that I get paid in the Canadian funds. That was all right. They didnít overpay me, but it was a decent living.
Doel:It compared favorably to the past salary and wages?
Kohler:Yes. I said I expect what I would get as master of a Canadian foreign-going steamship. Thatís exactly what I got at that time. It was six hundred dollars a month. And that was good pay. So, we made the agreement that as soon as the vessel got there, I would come down and join her. She was on her way home from, maybe from Argentina. I donít remember. I did just that. She came up to Piermont, and then I went over. I believe it was Captain [Valvin] Sinclair who picked me up and took me to the — maybe Mr. Romaine. Sinclair wasnít there yet. He took me to the ship but I wasnít impressed with what I saw. I thought she was in a hell of a state.
Doel:Yes. Iím curious, particularly about what you were thinking about when you saw?
Kohler:Well, I sized it up, and I thought this ship is in one hell of a state. She wasnít well maintained at all. She was in a very advanced condition of Iíd say deterioration in many respects. I was quite capable of making, I made my own survey. But I thought well —
Doel:You mean the condition of the hull as well as the interior and the —
Kohler:Everything. That may not be complimentary to some of the people at that time, but thatís the way I found it. We did our best to make her seaworthy and reasonable for one trip. I had only planned to go for six months or more. But, in retrospect, maybe I didnít do enough. The decks were very, very bad. She had wooden decks. They were beautiful decks in their time. But the fastening of the deck to the frames was very bad with bronze. Most were in a condition where they just werenít holding that deck down as it should be. It leaked badly — very badly. I used to feel sorry, particularly, where the scientists were living because as soon as we had water on deck — they had wet bunks. They used shower curtains strung up over their bunks. It wasnít good. After our first long voyage, we started trying — and I must say that I got support. I didnít get everything I wanted, but you canít expect that either. But I did get support. They were kind of tight-fisted in this respect. They wanted their money to go into research. But the vehicle they needed also needed maintenance. I canít say that they treated me badly in that respect. But we started trying to bring the vessel up. Even during the voyage we did a lot of work, in this port and that port — In Cape Town and places like that. Every trip we improved her — then came the very major things. They did get big money for it. There was a program that was going on for about seven or eight years — possibly ten — whereby we strengthened the hull in different areas. We doubled the keel. We put doubled plates all around the water line for a width of eight feet which was tremendous stiffening. The vessel had complete new decks installed — steel decks which was very good. Eventually in the plan the masts were removed and we did away with the sails because they werenít really compatible. It was romantic but not compatible with the way they worked. We eventually had a brand new main propulsion plant installed. It was very, very satisfactory. Total electrical systems in every respect. A generated system and electrical system. We had new deck houses. We went through the ship over those — I guess might have been eight years. There was tremendous money spent on until she was a real sound vessel when we finished.
Doel:Yes. I didnít want to interrupt you on that. But that was very interesting in that you say this was part of a master plan. That you knew early on the entirety of what you wanted to do with the Vema. This is through the 1960s that this happened?
Kohler:Into the seventies.
Doel:Into the seventies.
Kohler:They had a Norwegian marine engineer as their marine engineering supervisor. He was a very fine man by the name of Hank [Haakon] Skjerding. And he was — they thought very highly of him as I did too. I always found reasons to get — had some pretty hot controversies all around, and that doesnít mean I was right. I lost a few rounds too. But they were good people. They had some good people around them. He was a remarkably good man, and then Captain Sinclair came into the picture. He was a retired U.S. four ring captain, a senior captain. He was very knowledgeable and very practical. What made it so nice with Captain Sinclair — and this reflects on a very sad incident recently took place. Captain Sinclair joined the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man at eighteen years old. Eventually, he went into Annapolis. He went to senior captain to retire as a rear admiral which he refused. He said, ďI earned my four ring captain as commanding officer during the war and thatís the way Iím going to retire. So it reflects back on what happened with the CNO recently who — it was a very sad event.
Doel:Youíre referring to the suicide recently —
Kohler:Yes. Terrible. He had been an enlisted man who advanced to that station. However, Captain Sinclair was a great supporter of me. From his lifetime of training and naval experience his viewpoint was in a very short, few words. He made it very well known at meetings weíd have at end of voyages with the scientists and so on telling him this and that. And then heíd say, ďYou must all remember the ship, the captain and the crew are the front line. We are the reserve lines. And if we donít support them and give them what they need to do the job, it will not be done.Ē He was a wonderful man. Iím sure youíve heard of him.
Doel:Iíve heard of him.
Kohler:Tough little fellow too. He meant business when he talked. He was only short, but boy he was powerful. In stature, he was small. But Iíll tell you in personality, he was big.
Doel:Did you say he was already there at the time that you arrived? Or did his appointment come later?
Kohler:He may have been there but not in the capacity of — Iíll say marine superintendent. He may have been there working with the geologists. When he retired from the Navy, he went to University of Missouri and took a degree in geology. Thatís how he ended up there. I think he may have been there at Lamont, at that time and I didnít know him or heard about him. Then when Mr. Romaine eventually — I donít know if he left or — actually, I think Romaine first went there gratis and worked as a manager. I think he would have come from some wealthy family in New York. He was really a Wall Street bond salesman. He was a fine man. Didnít quite fit in that — there wasnít a niche there for him to fit into. I mean that — at Lamont we were hard driving — rough attitude in many cases. He was a public Wall Street man. He was respected and he could handle numbers.
Doel:Did he work with Arnold Finck then?
Kohler:Yes, of course. He would have.
Kohler:So, eventually when he was — no he died quite young. When he was no longer there, Captain Sinclair moved into that position. Iím pretty sure Iím right. Captain Sinclair was there for many years until he retired. I sure had his support. You know itís interesting — do you want me to continue that line or leading question?
Doel:Yes. Yes, please.
Kohler:Then in later years, they had a few people in managerial positions in that marine end of the operation. They werenít good people. They were not good people.
Doel:What didnít they have — the later people — that people like Sinclair or Romaine had?
Kohler:I think they had people who — number one didnít have the ability to do a good job. Secondly, I donít think they were sincere people at all. Thirdly, I know they were not honest people. I know they were milking the outfit. I blew the whistle on them every chance I got. But they were always after me. I could weather that storm real easy. You know when they finally fired the one — weíll say port captain or marine manager — do you know what he said to Manik Talwani? Iím surprised it took you so long to catch me.
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:Only because they were generous. They knew long before that they should have got rid of him. Then they had an engineer to replace Hank Skjerding, who died in service — died of cancer. He was a very good friend of both Laney and I. They brought in a retired lieutenant commander from the Navy. He was a real bad egg. He knew I was a threat to his position. He made it very clear he was coming out to Guam to fire me.
Doel:To fire you?
Kohler:Oh yes. He didnít have the authority — and number two, when he got back to New York he was finished.
Doel:Was this again under the Talwani — when Manik Talwani was —
Kohler:It was during Talwaniís tenure. The Navy and the other was a merchant marine captain. Smart and intelligent — but no integrity — no real strength of character either. They were milking the system. They were bleeding it in every respect. There were some things that went on that Iím sure people at Lamont now either never knew or canít remember. One incident involved the tail shaft of the Robert D. Conrad.
Doel:The other ship — the main ship.
Kohler:We believed — and I was involved in some shore operations too. We believed that was in storage and repaired in storage and approved in New York. We could never find it when we needed it. The ship was found. She was in dry-dock in New York. The report back to the people at Lamont — like Joe and those people — was, ďWell she had a new tail shaft installed.Ē This was twenty years ago, maybe more. You know, thatís a twenty-five thousand dollar job in those days. But when she came back after a long trip, and that tail ship was withdrawn for inspection, it was the old one just patched. It was not really repaired and approved for the American Bureau. It was just patched to cover up — slid back in. It could have easily failed. It wasnít the new one at all. So, we knew we had to find the one in storage. We couldnít locate it. Eventually that tail shaft was found in South Africa. It had been sold out — not by the university and not by Lamont. That sort of intrigue was going on. It didnít do a couple of people very much good.
Doel:Iím sure it didnít. How did that affect your position at Lamont when that sort of thing started to happen?
Kohler:Well, I think, I think if it needed to be strengthened, it only strengthened the fact that I was never really involved in that sort of thing. I felt that these people were treating me good. I was always brought up to represent the owners of a ship properly, and I tried to do that. So Iíll leave that. You can give me any leading questions.
Doel:Well, Iím very curious about what you mentioned a moment ago — that the one person had come out to Guam. I gather the Vema was sailing there.
Kohler:He thought — he thought he could. He had no authority whatsoever.
Doel:Yes, but how did this whole incident develop? What was the reason for —
Kohler:Well, I had never met this man, but he had heard of me.
Doel:He was at Lamont?
Kohler:Yes, working as an engineering superintendent after Hank Skjerding died. I guess he realized I may be a threat to his position. Oh man, this guy really, really ripped him. He was — everything he did — he didnít do anything unless he got a big payoff from a contractor. You know the sort of thing that you read about.
Kohler:So, to me he was an unpalatable character in every respect. But he tried to use me a little rough in Guam. I guess that might have backfired.
Doel:But on what grounds did he even feel that he could try to intimidate you?
Doel:Or accusations or anything that he — I'm just curious what he was trying to say.
Kohler:He said that I was not conforming to the things that he wanted done. Operators — he wanted me to operate. I knew who I was operating for.
Doel:And this was under the Talwani period?
Doel:Was there a real change? Was this sort of problem already developing at the end of the Maurice Ewingís term?
Kohler:Well, when Manik was there, I certainly had full support from him. Now who would be choosing those people? When Manik was there, certainly Denny [Dennis E. Hayes] was associate director. But who was choosing those people? I donít know. But in some cases they chose unwisely. In the case of one shore captain — he had been captain of the Robert D. Conrad I think, and they promoted him from there. You know any time you go hiring people over any period of time; youíre never going to have a hundred percent successes. I can speak of shipís companies. When you hire an entire shipís company, it could be fifty, it could be a hundred, it could be thirty. Youíre real lucky if you get — if you make fifty percent real good choices. Youíre always going to have a percentage of bad choices. And it takes time for the men to prove or disprove themselves. Thatís the way I see it. I think in that case they had a succession of people who presented themselves and credentials that looked good. Thatís very common. But they didnít prove themselves very well.
Doel:Do you think it really wasnít so much the change of administration, as just, this sort of thing, as you say, happens?
Kohler:No. I think Manik Talwani went along on the same lines in my operation. I donít know the science operation. In the same lines that Doc and Joe did. I really do. I can see no great change.
Doel:And this just was an unfortunate set of hiringís that happened that just coincided —
Kohler:I think in recent years theyíve had great success with people in those positions. Thereís an American captain there now. I talk to him on the phone. I understand that heís very satisfactory. You may have met the man. You may know his name. I canít remember his name.
Doel:I donít. But again, names we can add to the transcript once thatís prepared.
Doel:You know, all that is very interesting. Did it discourage you when those things happened?
Kohler:Not really. I guess maybe I had the right properties to be a fighter on the job. I knew I was going in the right direction. Iíd take my own path and pursue what I believed was the right direction.
Doel:I want to get back earlier in a moment — but thinking about this time. When Doc Ewing left and when Joe Worzel left — at that point did you deal directly with Manik Talwani on issues of this sort?
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes.
Doel:So that it was directly you and he.
Kohler:Just the same. And I could get to them any time. Him, or Doc or Joe, I could get to them any time. Right there, on the estate or from any part of the world. I could call and get to them any time. Theyíd always have time for me. Manik operated in the same manner. I wanted to make another point in response to your question. I forget the question now. Did I see change was part of it?
Doel:I was thinking particularly of whether you had noticed a major change at all between Ewingís time and Manik Talwaniís time?
Kohler:I, no, I didnít see it. Not in my operation. It was just — it was interesting, and in my opinion, the same pattern. In that case I dealt a lot with Denny Hayes. You see, oh — I know the point I was going to make. Doc and Joe were not in Texas very long before they offered me a job. They offered me a job as captain of a ship. They offered me a job on shore. And I — because there was no change at Lamont, because I knew all the people, because I got full support, I didnít see that I should leave. I was tempted, very tempted. Because I knew them well too. I didnít do it and Iím glad I didnít do it. Because it wouldnít have been as long term as everybody thought it might be for a multitude of reasons. Of course, Doc died. I think that was —
Doel:That occurred very quickly.
Kohler:What year was that?
Doel:1974, wasnít it?
Kohler:Was it? I was in Rio de Janeiro at the time. I can tell you it hit me and hurt me real hard. Doc Ewing treated me. He couldnít have treated his son better. We were honest with each other. I can remember sailing one time out of New York. At Piermont you had to catch the right tide to get out of the berth and into the Hudson River. You had to have the peak of the tide. And, scientists, as always — they were late. Doc was down, in the back of a truck. He was unloading gear and getting aboard just like a stevedore. Suddenly he was on deck. We passed the peak of the tide. I went to him, and I said, ďDoc, Iím sailing. If you donít get the hell ashore, youíll have to sail with me.Ē Away he went, happy as could be. He was only doing stevedore work, you know, which my sailors would have done. He was always respected. So, I didnít see a good reason to move. But they made several offers. Money-wise it was interesting.
Doel:It was a better offer than what you were getting?
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes.
Doel:Was this already at the time that they —
Kohler:I never was really — Excuse me —
Doel:No, please go ahead.
Kohler:I was never really clear why Doc Ewing left. I think he must have fallen out with Columbia University executive or administration or whatever you care to call it. Did you ever hear?
Doel:I heard a number of stories. I was curious, did he ever talk to you about difficulties that he was having with Columbia?
Kohler:Yes. With presidents of Columbia.
Doel:McGill was the president. William [J.] McGill at the time that he left.
Kohler:I believe so. Well, I can see that Docís operation — he would find it hard to accept that somebody was saying — would convey to him, ďWell you canít operate like that — thatís not within the policy of Columbia University.Ē I can understand and put that together. That may have been the grounds of the whole thing. But one way or another, he formed it; Columbia got great prestige because of us — in that field. I guess he feeling was that, ďIf you donít let me run it the way I want to run it; Iíll get the hell out.Ē
Doel:Of course his retirement — the mandatory retirement — was coming up.
Kohler:Was it? Yes, thatís right. I forgot that point. I forgot that point. Yes. That probably was part of it. But I know there was friction and stress.
Doel:Yes. There certainly was. Do you recall any particular conversations with him on those —?
Kohler:Many of course.
Doel:Particularly say on that —
Kohler:On that particular subject?
Doel:Yes. For the moment.
Kohler:He might have mentioned to me — we used to have good discussions, sometimes the two of us. Not related to the ship operation, but just friendly discussions and —
Doel:Where would you meet when you did that? Was it at Lamont or would it be on the ship?
Kohler:Sometimes on board the ship. Sometimes at his home at Lamont. Yes, he certainly mentioned it. I think he was a dictator. But thatís my term. He certainly mentioned that he couldnít accept somebody in the administration telling him how he should be operating or what he should be doing with the money. Because they did a lot of funny things with money. They were honest. But I think some of these big wheel accountants at a university would say, ďOh, but you have a contract to do this and youíre doing something else with it.Ē They were doing that all the time, as you know. They were good at it. Nobody contested it much because I think they were very honest and they got damn good results. They could come up with papers on a subject that they werenít contracted for. I remember John Ewing telling me — they went as a group to Moscow, to some great international convention for scientists. John said, ďYou know, Lamont put on just a disgusting display of power and carried away the whole thing.Ē They had taken a large group, [Wallace S.] Broecker, and Joe [J. Lamar Worzel], and John [Ewing] and Doc and all these old senior men — maybe [Gordon] Hamilton and the other one, [Jack E.] Oliver. Even though they werenít at the Lamont then. But this is how John described it.
Doel:Described it, yes.
Kohler:I think he was right too.
Doel:What did he mean by disgusting? Was he concerned at all about the way Lamont presented?
Kohler:I donít know. They just overpowered it.
Doel:It was just that strong —
Kohler:Oh yes. They were so strong. But they enjoyed it too.
Doel:Iím sure they did.
Kohler:Oh yes. I used to meet a lot of very senior men from other institutions like from Scripps and from Woods Hole and so on. Sometimes theyíd be very critical of Lamont people, but they held them in awe. No question about it.
Doel:Do you remember any of those conversations particularly? Who it was that you met from Scripps and Woods Hole?
Kohler:Well, not to the point of exact memory, but I do know that at different times, when maybe Doc or some of his people were having trouble with say at the Navy or National Science Foundation where they were getting — these old senior guys who were criticizing one another, theyíd all come together and support one another.
Kohler:Iím trying to think of some of the names — Revelle.
Doel:Roger Revelle, clearly was there. Columbus Iselin was up in —
Kohler:Yes. Iselin. They were great competitors. But boy when the chips were down, theyíd support each other. Theyíd be mutual admirers, every time. As tough as Doc could be, heíd sit down and heíd talk glowingly about these men. I —
Doel:Please go ahead.
Kohler:No, go ahead. Thatís all.
Doel:Yes. I was curious if you got to know any of them well enough to have impressions of them? Roger Revelle for instance?
Kohler:No. No. Iím trying to think of a few senior people that I did know. I canít think of their names, particularly Woods Hole people. Canít think of —
Doel:Allyn Vine was up there.
Kohler:Oh yes. Yes. He was a great competitor I believe of Bruce [C.] Heezen. Iím not sure thatís the right term. But they could work together and they could also work against each other. When it was going for piece of money — one piece of money — they could really be competitors. That reminds me of Bruce — highly respected, an unusual man, a nice man. But, boy he could be mean at times. He worked like a slave — he and Marie.
Doel:Marie Tharp [Flanagan], yes.
Kohler:Yes. It was interesting to go to Marieís house.
Doel:Iíd love to hear about what that was like.
Kohler:Iíll tell you one little story. Oh, I told you yesterday—
Doel:But again, that was not on tape.
Kohler:They were all drunk and eating Mongolian Hot Pot. I guess they ate it and liked it. One said, ďBy God Marie, this is good.Ē
Doel:Right. Now again, unfortunately that came up at our discussion last night and isnít on tape. I wonder if you could say a few more words about — that you had gone over as part of a party at Marieís.
Kohler:I wasnít part of that party. My young third officer was there who worked very closely with Marie and Bruce. When he was ashore or on leave, theyíd get him over there. He was a good worker and a bright young man. Then every week or so theyíd have a party somewhere. So, this time Marie had the party in a big house down by the river. I think it was a three-story house — maybe twelve rooms. It was a mess. It was a mess. But anyway, this time, Mike OíConnor — this young third officer — he was there. Everybody was drinking and having a good time. Marie was in the kitchen making the Mongolian Hot Pot. She was putting this in and putting that in. She grabbed a box and gave it a big shake and Mike OíConnor said, my God Marie thatís Duz — the soap powder. She said, ďOh, oh, put it back.Ē She said, ďDonít tell.Ē So after a while, theyíre sitting down, eating it. Guys like Marc [Marcus] Langseth and them — some hungry students then. They said, ďMy God Marie, this is good.Ē But her house — every room — the walls were covered with maps. The floors were covered with charts and maps. And little pathways — every room. Right into her bedroom. Everywhere there were maps and charts. Is she still alive?
Doel:Yes, she is.
Kohler:Sheís no young woman. She could hold her own when it came to taking a drink with us — that gang. Like you said yesterday — they played hard.
Doel:Yes. When was this roughly that you remember going over to Marieís? Was it in the 1960s?
Kohler:I was in her place several times. But that would be in the sixties and seventies.
Doel:Well, of course, if Marc is still a graduate student at the time, thatís still the early 1960s.
Doel:That helps to place it. Thatís very interesting.
Kohler:He was a smart fellow too.
Doel:You raised an interesting point too, I thought, a little while ago about the funding. A number of people have commented that there seemed to be more slack in the funds that came in. That indeed scientist would borrow from one fund and use it for another. And that this also affected the machine shop after a time — which the general funds couldnít be used. It needed to be — if one wanted to develop an instrument, it needed to be in the budget.
