Feature: Family Tradition

Monday, July 07, 2003

About a year ago MarineNews debuted an article on the "First Families" of the oil patch featuring the Graham, Chouest and Candies families. We continue this series with two real pioneers in this industry whose partnership is still going strong after 57 years.

Albert Cheramie and Anthony Guilbeau were among the very first to recognize that when oil and gas exploration moved offshore there would be a need for boats to supply the rigs. In 1947, Cheramie began by running a vessel for Humble Oil to Block 16A barely in the Gulf of Mexico off Grand Isle, La.

By 1951 both Cheramie and Guilbeau were working offshore themselves as roughnecks for Texaco. "After five years with Texaco, it didn't seem like I was going to advance very far with only a 7th grade education," Cheramie said. "Besides we both wanted to work on the marine side of the business. Our fathers were fishermen, so it seemed natural for us to also work on the water," Guilbeau said.

In late 1956 Cheramie and Guilbeau formed C&G Boats and decided they wanted to build a 65-ft. utility boat and return to the offshore service business for good. They approached Donald Bollinger who along with his brothers had established a machine shop and small shipyard along Bayou Lafourche in Lockport, La. 10 years earlier.

Bollinger's company designed the boat and said they would build it for $90,000. "That seemed like a fair price to us, but Bollinger told Albert and I to get another bid on the project." Guilbeau said.

The competitive bid came in at $70,000. Bollinger told the two men." if you can get the boat at that price, by all means buy two." "Donald Bollinger was probably the most honest man I have ever met," Cheramie said.

Although Bollinger lost that round of competitive bidding, they subsequently build literally dozens of boats for C & G and other companies established by future generations of the Cheramie and Guilbeau families.

Albert's brother Gilbert Cheramie came into the company when C&G bought its third boat. Like a lot of new startups, C&G was strictly a family operation with the wives running the office and doing the bookkeeping. Anthony's wife Norma is the sister of Albert.

The company grew to several boats during the next 15 years serving many of the Chevron rigs and those of other companies.

"One of the little known facts is that we sold the plans for our 65-ft. utility boat to Edgar Graham, so he could get started in the business," Cheramie said. Last year we featured Edgar Graham's son Barry in our Family Traditions series. Graham's company has been very aggressive in building crew/supply boats at Breaux Brothers Enterprises. Incidentally, the two boat building companies that bear the Breaux name in Loreauville, La are another fascinating family story which we will bring you in the next installment of Family Traditions.

In the early 1970's Gilbert Cheramie left C& G Boats to form his own company with another power-to-be in the offshore service industry, Edison Chouest. Chouest was the brother of Albert and Gilbert Cheramie's mother.

Chouest and Cheramie formed C & C Boats and that partnership lasted about 10 years before Chouest formed Edison Chouest Offshore with his sons Gary, Eddie and Laney and Cheramie formed Gilbert Cheramie Boats.

Edison Chouest Offshore has become a huge player in the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas service business and is continually introducing bigger and bigger boats. Gilbert Cheramie Boats also became a major company in the GOM and as late as two years ago took delivery of the 166-ft. supply boat Clay Ella before selling his company to Seacor Marine of Houston, Texas.

The sons of Albert Cheramie and Anthony Guilbeau are also in the oil and gas service business. "We decided to take a slightly different approach with our sons entering the business," Guilbeau said. "Yes, rather than taking them into our business as junior partners as so many other families have done, we decided to "help" them start their own companies," Cheramie added.

In these cases "Help" was a code word for co-signing the note for their son's first boat.

"Besides we did not want to change the dynamics of C&G Boats, a partnership that has worked well for decades," Cheramie said.

Cheramie's son Alan is in the lift boat business and son Marc runs C&C Offshore, operating supply and utility boats.

Anthony Guilbeau has two sons and a grandson in the offshore service business. The younger son Phil operates offshore utility boats. Older son Anthony Jr (known as Noonie) operates utility and crew boats under the name of Guilbeau Marine, Inc.

In 2001-2002, Guilbeau Marine took delivery of four 145-ft. utility/supply boats built by Bollinger Shipyards. These deliveries represent just the latest vessels Guilbeau Marine has bought from Bollinger Shipyards over the years.

Anthony Guilbeau's grandson son Chad is in the crew/supply boat business under the name Seaborne Marine. While C&G Boats has been in business since 1956, their outlook is definitely progressive. They took possession of the first two of a new series of high capacity, high tech supply boats built by Bollinger Shipyards.

The Ms. Sara Jane and Miss Jolie are 207 x 53 x 19 ft. Surprisingly, the vessel can hold 6,000 barrels of liquid mud and 6,000 cu. ft. of dry bulk material. "That's a lot more mud than you usually get in a 200-ft. vessel," Cheramie said. The two vessels also have rolling chocks and six foot rather than three-foot bulwarks. "This boat can really work in 14-ft. seas, even when the rigs are shut down," Cheramie added. Stability and maneuverability around rigs is enhanced by a dynamic positioning system rated by ABS as DP-1.

The vessels were design to use engines connected to a standard drive train of an engine, gear, shaft and propeller rather than Z-drives. "Without having to devote a lot of space to Z-drives we can hold more ballast water than other boats," Cheramie reported.

The below deck tanks can hold three different types of liquid mud and can be piped through two independent piping systems. "That really saves time when doing mud swap operations," Cheramie added. While C & G Boats is one of the pioneers in the industry, they obviously are not resting on past glories but have made the necessary investment to provide the type of equipment their customers want as evidenced by the purchase of the two new Bollinger supply boats.

The story of Albert Cheramie and Anthony Guilbeau is more than their partnership that spans the history of the offshore vessel service industry. It would not be complete without mentioning that both are world famous big game hunters with huge trophy rooms to exhibit their collection. Both have been on numerous safaris to Africa, Russia, most of Europe, Asia and areas of the U.S. including Alaska.

Guilbeau has been to six continents and has in his trophy room the African big five, a grizzly bear from Alaska 140 miles above the Artic Circle, the North American Grand Slam and Guilbeau's greatest prize, a leopard.

Cheramie's hunting exploits are just as illustrious. He holds four world records and has won 31 hunting and membership awards from Safari Club International and was proclaimed by Louisiana Governor Mike Foster as "Outstanding Sportsman in the State of Louisiana." Cheramie estimates he has 250 trophies in his display room.

"You just can't work all the time," Cheramie and Gilbeau agree. "And if you want to do something else, you might as well be good at it.."

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