The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm



- 3 -

Three on a Dream Ship

            We all have our dreams. Without them we
            should be clods. It is in our dreams that we ac-
            complish the impossible; the rich man dumps
            his load of responsibility and lives in a log shack
            on a mountaintop, the poor man becomes rich,
            the stay-at-home travels, the wanderer finds an

on the battlegrounds of Europe, in the air over France, and on the
North Sea and English Channel. In the mud-slung trenches, foul
with the stench of the dead and the garbage of the living, weary foot
soldiers of all nations dreamed impossible dreams of home, of girls
left behind, of escape to the tranquillity and unreality of some South
Seas paradise.
   In the hospitals, the lucky ones who knew they would never have
to fight again anticipated the cessation of fighting and the postwar
world, and made their plans.
  One of these patients was a slight, sandy-haired Englishman named
Ralph Stock, a professional writer of popular fiction who, for all his
youthfulness, had accumulated a colorful background even before the
war. He had tramped around the world on rusty freighters, worked as
a cowhand and woodsman in Canada, and now, having survived the
ultimate commitment of the young, he was alive and well in a British
field hospital awaiting transportation home.
   Hope, optimism, and reprieve welled up great lumps in his throat,

   ~ 29 ~

as in a man who has just been told he does not have cancer after all.
The world, he reflected from his hospital bed, was his for the pluck-
ing, and he knew exactly what he wanted.
  Discharged before the Armistice, Stock immediately began his
search. He found her six months later in a backwater creek at Devon,
in almost-new condition under the layers of wartime neglect. The
moment he set eyes on her he knew that this was his dream ship. She
was a North Sea pilot cutter, designed by the late Colin Archer and
built at Porsgrund, Norway, in 1908. Slightly more than 47 feet over-
all, she was 41 feet on the waterline, 15 feet of beam, and drew 6 feet
6 inches of water. She was built solidly of Norway pine and Italian
oak, and registered 23 tons. According to her papers, she had been in
service as a lifeboat for the North Sea fishing fleet. Gaff-rigged, she
could also set a large leg-of-mutton topsail, a staysail, and headsails.  
  There in "glorious Devon" she had been waiting for him, he wrote,
but like most dreamers he had no money. "I have never had any
money, but that is a detail that should never be allowed to stand in
the way of a really desirable dream.(2)
  With his discharge from the medical board, Stock pestered the
army until he got his mustering out pay. He hermitized himself in a
dingy flat and cranked out short stories which he sold easily in a
wartime market. He hunted up maiden aunts upon whom he could
put the bite. He did anything to make a shilling, and all of it went
into the sock. In the end, the Colin Archer dream ship became his,
and he named her, of course, the Dream Ship.
  "To sail a dream," he wrote, "is an easier thing than to climb out
of the rut you are probably in." But you have to be ready and willing
to take the chance. "There may be excellent reasons for staying in the
rut marriage, family ties, or ill health but those are the only
insurmountable obstacles in the path of any dream merchant worth
his salt."
  Moreover, one must work for dream fulfillment just as one must 
work for anything else worthwhile. But if you have enough money to
buy a car, why not get a tight little cruiser in which you can sail
where you will? If you don't have the money now, you could soon
make it. Even a plumber could make it, wrote Stock (in those days
before plumbers became the elite of the wage earners), for their
trade is "less precarious than mine."
  A dream ship as large as his was not one that could be handled
alone at sea not with those huge gaff sails, even after they had been
cut down to manageable size. He needed a crew, and he had one

  ~ 30 ~ 

ready-made. There was his sister, a petite tomboy he called "Peter,"
an impish bundle of energy and enthusiasm who weighed in at ninety-
eight pounds; and an officer friend, Steve, recently demobbed, who,
"on hearing that these (South Sea) islands were not less than three
thousand miles from the nearest early-morning parade, offered his
services with unbecoming alacrity."
  But owning a dream ship (which had taken all his money) and
enlisting a crew were not enough. It still cost money to outfit a yacht
for a voyage around the world which was what Stock had in mind,
beyond visiting the South Seas. And they were all broke. At the fish
market one day, Ralph was struck by the unreasonable high cost of
fresh fillets. Why the high price for fish Because they had to be
harvested by hand at sea, under wartime conditions, and as for price,
don't you know there's a war on, matey? This gave him a plan. He
spent some time at the waterfront pubs, there making friends with
fishermen and learning to his astonishment that trawling for plaice,
turbot, and sole was more profitable than writing fiction stories.
  So, while Peter and Steve attended to preparations on the beach,
Ralph enlisted a crew of two fishermen and spent months, until the
war was over, trawling. He quickly learned that the most profitable
fishing was inside the prohibited zones established by the navy,
wherein numerous mines had been set for enemy submarines, and
where anything that moved was considered a target. This not only
appealed to his sense of adventure, but was exceedingly profitable
poaching. After many close calls and misadventures, he retired from
the fishing business with the necessary funds for a protracted voyage
around the world.
  Now it was time to clean up the Dream Ship, do the necessary
outfitting, and load supplies aboard among the stores were a clari-
net, a half ton of "trade goods for the natives," and a piano: None of
the crew knew anything about bluewater voyaging, and even less
about celestial navigation, but they practiced lunar calculations and
collected charts and pilot books.
  On the other side of the creek, the owner of a pretty little six-
tonner was also fitting out for a voyage, but his wife would not let
him go, so he took out his frustrations with paint brush and scraper.
Naturally, he was interested in the Dream Ship, and he volunteered
to teach them navigation.
  Peter came down from London for the last time with a load of
"barter goods" that included print goods, looking glasses, imitation
tortoiseshell combs, brown paper belts, and Jew's harps.