Kohler:Well, one thing that always annoyed me — we knew — particularly after Robert Conrad came into the scene; we were operating at half her cost and producing more. But, it might be Wally Broecker or it might be people from the core lab. I forget whose operation that was.
Doel:Dave [David B.] Ericson was there for a time.
Kohler:Exactly. Those people. They would — Iíll give you an example. Maybe weíd be shipping home about — could be five tons of cores. Iíd have them all. I looked after those things well. They didnít have to bother with them. Iíd see that they were all accounted for, crated, shipped properly and everything. Then, when the damn things would get to New York, the accounts would be billed against the ship. That really upset me.
Doel:Iím sure it did.
Kohler:Yes. I never knew the end results. I used to write long letters about this to whoever might be director or associate director, and let them know that this account must be charged against — weíll say the core lab account. I donít know how to describe that properly, but thatís the idea.
Doel:Yes. No, thatís good.
Kohler:They do that in driving up the shipís operating expenses. That was very common.
Doel:Was it common from the beginning or was this —
Kohler:Yes. If they could get away with it. I think they did get away with it, a lot before I got there. That was — leaving them with their contract money to do more of their own work. While the shipís operating money and costs —
Doel:Sure. Thatís perfectly clear.
Kohler:That used to really upset me.
Kohler:Even in foreign parts theyíd get this piece of gear built or that piece of gear. Then the ship paid for it through the agents — initially. It was a hell of a job to get money out of them back at the lab to cover it.
Doel:With something like that, how would you get — who would you contact to get the matter straightened out?
Kohler:Well, I would always go back to Joe when he was there.
Doel:As the associate director.
Kohler:And Denny. I told Doc too. I used to send him copies of everything I did. Everything. So and the same with the machine shop. Angelo [Ludas] suffered that way too. They would get him to build expensive equipment and then leave it with his machine shop accounts.
Doel:Did he fight as hard as you to get the charges cleared?
Kohler:Yes. He didnít always win either. Because maybe the guy had all his contract money used up.
Doel:This would happen.
Kohler:Then theyíd bleed it off from one department to another, too — core lab, chemistry, machine shop. Oh yes, always fighting among themselves about it. I was thinking — we talked about Wally Broecker last night. I was thinking about the incident when I had a very unpleasant experience — I guess for both of us. It was due to this son of his. He thought the sun shined out of his rear end. I knew the boy had done a lot in the area where they were living that wasnít what it should be. I knew some of the places he was frequenting on the voyage out to Singapore I think. When he got trouble, Wally didnít want to believe that this boy would do anything that was things that were not quite right. But, I think eventually Wally realized — and then I got the boy and Iíd take him in hand. He had various diseases that were not really nice to be among other people. I insisted that he change his laundry daily, wash his own laundry, segregated his cutlery — his dishes were segregated. Wally didnít like that but it worked. We got him cleaned up. I didnít take him into port either.
Doel:But this is the sort of thing that you as a captain had to deal with.
Kohler:Right. People like Wally didnít quite understand that initially. But Iím sure he did later. Iím not speaking unkindly or unpleasantly. Iím just being honest.
Doel:Sure. I understand. You know, in thinking back to the very earlier periods and indeed to the time when you first came on to Lamont. What did you hear about the earlier voyages — the first series of voyages that had gone on with Vema?
Kohler:Well, they accomplished it a lot as I understand. But it was a rough operation. [Captain] Kennedy was not the type of person to — they bought the ship from him. They had one charter I think.
Doel:That sounds right. We need to change —
Kohler:They had one charter a few months.
Doel:Let me just change the tape.
Doel:What sort of person was Kennedy?
Kohler:He should have been born in Henry Morganís [Caribbean pirate] time. He was a very competent, hands-on — Marlinspike type, seaman and ship captain. If he were slicing up a cake, you got a pretty small slice. He also couldnít accept the way that people were operating. He loved to get the money from Columbia. However, he only lasted one short voyage, I think, after they acquired the vessel. Kennedy was sort of a storied, flamboyant, swashbuckler type of a ship captain. As I said, he really should have been born in Morganís time. If any different from that, he might have operated nicely in the nineteenth century. He was as crooked as could be. Man oh man, what a crook. Anyway, he was so flamboyant that he — I was a good friend of him, you know.
Doel:You had known him here?
Kohler:Oh yes. He came here in 1930 as a boy. He bought a ship and was unqualified. He had no certificates. Iím not saying he was stupid, but he always sailed outside of where it would be required. I donít know if you need to know any more about him. He came here on one occasion, through his series of small ships — the sailing ships that he owned. He actually stole one out of the U.S. — the Sea Fox. For years he couldnít go back to the U.S. He and two men from Lunenberg — she was a big vessel. They sailed her to Barbados. Thatís how he acquired the Sea Fox. He became so unpopular in Barbados for being crooked and using the local sailors and people so badly that he couldnít go back to Barbados either. He married a Barbadian girl. She lives out in LeHave River now where they had their home. I donít think she has — I think sheís probably not too sound up here now.
Doel:Yes. Youíre pointing to your head when youíre saying that.
Doel:Youíre pointing to your head as you say that.
Kohler:Yes. So, I donít know what more to tell you about him. He had a series of old sailing vessels from 1930 right through to the 1950s? Yes, Vema wouldíve been was the last of them. Then he moved to the Bahamas and had small yachts down there. He was capable of anything to make a dollar. But he blew it as fast as he made it.
Doel:Yes. Yes. Did you —
Doel:Did you talk to him during the time that he owned the Vema and made the first charter to Columbia?
Kohler:No. I wasnít home. No. I wasnít home during those years at all.
Doel:So you really hadnít heard about what was going on with Columbia. Or had you before?
Kohler:Yes, mostly from scientists.
Doel:Oh, you had known before you were contacted by —
Kohler:Oh yes, I knew a lot of their operations — from scientists and from the engineer that Kennedy took there with him.
Doel:And who was that?
Kohler:He was with me for twenty years.
Doel:What sort of person was John Coffill?
Kohler:John was an extremely intelligent man. He was very competent, but he didnít have the guts to go up to the black end of the stick. He was honest with me. He served me remarkably well. But he always had to have somebody as his backup. He had no — what shall I say — courage of his convictions. Intelligent as could be. In crisis, Iíd have to say, ďJohn, tell me what needs to be done? Iíll support you. Get busy and do it.Ē He couldnít change a light bulb unless he took a third engineer with him to hold the cloth for him. That type of person. I enjoyed him and I appreciated him. Anything I said is not derogatory.
Kohler:You want me to be honest. There were very many humorous incidents with John. You will hear that particularly from people like Denny and so on. They wonít say anything bad about John. Finally he became ill — I think I sent him home from Japan. Iím not sure of that. His second engineer had been with Kennedy on other ships and he was there with me in Vema for twenty-two years. He was a wonderful man — a single man, he was very, very competent. He came home. He was a hunter and a fisher, woods owl type. He fell down in the woods. Up at his own camp, on the shore with his little boat, and his creel full of fish. He had a heart attack and died. He was a wealthy man, wealthy. He never spent anything — he was single. He inherited very valuable property on the LaHave River. He was happy. He got what he wanted from life.
Kohler:His name was Clarence Pentz. We had a lot of good engineers on that ship.
Doel:And they were all largely Nova Scotian or all Nova Scotian?
Doel:Clarence was and John Coffill?
Kohler:I had engineers for eight years, nine years, twenty years, twenty-two years. Occasionally I had some foreign ones that didnít work out well at all in junior positions. I just got rid of them quickly. Manning the vessel was not easy — which I took on.
Doel:This is a very important topic. Why was there a succession of captains for the Vema prior to 1957 when you were called?
Kohler:Okay. Let me tell you. I think I can answer that. Well Kennedy you know something about. Do you need to know any more?
Doel:It sounds as if thereís something youíre thinking about that might be helpful.
Kohler:Not necessarily except what a dishonest and colorful character he was.
Doel:Did the folks at Lamont, like Doc Ewing and Joe Worzel, appreciate Kennedyís character when they first started to deal with him?
Kohler:No. No. These men had integrity and Kennedy didnít. I think that describes it. They were willing to use him if heíd have served properly. Then —
Doel:But it became apparent, in other words, fairly quickly once he —
Kohler:Then came a man that Iíve never met, but people spoke favorably about him. A young man by the name of Don Gould. He was only there for Vema IV, which was from July Ď54 to December Ď54. People spoke very favorably about him. He was competent, he was young, and I never heard criticism of him. But I think what he did — he lost his job and he went maybe to Kings Point [Merchant Marine Academy]. Iím not sure.
Doel:He went to attend the Academy.
Kohler:To further his qualifications and career, no doubt. Then came a man by the name of Kleinschmidt, on Vema 6. Iíve met Kleinschmidt. The problem with Kleinschmidt was that he was an alcoholic. I think he again was a competent person, but he was alcoholic. There were times when they didnít even see him. He was in his room for a week — drunk. I met him in Honolulu where he restored The Falls of Clyde. I donít think he was off the booze then either. I certainly didnít see evidence of it other than I used to visit there a couple of times and in the morning he was pretty sick. He always had his bottle of aspirins and coffee. And I thought, ďWell, youíre doing a good job here, but youíre still not off the booze.Ē Then came a man by the name of Brack on Vema 7. And then came Brack and he was an elderly man I understand. Totally unsuitable and incapable of doing the job and he was only there for three or four months. Totally unsuitable and incompetent. Then came a man by the name of [Captain] Fred [S.] Usher from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, just across — ten miles from here.
Kohler:Fred Usher and I served in — he was an Englishman and a good man. He served in the same company that I was in for years — the Federal Navigation out of Montreal in the foreign trade. I think that he also was available because — I donít know who would have recommended Fred Usher — maybe John Coffill. I never really thought about that. He was satisfactory. But he became ill with cancer of the lung. He was there eight and nine and I think during Vema 9 he became — and thatís running into Ď56 — yes. He was taken off of the ship somewhere along the — no, it was number 10, in cruise 10. He — in cruise 11, he was still there. Cruise 12? Yes, now itís coming back to me. Fred Usher came off in Trinidad and was repatriated. Then a young man who was his chief mate by the name of Bill [William] Smith — a bright young man — brought the vessel home. I canít remember if Bill Smith made a trip with me or not. I believe he did. I really donít know where Iíd look for that. Because I lost those — I didnít save the crew lists — much to my regret.
Doel:You had mentioned of course you saved many other things from the Vema — but the crew lists. But there may be copies of those in the Ewing papers.
Kohler:Maybe microfilm. Because when I went through some log books for some reason or another, I only — they mailed me down two which I have here. But they told me all those things had been microfilmed. But did they microfilm the crew lists? I doubt it. That was Vema 12 and then we went out on Vema 13, on October 19 — November 3. For that short cruise when they were sizing me up.
Doel:This was the shakedown.
Kohler:Yes. This was the shakedown.
Doel:What was that cruise like?
Kohler:Well, it was a hell of a surprise to me. It was hard work. They made sure that it went through the whole bag of tricks. We worked in the Hudson Canyon. We worked up and down the shelf, Iíd say between Sandy Hook and maybe up to Nantucket and back. We did a lot of work in Long Island Sound. They made sure they got an opportunity to ask me to get all the — to put her under sail and get all the sail on her. I can remember doing that on one occasion. We had a fresh breeze and we put all the sail on the ship. Then the — the jib was not on her. So someone came and asked me to put the other jib on, and I said, ďYes weíll do that.Ē The crew had been working very hard and the scientists had just been looking on.
Doel:Who was there among the scientists?
Kohler:The ones that I remember very well would be Joe Worzel, Sam [Robert S.] Gerard and John Ewing. I donít remember the rest.
Kohler:I said, ďSure.Ē But I said, ďMy crewís been very hard and Iím not putting the other jib on her unless the scientists get the hell up there and work too.Ē Because this jib is stored way in the aft end of the ship. We had to get it out, get it way forward, order it about, bend it on. It was a lot of work. They did. So we sailed a while. I donít know how long, maybe a day — I canít remember. And, well, we think weíll go back to New York now. So then we took in all our sails — stored them properly — and nobody talked about it. So then came myself, in Ď57. I was there, of course, as you well know. The only person that relieved me — I think Sid [Sydney S.] Griffin, who was the port captain for some time — relieved me for leave on one occasion. Heís the one that said to Manik Talwani, ďIím surprised it took you so long to catch me.Ē
Kohler:I had a lot of trouble with him because he was always trying to undermine me. I donít think he was trying to squeeze me out, but he was trying to undermine me constantly. I was pretty rough on him. He was always pleasant. Heís now captain of a U.S. cargo carrier, in and out of Halifax. My son-in-law, Peter, has piloted him. Heís always pleasant and he sends his best wishes to me. Because Peter had sailed with him while Griffin was relieving me. Heís a very bright young man, but not at all stable. He wasnít a drunk. But totally — not a stable man.
Doel:You mean in terms of his character?
Kohler:Yes. He was very unpredictable I think. Anyway, he was the only one who ever relieved me — I think once. Then in the latter years, Peter [Cunningham] relieved me. After he got his foreign-going masters certificate.
Doel:We should say this is your son-in-law, Peter, which weíre talking about.
Doel:He had sailed with you on the Vema for twelve years?
Kohler:Yes. He joined as ordinary seaman. He was a university boy, Dalhousie, I guess. He came to me through a friend in Halifax and joined me in Puerto Rico as an ordinary seaman. He did very well. Heís very smart and very personable.
Kohler:You havenít seen this abstract log of mine.
Doel:No, I havenít. I should say thatís what youíre referring to. Yes, it would be a valuable addition to Ė
Kohler:I have the record here of all the chief scientists of every cruise and every leg. That may be of value to you.
Kohler:I havenít found the original in hand writing.
Doel:You had mentioned that — possibly off-tape. You mentioned that you have some additional comments that you likely wrote in that that would be interesting.
Kohler:Well this is Vema 15. This one seems to start with a real abstract log. Iím sure that my original one started when I joined it. This tells you where weíve been, what we did, and other ships that we worked with. From port to port, date to date, total lists, and total fuel, total speed, chief scientists and very brief remarks such as: ďVessel encountered severe North Atlantic storm, fuel, water, and explosives jettisoned for safety. The main engine had piston seized in cylinder and extension, and heavy water damage.Ē I remember it well, very well. That was a bit of a bone of contention, why I dumped the fuel and the explosives. We had to lighten the vessel — fresh water — and eventually went into Savannah. But Iím sure that vessel would never have survived. It was near Cape Hattaras and, I say, it was a severe North Atlantic storm. I believe it was hurricane weather on the edge of the Gulf Stream. We had very, very confused seas. They were coming in over the bow, the stern, and both sides all at the same time. We were just about getting ready to be overwhelmed and I gave the order to dump the bloody water. I think we lightened her up by a hundred tons.
Doel:You needed that buoyancy at that point.
Kohler:Yes. Fuel, water, and the other thing they were very upset about. We dumped all the detonator caps. They were very hard to transport. Not hard for them to get, but to transport. If I find the original, Iíll certainly get a copy for you. I know itís here, but I — Iím sure it was in the filing cabinet. What have we got here?
Doel:Tell me which cruise youíre looking at. I just happen to notice, for instance, that Vema 14 — the first leg of that began just Ė-
Kohler:That was fourteen.
Doel:That was fourteen that youíre referring to. Okay.
Kohler:What do you got there on fourteen?
Doel:I was just noticing that Vema fourteen begins less than a week after Vema thirteen ends.
Doel:So, what happened during that period of time? You got back on that first leg of the Vema. How did you feel about staying on with the Lamont people at the time?
Kohler:After that first two or three weeks?
Kohler:I had no reservations about it. I thought, ďWell thatís all right, I can live with this.Ē I knew that I had to make a lot of changes and improvements. I also was aware it couldnít all be done at once. Thatís exactly how I felt about it.
Doel:Yes. You mentioned earlier about the — what you saw that needed to physically be fixed on the ship. What else were you making in your mind an accounting of what needed to be changed?
Kohler:They had no real, organized administration for the operation of any ship — none. I started to tie together a lot of things. It took me a long time — procedures and standing orders. Have you ever seen my standing orders?
Kohler:Well Iíll give you a copy. Iím going to go to the lavatory first and then Iíll call Mike Barker.
Doel:Okay, weíll take a pause right here then. [Interruption]
Doel:Weíre resuming here after a brief pause. Youíve pulled a few more things out from a number of the filing cabinets in the meantime.
Kohler:Vema standing orders. Now I want to pull out the right ones for you.
Doel:Yes. You mentioned you wanted to —
Kohler:ďCaptain Courageous,Ē this was written by Harry Bruce for —
Doel:For ďReaderís DigestĒ Magazine.
Kohler:Yes, for ďReaders Digest.Ē
Doel:Right. Although, as you say, it wasnít published.
Kohler:It wasnít accepted. They asked him to do it. He had done things for them before.
Doel:But, and I should say ďCaptain CourageousĒ is a piece about you. About your role in sailing on the Vema. So thatís good. Itíll be good to see the copy of this when that becomes available.
Kohler:Iíll get a copy.
Doel:You might want to talk about the standing orders that you mentioned.
Kohler:Well that was part of — it took a while to work this up.
Doel:This is what you had in mind that you wanted to do once you saw the Vema and its operation.
Kohler:Ď78. Those may have been the final ones. I revised them a couple of times as things change and so on. I had a set of regulations whereby data was put together that I was acquiring for scientists. But the buggers, you know, they werenít too trustworthy. Theyíd grab anything they could get and shove it in their briefcase and go home.
Doel:The scientists you mean?
Kohler:Oh yeah. We kept corrected tracks of the vessel on our navigation charts. We also made charts and imposed the soundings on them regularly. It goes twelve years I think, before it was done by some wondrous machinery. They always got copies of it. We did a lot of copying. I kept a copy and Doc Ewing got a copy. Then the original track charts. Some of these guys before I realized it — well, I did realize it. If I wasnít watching them as we were arriving port and they were leaving and going home, theyíd go up in my chart room and gather all this stuff and take it with them. It just infuriated me. I got to the point, on one occasion, I used to take them down and shove them under my mattress so they couldnít find them. They could have copies.
Doel:But not the originals.
Kohler:No. It was very wrong — things like that. Well, it took me a while to get that together and to get it through to a lot of them that I was really working with them — not working against them. I know that I gave them a great deal which they wouldnít have gotten from many people — not all people, but many people.
Doel:It sounds as if this just hadnít been made as procedure during the earlier Vema voyages.
Kohler:They had none.
Doel:So this kind of chaos then is present when you —
Kohler:Exactly. Exactly. I trained that way. Right from the time I first worked with my father and I sailed in big companies. They were well organized. I was trained to do it properly and keep proper records and that sort of thing. It just shocked me the way I saw them. We had scientists who thought they had the full run of the ship. They could do whatever they wanted to do. I didnít allow that. Going in and out of ports they wanted to stand around on the bridge — be up on the mast or someplace. I cleaned that up real quick. They didnít like it.
Doel:But it sounds like that was allowed during the interim voyages?
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes. I chased Joe Worzel too down off the bridge. I chased a lot of them. But eventually all accepted my way in that respect because they knew I was working with them and producing. I remember once with Dr. Ewing — if you want to hear this incident?
