Thereís a breed of men who do not fit in
A breed that cannot lay still
So they break the hearts of kith and kin
And roam the world at will



......the brainchild of Robert L Suggs, a Colonel in the USAF and a Petroleum Engineer, who managed to put two things together: the problem of accurately navigating seismic vessels offshore, and the potential of using Shoran to solve that problem. Originally, he somehow managed to obtain permission from the DOD (Department of Defense) to purchase Shoran navigation equipment, which he then modified for marine use. It was a struggle to convince oil companies to try the system, but he eventually succeeded, and Shoran became the principal tool used in the navigation of both marine seismic, and airborne magnetometer surveys in the latter part of the forties. In later years, Shoran  became available on the military surplus market; sold as scrap for few cents per pound. The equipment was used into the mid to late seventies.

Offshore Navigation was formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA) 1946 by Bob Suggs and his founding partner, Maurice Bayon, who, through his connection with Hibernia Bank, arranged financing. Suggs remained as President until his death in 1989. Bayon, who died March 22nd 2001, at the age of 92, was Vice President. Others in at the start-up were: George Roussel - VP in charge of Operations; Joseph (Joe) DeLerno - VP in charge of the Western Hemisphere, and John (JC) Coffman - VP in charge of the Eastern Hemisphere. For the next 2 - 3 decades, ONI was the leading (if not only) company offering reliable radio-navigation services, principally to the offshore oil industry. The world was our oyster.

Once Shoran equipment became widely available, and more advanced, more flexible systems hit the market, dozens of smaller companies began to spring up, many of them started by ex-ONI employees ......... but that is another story ......or another website!


A brief explanation for non doodlebuggers

There you go you see, I detect a question right away - Doodlebugger? you ask. Well, let me explain. Doodlebug, given its American definition: any device, scientific or otherwise, used to determine the possible presence of underground minerals. Hence doodlebugging. The loose definition of which refers to the search for oil and gas. Itís also the common name for the larval stage of a certain species of the ant lion, a somewhat predacious bug, I gather. All true, I swear. I was passing a dictionary one day and took the trouble to look it up.

So, people involved in seismic exploration were frequently referred to as doodlebuggers.  But, when thought about, itís not a lot of use someone discovering a possible source of barrels of the black stuff if they donít know exactly where they were to begin with. Which is where Offshore Navigation (Inc) came in. 

Every seismic shot, bore hole, platform, pipeline or whatever, requires an accurate position fix, for which ONI supplied the coordinates. And just how did we achieve this? Well, Shoran,  located at a number accurately surveyed sites on shore, was triggered by a pulse from an offshore station, usually located on a vessel. The shore (Base) station then transmitted a return signal to a receiver on the vessel.

This signal needed to be lined up on a marker pulse, the range read off a scale. Nothing automatic or fancy, in the early days, navigation solely in the hands of the operator or, more often than not, fate. Remember, this was way back when - in the Stone Age, so to speak - well before the advent of GPS. (Basically, the Shoran receiver measured the time taken from transmission of a pulse to reception of the return pulse and, taking into account the speed of light, and other scientific ju-ju, came up with a range. The intersection point of a basic minimum two ranges gave you a position. Two positions, actually. But, assuming you were still offshore..... only one was normally relevant!

What the Mobile Operator had were two indicated ranges, from which could be derived your present position with a fair degree of accuracy - well, relatively so. Back then? Plus or minus twenty meters... maybe! (three, or even four stations, could increase the accuracy) But even that required a well tuned installation; weather conditions which permitted the reliable propagation of radio waves; accurately located stations ashore, at least two of which were operational. It rarely seemed to happen.

The boats needed bodies to install, operate, and repair the equipment, as did the shore stations. Lots of people, lots of logistics, lots of problems in lots of countries. Onshore meanwhile, many other problems were to be experienced, which is where ingenuity and adventure came to the fore. Stations needed to be set, on pre-surveyed sites. Then the equipment had to be imported, by fair means or foul. Yes, manyís the time a large dugout canoe has rendezvoused with a seismic vessel offshore Africa, equipment hastily off-loaded, secreted ashore and assembled.

 Those smugglers of old had nothing on us. Thus, unhindered by stifling government regulations, the survey could well have been completed before the mountains of paperwork, bureaucratic dallying, size and number of kickbacks etc, had been negotiated and resolved. Sometimes they never were resolved, for communications out in the bush were often non-existent. And as for your hypothetical bush telegraph, well..., even drums could be silenced for a few notes; provided such notes sported an image that bore a true likeness to the presidential incumbent! Of course, the powers that be were often only too blissfully aware of our presence, happy to overlook such burdensome bureaucratic details, just so long as the relevant papers changed hands. Naturally, once again such paper featured a number, preferably followed by enough zeros to mount a serious attack on Pearl Harbor.

So, from all of the above, I hope one can ascertain that, basically, the seismic companies collected data on what perhaps lay beneath the earth's crust; ONI supplied the data that told them where it was they'd been.

But  enough of the technicalities, the purpose of this site is to concern itself mainly with the adventure involved in achieving this end product. And adventure there certainly was. Often in abundance!


The following was submitted by Charlie McCarley for the Aug 1977 Crosstalk (ONI's company newsletter).
This slightly edited version perhaps gives a little insight as to what we could have, and often did, experience upon throwing in our lot with ONI.

We have slept in plush hotels, with Persian carpets, chandeliers, symphonic music and impeccable service; Pullman sleepers; luxury liners; castles on the Rhine; and Elizabeth Taylorís yacht. (Eh! Ed)

We have slept in filthy hovels; on steel decks; sand dunes; icebergs; pool tables; a tree limb in the Amazon delta; and once, in a telephone booth in Morgan City, La.

We have dined on escargot; filet mignon; vichyssoise; truffles; saltimbocca; bouillabaisse; jellied eels, and sassicaduti.

We have eaten rancid mutton; rotten eggs; fish heads; sour rice; greasy cabbage; fly-specked soup; cold beans; bamboo chicken; humble pie, and Chinese garbage.

We have been caressed in Karachi; beguiled in Berlin; cursed in Cambodia, and molested in Manila.

We have survived thuggees in Bombay; muggers in San Juan; taxi drivers in New York; Teddy Boys in London; civil wars in Nigeria; cut purses in New South Wales; shiftas in Ethiopia, holy-rollers in Mississippi, and con-men in New Orleans.

Yes to most of the above, although I do seem to have missed out on Elizabeth Taylor's yacht, and I was never in Morgan City!  But can anyone offer any insight as to the following tidbits which, Charlie said, were "withheld due to lack of space":

The quick Sikh with the stick. (See e-mail from Ted Patro on the "Contacts" page.)

The Western (Geo, one presumes) cook and the lady wrestler.

The whale bone in the duffel bag.

The somnambulant (to save you looking it up - sleep-walking) base operator and the jar of glue.

The midnight ride to the city dump.

The veiled lady and the empty seat.

The supervisor and the railroad track.

The eight oíclock mule..... etc, etc, etc.

The mind boggles, and we need to know; about these and many more. 
Read more of Charlie's revelations, and those of others, on the "
Crosstalk" page


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