  ~ 31 ~

  The Skipper, as their friend from the permanent moorage across
the creek was called, had by now become an unpaid tutor, confidant,
and watchman during their absence on foraging trips. In fact, the
Skipper had become so involved with them that he could not see
them go off alone this way. He volunteered to accompany them as far
as Spain, until they "should get the hang of longitude."
  It had been twenty years since the Skipper had last sailed. All his
voyaging, for all his talk, had been only in his dreams, nurtured by his
puttering around on his little six-tonner. By now, he had thought he
was too old, and that maybe he had missed his dream but by heck,
in spite of his missus's objections, he was going with them at least to
  So, one day in 1919, with a combined capital of one hundred
pounds sterling and a clearance for Brisbane, Australia, they set sail
from Devon under a dismal early-morning overcast.
  No sooner was the anchor up and the sails drawing, but Steve sat
on a skylight which crashed shut on one of his fingers. While the
dinghy was being stowed, it crashed on the Skipper's toe. The moor-
ings had been cast off prematurely and they found themselves on the
wrong tack and sailed into a nearby fishing smack, breaking the bow-
sprit. Fouling most of the other hundred or so vessels moored in the
harbor, they somehow managed to round the breakwater without the
help of the engine, which would not start. The port navigation light
was in splinters, the Skipper was steering with one hand on the tiller
and the other holding his toe, and Peter was administering first aid to
Steve's finger.
  Then somehow they were clear and bowling along before a nor'-
wester, with Ushant light showing intermittently ahead. The wind
increased to a gale and flung them into the Bay of Biscay on long
rolling swells, increasing until everyone including the Skipper was
seasick. It was a typical rough Biscay passage, during which the
kerosene tank came loose, followed by the piano, and a two-hundred
pound drum of Scotch oatmeal that broke and mingled with the
brine from a barrel of salt horse. Then the boom snapped off clear
about five feet from the end, followed by a number of lesser episodes.
Somehow, days later the sweet smell of land came to them, and
under double-reefed mainsail they made the mouth of the Vigo River
in Spain. The engine performed for the first time, and they came to
anchor amid skyrockets, star shells, and firecrackers. The welcome
was not for them, however; a Spanish fiesta was in progress. But the
Dream Ship had made its first foreign port.

  ~ 32 ~

  A pleasant stay was spent in Vigo, sightseeing, attending fiestas,
dancing, and entertaining aboard the Dream Ship, which vibrated at
times with songs on deck accompanied by Peter's piano below. The
boom was repaired with the help of the Skipper, who reluctantly at
last had to give up his dream, and with a sorrowful shake of the head
limped down to the steamer dock carrying his suitcase.
  The remaining crew dropped down the Vigo River and set course
for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and somehow made it without
the help of the Skipper, although they did not then, nor at any other
time during the entire voyage, know where they were within a hun-
dred miles of their estimated position.
  Landfall was made somehow on the peak of Tenerife, and soon
after they entered Las Palmas and were mobbed by bumboats. After
several near misses, they rammed the dock of the Club Nautico, and
ashore came the 140-pound Ralph, his 95 pound sister, Peter, and
their 145-pound mate, Steve.
  They spent six weeks in this dirty, dreary port where the only
recreation was club dances and roulette at the yacht-club tables. They
made friends with the hard-bitten skipper of an American schooner,
whose entire crew was absent without leave in the local jail. Steve
and Peter returned his kindness with entertainment on the Dream
Ship, featuring clarinet and piano duets. When the West Indies
hurricane season was over,(3) they sailed for Trinidad on their first
ocean passage, a rather boring crossing punctuated by recitations of
poetry, piano and clarinet concerts under the stars, and practice in
shipboard cookery and navigation, which they never seemed quite
up to.
  While becalmed during one dull watch, Steve and Ralph devised a
game to test their sense of direction. They would throw a life ring out
a few yards and then dive off to see if they could come up inside it on
the first try. Once, while both of them were in the water and Peter
was asleep below, a breeze sprang up, the sails filled, and Dream Ship
began to move off without them. They yelled and swam frantically
after the boat, and at the last moment up from the cabin came the
petite pajamaed figure of Peter. She started a sleepy yawn and stretch,
heard voices from astern, and then screamed in horror. Quickly, she
unlashed the tiller and came up into the wind. A few minutes later,
with Steve and Ralph aboard, the Dream Ship was boiling along at
seven knots.
  Although they had aimed for Trinidad, Barbados turned up first,
so they settled for that and soon came to anchor in Bridgetown.