Kohler:It wasnít a ranger shot. It was some demand that he be in Washington to the Presidentís Scientific Advisory Committee. Doc was chief scientist. We were way out, well out, in the Western Pacific — in the Deep South latitudes, west of the Magellan Straits. Received a radio message for Dr. Ewing to be in Washington. He didnít want to be, but he knew he had to be. He came to me and he said — at that time we had a Chilean liaison officer aboard — a lieutenant commander in the Chilean Navy. And Doc came to me and said, ďDo you think you can get me into Punta Arenas, in the Straits of Magellan, on such and such a date?Ē I said, ďWell, I can certainly try.Ē We were having horrible weather and heavy westerly gales. So we put the ship oh a course we thought might be right. We didnít have satellite navigation at that time. We put the ship on the course which we felt was — I felt — was a good course to get into the western end of the Magellan Straits and on into Punta Arenas where there again be a plane waiting for him. We approached that coast which is a terrible coast to approach under bad weather. Because if you get in too close, youíre not getting out. Itís all over. And to find that entrance at all — oh, itís a very difficult entrance to find. We had radar, but not very good radar. It didnít give a radar picture on such a coast that you could see an entrance — if you can visualize what Iím saying. Just outside of that entrance is a rock bound island with a Chilean lighthouse called, the Island of Cuarenta Dias. Forty days they waited to get ashore just to service the light on one occasion. That gives you an idea of weather conditions there. Anyway, weíre approaching the coast under very tense conditions, very tense. I knew my responsibility. I was working very hard at it. I was certainly watching this radar to see if I could recognize anything. Doc was interested, of course. He was there hanging over my shoulder and so was the Chilean liaison officer was hanging over my shoulder and he had something to say. Finally, I said, ďLook, both you, get out. I may only be captain here Ďtil we get to Punta Arenas but until we do — get out.Ē Then went away and they didnít say anything. The Chilean sulked quite a bit. But Doc didnít — away he went. I got him to Punta Arenas. It was a very trying experience.
Doel:It sounds like that was.
Kohler:Extremely trying. But he could appreciate that. He didnít mind that. You know I admire that in people.
Doel:As director of Lamont, he certainly had to delegate his own time and attention.
Kohler:Oh, he certainly did. Because it was my responsibility and I didnít need anybody looking over my shoulder. Because that doesnít allow you to do your best work? He accepted it with grace. I put him ashore and he said, ďIíll be back in nine days — be here.Ē He was back in nine days and he still had the coat or the ass of his pants — I donít remember which — stapled up.
Doel:He was clearly not in his best clothes when he left and he was in the same ones —
Kohler:I donít think he had any good clothes. I never saw any.
Doel:You never saw — [Laughter]
Kohler:It didnít mean much to him.
Doel:Was that really unusual that he was called from ship back to a Washington meeting in your experience? Or did that happen elsewhere?
Kohler:Well, I had two experiences with it, because of his appointment to President Eisenhowerís committee on science.
Doel:So this was happening right around the IGY [International Geophysical Year] period?
Kohler:I can find it in here. I think it might have been before.
Doel:Maybe even before?
Kohler:When did President Eisenhower first take office? Was it after Truman?
Doel:It was after Truman — from 1953 he came on.
Kohler:It would be in his second term.
Doel:And then through 1961. But it wasnít a frequent occurrence? It was just very occasionally when this happened?
Kohler:No, no. It only had to be of that significance that he would leave. Because when he came he didnít come for a month. He only came for three months. Now the scientists used to shiver because they had to work with him for three months. Because he worked them and he worked them. Theyíd fall down in their tracks. But it didnít bother me. It didnít change my work, really, when he was there. I did the same work for all of them. I can remember one occasion — I canít remember the exact incident. I can remember the incident, but not the time. We sailed for somewhere, I think it might have been Cape Town. He was looking for a sample of some particular sediment — some age — on I believe on the Agulhas Bank, which wasnít far from Cape Town. Some of the scientists had performed in port — a lot of drinking and were in bad shape going to sea. He said to me, ďIíll work their ass off tonight.Ē And he did. He was real annoyed with them. Because they werenít in shape to go to work. But they worked.
Doel:Were these younger scientists?
Kohler:Yes. Graduate students and younger scientists and so on. Oh yes, he didnít pull any punches.
Doel:Was there anyone else at Lamont who worked as hard as Ewing as you saw it on the ship?
Kohler:I would say, Joe Worzel — with no question. To measure the effort versus the end results, I would say, Doc, of course, was an eminent scientist. He probably got better results out of his work. But for pure physical effort, I donít think — that crew who started it up, they were all alike. They were cut in his pattern. Drake and Worzel and all those people. They were all alike. You probably have heard those same things. Maybe it just confirms some of the things that youíve heard before.
Doel:But, coming from your perspective, itís a different one.
Kohler:I see. Q; I think itís a real important insight that youíve got.
Kohler:Well, my viewpoint and perspective may not always be accurate or the real true one. But at least Iím telling you the way I saw it. In retrospect — the way I felt about it. Which I think is quite important to the kind of work you do.
Doel:Absolutely. I think ultimately thatís what things do — [Cross talk] one thing I was curious about — go ahead.
Kohler:There are times that Doc would go ashore and have drinks with you too, you know. Generally in port, he worked as hard as at sea. You could go look in his room at two, three oíclock in the morning and heís writing papers. But there was a time heíd go ashore and have a good time for a few hours and then go back and work. Whereas other people, like myself, had to go back and have a few hours rest — not him. So, I interrupted.
Doel:No. No. Were there particular — could you tell when Doc Ewing would take a break like that or was it just when he felt like relaxing?
Kohler:No, you could not predict it at all. In my case, I was in my room in the evening. He might just suddenly appear and say, ďIím very tired.Ē Weíd just sit down and have a drink and have a nice conversation. He would go over a lot of things which heíd done in his earlier days: Developing seismic work for the oil companies, and generating the bathythermograph for the Navy. I believe that was his development. Am I right?
Doel:He was the first to make it a workable instrument after Athelstat Spillhouse [unclear].
Kohler:Exactly. He would talk about those things. He would talk about his days at Woods Hole and his trips in the Atlantis. That sort of thing. Heíd reminisce a bit.
Doel:Did he do that with others or do you feel that in some ways, given your position and your character, he did that particularly with you?
Kohler:I feel, and I may be flattering myself — complimenting myself. I feel that he had a very good feeling for me. I sometimes think he felt if he wanted somebody to talk to when he was there in the ship; he could come and talk to me. He could talk on any level to me — not on a scientific level. But he would, many times, tell me some of the things he was trying to achieve. I always found him interesting.
Doel:Iím particularly interested in what you recall about those sorts of things that he would tell you. You mentioned the recollections from Woods Hole.
Kohler:He enjoyed sailing very much. Heíd talk about that. Heíd have his sailboat at Woods Hole and kept the sails under his desk.
Doel:Did he really? [Laughter] Thatís interesting.
Kohler:Of course, the Atlantis was a very fine sailing ship. He did a lot of sailing there. When he died, they sent me a message — I was in Rio de Janeiro. I must say it really upset me. I had a very, very emotional reaction to the news. It was sort of like my father had died. I felt really upset. It brought tears to my eyes. I can still remember. I was with people and I had to leave because I was too upset. I felt this man had been so good to me. I also felt he had so much he wanted to do — I wouldnít know what it was. Iím sure that when he was struck down by that stroke, that he still had a lifetime of work looking down the road.
Doel:Had you seen any signs of his health deteriorating?
Kohler:Oh, he wasnít in good health. He had real problems. At sea sometimes we had to look after him. I believe he had urinary tract problems. He went to sea with that and lived with it. We had, for several years, a medic from the Argentine Navy who was very good at it too. He used to look after Doc very well. He also had a heart problem of some kind. Because I remember once in very bad weather, he lost his pills. He was really upset. You know they were all over the damn place. They fell off of something. He was doing some cussing and swearing. He said, ďIf I donít find those god damn pills, Iím going to die before I get ashore.Ē That sort of thing. Oh yes, his health was not good. He was just burned up and worn out.
Kohler:Ron, that model, you know, they had built for me.
Doel:I was going to ask you, in fact, about that. Now, weíre pointing to a model that is here in your office at home. A beautiful scale model of the Vema behind glass. The early Vema — with the sails -Ė
Kohler:Oh, yes. When I took her, she didnít have the topmasts, she had the lower sails.
Kohler:The topmasts were taken off by the Merchant Marine School at Kings Point. The story behind the model: At the decommissioning — shortly after they commissioned a lady who worked there and I think she has died since. Her name is in there. I believe itís an Armenian name. I knew her. She was an authority on model building of ships. She actually taught it at Mystic. That list up there is the scientists who contributed to pay for this model.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. In fact, let me go there just to take a look at that —
Kohler:When the model was completed, Manik Talwani called me and said the model was completed and they wanted to bring it down to Nova Scotia and have a presentation. So between us we put something together. Manik brought it in his car. It wasnít in that box; it was in a plywood box. I had that one made —
Doel:And weíre talking about a glass casing.
Kohler:Yes, I had that built later — thatís Plexiglas. However, we then organized a dinner party at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax. So I invited about, oh, it must have been fifty of my friends locally — all couples mostly. Manik and who else was here? Denny? I canít remember. I donít have —
Doel:Was Chuck Drake here?
Doel:Was Chuck Drake?
Kohler:I donít — I canít remember. But boy we put on some performance.
Kohler:Everybody I contacted — and there was a very modest fee for a couple for dinner of fifty dollars — nobody turned me down. I put on a party before dinner and the party after dinner. They were both real wing dings. What a performance.
Doel:How many people were from Lamont who came up for that?
Kohler:I canít remember that. There were some from Lamont. Thereís no question about that. I have photos of that party.
Doel:That would be interesting to see.
Kohler:A lot of nice speeches — very, very good — a bit of roasting. But thatís the list who commissioned this lady to do the model.
Doel:Right. Iím reading now from the plaque which is on the wall. ďThe chief scientists of Lamont certificate of agreement on this twelfth day of March of the year 1981Ē. By and between — Porteat Takakian [unclear] and I believe this is the woman that you had in — ďShip model builder and a former chief scientist of Lamont to build for Captain and Mrs. Henry C. Kohler a model of the research vessel Vema.Ē There are more than about two dozen signatures on here. Looking down the list: Marc Langseth, Bob Houtz, Ken Hunkins, Denny Hayes, Marie Tharp, and Sam Gerard. Quite a few names — I canít read quite all of them. But then Manik Talwani was included, Bryan, John Ewing, Jack Nafe, Joe Worzel and quite a few others. It is a beautiful model.
Kohler:Itís well done.
Doel:Itís approximately — itís a little over two and a half feet long.
Kohler:I have a lot of folders from that night, but I wonít get them out now because you have other things you want to do.
Doel:What we ought to do is get to that a little bit later in the interview, I think. Let me just pause for one. [Interruption] Weíre resuming after another brief pause. Both of us right now are standing very near the model of the Vema. Was this how the Vema was essentially when you —
Kohler:That is the original profile of a high class yacht.
Doel:How different was it by the time, in 1957, when you became captain?
Kohler:Well, in 1957 the topmast and topsails had been taken away by the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. They had a fatal accident I think with a young man and they took the topmasts away. She had the lowermasts and the lower sails and this, of course, couldnít be there because it was a jib topsail.
Doel:Yes. Were the masts lower then?
Kohler:Those were separate. This is the mainmast and thatís the topmast. The sail area was reduced somewhat. But she could still sail like a witch. She was built for sailing — she was a naval sea boat. She was very, very capable.
Doel:How did you find her as a ship compared to all the other vessels that you sailed?
Kohler:Well itís hard to compare because in this manner she was an able sea boat, more so than a heavy loaded freighter or a lightly loaded freighter. Some are better than others. Some are more comfortable than others. She wasnít all that comfortable, but she was extremely safe.
Doel:Comfortable in the sense of roll action in the ocean?
Kohler:Oh yes. You could roll your guts out on her. But thereís no doubt about it, she was always safe.
Doel:Iím noticing a few things here that weíve spoken about both on and off tape. For instance, the steering wheel at the rear of the vessel.
Kohler:That was the one that was given to Dr. Ewing. It really should have been left at Lamont — and I donít think it was. The bell was also presented to him at the time of his leaving Lamont. It was a rather big bell and it was well mounted. I believe Denny Hayes might have carried it home. Iím not sure. Or Phil Rabinowitz — one of them.
Doel:And this was the bell thatís mounted here —
Kohler:No, the bell always had been up on the bow. I donít see it there. Not on the original.
Doel:Okay. And what was the bell used for?
Kohler:Well, it was part of shipís equipment. You canít get a certificate for the ship unless you got a bell. It was used in anchored in fog. It was used for many things — time keeping.
Doel:Right. It was the general purpose bell. What else had changed by the time that you came on in Ď57?
Kohler:Well, on the deck, not too much. The bridge had been rebuilt, really in a very poor manner, but at least it was enclosed.
Doel:What was poor about it? This was prior to the time that you were —
Kohler:Yes, it wasnít done very — it was enclosed, but it was done not really by experts. I donít know who did it. But it was very badly done. But at least it kept people out of the rain and the snow. But it wasnít satisfactory at all, and eventually we did it much better. We closed it in from the bridge there to this house. Which was renewed in steel.
Kohler:Then we had a second house on top which included our chart room and the exhaust funnels and so on. But those changes did not take away any of her sea keeping qualities. Eventually the American eagle figurehead as you know was taken off and now is at Lamont. We changed the profile of the bow slightly, not greatly, but slightly. The bowsprit, of course, was taken away when the mast was taken out and the sails were done away with. But otherwise the hull form hadnít changed. The after lab section was made much bigger.
Doel:Right. Youíre pointing to the rear cabin that was built on top.
Doel:This was expanded?
Kohler:Yes. A great deal. It left us with an electronics lab and a wet lab for wet work — like core work and water analysis and so on.
Doel:What changes were going on below decks during the time that — the first years you were there?
Kohler:Well, trying to improve the almost primitive accommodations for scientists. And I think we did that within reason. There were great changes in the galley. It was very utilitarian and poorly equipped. In early years we changed that very much so. The design of it and also the equipment. Other than that — the officersí quarters in the forward section of the lower deck had not been changed. They were always the same. From the time she was built until the time she was decommissioned.
Doel:So the scientists tended to be — their bunks, their quarters were in the stern of the ship.
Kohler:More or less from the mid ships section aft.
Doel:And the crew and the officers were quartered —
Kohler:The crew was in what would be known as the forecastle. It was crowded, but they had very good accommodations — well heated. They had showers. They — well cared for. Scientists had their own mess, the officers had their own mess and the sailors ate in the forecastle.
Doel:Right. How often did the groups mix then at dinner? Was it common for scientists ever to come to the officersí table or vice versa?
Kohler:Never. No, no. They didnít mix at meals. Thatís all done away with in modern day shipping. Modern day shipping — finest big ships and the crew have — the entire shipís company will have one great cafeteria and thatís the way it is.
Doel:How do you feel about that change?
Kohler:Well, I donít think itís a change for the better. By any means whatsoever. Itís a change done for economics. It was also made a much lower cost operation such as the staff and so on. But itís not good for morale. Itís not good at all. Of course Iím a traditionalist. Iím old fashioned. But I do not believe that I want to hear everything that the crew is talking about. And I donít think the crew should know everything the officers are talking about at all. I feel very strong on the point. That itís not a good operation.
Doel:But throughout the time that you were in command of the Vema, it still stayed essentially?
Kohler:Yes. And I never had any objection to this. They all ate the same food and the scientists and seamen went on the cafeteria line and they were served. Went to their two different areas to eat. And the officers sat in the officerís wardroom and were served their meals.
Doel:Okay. Thatís interesting.
Kohler:Have you talked with Sam Gerard?
Doel:Iíll meet him next week.
Kohler:Sam should be interesting. Heís a very good talker. A long time employee as a scientist at Lamont and very competent in many, many things.
Doel:When you say that, you feel that he had a broader range of talents than some of the other scientists?
Kohler:Yes. He exercised. He had talents in many, many directions and he exercised them. He was basically, I think, trained of a geographer. But he also appeared to me many times as sort of an inventor of equipment. He wore many hats through his service at Lamont which must have been thirty years at least. A lot of talent — easy to live with. I always looked at him as sort of an inventor.
Doel:Did he talk to you about the things he was working on?
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes. Sam is quite a talker. Youíll enjoy him.
Doel:What sort of inventions do you recall him discussing?
Kohler:I would think like instruments for measuring currents. He was always into something like smaller instrument development.
Doel:Making them more compact and easy to use.
Kohler:Yes. Heíd bring them to the ship — current meters and that sort of thing. Heíd work with testing them. Heíd sail as chief scientist occasionally. He is a very good man.
Doel:Did it take particular character to successfully be a chief scientist on Vema?
Kohler:Unfortunately, they didnít always have the best kind of people available. There were — quite often they would have to send somebody that didnít quite have, what shall I say, have the understanding of how to run their operation. In my opinion, there were times we had people who really only came and acted like a straw boss. Giving direction and, ďDo this, do that,Ē — and they tried to do that. But there were times that they didnít have people aboard who was the timbre of Denny Hayes or that kind of people or Wally Broecker anyhow. That happened quite often. There was one occasion when I was left alone. I have a letter here to that effect. In the Antarctic — I think it was Doc Ewing who left us. I served as chief scientist as a straw boss and kept records. From, and you come over here Iíll show you.
Kohler:I can find all that in my records here. Let me show you very quickly.
Doel:Thank you. Now, I should say, weíve left our chairs again, and weíre looking at the chart — the Vema cruise tracks from Ď53 to Ď81 thatís hanging on your wall.
Kohler:So we worked with the Argentine Navy in this area and had a rough time for months. Then here in the South Sandwich Islands we rendezvoused with one Argentine Navy ship and an Argentine Navy transport. Iím pretty sure and I can prove that in my records. Doc Ewing left us and went back to Buenos Aires on the transport. I was to continue onward from here and we were too late in the season again.
Doel:You really wanted to be out of there much earlier.
Kohler:To Cape Town. He gave me his program and I straw bossed it. With the scientists, we did the things that he wanted done whenever it was possible. We had a terrible passing. Actually we were fifty-four days from here, out to here, to the Saunders Island.
Doel:From the tip of South America to the —
Kohler:To Schweire and out to Saunders Island. From Saunders Island on to Cape Town. It was just something horrible — the weather we experienced. But we got through it and we did our work and did what we could and he felt it was reasonably well done. Late in the season and we almost got trapped here in ice.
Doel:That I wanted to hear about particularly. This might be a good time —
Kohler:Another incident I almost got trapped in the Deception Island in ice which would have meant we were going to spend the winter there.
Doel:But this is a separate incident that —
Doel:What happened here when you almost got trapped?
Kohler:Well, we went down at uninhabited volcanic peaks. South Sandwich. The Argentine Navy, of course, they, Argentina has a claim on them. However, they were there a day ahead of us. She was a small ship working with us [unclear]. They sent a boat ashore and they got in the surf and lost their boat and the men got on the beach. They had nothing except seals. They shot a few seals and they made a fire with seal fat. They survived on seals. When I arrived then, the [unclear] was still there. [Telephone interruption] I donít know whether they were afraid to go in and try to get their men off or they didnít have a boat to do it. I donít know. I canít condemn them one way or another. Believe me, theyíre not the best seamen in the world. The Argentineans are social giants, delightful people, but theyíre not really producers of seamen.
Doel:You didnít want to trust your life to —
Kohler:So they asked me could I get these men off of the island for them. We had a lot of good boats on the ship. We had a navy whale boat. We had several small boats and we had several Lunenberg dories.
Doel:These are all with the Vema when you were sailing?
Kohler:Yes. I had men who fished in the dories from the big schooners on the Grand Banks. They knew how to handle a dory. They went in, went through the surf, made three of four trips, and brought the Argentine seamen out — no trouble.
Doel:Thatís interesting. Then, was it afterwards that you had the problem with the ice?
Kohler:Then they all went back to Argentina because it was all over in the Antarctic. We were there too late. I was to go on to Cape Town. So we were anchored on this sand bar — a very small place to get your anchor on — and ready to sail at daylight. Through the night the officer on watch came down and said, ďCaptain, the wind has changed and the ice is coming in on us.Ē I thought if the ice comes in on us heavy enough, weíre going up on that sand bar. So I got my chief engineer out and his engineer was in the engine room, and we made ready to get our anchor home and get underway. I thought should I bring the entire shipís company, including the scientists, on deck and let them know they should be worried — that we were in deeply serious trouble. I understand ice navigation very well and I also — so I only had myself, my officer on watch, my boson out, chief engineer, and the second engineer. Nobody else knew that we were in a very, very critical situation. It was doubtful if I made the right decision.
