Woman recalls sea voyages she took with her husband on Texaco tankers

What was supposed to be a trip from Port Arthur to Houston wound up being the adventure of a lifetime for a Crestwood couple.

During the last eight years of Conrad Proft’s service as a radio electronics officer aboard Texaco Oil Co. tankers his wife, Ruth, was allowed to accompany him on sea voyages.

The two were together when he reported for duty on his last voyage.

“I was a grade school teacher and I loved geography,” she said. “Any time I got the chance to go with my husband, it was wonderful.”

After boarding the SS Texaco New York, the couple learned their orders were canceled and the ship wound up parked off the Texas coast in a mosquito-infested swamp for two weeks.

“There was no way to get a launch near the ship,” recalled Ruth, now 79. “The mosquitoes were terrible. Finally they had orders to fill the hold with various grades of oil. We were headed for Singapore.”

Her husband passed away two years ago, but Proft remembers the trip fondly.

“He and the captain were childhood friends,” she said. “They remembered playing together as boys. One was always the captain, the other was always the radio officer. This was the first and only time they ever served together on the same voyage.”

The captain had brought his wife along on the voyage and the two women became friends while sharing the time their husbands were on duty.

“The voyage took 40 days and 40 nights,” she said.

During the time they encountered several storms. Proft said most of them weren’t too bad although she was frightened by a particularly violent storm that woke them one night.

“There were books and chairs flying around the room,” she said. “It scared me because I didn’t see it coming. My husband was yelling at me to grab on to something to keep from being thrown about. It didn’t last very long, but it was scary.”

Proft said that was the most scared she’d been since her first trip on a tanker.

That trip started from Long Beach Harbor in California. She had boarded a launch that was taking people to different vessels for cruises. At every liner passengers de-barked on stairways that led up ramps to the vessel they were boarding.

Proft was the last to disembark and when her launch reached her husband’s tanker, she realized she had to climb a rope ladder draped over its side to get on board the ship.

“I didn’t know if I could do it, but I made it,” Proft remembered. “As I was climbing the ladder the launch backed away from the ship and when I got to the deck I asked my husband why. He said they did that in case I fell, I wouldn’t hit their boat.”

Conrad and Ruth Proft took eight tanker cruises together, most of them to and from U.S. ports. But there were trips to Puerto Rico, through the Panama Canal and once as far away as Greece. She remembers being allowed to fly home from Greece and driving through a rainbow in the mountains of Puerto Rico.

“I chose to fly Lufthansa from Greece because they went through Germany and I could see family when they stopped over in Germany,” she said.

During their last trip together the Texaco New York stopped in Manzanilla, Mexico, and South Korea before arriving in Singapore where it was sold to another transport company.

Seamen frequently would come to get her attention when something extraordinary passed within view.

“Once a fellow came running, hollering: ‘Mrs. Sparks, Mrs. Sparks’ and showed me a group of killer whales chasing dolphins,” she recalled. “They call the radio operators Sparks on ships, so I was Mrs. Sparks to them.”

She said she got to see Hawaii on the horizon as the ship passed on its way to Korea.

They were never allowed to get too far from shore when they stopped in the South Korean port.

“The captain wanted to be able to take off at a moments’ notice,” Proft said. “We got to do some sightseeing in Singapore, though. That’s a crowded city. I didn’t get to see much because I broke my toe stepping off a curb the first night. Still, what a trip. I loved it.”