Doel:About trying to get out?
Kohler:Because — well, I had to try. But should I have had these people forewarned and on standby that we were in deeply serious trouble because the other two ships had gone. There was nobody left in the Antarctic. I said, ďWell now,Ē and talked it over with my mate — ďWeíll give it a try.Ē So we hauled our anchor home and we wiggled our way for hours out through the ice. It was pitch dark — pitch black, of course. We finally got her out to open water.
Doel:How did you navigate out? Did you have a bow light that you were using to spot the ice?
Kohler:No. We completely blacked the ship out — everything. We didnít have a good search light and it wasnít the place to use it. I believed — and itís always been very successful to black it out completely and depend on your eyesight — have the eyesight at its best by not having lights around.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. So you used it as dark —
Kohler:Exactly. No lights whatsoever.
Doel:You just had the natural light —
Kohler:Of which there was none. But I could see the ice and I could see little channels through the ice and wiggled out through that. It took many hours. Iíd say by eight oíclock in the morning — this might have been two — by eight oíclock in the morning we could see the ice was lightening up. The wind was changing. We were getting out to a little more open water. From then on we had daylight. But we had a hell of a passage. Snow and gales of wind and real bad time.
Doel:So, then you were on the track from —
Kohler:From there to Cape Town.
Doel:You were still heading, generally, in an easterly direction, and then up and —
Kohler:Iím trying to think. Inaccuracy — that doesnít show — into Cape Town. Oh yes, here it is.
Kohler:Here it is. In the Deception Island we had a bad experience in the ice. Because Deception Island is a huge, huge harbor with a very, very narrow entrance. That great harbor is the crater of a huge volcano. That erupted a few years ago. However, on Deception, the British had a claim, the Argentines had a claim, and the Chileans had a claim. They all had their little navy bases. So, we decided weíd go in and actually itís the people on these remote stations — theyíre not unfriendly to each other. They were there establishing or maintaining their claims. While Chile and Argentina were having a hot war in here.
Doel:Right. But they were still cordial enough —
Kohler:But you know every weekend they got together for a football game. Maybe Chile camp one weekend, Argentina — all off the record — the next weekend. Theyíd have a dinner and so on. It was very, very nice.
Doel:Roughly when was this that —
Kohler:I can give it to you.
Kohler:You want me to look now?
Doel:No, not now. But I just want to make sure we donít lose —
Kohler:Okay. So we are going around this — first, to the Argentine base, then to the Chilean base. I was going back to the British base; the wind had changed again, and started to show ice at the entrance which was very, very narrow. The man in charge of the British base calls on the radio and asks, ďCould we take their mail?Ē Of course I said we could take their mail. By the time we got to the entrance or exit — I have a chart of that. I might have it right here. I have a chart of that — my Deception Island Chart. I know I can find it very easily for you. If you want to make a note and we donít get it today. Make a note for the Deception Island Chart. So, by the time we got to the entrance weíre very close to the British base — the ice was coming in very fast and very heavy. I canít remember. I think we put the small boat out on the ice, maybe. I canít remember the exact detail. But we did get their mail, but couldnít stop and visit them. I had people — I was pretty well equipped then. I had long, long poles with spears on them — points on them — to push ice away from the propeller. Finally we got to the point where thereís nothing to do except to try to force our way out. The Vema was not a very strong vessel in that respect, when you consider ice. But she also, as you can see — her bow is nicely rounded.
Kohler:So, I drove her real hard and hit the ice. She came and rode up on top of the ice to here.
Doel:Thatís almost a third of the way down.
Kohler:Yes. Then she broke down through it. And after that we were able to wiggle our way out through.
Doel:But, you really were worried that you might end up stuck?
Kohler:Oh yes. I had my chief officer, not anywhere else except down below, in the bowels of the bow, to be sure that we didnít spring her a leak.
Doel:This is John —
Kohler:No, that was the chief engineer. I canít remember who my chief officer was then. I canít remember off hand. I had a few, of course. But itís good for you — good for me, that youíre prompting my memory, or prompting me to the point that it refreshes my memory a great deal. I should have been doing a lot of this before.
Doel:Was this incident with —
Doel:Please go ahead.
Kohler:We had another very serious situation we got into in the Antarctic. We were then working with the Chilean Navy. We went to — were working down in here. This is the Palmer Peninsula.
Kohler:This is the Branfield Strait.
Doel:The extension from Antarctica that weíre referring to now.
Kohler:Yes, and Branfield Strait. We went to a little Chilean naval base which was at the foot of a huge glacier — Grinich Islands. We went there — not with our work — but the Chileans asked us to go there with them. Again, late in the season, too late. To pick up the body of the commanding officer of their little base, who had skied out over the edge of the glacier to the beach and killed himself. So we went there. It was a small harbor — very, very deep. Too deep to anchor, but it had one beacon. I donít have the chart of that. The Chilean went in and anchored. He said, ďYou can come in and tie up alongside of me.Ē I said, ďFine.Ē So we did that. Then when I tied up alongside of him I just dropped my anchor on the bottom. I was not properly anchored because there wasnít enough space to get an anchor in. We went ashore to the base and we had a nice meeting with them. Suddenly, the commanding officer of the base said, ďUh oh.Ē I think he said the wind is coming from the east. It started to snow. He said, ďWeíre in for a real blizzard.Ē Well, both the Chilean captain and myself said, ďWe got to get out of here — get out of this bay.Ē So we left and got to our ships I would say within an hour, two hours. It was bad conditions. It was a very, heavy blizzard gale of winds. Then what made it so hazardous — the glacier started calving. It was calving huge chunks which were drifting down on our ships. The temperature went way below zero — freezing real hard. Iíll elaborate, but Iíll not exaggerate.
Doel:Yes. No, Iíd like to hear what you experienced.
Kohler:The vessel started to ice up. Iíve always had great respect for ice because if the vessel ices up above deck, you lose your stability.
Doel:Because the weight added on can make it —
Kohler:At this time we had a lot of top hamper and a lot of rigging that would gather ice quickly.
Doel:Were the sails still on at that time?
Kohler:I canít remember that. I suspect because I was very concerned about beating the ice off of the rigging. So, I started. We were forty people aboard, including scientists. I have the record of who would be the chief scientist, but I didnít have any problem with him. However, I split the forty people in two twenty man watches. I said, ďNow weíre going to keep the vessel clear of ice.Ē Scientists didnít think we should go on deck and pound ice and shovel it overboard. They quickly learned — they did.
Doel:What convinced them besides youíre telling them?
Kohler:I just told them they were going to do it and that was the end of it. There were some protests. Then I told them again and they went at it. I explained to them so they didnít think it was a stupid thing we were doing, as it looked first. I understood that part of it. Then —
Doel:The storm is meanwhile continuing at the same intensity.
Kohler:It was terrible. So, the Chilean ship — they barred up their doors and they all went inside and you couldnít see anybody on deck. She was icing heavily. Then after a while — I was on the bridge of our ship and we were laying alongside of his. The captain came out on his bridge, and he said to me — he was that close to shout across. He said to me, ďCaptain, now youíll have to go.Ē Then, we were using our engines to hang on where we were. We were two ships tied together. We had two anchors down — theyíd just dropped on the bottom. They were not doing a lot. His was well-anchored.
Doel:Because he was on the mount.
Kohler:Yes, first. He planned to stay. So did I. I can remember the situation really well. It was one of the very critical ones of my work. I said, ďGo, go where?Ē There was nowhere to go. It was a bad place to get out of. And I said, ďIím not going.Ē He said, ďOh, youíll have to go. Thereís only room for one ship.Ē I thought, you son of a gun. I thought worse than that. So, my people were pounding ice and his wasnít. So I finally said to my boson — who was at one end of the ship and somebody on the other — maybe one of the mates and the crew were working, pounding and shoveling ice. I said, ďLook, the first person that comes out on that ship to cast our lines over.Ē This is a quote. Iím quoting myself I guess. I said, ďHit him with a fire ax. We are not leaving here.Ē I knew it was fatal if we left. I knew that. Nobody came out. Nobody came out. We survived that one. So when the weather moderated enough that we could get out of this enclosed area, which mostly was formed by this huge glacier — they did have the body of their officer on board. Then it was possible for us to get out. Here is the passage I told you about.
Doel:How long did it take, by the way, for the storm to clear out during that —
Kohler:Iíd say it was thirty-six hours or more. This is the passage we had to make — from near here, to get back to Schweire. That was the passage I told you about when our electronics failed. Our electrical system failed. We had a terrible time — terrible time. But you have to take from that what you want. Thatís as close as I can remember it, without exaggerating, in a very, very critical situation.
Doel:In your experience in sailing, that ranked as one of the most critical —
Kohler:Memorable — you have many if you spend your life at sea. But thatís memorable. This is the one. My wife was with me.
Doel:Okay. And weíre pointing now below —
Kohler:Cape Town. I think itís twelve hundred miles. We went down to the ice.
Doel:Thatís the extent of the ice pack in the — right about sixty degrees. A little past zero degrees south longitude.
Kohler:In effect, we worked from this latitude here to north of Spitzbergen up here. My wife was in both of those areas with me.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. North of Spitzbergen — weíre talking about over eighty degrees north as well.
Kohler:I think we made eighty thirty. And then no more.
Doel:Was that generally easier a time for you when you were up in the Spitzbergen area?
Kohler:In the north, the weather systems pass by much more quickly. Theyíre more constant here. Up here you get a violent one but it passes quickly. It passes very quickly. You donít get the horrendous sea conditions. The great westerlies swung right around the world.
Doel:Indeed. You have no land mass there and so —
Kohler:Exactly. So the buildup of seas is what takes place there. I donít know if Iím telling you too much or not enough.
Doel:I think this is very interesting.
Kohler:This is Scorsby Sound [Greenland].
Doel:Youíre pointing up at the eastern coast of Greenland.
Kohler:Yes. You can see our track right close here. Scorsby Sound — Greenland at that time was still a Danish territory. Scorsby Sound was very isolated. The east coast is greatly isolated compared to the west coast. Anyway, weíre working up close in here and the little Danish station there is calling me — talking with me. I guess theyíre so isolated they like to talk to anybody and love to see anybody. They invited us very carefully to come in and spend the night. I was really tempted. Itís a historic place and a beautiful sound and it was clear. Well, I studied my weather reports — such as we used to get by radio. I could see there were certain systems. It was a very dangerous place. There were systems nearby and I thought we may get caught there again. So I worked right into, almost the entrance — five miles off. Finally I knew I shouldnít do it. It was all clear and they were telling us that there was no ice in the sound. Everything was clear. They said, ďYouíll be all right until tomorrow.Ē I didnít go. The next morning when we working off shore, they called me. I asked them, ďWell, how are the conditions in the sound now?Ē They said, ďSheís blocked solid with ice.Ē Weíd have been in there.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. It was possible to consider doing things like that during the evenings when one had the tracks spotted along the —
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes. It would even be worthwhile examining the bottom, you see, for scientists to see what the sediments are — to take cores and so on.
Doel:Thatís true. Right.
Kohler:Up here — twice weíve been into this — Longyearbyen is the name. As you probably know, Spitzbergen or Skalbar [unclear], as the Scandinavians call it, has been a protectorate of Norway and Russia to some extent. But no declared sovereignty. So we were into the Norwegian base twice in that deep Longyearbyen Sound. It was very interesting — past the Russian base — and they invited us to stop. But I wouldnít go into their base. Not at that time.
Doel:So this was in the height of the Cold War?
Kohler:Yes. So we put into Murmansk. We did some good work. Thatís over here. This is the ďK-O-L-A,Ē no inland. Here it is. Hereís where Murmansk is. Do you see Murmansk there? I donít think —
Doel:Iím actually looking for Archangel. Murmansk is here and thatís where the —
Kohler:Yes, this is the Kola inlet. That was a very interesting experience in playing games with Russians.
Doel:What was that — What happened there? I heard about that before.
Kohler:We got to Murmansk. And we got to — not quite Vladivostok — Nakatar, a Siberian port in the Japan Sea. It was at the time of President Nixonís policy of ďdetente,Ē and certainly U.S. flag ships couldnít get in. We were flying the Panamanian flag, but it was —
Doel:Because of the Panamanian registry of the Vema.
Kohler:The scientific community here and in the U.S. was starting to work together a good bit. We worked with a couple of their ships. We had some of their people on board whom I know were there for different purposes than what they said they should be there. Should I take the time to tell you about our visit into Murmansk?
Doel:Yes. I really would like to hear it.
Kohler:Okay. We were working in the Bering Sea and we were doing seismic work independently. But we had the Russian submarines following us around all the time. We knew that. Anyway, I was scheduled to go into Murmansk and we went in — right up. Itís a long inlet — Kola inlet. We went into Murmansk. I think we were there four days. Itís in Manikís time, I guess.
Doel:When this happened?
Kohler:Yes. I believe. He certainly came there anyway, with a large delegation from Lamont.
Kohler:The Russian science community — whatever you want to call them — they sent a big delegation. They had meetings there. Number one: We did measure some things for Joe Worzelís gravity program. Iím sure they didnít know we were measuring gravity. It was very, very important at that time. I believe the data — and you can correct me when you might find somebody else — was used in the navigational instruments of the intercontinental ballistic missiles of those days.
Doel:Indeed. Thatís exactly right.
Kohler:We were measuring gravity. That was an important factor, I believe. I donít think they knew it.
Doel:They didnít know that you were doing that?
Kohler:They knew many other things we were doing.
Doel:How did you get a sense that they didnít know that you were doing the gravity work?
Kohler:They might have known the equipment was aboard, but I donít believe they knew it was running. I canít tell you exactly. Maybe Manik told me. Iím not sure of that. However, along with all this, we did some socializing with them. They were extremely suspicious, as all Russians are. I guess the people we were dealing with were third generation Communists. There were no loyalties to anything except Lenin. Not even to family. It was perfectly obvious too.
Doel:You mean you could see the way they were treating family members?
Kohler:On yes. The first amusing incident: They came aboard with some port officials. They were very pleasant and cooperative. We went through our formalities in our ward room. I would have had a couple officers around me, possibly Manik. I donít remember. The man in charge had a deputy with him. She was a very beautiful blonde girl — real Russian. But she didnít say much. So, we were going through and they gathered all the permits and all the passports. Everything would be laid on and regulated by them for shore leave and all that sort of thing. But then the man in charge said, ďBut Captain, we wonít take your permit — your passport. And all crew members will be brought back to the ship at midnight. But if you want to stay ashore, you can stay ashore.Ē Thatís what the girl was — the bait. My wife was sitting right down the alley way. Obviously, they were trying to set up to get me ashore to pump me. Well, it didnít work. The next humorous incident: We had with the scientific staff — a real nice guy — an American black man. He was a real black man. And he used to laugh at everything. At the berth we were in — at the pier or wharf — at the bow of the ship was an armed guard carrying machine gun or a sub-machine gun. At the stern was one. At the gangway was too. Across the water, at the other dock was four or five — all armed, watching us? Whenever the people went ashore, they had to stop, of course, and go through all the passports and look at this man. Theyíd say, ďThatís okay.Ē But, there was always a bus waiting to take them to the Seamanís Club or take them to the store for foreigners and so on. But this black man used to really laugh. Heíd say, ďYou know every time I go ashore, they get those passports out and they look at mine and they look at me.Ē And he said, ďIím sure Iím the only black man north of Moscow.Ē [Laughter] He had a great sense of humor. I remember him well.
Doel:What was his name? Do you recall? We can add that to the transcript later.
Kohler:I canít remember. However — we did on one occasion — they had a symposium and it was very interesting. They had a lot of presentations and papers read. Of course, they had interpreters, but some could speak English. They said after — I think it was four oíclock and our work was finished.Ē We said, ďWeíll have Russian tea.Ē It was fine. Russian tea, of course, turned out to be a lot of nice things to eat — and vodka. A lot of vodka. So we had quite a party. Now these young men that I had there from the scientific staff — they brought ashore a tape recorder and American music. That would be rock music at that time?
Kohler:In the seventies. It was Ď69 or Ď73. I donít remember. They loved it. They had a dance and they had a hell of a time — including us. My wife was with me. We had a good time. The next day we put a party on board Vema. The Russians are big boozers. And boy, if they get Scotch whiskey, they wonít look at vodka. They only drink vodka because they can get drunk. But they love Scotch whiskey, and I had a lot of it. We were pouring it into them by the glassful. They werenít badly behaved. We had a wonderful time. We had a nice big buffet dinner for them and everything was fine.
Kohler:This one man, a Russian scientist, who could speak English. He was sort of following my wife around. After a while my wife asked him where he lived. Well, his home was in Leningrad. But heíd been up there a long time. After a while she said to him, ďIt looks to me like you better get back to Leningrad.Ē [Laughter] I think he had designs on her. But, I did say to Manik one morning after that party — I said, ďManik, thereís a lot of guys here who are not scientists.Ē ďOh no,Ē he said, ďtheyíre KGB.Ē But, he said, ďDonít worry about it.Ē When they had that big ship in New York, we had a hundred CIA aboard.
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:Thatís what he told me — a hundred CIA aboard. They were posing as scientists.
Doel:Yes. When was that ship in New York? Thatís relatively new for me.
Kohler:I forget her name but it certainly was in the time of the early part of President Nixonís detente. Denny and those people could tell you.
Kohler:That is certainly recorded.
Doel:It was the Soviet shipís visit into New York harbor.
Kohler:Yes. Yes. It was all very interesting. Then, not the same voyage or the same year, we were into the Sea of Japan and the Siberian port of Nakarta [unclear]. Itís like being in a concentration camp.
Kohler:They played huge search lights on us twenty-four hours a day. They did take our crew ashore. They did drunk them up. I mean really drunk them up. But these young men didnít have anything to tell them, but the Russians thought they had. When we sailed from there, a Russian ship tagged us for a week or more. We had on board a Russian who was supposed to be a scientist — but he wasnít. We learned that somehow he wasnít. He was an engineer. But he also was very interested in all the equipment. You know when you get a bunch of young Americans stirred up; they can be ingenious in how they screw somebody. They really fixed that fellow good — nicely.
Doel:How did they do it?
Kohler:Well, number one. He wanted drawings and designs and manuals of all the equipment. They were feeding him twenty year old stuff that wasnít even on the ship any more. He was up day and night, laboriously copying, when he thought he was all alone. The sketches and the manuals of all this condemned and obsolete equipment. No, he never realized. He went away and had a great pack of stuff. He probably thought he did a hell of a job. He was probably KGB too. I donít know. But they knew he wasnít a scientist. We had many, many incidents with the Russians. They had been following us around the Antarctic for weeks at a time when we were doing this air gun business to measure the sediments. We had them following us around in the Indian Ocean. We were in port with them — with one of their intelligence ships. It was supposedly a trawler. Well, I was the guy that knew that it wasnít a trawler.
Doel:Of course, some of that is obvious. But, how could you tell that the ship wasnít what it was representing to be?
Kohler:Well, certainly by its antenna systems.
Doel:Thatís what I was thinking, particularly, it would be obvious to see Ė
Kohler:No question about it. By the equipment on the decks. She was supposed to be a trawler — a big trawler. But, there was no fishing equipment. I remember in Mauritius — this little island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as you well know. Well, I met this Russian captain and the group — two or three of his officers — in the shipís chandlers. That shipís chandlers would easily fit into Joseph Conradís ďLord Jim.Ē No question. I have letters here from him — Lord Jim style — and era. Anyway, we had a couple of drinks there with them. Then they came aboard and I gave them a drink. They wanted us to come to their ship, and we went. My chief engineer, one chief scientist — his name is up there, Bob [Robert] Houtz — and somebody else. I donít remember who. We went in the captainís cabin. It was a small cabin, but very comfortable. He spoke very good English. He got out French brandy. We were five people. I remember it well. Five drinks — empty bottle. He did that two times. I was sitting right near a sink, you know, a hand basin. I got a chance to throw mine down the hand basin. Anyway, nobody was in real bad shape. But I think that they wanted to pump us again. While weíre sitting there — this is interesting. This is a Communist in a responsible position. The Shell Oil representative came aboard. He came in and he was introduced. He said, ďCaptain, I brought your account for the oil you took for your ship.Ē And the captain said, ďExcuse me,Ē or something like that. He took it and he read it.
Doel:You are holding it up and reading it.
Kohler:He said, to the Shell Oil rep, ďBut this is not right. Itís not right; youíll have to take it back.Ē The Shell Oil man, really taken aback, he said, ďI donít understand.Ē He said, ďWe measured our tanks. The chief engineer measured our tanks.Ē He says, ďI donít remember six hundred tons.Ē ďOh no,Ē the captain said, ďitís another hundred; fifty for you and fifty for me.Ē The Shell Oil man said, ďWell this is a big company. We donít do those things.Ē ďOh yes,Ē he said, ďyou must do it.Ē Now, I donít know what the end result was, but the captain got out a roll of English notes — with ten or twenty pound notes — that big.
Doel:Youíre holding your hand out about four inches.
Kohler:Ready to pay in cash. So his fifty tons would have probably gone into, at that time, a thousand dollars. He was a nice person, pleasant. He was ready to jump. Heíd been in the ship for quite a while. Thatís the way the Russians were doing their business. They were paying in cash. Generally, British sterling pounds.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Kohler:I donít know what the end result was, but he sure upset that Shell Oil rep. So, in the same place, the ships moored to buoys in a line on each side of the channel. We were moored just ahead of this Russian ship. These young Americans came back — scientists came back — from dinner on shore. They went up on deck at midnight, just to torment these Russians. They started firing these big air guns just in the air. They had everybody out on the deck of that Russian ship because they didnít know what the hell these boys were doing — or what we were doing. They were suspicious of everything.
Doel:Iím sure. Iím sure. This is all very, very interesting and related —
Kohler:Well, maybe youíll see things in a little different perspective and not just the pure scientific —
Doel:Absolutely so. This was part of the life that you had while living on board Vema. Itís very important for that reason.
Doel:Clearly, in the Cold War that sort of interaction wasnít uncommon — that other ship captains would, if on the Communist side, would try to pump for information and what not.
Kohler:Yes. Oh yes.
Doel:Was there anything that either Manik Talwani or Doc Ewing felt was at all sensitive about Vemaís equipment or what was going on that you did need to be careful about? Or did you not find that to be the case?
Kohler:We did classified programs.
Kohler:Iím trying to think. Well, underwater sound transmission work.
Kohler:This is why Russians were following us around. They kept pretty good tag on us. Another one that I remember from much later: We were working on the coast of Korea when things were really critical then between north and south. It was not too long after that small American intelligence ship was captured.
Doel:I know which one you mean and I canít think of the name.
Kohler:I canít either. It starts with a ďBĒ I think it was — like the captainís name. We worked in pretty close. I finally said, ďLook, weíre going to get the hell out of here. Because I donít want to end up in North Korea.Ē But that wasnít a Russian operation; that was the North Koreans watching us. I have to think a little bit about that. [Interruption.]
Doel:We are resuming after a break for lunch. Before we broke — and a bit of time has elapsed since then — you were talking about the Vema being off the coast of North Korea during the time of the heightened tensions. I wanted to make sure that we had fully covered what you were thinking about on that particular development.
Kohler:Well, as I remember, we saw North Korean patrol boats observing us from inside their twelve mile limit.
Doel:And you were outside it.
Kohler:Barely. We could have easily gotten ourselves into a situation where we may have been — Iíll say attacked or towed into the North Korea. I wasnít long getting out of that area. I knew it was risky. Hereís Xavier LePichon. He was with us several times.
Doel:You had mentioned him briefly off-tape. You had mentioned that he had grown up in a fairly luxurious setting.
Kohler:In French Indochina. His father was a colonel of a French Indochinese regiment — a French regiment in French Indochina.
Doel:Again, this was off-tape; you had mentioned that he had —
Kohler:Yes. He had little or no respect for his fellow man who was not highly educated or a recognized scientist. Thatís my opinion.
Doel:That was his attitude?
Kohler:No question about it.
Doel:Had you heard directly from him about the servants that were in his —
Kohler:Oh yes. He used to —
Doel:He used to talk about that?
Kohler:Oh yes, a great deal.
Doel:Fifteen — fourteen to fifteen servants?
Kohler:Seventeen or eighteen servants.
Kohler:Anyway, he had to be reminded that there were no servants here.
Doel:On board ship? How did he interact with the rest of the people at Lamont — the other scientists?
Kohler:I donít know what his relationship was with them. It wasnít warm. I think he was recognized as a brilliant mind. Some did work with him as I remember. Maybe they wrote papers together. But they lost respect for him after they realized — in one particular either paper, theory, or whatever it might have been — that he used somebody elseís researches and data.
Doel:Without attributing it to —
Kohler:After that, I believe he was persona non grata. They didnít talk a lot about it. It was perfectly obvious. A couple mentioned it to me that there was a great feeling that he had gone outside the lines of good ethics. Would that be a good term? He used somebody elseís data and research to write his own very prominent paper.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Did he ever talk to you about differences between how the French did science and what he was observing being in the company of the American —
Kohler:Not a great deal. But as I remember, Ron, he didnít want to get his Ph.D. in the U.S.
Doel:He wanted it back out?
Kohler:He wanted a French Ph.D. I didnít think that was quite right either. He could have finished his time at Lamont, taken his Ph.D. from Columbia, and if he wanted one in France, go and do it again. I guess it would only mean writing a thesis, wouldnít it?
Doel:You know, I hadnít realized he had taken courses here at Lamont.
Kohler:To the best of my knowledge, yes.
Kohler:Now, I could be wrong, but Iím telling you the best as I remember.
Doel:I should say youíre looking right now through the log book.
Kohler:A little bit. Just a little bit. I canít remember what voyage that was we were on the North Korean coast. But as I go through this and look at the very, very brief remarks, it brings back many interesting things to me. I donít know where you want to start because I have to go along your guidelines. I want to go along with your guidelines. Theyíve been good.
Doel:Well, in a few moments what we might want to do is just go through the log and talk about some of the incidents and developments as they come up.
Kohler:We went all over the world, you know.
Doel:Yes, exactly. Thatís why Iím a little hesitant to do that. One of the things we havenít spoken about that Iím very interested in is how you developed a crew for Vema once you were appointed captain. How many of the crew did you feel you needed to — that werenít satisfactory? How many people did you bring on board at that point?
Kohler:Initially, we had a high rate of success for many years. We always a few drop outs and always had a few problems. But basically, I recruited seamen right here.
Doel:Meaning Nova Scotia?
Kohler:Either Nova Scotia, Lunenberg — predominantly Lunenberg. Lunenberg, Nova Scotiaís, or Newfoundlanders resident here and fishing out of Lunenberg. They were ideal material. Particularly for a small ship — ideal. They were no trouble at all. I always had a backlog. I had a very good friend, a local taxi driver, who was a man of sterling qualities and a friend all my life. He always had a backlog and he did the recruiting. I say, ďOh maybe I wanted five men.Ē I got — he got good ones. He knew everybody in the port.
Doel:He knew them because he was driving around and just talking with people.
Kohler:Yes, sure. He knew them all. Oh yes.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Kohler:He would call them up and theyíd just set up transportation. He was a very reliable man. He had good business with me. We treated him well and he appreciated it. In fact, even on one occasion we sent him down to Bermuda. I had him come to Bermuda to meet us and spend a few days there with us when the ship was there. He died fairly young of a heart attack. He was a fine man.
Doel:Was it a pleasure trip down to Bermuda or —
Kohler:He was incapacitated to the point that he couldnít do physical work. Very early in his life he had very serious mastoid operations — in the thirties. It left him — not incapacitated to do a taxi driverís work — but physically he was not strong. He was a fine person. I could send home to him and heíd find what I wanted — almost invariably. The ones that I got — very occasionally I had a seaman or a mate, out of the Norwegian Seamanís Church Institute in New York. They werenít all successes, by no means. On one occasion I had a Finn, for mate, and he was really a bad bugger. A Norwegian second engineer, just temporarily, who was a nice man and I think a capable man, but a hopeless alcoholic. Another time I remember those two went on a binge in Cape Town. You know when they got back to the ship; they were still drunk, of course. I had them in the airport, and was sure they were up in the air on their way back to Finland and Norway before they really sobered up. Another occasion I had — two well-trained men, a Danish chief mate for a short while and a Norwegian second mate. They were both well trained men. One, the mate, was a bad bugger. I was very demanding on them and I guess they thought that was a little unfair. In Recife, Brazil, they sort of ganged up on me.
Kohler:Well they meant they were going to quit and I wouldnít be able to sail. It was second mate and third mate, I believe. My chief mate was repatriated back to Canada ill with ulcers. These two ganged up on me, and I had to do this or do that or change this or change that or they were going to quit. They deserted. I didnít change. They thought what I did was illegal. I went to sea anyway and did a thirty day voyage to Cape Town again. I had no certified or qualified officers on the bridge. I promoted Peter Cunningham from able seaman to a watch-keeping mate. He and I did the whole thing. I guess I was up day and night. I was up Iíd say an average of twenty hours a day for that month.
Doel:That must have been exhausting.
Kohler:Yes. But thatís the way it was. The thing is — keep the job going, keep the ship moving. Thatís the way I was trained — brought up and trained. Interesting. Six months later the Norwegian second mate wrote me a very long and apologetic letter. The Danish chief mate — never heard from until years later. I met him in Singapore. He was captain of a large Danish sheep transport ship. They transported sheep from Australia to Iran. He came to me and we were in the same shipyard in Singapore. He came to me and of course he offered his apologies. He wanted to leave his ship there and join me. Of course I wasnít interested. But itís interesting that he would have done that. And, Iíd say he had a good job. But itís demanding when youíre carrying thousands of sheep. Being a sheep doctor and a ship captain is not a real good deal.
Kohler:Some of those things are interesting. Another time in Acapulco, Mexico. I can remember well. A bunch of — I forget who influenced them — Canadians they were, and they got drunk on me. They got into marijuana and booze. There must have been five of them — or more. I donít know what they wanted — they wanted to go on strike or they didnít want to work or something like that. I spent the best part of a day talking with them. Finally I realized thereís nothing to do with these guys but get rid of them. I got the agent aside and told him to get tickets lined up. Before they knew it, they were on their way to the airport. I sailed very, very shorthanded. They werenít mates. They werenít engineers either, or crewmen. We were very, very shorthanded. But, again, we all worked hard and made the next monthís cruise to Honolulu. We got along fine. Then I had sent, in the meantime, by radio — sent home to my friend, who recruited five or six. He had them waiting in Honolulu.
Doel:Was it ever necessary to recruit locally when you were far away from Canada and the familiar ports?
Kohler:We had more success doing that. Generally our policy, which I developed, after while would not sell today. But it was that when men joined us, they stayed a year wherever we were. We would transport them home for leave and also paid them leave pay. Oh, I forget what I rated on. But anyway — first sail if you stayed a full year, you got two monthsí pay. You took it home, and came back if you wanted to. It was a pretty good deal by the standards. But it was petering out, and all the European ships only keep a man two or three months, then exchange the crews. Thatís all over. Theyíve gone to cheaper crews. They have less costly operations in general world trade. I had to eventually give up using my own people because they didnít want to stay a year.
Doel:Your people being those coming out of Lunenberg and Nova Scotia?
Kohler:Yes. Yes. They didnít want to stay a year.
Doel:When did that transition happen?
Kohler:When the seventies started. Eventually by Ď75 — or even a little before. I picked up a few Fijians. By Ď75 I had a complete Fijian crew. Eventually I had all Fijian officers, including a chief engineer —
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:They were good too. Now when this took place, we had spent — during that period we had been a full year in Fiji on one occasion. Certainly, they were very happy to have a job. They did good work. They were ideal material to be trained. I heard from different sources, ďOh Fijians, there are a lot of trouble with Fijian crew members.Ē I had no trouble — never. One thing they wanted was direction and fair treatment. They were loyal. They worked like merry hell. They were a pleasure to have. For five years I had a Fijian crew. There was one occasion — Laney and myself were the only Caucasians in that sailing crew. I had a Chinese radio operator, temporarily, from Hong Kong. Of course, I had American scientific teams. But it was great satisfaction. I took you away from your line of thought, I think.
Doel:No. I was just thinking when you said that — given how the nature of the crew changed, did it introduce that you saw any kind of social tensions or other tensions between the scientific crew and the Fijian crew? Or did that sort of thing work itself out?
Kohler:Not serious. Not serious. I had a Fijian cook. He was a hell of a good cook, but he was a Fijian-Indian. In the early days of the sugar trade, in sugar industry, in Fiji, they brought in indentured laborers from India around the turn of the century. This man was a descendent of one of those families. There was tension between him and a black boson which I had from St. Vincent in the West Indies and with some of the Fijian crew, but not bad. The Fijians are basically Polynesians. Thereís a fair percentage of population of Micronesians. Basically theyíre delightful, pleasant people. Thereís a large population and now a major part of the population are the Indian descendants who multiplied. The Indians were not liked, although they eventually became the major portion of the population. The Indians became — controlled all the business. They were more hard working than the native people. They were sharper and smarter in business than the native people. They certainly were more prolific. It must be ten years ago that they took the government over by democratic process of elections. They had some racial strife. But not serious, I donít think. Now, Iím sure that they still control the government — the Indian segment of the population. This, much to the distress of the Fijian whoíd much rather lie back on his hammock and strum his guitar.
Doel:Did the ship have Panamanian registry at the time that you took it over?
Kohler:Yes, from the time that Columbia acquired her. They never changed that for two reasons: One they didnít talk about. The other was the stringent U.S. Coast Guard regulations, which is nothing to complain about, but they are and they were. The ship would have a very difficult time — extremely costly — to comply with those U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations. But secondly, I think, and nobody really said this to me — but knowing the classified programs we did and the areas we sometimes visited, a U.S. ship would not have been able to do that — a U.S. flag. We did it under the Panamanian flag.
Doel:Thatís a very interesting point.
Kohler:But they sure as hell didnít talk about it. I donít know, maybe the people now donít realize it. But we had direct programs from Office of Naval Research — sound transmissions and so on.
Doel:The Bermuda work for instance.
Kohler:And a good bit of money. I remember going into the — shortly after the British were forced out of Egypt. There was the Gulf of Aqaba. I guess you know where I mean. There was restricted traffic into the Gulf of Aqaba. We were working in the Red Sea. Our people wanted some data on the Gulf of Aqaba. There was a United Nations checkpoint and station at the entrance. Anyway the chief scientist and myself decided, ďWell, weíll go in.Ē We were challenged, but we didnít really respond properly. We got away with it and went in. Then we did our coring and did our bottom photography and our water samples and so on. But we always believed that if an American flag ship had done that, thereíd have been a great hullabaloo about it.
Doel:I think thatís a very interesting point.
Kohler:Yes. We did many of those things then. We got away with them and an American flag ship wouldnít have even been able to attempt it. Theyíd have been in trouble at home and in trouble there.
Doel:What other incidents or major incidents of that sort come to mind?
Kohler:Iíll have to think a little bit about it. Something probably, but Iíll look through here.
Doel:Thatís fine. But, clearly, this sort of thing impressed itself on you that —
Kohler:Another interesting one was — we were one of the first research ships to ever visit Red China.
Doel:That is interesting.
Kohler:There again, I donít think an American flag ship wouldíve gone into Canton, or Kuangchou or whatever they call it — up the Po River. We went into Hong Kong — R&R, and logistics. From there we went to the Pearl River and up the Pearl River to Canton. Lamont had an exchange with the Chinese in meetings and so on and some social functions. Laney and I were put up in a hotel which was grandeur in Queen Victoriaís time. We must have been sleeping under a rug, it was so heavy. Most of the Chinese food was great and the hospitality was all right. But when they took us around the city — they put us in a limousine with curtains on. You couldnít see out and nobody could see in. But they gave us a nice drive. [laughter] When we got them aboard, we had a shipboard barbecue — a very nice one. Boy, they couldnít handle U.S. chow. They couldnít handle a U.S. barbecue. But they tried. We gave them a little whiskey, and they tried. They were very nice in that respect. But Iím sure, after a big party in one of their — I guess hotels — the next day we were roaring hot. They took us up — Canton is the city of the goat. Quangchou, I think they call it, donít they?
Doel:Iím not sure.
Kohler:I believe there are nine hundred steps up to the top of that — whatever peak that is where that goat statue was. God, I was struggling up there with this old stiff leg of mine and a hangover. But we made it. Thatís still there — stone stairway with no handrails. It had big hollows in it. From centuries and centuries of steps.
Doel:Yes. Do you recall who helped you arrange that trip — that exchange with Communist China?
Kohler:I donít know. But I suspect some of the details might have been done by the State Department. I think a lot of these joint programs were worked out by scientific people in the various countries like Chile or Argentina with the Americans who would be the prime movers. But, I believe, they are originally or finally approved and planned somewhat by the State Department, to the best of my knowledge.
Doel:I was just wondering who, among the local Lamont people, seemed particularly interested in these sorts of exchanges.
Kohler:All the senior people. I think Doc was so well known in the scientific field, that he was able to pump out letters as he did in those days — and get positive responses. These are my personal viewpoints — and get positive responses to the point that they were able to start planning and negotiating and then, I think — maybe through the National Science Foundation back to State. I donít know. Some certainly went — the Navy set up. I did a few diplomatic missions for them, and I canít remember some of the details. Certainly in Chile — and a few places. I made the visits that I was told — asked — to make. We got good will from the particular area or country that we were in at that time. And it worked.
Doel:Who made the request to you? Did that come from Doc Ewing?
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes.
Doel:Did it also come from Manik Talwani during his administration?
Kohler:If I said, ďYes,Ē Iíd be saying yes without a clear memory of him making that request. I know he wouldnít have hesitated to ask, but it was not necessary.
Doel:Sure. It may not have come up.
Doel:I fully appreciate that.
Kohler:But, with Doc it was no problem. Certainly, in Argentina it was necessary. I remember dealing with the U.S. ambassador there. At that time — I forget his name. He was a very fine man. We had a good relationship. I used to do a lot of business for Lamont in U.S. cash. But we didnít want too much on board. We had a fair amount. But, I used to pay scientists and crew prior to getting on board. It was a great convenience. So, when my cash was getting low — they would stash cash in banks in various countries. I can remember going to Argentina on one trip. There was fifty thousand dollars cash deposited there for me — U.S. cash. Do you think I could get my hands on that? Not a chance. I used to go to the bank. I had a good Argentine businessman friend. We went through all the channels and we never quite — this is over a period of a few days — got our hands on the cash. I never understood this. Why? Finally off we go to the embassy — and I donít know on whose advice. It could have come from — It could have come from Arnold Finck, it could have come from Doc. Well, it wasnít long after I went to the embassy, then we got a message from the bank that the cash was there. Nobody said anything about it. So my Argentine business friend said to me later, he said, ďDo you know what was going on?Ē I said, ďNo, but I didnít get the money until the embassy got into it.Ē He said, ďI can tell you.Ē He said, ďThereís people in that bank — youíll be sure — were trading your money on the street, privately.Ē In exchanges and making money themselves, because as you know, the Latin people are very corrupt. It wasnít long afterwards that I got my money.
Doel:Taking appropriate pressure to get that out. What made it more convenient to use cash payments, rather than any other alternative?
Doel:Just that it got things done.
Kohler:Boy, I guess it did. There was no fooling around in these Third World countries or Second World countries. When youíd let them know — youíd bring your account, weíd check it out — cash.
Kohler:I guess it did.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Kohler:The other thing — I was able to do many of those things — interim repairs, renewals, modifications — at half price to doing them back in the U.S. As always, that was attractive too.
Doel:You found the quality to be comparable?
Kohler:That was my problem — to make sure it was.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Iím curious whether there were pressures put upon you to unionize the crew on Vema?
Doel:Did you run into any of that?
Doel:It just never happened?
Kohler:No, it didnít happen.
Doel:Because it did happen on —
Kohler:We had, on one occasion, one transit of the Panama canal. A Panamanian Seamanís Union rep came aboard and wanted to give us a little bit of trouble. I think, at that time, I produced a document and I carried a document from the Office of Naval Research that got me through many, many critical points, or critical situations. When I presented that he left right away. I can remember in Australia having a lot of trouble with — not with unions — and theyíre an extremely labor conscious country.
Kohler:Extremely so. But this was really with regulations. Our ship did not quite meet some of the Australian regulations. They were prepared to hold us up for quite a while — to do installations and so on. I had this letter which I only used maybe eight or ten times in all those years. Immediately they dropped it all. Because the letter was from — who would it be? The Office of Naval Research. It wasnít from the CNO in the Navy, but it was from some leading admiral. That always carried weight.
Doel:Just the position and the U.S. Navy [?] —
Kohler:Yes. We were not really registered as a commercial ship. We were still registered as a yacht.
Doel:Oh thatís interesting.
Kohler:Which could have been contested anywhere. But I had that document — and that certainly carried a lot of weight too.
Doel:That certainly helped didnít it? Yes. Thatís interesting. Let me pause to.
Doel:I meant to ask you earlier too. Clearly, as you say, there was classified work being done at Bermuda and other stations. Did you receive security clearance as captain?
Kohler:Oh yes. I was also bonded.
Doel:What level of clearance were you asked to apply for?
Kohler:I canít quite remember that. I can remember signing certain documents at different times. I canít quite remember it.
Doel:Yes. I would imagine it went up through secret, or top secret, which would have been —
Kohler:I think classified.
Kohler:I donít know what number or grade. I just donít know. I would think maybe a person like Joe would know — Joe Worzel.
Doel:Did you have much occasion where you actually did need to see classified documents in the course of the work that you were doing on Vema?
Kohler:Did I have —
Doel:Did you have reason to use documents that were considered classified at that time?
Kohler:No. Although, I would think that a good deal of the information and charts we used were classified to a degree.
Doel:Thatís probably so.
Kohler:Because we used all the U.S. Navy portfolios.
Doel:Yes. Thatís quite true.
Kohler:I was very, very well equipped and I kept upgrading it. We had the total portfolios of the United States Navy — for the world. If you had gone out and ordered charts commercially you wouldnít have gotten the detailed things that we had in our portfolios.
Doel:Exactly, and indeed those were kept at least a confidential level of security.
Doel:Yes. Thatís a good point. You mentioned earlier, the visit to the Soviet Union. Were there any scientific members of the crew who seemed particularly interested in Soviet research or who had had extensive cultural —
Kohler:Oh, I think — because many were not strangers to each other from international symposiums and so on. Particularly at the time of Nixonís detente.
Doel:Did you notice a big change in the Nixon presidency in those kinds of contacts, or was it something that was occurring gradually through the sixties?
Kohler:Apparently. I wouldnít notice it at my level — but apparently many things became much easier. I think he did some good work in that respect. I donít think that man was all as bad as a lot of people believed. He just got caught. He made the big mistake. He told a lie to Congress, who are a bunch of liars anyway, but they nailed him. Tell me if Iím wrong. I think he got himself in trouble that way.
Doel:Particularly on the level where you could see how things were working, was it easier to get in and out of many of the ports and just do the work that you needed to do?
Kohler:Yes. No question. This may not be diplomatic for me to say, and you may not want to receive it, but I donít think much of the president youíve got. I sure as hell hope that heís not there another term, but Iím afraid he will be. Heís got a certain charisma. He can campaign and bring people around him I believe, and get a vote. Poor old Bob Dole is slugging along — a lot more sincere. Maybe not totally. But a lot more sincere than President [Bill] Clinton. Itís doubtful how it will go. Weíre away from the subject. I really believe, when the real campaign starts that the Republicans still got a lot of dirty wash to bring out. They havenít shot it all.
Doel:Thatís probably so.
Kohler:Itís amazing you know. Itís like in our country, the so-called major parties — and if you look at it real closely, their policies are not very different. Theyíre all vote catchers.
Doel:You mean that the political spectrum isnít that broad? Now, youíre looking again at the log book from — one of the things that I was very curious about — how much time would you actually spend on the Lamont campus in those early years? Say the IGY [International Geophysical Year] period when you first became actively —
Kohler:No, not much. Only when weíd come home from a long voyage. I might be around a week before I came home. Generally only a week or ten days before we went away. In the latter years I did spend quite a bit of time there when Peter would be out on the ship. I would be there doing mostly working, planning ship improvement and repairs for both the Conrad and the Vema. But it wasnít extensive periods.
Doel:Realizing fully that youíre looking at it from the point of view of the shipís captain, as opposed to being on the scientific crew, and came on just when the IGY started — Iím curious about your impressions of how important IGY was for Lamontís development and for the way in which the voyages on the Vema developed?
Kohler:Well, number one: I was there long enough then to realize the great importance of this IGY. I strongly believe, or suspect, that the U.S. carried the major financial burden of it around the world. I knew it was necessary. I was very much aware of the importance and the necessity to gather data in the fields which we were working and maybe other fields as well. Funds were almost unlimited. I donít really feel they were abused at Lamont. I really donít. I think they used their funds wisely in getting maximum data for the dollar. I guess thatís hard to weigh, isnít it? Whatís the value of data versus the dollar? But I think they got the maximum of data. Whether it was valuable data, I canít answer. But I always liked to believe it was.
Doel:What made that possible? Was it Ewing and the way that he drove the organization back in those early days —
Doel:Were there other factors you would point to?
Kohler:All the various senior people in departments, in many cases, were accountable, or should have been accountable to their funding and contracting organizations. But basically, they were very much accountable to Doc. They didnít do much without his approval. If they did, you were in a lot of trouble when he was down on you. No question about it. People would be in a lot of trouble — any individual that went contrary to his wishes. He used to be quite democratic about planning a yearís voyage. Heíd get all his people together and ask them where theyíd like to do them, and what projects theyíd like to do. They may spend a couple of days at it. Then after a little while heíd get them all together and tell them where they were going and what they were going to do — but get your own money. [Laughter) He was an interesting person.
Doel:Did you attend those meetings when those discussions were going on?
Kohler:At times, yes — mostly as an observer. Occasionally I asked, ďWell, is this possible?Ē — wherever the area of the world might be.
Doel:Do you remember any of those discussions particularly well? Was there any times at which you felt very strongly about decisions that were being made about developing the program for the yearís voyage?
Kohler:Well, not too much so — because by the time it was boiled down to where guys like Joe or Bruce [C.) Heezen or Doc or a couple of more knew what their programs were — they also were the practical people who didnít make too many bad decisions in that respect. But, I would, many times ask, ďCan you do this, can you do that?Ē I always stayed on the outside limits of that without trying to restrict myself. Like maybe somebody wanted six thousand miles in a month. Find a way to do it. Well, I could do that. I did it sometimes — mostly with success. Other times are it practical that we could do this or could do that? Or is the vessel capable of carrying this much fuel or victualing stores or where could we have a depot of fuel? I can remember one occasion; I made a plan for them — quite a long stretch at sea. We were coming from Australia east, but we made a depot for fuel at Easter Island. Then it was to get the Chilean Navy to take the Easter Island fuel out there — through a joint program with the Chilean organization and their navy ship to operate it. In this respect, I would give my opinion, ďCan you do this? Can you do that?Ē Well, ďYes, I can.Ē I certainly never tried to curtail any of those plans or proposals just to make myself comfortable. I still feel — and actually I may be complimenting myself — I feel I still have a great sense of adventure and exploration. Doc one time came to me — he wanted to sponsor me to be a member of the Explorerís Club of New York.
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:Yes. It was pretty exclusive. I thought about that. I was flattered. He would have sponsored me — no question about that. But I thought, ďYou know, Iím going in pretty affluent company there.Ē A pretty costly operation. I wasnít at that level in life. I still wanted to be practical. I could see the people who were there. In general, I guess he must have submitted a list to me. He used to speak there occasionally. Most of the people there were very affluent. You know itís an exclusive club.
Doel:You didnít feel that comfortable with —
Kohler:Oh, I knew I wouldnít be comfortable with it. I knew I couldnít afford it.
Doel:When he would speak —
Kohler:But I still was flattered.
Doel:Yes, Iím sure. Do you feel that when Ewing spoke there, it was in part as a way of generating additional revenues for the Observatory?
Kohler:Certainly. Anything he did in that respect — he always had in the back of his mind how much can I get out of these people. [Laughter] But you canít blame him. He wanted money.
Doel:Did you meet a lot of the people who —
Kohler:He was the biggest fund-raiser at Lamont.
Doel:Did he talk to you about his — what he was doing for fund-raising during the times that you spoke with one another?
Kohler:Yes, somewhat. He kept a close relationship with Exxon — very close. He didnít give that up because that was real money. He got money from other oil companies and so on. He used to work the Vetlesen Foundation. I think he got real money out of them — Mrs. [Marjorie] Merriweather Post. I know he kept in very close contact with her and used to go to visit her. I donít know what the end results were, but I expect it was money. He was the biggest fund-raiser at Lamont. Now Iíve heard him severely criticized and maybe in a little bit it was justified. He didnít use any money to go out and really entertain these people who had money. All he wanted to do was get money out of them, use it for his purposes. But he didnít want to put any back into the fundraising effort. In this case, I think Scripps did it better. Iím sure Woods Hole did it better. His two great scientific friends, [Roger] Revelle and [Columbus] Iselin did it better. Because they spent some of their money and plowed it back in. I think youíll learn that if you talk with men like John Ewing and Joe Worzel — theyíd be the two that would know.
Doel:Indeed. Iíve heard that sort of comment before.
Kohler:Iíll tell you a funny little one. Doc was with me on one occasion when we went into the Argentine Naval Base in Puerto Belgrano in Argentina. The commanding officer — I guess the secretary general of their navy — put on a real big social event for us. It was just wonderful. So, of course, due to space we couldnít have a lot of people. So I found out who would be the most influential people and probably had twenty or twenty-five — something like that. It was a really big dinner party on board the Vema. I had the people to do it — with class. Anyway, after the party was all over, Doc and I were sitting back in my room having a quiet drink before we laid down. I said, ďYou know Doc, I didnít pay for this personally.Ē ďDonít tell me,Ē he said, ďI donít want to know who paid for it.Ē He knew. I had ways of doing it. He knew.
Doel:Thatís interesting too that you not only recognized but had the latitude to make those kinds of adjustments working with —
Kohler:Oh yes. Oh yes. But if he thought you were doing it in a manner that wasnít proper or of value, Iím sure heíd cut your throat right away.
Doel:I saw a letter that he had written once — it probably was around Ď55 or so — where he felt badly saying that he wasnít raising funds very well. He was rather critical of his abilities —
Kohler:But I donít think he would take a break from that. He just couldnít make himself give it up. Now some of his people — I think Joe was actually better than that.
Doel:Would say to him that this was necessary to do —
Kohler:Or would do something themselves. I got to tell you a funny little one — and itís away from the subject. The heydays of Life magazine, it was a big weekly as you know — Luce?
Doel:Yes. Henry Luce.
Kohler:And his wife?
Kohler:He died and she was eventually an ambassador to Italy. Then I think she ran Life.
Doel:Absolutely famous and I am blocking her name, but Iíll make sure thatís in here.
Kohler:Anyway, Doc always felt that Life did not give his institute the recognition that it should have. Maybe he was right. But maybe he didnít approach it right. You know. Maybe a nice little entertainment for Life might have done it. That would be a fund raiser.
Doel:Yes. But he just didnít think in those terms —
Kohler:Yes. He wanted to read Life magazine but he didnít want anybody to know that he subscribed for it.
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:He subscribed for Life magazine in his dogís name — Sniffy Ewing.
Doel:Thatís how it came up to Lamont — Sniffy Ewing?
Kohler:Right. You never heard that story.
Doel:No, I didnít.
Kohler:He told me that one. [Laughter] Isnít that interesting?
Doel:That is. It certainly says a lot about him.
Kohler:So, I think maybe Arnold Finck might have been quite a fund-raiser in his very quiet manner. I have a feeling he was.
Doel:Interesting. You had mentioned, and this was off tape last evening, that you remembered one time when members of the Vetlesen Foundation board had come to Vema.
Kohler:Yes. I canít quite remember their names. It was a group and we had a luncheon party for them. I canít remember their names, but I know exactly where they came from. All they could talk about was bone fishing in the Bahamas or this big night club in Las Vegas. But they looked badly. They looked like dissipated people. There was very few of them that were worth talking to.
Doel:These were the board members, the ones who were on the advisory committee for the foundation, you felt —?
Kohler:To the best of my knowledge, yes.
Kohler:There were Lamont people involved, I believe.
Doel:Did any of that change when Talwani became director of Lamont? Did he talk to you about his own fundraising strategies or the difficulties that he foresaw?
Kohler:I donít think he was good at it either. Now Manikís a very intense person. He didnít quite have the way of leaving his hair down very often — for want of a better term.
Doel:He stayed intense.
Kohler:We entertained him down here and he had a hell of a good time. But I donít think he would allow himself to do much of that. He was a very disciplined man too. I enjoyed him because I felt he was honest and sincere. He was good to me. I still appreciate him. But he didnít have the personality to really attract people other than in admiration for his science. He didnít have what Iíd consider charisma. Old Doc had charisma, and a lot of it. He could even be mean and people would like him.
Doel:But Manik —
Kohler:He didnít have it.
Doel:His personality was —
Kohler:Thatís very common to the Indian characteristic. I think youíre aware of that too. Theyíre a glum type of people if thatís a way of describing it.
Doel:How did that reflect on the way that Lamont developed in the period those years after?
Kohler:I think it reflected somewhat on the eventual unhappy situation when Manik was squeezed out. Thatís as kind a term as I can use. But I think I had part of it. He did not attract loyal support. I think, in many cases — maybe not intentionally — rejected people who could have supported him.
Doel:Are you thinking of anything particular when you say that? Like the people that Manik didnít embrace?
Kohler:Can I think of any individuals?
Doel:Individuals or groups of individuals. I just want to be sure I understand what you mean by this.
Kohler:You can tell me if I have the right word. There seemed to be a cabal to oust him. I wouldnít know everybody involved in that. I really believe Denny was very much on the edges. I donít think he was any active part of that. But he survived — very nicely. I donít think he was part of that cabal. Now Iím going to tell you what my thoughts are.
Kohler:Iíve got nothing to lose. I think Wally was a major part of it. Walter [C.] Pitman was a major part of it. A man by the name of Neil Opdyke.
Kohler:I think theyíre all great scientists. I think he acted as director for a few months until they appointed a permanent director. Bruce Heezen I think was dead by that time.
Doel:He was. Bruce had died circa 1977 as I recall.
Kohler:Well, I think Bruce was dead at that time. I feel very strongly that those people were part of it with many others. I think this is support of my comment that Manikís lack of charisma and maybe even offending someone. He could be very curt at times. These people brought them to the point that they felt they needed another director. Now I donít know if it ever went the way they wanted it to go. Maybe you know. I donít know. I think that group chose Neil to act and to the best of my knowledge he acted pretty decently. I think it was after that he went to Florida?
Doel:Neil Opdyke, you mean?
Doel:Yes, he went to Florida.
Kohler:Yes. I donít know who else would be part of that. To be sure John Ewing wasnít part of it. Even if he believed it should be a change, I donít think John Ewing was a part of that. Heís a pretty decent, sincere man.
Doel:Indeed. How much time did John Ewing spend at Lamont during those days? He was then more at —
Kohler:From the start?
Doel:From the start, but then wasnít he more at Woods Hole after his time at Lamont?
Kohler:He went to Woods Hole — it must have been the late seventies, just after Doc moved on. I think that was it. He worked then with the group in Texas and Woods Hole and sometimes back at Lamont.
Doel:He would circulate between the different —
Kohler:Yes. It was a strange thing. John never went for the Ph.D. His friends and colleagues believed he should have. There is no question he could have done that successfully. But I was always led to believe that John believed everybody thought that he was standing in his brotherís shadow. He believed this. His colleagues did not believe that.
Doel:But, of course, he carried the Ewing name.
Kohler:You saw this from your interviews and your studies of the subjects. You know whether my viewpoints are good or bad. But thatís what I believe. There were times I think he felt it very much, but he just didnít make it. He did all the work that would be required for a thesis and Iím sure orals would be just a piece of cake for him.
Doel:Yes. I was going to ask how that worked out. To have a brother of a director who was, as you say, so powerful in the Lamont organization — despite the eighteen year or so age difference between them — it had to be an important factor for someone like John Ewing.
Kohler:Thereís no question in my mind that John was equally recognized in the scientific community with Joe. Nobody really ever understood why he didnít just do that.
Doel:Get the Ph.D.?
Doel:Did Joe Worzel ever talk to you about his own relationship with Ewing? Clearly his role as associate director during the time kept him —
Kohler:Oh, times he would complain bitterly, but not seriously. You know just to unload a little bit. But when the chips were all down, he was always loyal. Like Walter [C.] Beckmann used to say, ďOh Joe, heís got no mother, heís got no father and heís got no children, heís just got DocĒ — drink talk.
Kohler:Boy, Iíll tell you Angelo [Ludas] was a loyal servant. He didnít take anything off anybody if they were complaining about Doc. He didnít care what their level was in the organization. Because he was valued just as much as the best scientist in the organization. Doc put the same value on Angelo.
Doel:Iím wondering if Angelo in his earlier work, say on the Manhattan Project at Columbia, had not had that feeling — had felt that he was being pushed down low on the totem pole.
Kohler:I donít know.
Doel:He never really spoke to you about that.
Kohler:I just donít know. He was quite a man.
Doel:Given that you werenít at Lamont all that often in the beginning, how often could you get to the parties that Angelo did? That was for Friday at —
Kohler:Well, whenever it was possible. We had a good many away from home too. In Bermuda or Honolulu even at —
Doel:Oh thatís interesting. Because he did travel quite a bit —
Kohler:He used to travel a lot. When we had any real technical, mechanical problems, he was there — big or small. He solved the problem and it was party time. It was quite good. A funny incident really not worth recording: We were in Japan. He was out there I think to repair a coring winch if I remember. Anyway, we were out in Tokyo this night. There were maybe six of us — I donít know. I remember going around to these little clubs which were as big as this room.
Doel:I should say weíre about thirty to forty foot square.
Kohler:It was a crowded little bar. There were three Japanese girl singers — very good with guitars and so on. Angelo was quite a singer.
Doel:Iíve heard that from a number of people.
Kohler:Oh yes. He started singing. He just about started taking over the show. Finally he said — I donít know how he expressed himself, but he wanted to find the washroom. Somebody said, ďOh,Ē and he took him. He took him out through a door. The guy that took him through the door came back in. Suddenly we realized Angelo was missing. It was a half hour gone by. We couldnít find Angelo. So, I guess maybe an hour went by and Angelo came drifting in the front door again. He said, ďYou know that son of a bitch did with me?Ē He said, ďHe opened the door and shoved me out in the street.Ē [Laughter] Oh my, some funny, happy times.
Doel:I can imagine. One interesting shift in Vemaís use came just about the time that you became captain. The year-long voyages really started just at that point.
Doel:Why werenít those done earlier on? Was it IGY [International Geophysical Year] funding that made it possible?
Doel:Or was it other developments?
Kohler:No. We were working worldwide before IGY.
Doel:There had been a few?
Kohler:I think their horizons became more distant. They started their early work around the continental U.S. and a couple of transatlantic voyages that were relatively short. Then, of course, planning and expansion. If you were thinking of planning — or particularly the scientists were thinking they were way ahead in their planning but they werenít ahead of old Doc. He always had more for them.
Doel:As I was looking through what I have here, I want to make sure that you see them too just in case — notes on the earliest Vema cruises. Cruise Two, for instance, which was July through December, 1953, was United States, Newfoundland, Abyssal plain area. Number Three which lasted from January, 1954 through May, Ď54 was Gulf of Mexico.
Kohler:See, I donít have those records. I wasnít there.
Doel:Okay. We can actually exchange some Xeroxes if youíd like to have some of those.
Doel:But it seemed to me that those earlier ones were, by and large as you say, more limited horizons. They werenít going as far as —
Kohler:I think funding was limited too. They werenít operating then on the broad scale that they grew into. See, Woods Hole was an old, long-established institute prior to the forming of Lamont at all.
Doel:Indeed. So for that matter was Scripps.
Kohler:Exactly. Yes it was, for sure.
Doel:How well did you get to know Scripps and Woods Hole? Did you get to visit those early?
Kohler:Not well, no. No. I never visited the institutes. But I knew a lot of the scientists. In fact, there were times some of their scientists sailed with us. As I told you before, some of them were prominent ones, but I canít remember their names.
Doel:Did they talk to you about differences they saw between Lamont and their own — their home institutions?
Kohler:No. No. Here again, I think Lamont was a lot more free-running — loose-jointed. They were old enough institutions that they were knit together by their own internal policies and regulations. Lamont didnít have any for a long time — except money and work.
Doel:Did any of them ever make competing offers to you as your reputation for working on the Vema became established?
Kohler:No, because I was a Canadian. They had no foreign flag ships.
Doel:Those other institutions?
Kohler:Yes. I was offered, different times, very good appointments in the U.S. by vessels doing some sort of work — Western Geophysical was a big company. Another one, the Westwood II — I think they were Boston College. They built a new ship in Denmark and I was offered command of that ship.
Doel:This might be a good time actually to take a quick break. [Interruption] Weíre resuming after a quick break and you were mentioning about Joe Worzel one —
Kohler:One occasion. I can probably find it in records. For some reason or another, we had a horrible two days getting into the Caribbean entrance into Panama, Lehman Bay or Leyman Bay. We were preparing for transit — getting through the canal and whatever frustrations. I can remember it was a real bad day. So we were on the Pacific end — Balboa — about ready to leave the locks around midnight and go to sea. We were tired, frustrated, and annoyed. I specifically put out notice — verbally and written — that anyone wanting to send their mail ashore prior to sailing, to bring it before eight oíclock. And they did. Itís dark. Iím up on the wing of the bridge and weíre coming out of the last lock and Joe came up with mail to send ashore. I donít know if I knew it was Joe or I didnít know. But I certainly knew very quickly. I gave him all merry hell. He called it a tirade later. And I said, ďYou knew goddamn well you were supposed to have your mail up here and now Iím not going to bother with it.Ē Eventually I did get it to the pilot to take ashore. He didnít resent that. The next morning he was up and we were out to sea, going to work. I can remember I chased him real fast off the bridge. [Laughter) But then I guess sometimes were justified in being frustrated. Iím sure he was at times too. But it always worked out that we had a — normally — a successful cruise leg and general cruise. I canít think of any real big flapperoos or failures in that respect.
Doel:During the time that you were the captain of the Vema?
Kohler:We saw rough times. We saw good times and we always produced — I wasnít going to have a boat fail. If anything I thought it out. Now Iíll just take a few minutes —
Doel:Sure. Youíre looking over at your slide cabinet there.
Kohler:No, itíll take a while to talk to you about that. Thatíll have to be another session.
Doel:You had mentioned a moment ago, off tape, a little about the relationship of Doc Ewing and Sam [Robert S.] Gerard. What were your impressions of Sam Gerard as you came to know him?
Kohler:I got along reasonably well with Sam. Sam, I guess I used to growl at him too. But I donít think he took me that seriously. [Laughter]
Doel:What sort of personality was Sam?
Kohler:I feel Sam was the type of man — I think he always wanted recognition. He advertised his own product very carefully and in much detail — maybe unconsciously. But he did. Thereís a time that he worked and worked and worked on little projects and they were futile at the start and futile at the finish. But he did a lot of good things at Lamont and he has a lot of ability — mechanical ability. No question about that. He used to write papers. I donít know. I think, as I remember he wrote papers on water works — hydrographic work — that sort of thing.
Doel:Yes. When you were saying — I donít want to just interrupt you from what youíre looking at right now — but things he worked on that may not have come to fruition or things that did work out. What sort of things do you have in mind?
Kohler:I think that Doc always felt that Sam wasted a lot of his time on things of no real value. Maybe some tidy little operations of no real value. Iím sure of that. Joe used to criticize him for that. But Iím sure they also know that he was very loyal and did a lot of good things. I believe Sam was married into; Iím sure, some very wealthy family. He lives right close by, you know.
Doel:He lives on Snedenís Landing.
Kohler:It was a palatial affair. His father-in-law was — held a chair in surgery at Columbia. He used to always come down and see that we had real good medical supplies and oft times give me advice on how to handle certain situations. I remember him well.
Doel:Oh, thatís interesting. You mean on the things that you had to handle while captain on board ship.
Kohler:Oh yes. I sewed a lot of meat in my day. [Laughter] I wasnít alone sewing them up. There was one occasion when one of the scientists accidentally broke a large — the panel in the large copy machines we had them years ago. They didnít call them Xerox, what was it? You put a chemical in — you probably know what it is.
Doel:Oh, it was thermofax machines and other — yes, Iím aware of those earlier technologies.
Kohler:He cut himself severely. But his friends said to him — he was bleeding like all merry hell. I think he said to his friend, ďWell, Iím not going to go up and see the captain because that old bastard will want to sew me up right away.Ē [Laughter]
Doel:How did you learn how to do that sort of —
Kohler:Well, we certainly only had first aid training — St. Johnís and first aid training. But I took a lot of interest in it. I had friends — our local physicians. Iíd always talk to them and see what I could pump out of them on what should I do if I get this sort of situation, and that sort of situation. We always were well equipped with medical supplies and instruments that we really didnít know how to use all the time.
Doel:Were there any situations, when you think back, that was really difficult that you had to handle on board ship — medical problems?
Kohler:Oh, yes. But we did reference to international organizations in Rome and I think we spoke of that last night. There was one in Rugby, England and one in the U.S. — where you could send by radio and get advice.
Doel:You had mentioned that, but it was off-tape.
Kohler:But a doctor giving advice out had to be very, very careful in what he advised you to do. Many, many times if it was of any serious nature, theyíd advise you to take the person to port. That didnít always suit. So, in many cases we would carry on a treatment with a lot of success. But I was looking in my log there — we landed a bosom one time in Adak [Aleutian Island] and I treated the hell out of him for appendicitis. When they got him to the hospital in Adak in the Aleutians, he had kidney stones. [Laughter] So they took him into Anchorage and operated on him. I think I picked him up — I donít remember where. We had him sent on somewhere and I picked him up again. I see him around every once in a while and tease him about it.
Doel:Iím thinking of other routine medical problems that were endemic to ships.
Kohler:You know what our greatest scourge was of course — venereal disease.
Doel:I was just going to ask if that indeed was the case.
Kohler:Generally I had, and always had, a great supply of antibiotics. They improved as the years went on. Initially we had to give — administer them daily. After a while it was three days, and after a while it was products that we could administer once a week and so on — and almost invariably with success. Iíll show you something. No, you can copy something later. Itís a little humorous, but boy it worked. On one occasion we were ten days out of Balboa in the open Pacific. We finally had fourteen lined up every morning for an injection — fourteen.
Doel:For V.D. injections.
Kohler:All with V.D. Some were in a hell of a state and some with very mild cases. As for other things — we also had a lot of written work medical guides — shipmasterís medical guides. The U.S. one had a wonderful one. But basically they would get into things that we didnít understand.
Doel:The books themselves you mean?
Kohler:Yes. I always kept good medical records. I would know — I could recognize symptoms and put them in radio messages to these international organizations. Many times people thought you should get them ashore and we have landed men sick, but not very often.
Doel:We just had run very low on the tape there. You were saying that not very often did you have to land people on —
Doel:Very seldom. And with the scourge of V.D.
Kohler:Well, we had information I guess. In one case it was tape, and eventually we had video tapes. We had TV on board and used to get films that were, made at the Observatory and so on. But none of it seemed to work. It didnít seem to work because these young men were not listening. Theyíd go and get it anyway. So finally I wrote this and I kept it posted. You know it worked.
Kohler:The rate went down like that. You can read it and thatís your copy. I donít think youíll be able to put that in your work.
Doel:Anyway, I think this indeed serves as part of the historical records. [Laughter]
Kohler:Well there it is.
Doel:This was something that you had composed?
Kohler:Yes. I was frustrated at this rate. I thought I had to tell them the way it is.
Doel:Thereís no date on this, but this was from the middle seventies, or so, on Vema?
Kohler:No, I would say the early seventies.
Doel:Early? Okay. You begin it by saying: Those who had activities in mind other than enjoying the cultural aspects and scenic beauties of any port should read and inwardly digest this notice very carefully. Also considering the recent outbreak of, in bold letters, ďscourges and abundance of unwantedĒ — and in quotes, ďsouvenirsĒ — ďI recommend the following procedures prior and after enjoying the pleasures of the flesh.Ē And so on and so on. But people read it.
Kohler:This is the way life was.
Doel:Thanks. Weíll keep this copy and see if indeed it canít become part of the — I think part of the record. We can see. Iím thinking of another matter that probably became more a concern in the late sixties and 1970s. Were there ever problems with drug use among the scientists as well as the crew? Well, Iíd be curious about both.
Kohler:Okay. There was — and if I want to be real honest — I think, more problems among the younger scientific crew — not necessarily scientists per se, but the younger scientific crew.
Doel:Like the graduate students for instance.
Kohler:No, even below that level.
Doel:Oh, those who were sailing as technicians and what not.
Kohler:At the graduate level, but not much. With my own crew I never had any real trouble that I detected — the use of marijuana to some extent. I worked hard in trying to clean that up, but you never do with total success. But I remember — let me think. On one occasion, we left Manila and there was a young man there. I think he might have been a camera man. Did he have his bachelorís degree as I remember? We knew that he was fiddling with drugs. We sailed from Manila and it was a problem with him among the shipmates in the aft room of the ship. I think they came for me. I think by that time they had him restrained. We had to keep him restrained and under guard. His condition did not improve — heíd been a problem in port too. His condition did not improve. In communicating with medical authorities — I think in Guam — I was finally advised that we get him to port. So we took him into Subic Bay in the Philippines — a big U.S. Navy base where we left him. I got the report then by radio that he had — and I donít know which terms comes first — psychosis caused encephalitis which is the —
Doel:The swelling of the brain.
Kohler:Inflammation of the brain. That was his problem from drugs. That was a serious one. We had to go into port to unload him. Another time in Honolulu the narcotics people came on board. We certainly had a good name as far as that in that respect. But they had reason to suspect somebody there. Something was thrown overboard from my ship on the way into the harbor to Honolulu. I donít know whether they recovered it — it was quite some time. It was the sixties and it was drugs. That was a common way of getting drugs into the country. Itíd be thrown overboard at the entrance. It still goes on this coast. They didnít arrest anyone, but they made a very intensive investigation and search. Those are the two that I remember as being, Iíd say, rather serious incidents.
Doel:That must have been difficult, though — the second incident I would think particularly on the Vema.
Kohler:I think it would have been the same cruise too. Then I had a young man join me — Canadian — the son of a friend of mine. He was a very affluent man, a very successful business man, and he had this son he couldnít do much with. He asked, ďSo, would I take him?Ē I said, ďYes, Iíd take him.Ē He was sent out to Honolulu to join us. The minute when he landed in Honolulu, they picked him up and searched him — a body search. They had reason — something was following him. That young man must have been reported along the line — maybe from Canada — because he went through immigration to come out. So he was in the record somewhere. Anyway, we took him and he didnít perform very well at all. Our next port was Fiji. Well, I thought, Iíll keep trying with this lad. He obviously was a spoiled boy and kept trying. As soon as he got to Fiji he was ashore trying to buy drugs. Now Iíll say the average crew member didnít want anything to do with that and they let me know very indirectly what this lad was doing. Then it became obvious he was on them before we sailed. I thought, ďWell, we donít need this.Ē We needed to take him off and ship him home. Now to bring him home to Honolulu, thereís only a very poor service. To ship him home was a big expensive operation. I was very careful in protecting Lamontís interests in that respect. So I wrote a nice letter to the father whom I knew well. I told him the brutal truth. Iím sure it was no surprise. I also sent him a bill for three thousand dollars payable to Columbia University — no Lamont Observatory. The next port I got to there was a check and a thank you to me very much for what I had done for him. He was sorry it didnít succeed and so on and so on. I believe that young man — heís from Sydney, Nova Scotia — the father among his various promotions had a ski resort in Cape Bretton Island. I was told there that this young fellow on LSD dived out through a big plate glass window. I donít know any more than that. Those I remember well.
Doel:You mentioned — Iím sorry I didnít mean to interrupt you.
Doel:You had mentioned — indirectly at a number of points — but I think itís an important thread to follow through, that in part the role that you played as captain of the Vema was to try to help certain of those who were sailing with you. Or I should back up and phrase that — you were asked at times to take on cases where the parents wanted their son to be disciplined.
Kohler:Yes, and they couldnít quite handle it.
Doel:How often did that happen?
Kohler:A lot. Particularly from this town. A great deal and in general with great success.
Doel:Thatís what I was interested in too. Did you, in particular, do that among the captains who were sailing out from Lunenberg?
Kohler:I donít know if they had the same opportunity to do it. I was in a very favorable position and environment to do that — long voyages. They were basically put in my care. Many captains did train young men that they saw — in whom they saw potential. But out of this area, they didnít have the same opportunities I had. When you go back to training — Iím very proud of the lot that I did. And, of course, a lot were no problem; they were good material. Between captains — some retired and some young — on this coast and on the west coast, I believe I can add up twenty-five who served with me — who served with me from a minimum of two years to five years. Most of those I put on track for study. Iím very pleased about that end result. Some of them are in very prominent positions. Now the captain of this Bluenose presently, I told you about him — he was with me.
Doel:Thatís the Bluenose II which is docked just outside the window.
Kohler:I put him on track. He was a real problem to his family. But he wasnít sent to me to do that. He was good material as I saw it. Heíd been in a lot of trouble. As a youth he had joined the Navy and got kicked out of the Navy at seventeen. He was a real serious problem to his family. Eventually he came to me and I gave him a job, I think, maybe as a third mate. I donít remember. He had a minor certificate. Eventually — he was with me quite a long time — and eventually I did discipline him very, very severely. You know he was always pleasant. He was always a supporter of me in general. He acquired top qualifications. He ended up as captain of big ships and on this Bluenose, and behind his back they call him Little Henry.
Doel:Does he know that?
Kohler:I donít know. His wife knows it. Heís pretty rigid and heís a very, very good man. Heís capable and does a good job and doesnít back down from troubles. I think heís probably proving himself as the best man they ever had there in the thirty years she exists — and theyíve had quite a few captains.
Doel:Thatís interesting. Thatís real interesting, realizing that -Ė
Kohler:It sounds as though Iím selling my own case or bragging. I hope you donít feel that. I donít think I am, but we all have certain things that weíre pleased about accomplishing.
Doel:Yes. Iím convinced they were particularly memorable for you — meaningful for you.
Doel:I wanted to make sure that we spoke a bit about those things. I was curious — clearly, all of these people that youíre thinking about are individuals. What sort of things did you make sure that all of them experienced? Those who you felt needed exposure to discipline or to shipboard life that you could offer.
Kohler:Well, if they joined me as inexperienced young seamen, I certainly put them through — in a minimum of a year, maybe two years at times — a real rigid course of hands on seamanship. Itís not used any more. But they had that. I issued certificates on it. I would promote them on it. There would be all the skills of a seaman — a real seaman — or sailing ship seaman or steamship seaman of the first half of the century and maybe the last half of the last century. My girls did it too. Even though they werenít there in the class of seaman, they went through the course. Also when I saw potential and intelligence to the point that — as you get them on track for study — I took them on and started instructing and training. Iíd exam them every Sunday morning if it was possible, due to weather or whatever it might be, and see if they were making progress. If they made progress over a length of time, I would certainly continue with them. If they didnít try, I didnít press them. They could drop it. But generally I was able to inspire enthusiasm to the point that they carried on with it somewhere.
Doel:When you say that you inspected them on Sundays to see about their progress, what sort of things would you look for?
Kohler:Oral work. Oral work in seamanship and navigation. I would train them in celestial navigation. Like I say, most took to it and enjoyed it.
Doel:When they had the training in celestial navigation, would they learn, for instance, how to use a sextant?
Kohler:Oh yes. If they were advanced enough and showed enough interest, Iíd almost invariably would find a berth for them as a relieving third mate or as a third mate. Then they had to exercise navigation — celestial — in all aspects of it. In about six months you could train a man up real good if he tried. But they had a lot of duties.
Doel:How much free time would the crew members have, for instance, in the middle of a voyage when there wasnít a particular major event going on? How much free time was built into the schedule for the crew?
Kohler:They didnít have a lot of free time. I had three men who worked specifically for the scientific staff. Running the big, heavy machinery and instruments over the side. If they werenít working at that or doing maintenance work on it, then they worked for my chief officer in ship maintenance. But generally with my own crew, they worked four on and eight off at sea. But in the eight off invariably they all had duties to carry out. Many times called out on their watch off, but they knew they had these duties which didnít relate to on watch duties. No, they put in long, hard days. I couldnít give you averages really.
Kohler:We didnít break them up. We didnít ruin them or destroy them in any manner. But they worked long and hard. I told many mothers around here when they came home that, ďIf Jackie told you that he worked long and hard, you believe him.Ē And invariably, he had. [Laughter]
Doel:Did the crew members tend to get to know the scientists who were on board the cruises, as a rule?
Kohler:Yes. There was a good inter-relationship. It was very good.
Doel:Did they socialize, say, over cards, things like that?
Kohler:Very good — credit to all involved. It was most unusual to have a situation or incident that was personality clashes or nationality clashes. It was most unusual. If it was, I nipped it in the bud. I never allowed fighting on board the ship. If anything came to fisticuffs, I didnít bother with an investigation or an inquiry, I got the two of them up. I fined both plenty. It worked. It worked real well. I used to tell them, ďIf youíve got differences you canít solve, you wait until you get to port. Get off of the ship and go ashore somewhere and solve it in any manner you want, but not on the ship.Ē I never allowed a person drinking or drunk — or whatever you care to call it — come on board the ship at port and disturb anybody else. They were known — in writing and they knew verbally. We told them, ďWe donít care if you crawl aboard on your hands and knees. But you do not have the privilege to disturb your shipmate who is resting.Ē That was it. Oh, Iím talking too much.
Doel:This is all truly very, very helpful for understanding how life worked on board the ship.
Kohler:Yes. I think I can see the value to you.
Doel:Iím curious — in different directions, you may have something you want to contribute that youíre looking at right there.
Kohler:No, go ahead.
Doel:When you think back to the different kinds of instrumental programs that were being carried out — the coring work, the depth recording work that was going on, the particular work that was being done around Bermuda for the SOFAR systems and what not — what instruments do you recall tended to be the most reliable and which ones tended to be the troublesome ones — the difficult ones?
Kohler:Well, I think the most reliable was that big old, brutally big and heavy and difficult operation of the coring which was a gigantic hypodermic needle which weighed a ton or more. But it was very reliable. The most delicate would be in the electronic ends; particularly it was electronics that went sub-surface. In doing two ships — the seismic operations — that was always a source of a lot of electronic troubles because we were putting hydrophones in the water for listening. There was a lot of correlation between instruments which was done manually and today would not be — the old modules which were interfaced. I think our total array of different things were a great deal more subject to faults and failures than bigger hands-on things. Iíd say our camera work which was done on a separate winch by itself. Our water sampling work was always very successful. The only trouble we may have — the big heavy coring rig which would carry some of its own instruments, Marc Langsethís instruments for heat measuring, and things like that. It was only removed by, if I remember, sixty feet from the smaller winch and instruments the more delicate wire and instruments. It was fatal to get those wires crossed. If the ship went adrift with the tide or wind. We did cross them. We did lose equipment occasionally. Generally we had success, but it took a lot of skill and it took a lot of effort. It took intense effort to keep from the wires getting crossed. I donít know if Iíve answered your question or your query very well. I can tell you a funny incident when Doc Ewing was there with the cameras. Down in southern Chile — in the Magellan Strait, the first narrows on the Atlantic side — Doc met with the Argentine Oil Company — or Chilean. I think the Argentine oil company. They were just getting in exploration and development in Tierra del Fuego. They wanted to lay a pipeline across this narrows, which is very, very narrow. But they didnít know anything about the bottom. Doc made some kind of a deal with them. Heíd do a survey in that small narrows get photographs for them and all that. They would give him a supply of explosives. We were running low on explosives.
Doel:It sounds like a typical deal that Doc would make.
Kohler:Oh yes. Typical Doc operation. Anyway he came to me, and this is what Iíd like to do. Do you think you can do it? And I said, well itís not very easy to do. And then in this first narrows are so narrow two ships canít pass, thatís one thing. The tidal stream runs eight knots. So normally youíd try to go through either slack water, between the tides, or half tide, not full flood tide. The time of slack time was about twenty minutes between flooding and ebbing, whatever you care to call it. So it was a matter of calculating when weíd position the ship in there prior to the flood. The slack water and prior to the flood. Well, we made a couple of attempts, and due to timing and with the flood tide started; you couldnít get the camera on the bottom. If we steamed the ship fast enough to hold her in the one spot on the bottom, the camera was flowing over with the water, that sort of thing. So it was very critical the time. We made a couple of shots at it. Finally we got her in position, camera all set up, really thought we did the job. Had soundings, tapes, camera on the bottom and Iíd say forty or fifty pictures, by that time the tide turned. Camera back, it was not really deep, if I remember, fifteen fathoms, maybe twenty fathoms at most, and weíre on our way. On into the opening of the straits where there was lots of sea room. Camera lay out on deck. Doc and the camera man there. Doc just licking his chops because he already had his explosives. Opened the camera up and the guy forgot to put the film in. Well I thought the old boy would go crazy. What a going-over he gave that boy. Justified. And I cannot remember right off-hand, did we go back and do it again? I canít remember. I believe we did. I believe he wanted to come through on his promise to —
Kohler:Yes, on his commitment to get some information for them. But I can see him. He was just wild.
Doel:And when he got wild, he would —
Kohler:Oh yes. They all backed away. They all, everybody scattered, got out of the way. Just he and the young camera man. Here, you will have a copy of this. I donít know youíll get — you donít need it today?
Kohler:Regulations and fines concerning with maintaining discipline. AWOL two daysí pay. Each successive day four daysí pay. Insolence or contemptuous language to officers or chief scientist one dayís pay. Quarreling or provoking to quarrel one dayís pay. Excessive swearing or using improper language one dayís pay. Having on board spirits and liquor without permission of master three daysí pay. Sleeping or gross negligence while on duty two daysí pay. Drunkenness, first offense, one dayís pay. Drunkenness, second offense, two daysí pay. Secreting contraband goods on board with intent to smuggle a monthís pay. Willful destruction of shipís equipment or fittings three daysí pay, plus cost of repairs and replacement. And I know that I had fighting on board, a fifty dollar fine. I donít think I have it there, but I know I got it in another spot. Well, thatís the way it was.
Doel:Were your regulations different from other ships that were sailing at the time or did they pretty much conform?
Kohler:These might be a carryover from far earlier regulations in British and Canadian ships. Just about coming to the end. Now in a Canadian ship, the captain cannot fine anybody.
Doel:Is that right?
Kohler:Oh yes. The politicians screw up good. A captain in a Canadian ship cannot give a man a bad discharge.
Doel:No matter what the reason may be.
Kohler:And that was a threat over younger men who or good seamen. If they had a bad discharge in their discharge book, they werenít going to get another job. Unions and politicians did this. Politicians did it to get union members votes. And itís not good. The bad discharge was known in the Canadian book as a DR, decline report. A good discharge was VG. And in my day, young days, boy Iíll tell you there were even captains who held all the seamenís discharge books for when they left, stand them up formally and so on. There were captains that were kind enough to give a guy a bad discharge but they wouldnít put it in his book. Theyíd give him a paper one which was the same format, but it wasnít entered in that book. So it wouldnít really kill the fellow.
Doel:But he still was aware that he had gotten it?
Kohler:Oh yes. But if the fellow was bad enough and he got a real bad one, he wasnít going to get a job anywhere. Because you had to produce the book.
Doel:Yes. Thatís very interesting. Did that change appreciably during the time that you were sailing on Vema from Ď57 through Ď82 or was that pretty much [cross talk].
Kohler:No, changes started shortly after World War II when seamenís unions in Canada were very active and we still had a big fleet. And they just gave it away. Actually, in our government service ships, and thereís a lot. And a friend of mine, oh his father at one time was chief engineer on one of the big ice breakers. He said, you know I canít fire anybody because the guyís a political appointee right out of the pork barrel. Alternatively, he said if I charge so and so, it really ends up that when I went before the captain, I end up being charged for not handling the situation right. So this is curation in my opinion of standards and discipline.
Doel:And I want to be sure. You say you felt that was already occurring during the time that you were sailing on Vema?
Kohler:It carried on in my country from shortly after World War II to the time that I was on Vema. By the time I left and came home.
Doel:However, you were able to hold on to your standards because of the —
Kohler:Yes, because I wasnít under Canadian regulations.
Doel:Yes. You were under the Panamanian —
Kohler:I wouldnít have gotten away with it in Canada.
Doel:Thatís also very interesting. Was there then a big difference in the way that the Vema was handled compared to the Robert D. Conrad once?
Kohler:Yes. Because they were controlled by U.S. Coast Guard and the SIU [Seamanís International Union]. I canít understand how the SIU got into the Robert D. Conrad. I donít believe they ever got into Woods Hole. But they got, but somebody contacted the SIU and I donít know. And I donít, it did give them some trouble. It also drove their operating costs up. A seaman on the Robert Conrad, say he was in Cape Town and he was due leave. By contract, he flew home first class. Doc Ewing was back in the cattle car. Itís true. I could never understand how they negotiated and signed a contract for that sort of thing. Their operating costs at least twice ours and maybe more. She did a lot of good work in a durable time. She had one very competent captain, a bad past. And he was there quite a few years. And I got along reasonably well with him, but after a while I saw I had a lot of trouble because I was supervising a very major refit of the Conrad and I negotiated in the dry-dock in Halifax. And this captain I think was really working, we had the Coast Guard officers down from New York, and they were there in their capacity and I was working very closely with them and trying to do the things they thought should be done and still within reason. This captain was working against me. I also think he was looking for a slice of the cake from the shipyard. But be was a very competent and capable man. Rough character, oh. He lives in Bermuda. Peter Olander. Very capable, competent seaman. Integrity a little short. And he worked very much against me in that particular job. Up till then he and I used to get along very well.
Doel:Youíd known him before the time that you were connected to —?
Kohler:No, only —
Doel:Or just only through —
Kohler:Only when he came to the Conrad. And eventually I think they had to let him go. I guess he still sails American ships. I donít know.
Doel:But you thought he was working against you particularly when —
Kohler:He was working against me and he was working against the owner. And the ownerís instructions. So-called owner was Columbia Lamont. We wanted to comply with Coast. They werenít asking unreasonable things. We wanted to comply with them or whatever their requirements were.
Doel:Yes. What sort of things do you have in mind?
Kohler:Well, it might be a large piece of machinery which they want dismantled and rebuilt. It might have been something that they want removed in the ship. And I think, you know, an objective was then to prove that he could this job so much better. But he really wasnít doing it according to the instructions that I had. I was there as a supervisor. I also — and the manager of the shipyard didnít tell me, but I know some signs and signals. I feel he wanted a bit of a payback off of the job. It was quite a big job. Those things you learn by experience. Shipyards are notorious for this.
Doel:About having to — that you needed to stay very much on top of this? How much time did you spend in handling this?
Kohler:Not very much. A month or more. And we planned it down in New York. It was quite a while. I suppose six weeks or so in that particular job. We were going to bring her to Lunenberg where we could have done the job at a much lower price. But she was just a little too big for our marine layaway.
Doel:Oh. So you could not get her in.
Kohler:Not the harbor, but the marine lay away to haul her out of the water.
Doel:I see. I didnít hear you.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. So thatís why it ended up in New York and the difficulties there.
Doel:I want to make sure we get back to Conrad and other later developments, probably in a subsequent interview. Iím thinking again on the instrument development. Do you remember any particular times where through whatever reasons instruments couldnít be recovered, where say cables would snap or coring mechanisms would be?
Doel:How often did that sort of thing —?
Kohler:Sometimes you would get your wires and instruments on the end embedded or found in the bottom and spend hours and hours and hours trying to clear them and maneuvering and eventually you may even cut them off or shake them off and lose the works. On one particular occasion on Vema we had our instruments, all our big, heavy instruments, on the bottom and the big heavy winch failed completely. She stripped gears. And then that represented a lot of money.
Doel:What could you do in a situation —?
Kohler:We had no way to get that equipment back, but. I forget who was chief scientist. Charlie [Charles] Windisch I think. I donít know where he is now. He was a good man. And we could have really under very difficult situations used our anchor windless and my decision was this is too dangerous. What we would be doing, we would be taking the wire itself, the end of the wire, to the anchor windless and putting it on the drum end, winch end or anchor end the same. And heaving it back by hand and bringing our wire all back over the deck. Many, many times.
Doel:This is a very thick cable wire?
Doel:Maybe about. Youíre holding your finger out about —
Kohler:Five-eighths of an inch, about that.
Doel:Five eighths. Okay.
Kohler:And I suspect we were working in three thousand fathoms of water, itís eighteen thousand feet. We couldnít coil it on the drum of the winch. But it had to be just stretched over the deck, back and forth and back and forth. A very extremely hazardous operation to the people doing it. Holding the turn on the nigger head as we called it in those days. Weíre not allowed to any more. But those people, it would take a couple of men to hold the turn; the others to take it back over the deck and back and forth. Then with the hazards, if any of that slipped, you may have a man lose a leg or lose an arm, or youíd kill him. Alternatively, if we had gotten it back, then itís a big operation to get it aboard. That we could have handled, the instrument itself. That we could have managed. But here we are with eighteen thousand feet of loose wire on our deck. It was a decision to make. And I said, you know, Iím going to cut that wire and let the wire and the instruments go. Well, there was a great hullabaloo from Charlie Windisch who was chief scientist. Somewhat I think from Joe back at the lab because they felt I should have retrieved it. Not only the instruments but what was on them, the data, the samples. And I stated my case and I said thatís the way I saw it. And I feel that I was, never regret it saying that decision because the alternative was so hazardous to the people doing the work. And it was eventually, eventually accepted but not too gracefully, but not unkindly either. And that was once when Angelo came out to Honolulu and installed a new set of gears which was a big operation. Big, heavy gears. And he brought machinery out and installed it.
Doel:And you were outside, you werenít that far from Honolulu?
Kohler:Yes we were.
Doel:You were actually and then had to steam in.
Kohler:Yes and we had to go back there to have the repair.
Doel:In rough times, how, at that time, how expensive were instrument packages like that that were lost?
Kohler:That instrument package as I remember right now and no trouble for me to remember because I had to use it to say, look, I was well aware that this was a fifty thousand dollar loss. But then the sample on the end might have meant a lot more than dollars to a real scientist. I remember it was a fifty thousand dollar loss.
Doel:And once an instrument like that was lost, there was, at the time, no way to recover that instrument?
Doel:You cut the cable and it was gone.
Kohler:There was one time Joe was with us and it was due to Joe that we got our wires crossed. We not only lost one set of instruments on the big wire. We lost all the instruments on the other wire. He really got hell from Doc, a lot more than I got.
Kohler:Man, he really laid it on him. And he never let him forget it.
Doel:And was it the sort of thing that one had to be very, very conscious of and careful about to prevent these kinds of problems?
Kohler:Yes. And youíd see a little bit of that sort of thing in that poetry which I gave you.
Doel:Right, that thereís a piece of that, let me just actually call this into the interview right now. You had given to me earlier, ďVema PoetryĒ by J. H. Bodine. That it was a cruise leg from Auckland, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji in August and September, 1979. And we might be able to add this to the interview as well. But you say that he had in mind things like instrument loss and that theyíre in here. Thereís one. Iím just looking at one stanza right here: The weather held as we sailed on to make up for our loss. We planned to dredge along the ridge the next time we would cross. And so we stopped to try again to steal some Louisville. But we were mugged instead and left our dredge on that damned hill.
Kohler:I remember it well.
Doel:And that was the incident that youíre referring to.
Kohler:We had a dredge on the dredging of geological sample rock.
Doel:Yes. And this was along the ridge that made it so particularly interesting.
Kohler:Yes. And then eventually we rebuilt, or we built a whole new dredge that night and went back the next day. We got our samples all right.
Kohler:Which youíll find there.
Doel:You had mentioned briefly before that during the time that, once it was clear to you that you were going to be staying with the Lamont group for a while, that you began to learn about geology, geophysics so that you could better understand what it was.
Kohler:In a very sketchy manner.
Doel:Yes. Iím very interested in how you did that, what you may remember reading in this.
Kohler:Well, I canít remember all the text books. There were classic ones and older ones. But when Iíd find things that I didnít understand and I thought it might be a possibility, I would go to whoever was chief scientist and say, hey tell me about this. What does this mean? And it was very interesting. Unfortunately, Iím afraid I lost a great deal of it since, but it gave me a better understanding of what we were working on.
Doel:And you were — Iím curious, for instance, you were learning about discovery of the ridge structure and the underwater mountain system. Did you also do reading on things like measuring gravity at sea? And the meaning —
Kohler:I often read their papers. Not the real highly technical ones. I used to read the papers and a hell of a lot of it, most of it I didnít understand. And a lot certainly encouraged me to do that.
Doel:Yes. Do you remember discussions particularly with any —?
Doel:Do you remember any discussions particularly with any of those scientific writers about what they were working on? Things that you got interested in and spoke to them about.
Kohler:All in all in a dayís work many times. Maybe they would initiate a conversation that would be giving me information of interest that I could understand. Certainly Denny was very good about it. You could get an answer but Doc, but he didnít take time to really try to pass it on. Joe, he would give you an answer, or he might go far enough to initiate the conversation that would pass something along. John Ewing was very good. There were many there. You see there were times when these things came up that Iíd have to say no to these people. I can remember in a terrible situation running east of Buenos Aires and Doc, under terrible weather conditions, and I finally said, Doc, weíre getting so far out here, weíre not going to go back to Argentina if we continue as we are. Oh well, I want to go.
Doel:And youíre pushing your hand out, straining.
Kohler:Finally, I said, now you must tell me what you want. Go on to Cape Town or come back to Argentina? Because we werenít going back as fast as we went east. That I knew. And it was like puffing teeth to get him to say, well I guess we better work our way back. And Iím trying to think, there was another when we were working in the deep South Atlantic with a guy by the name Jeff Weissel who I think probably was a pretty decent scientist, an Australian. And he didnít really want to accept advice that I gave him. So finally I thought we canít go on like this, we have to — again the same sort of situation, we have to start working back to where we need to be or weíre going to get in deep trouble with the fuel and that sort of thing. And he wouldnít listen to me. He wanted to — Finally I, without any more consultation, I put the ship on the course and totally contrary to what he wanted, and he came along and I wasnít very happy. I forget where he met me. And he said, ďIím perplexed.Ē I said, ďOh?Ē I knew what was on his mind. He said, ďI looked at the gyro compass and weíre not going in the direction I wanted to go. Why?Ē And I wasnít very pleasant explaining why, but I did at length. And no doubt in a pretty rough manner. Didnít bother me anymore. This was the problem in not understanding and not wanting to accept advice from somebody who had some expertise they didnít have. And that doesnít apply to all of them. It would come up occasionally.
Doel:Did you sense that scientists, those particularly that you had come to know, did they work to try to educate those others who went out as chief scientists about the limitations that one had in dealing with the ship? Was that a way in which the other newcomers understood or did you feel that you had to do it?
Kohler:Iím not so sure that they were. I think they were expected to have an understanding. But Iím not sure that they were really briefed very well on the subject. When a real scientist is seeking data, heís a pretty greedy person. He may be a very generous person in life, but when heís going for data and seeking data, heís a pretty greedy person. Iím sure youíre aware of that. I hope when youíre finished you can feel that at least I had a pretty good look at them and made some reasonable evaluations. I certainly canít condemn them.
Doel:Were there distinctions between the scientists who came out to sail versus those who stayed in the laboratories and did the data crunching, the analysis back at Lamont? Could you really discern the difference between them or were there? How did people react to those who sailed?
Kohler:I think some of the people who didnít get to sea, but were analyzing data in many cases they were real scientists themselves only they wouldnít go to sea. Doc had great pressure on people to go to sea. And any graduate student that didnít want to go to sea almost invariably was the fellow who never got his Ph.D. And he always wanted a report from me on this individual. Theyíd just give him his masterís and send him on his way. Almost mandatory six month service at sea. A lot of good ones too.
Doel:You mean who didnít make it, who were pushed out to —?
Doel:I wanted to be sure when you said a lot of good people, did you mean those who got the masterís and had to leave?
Kohler:Well they may have been good people. No I really meant a lot of good people made the grade.
Doel:Made it through.
Kohler:Spent their time, got their Ph.D.ís, went on to other organizations and so on which is a very normal procedure. But there were a lot, got a masterís and on your way. No more room for them.
Doel:Did you get to know any of those people particularly well? Or given the fact that they didnít —?
Kohler:Yes. Yes. And Doc always would ask me for a report on them. Without a real good report it was not likely they were going to get a Ph.D. He was tough on that sea duty thing. Iím not sure he was always right, but he was.
Doel:How did you make those evaluations if someone said that they werenít interested in going out to sea?
Kohler:Well I think it was perfectly obvious in their lack, maybe of cooperation, in their lack of real genuine serious interest, in their personal effort. Not only physical efforts but maybe in data gathering efforts such as the writing, record keeping and so on. I could follow all that very well. And itís so easy to see. So easy to see if a person really is trying and giving what they have to give.
Doel:Thatís very interesting how many different factors like that came into the Ph.D. program that people were going through. Did those people talk to you about those that they were getting their instructions from at Columbia? Did they talk about favorite professors for instance with you? Did you get a sense of which people were regarded as —?
Kohler:No, not generally. Not generally, no. Youíd know whose students they were. No.
Doel:Did you tend to notice that at different times there were students of particular professors who were the bulk of the people sailing with you? Or was it a pretty wide distribution always of people going out, the younger aged?
Kohler:Just go over that again.
Doel:That was a poorly phrased question. At any time where did the younger students of say Wally Broecker or others dominate on the excursions or did you always have a pretty good mix of the younger scientists being trained by the senior people?
Kohler:I would say a fairly good mix.
Doel:It was a mix?
Doel:Okay. We have been speaking now for nearly three hours. And itís probably a good time for us to, unfortunately, to call this part of the interview to a close. But there are clearly many, many things we still need to be talking about and I very much thank you for this long session now and look forward to —
Kohler:Well Iíve enjoyed it. Iím willing and itís only your time demands that we have to turn it off.
Okay. Thank you very much.Session I | Session II