     ~ 33 ~

There they spent two weeks "swizzling" with the local smart set, and
Stock noted in his log that the American consulate was swamped
with black refugees from the new self-governing dominion trying to
get visas into the United States.(4)
  From the West Indies, they made the rough passage to Colon, a
distance of 1,200 miles in seven days. They were measured for the
canal passage and paid the $15 toll, reducing their capital to $78.
They took on the pilot and after the usual harrowing experience in
the locks,(5) passed out into Gatun Lake. There the engine refused to
work, and not being allowed to sail through the canal, they were
forced to hire a tug at $6 an hour. They arrived finally at San Miguel,
after a somewhat nightmarish trip for them, and tied up at the
"Onion Club" in Panama city.(6) Soon they were participating in the
waterfront life, sipping beer in the bistros and listening to painted
damsels rasping painful ballads amid the tinkling ice and tobacco
  To refit for the next leg, they anchored off the busy sea lane into
Balboa, a key point on the route that was already becoming an
oceanic freeway for yachts escaping to the South Pacific. Following
Stock in Dream Ship later would come Harry Pidgeon in Islander,
Alain Gerbault in Firecrest, Robinson (twice) in Svaap, Dwight
Long, Muhlhauser, and a hundred other well-knowns, plus thousands
of anonymous sea wanderers.(7)
  By now they were broke, but by that great good fortune that
follows those who carry on with good heart in spite of such minor
distractions, Ralph received word from his agent in New York that
one of his books had been purchased by a Hollywood movie pro-
ducer. It was an unexpected windfall of breathtaking amounts.
When Ralph cashed the check at the bank, he exchanged it for $20
gold pieces which he brought down to the Dream Ship and rained on
the salon table to the stunned pleasure of his companions. They now
had plenty of funds for an extended voyage, at least as far as Aus-
  Setting out for the Galapagos, they made an easy passage and a
perfect landfall on Tower Island by sheer good luck. In fact, they
almost sailed right up on the rocks before they rushed on deck to find
that they were within jumping distance of shore. Their destination
was Cristobal which they never did find finally bypassing it with
the intention of sailing on to the Society Islands. By accident, they
came upon Wreck Bay, just missing the outlying reef, and came to

  ~ 34 ~

anchor. Here they heard about the current treasure-hunting excite-
ment, but decided not to join the rush.(8)
  After an enjoyable visit ashore, they filled their water tanks with
doubtful fluid by means of empty kerosene cans,(9) and filled away for
the Marquesas. On board, they had a new crew mate, the local
Ecuadorian comisario, who was tired of the long hours and low pay, a
handsome lad who wore silk socks, a passionate tie, and a loudly
striped shirt.
  For the next twenty-two days, they carried a southeast trade wind,
during which the comisario suffered alternately from seasickness,
homesickness, and chronic laziness. The water tanks became aquar-
iums for all manner of bug life and the biscuit supply crumbled
under an army of red ants. Otherwise, it was a fine passage and soon
Nuku Hiva appeared across a sparkling blue bay. Here they encoun-
tered their first South Sea paradise island.
  With the war over, they found on Melville's Typee a collection of
war veterans, dropouts, and copouts from the world of reality 
English and French ex-soldiers with whom they drank, compared war
stories, and raised toasts to the Royal Field Artillery, the Mitrailleurs,
and the incomparable French infantry. After goat hunting and sailing
along the coast and commenting on the new wave of missionaries
infesting the South Seas,(l0) they sailed on.
  Seven days after leaving the Marquesas, they were becalmed in that
frightening maze of atolls and coral reefs called the Tuamotus or
Dangerous Archipelago. After some time with the pearl fleet, they
finally made it to Papeete, Tahiti, tying up stern first to the quay and
going ashore to enjoy iced vin rouge, and to dine on poulet roti with
fresh salade and omelette a la maltre d'hotel.
  The Dream Ship crew found Tahiti to be all they had hoped and
Papeete an exotic crossroads for the romantic South Seas, with
planters and schooner traders, remittance men and adventurers, and a
Sadie Thompson or two, all mingled in that unique type of society
for which the French colonies are known. At Papeete, they lost their
Galapagos comisario, who turned out to be a fair cook after all, but
who never got over his seasickness, homesickness, or laziness. The last
they saw of "Bill," as they called him, he was selling underwear and
perfume in a French store, and escorting admiring Tahitian beauties
to the movies every night.(11)
  With some regret, the Dream Ship crew escaped the euphoria of
Papeete and continued their adventure at Moorea, fifteen miles away.

  ~ 35 ~

Ralph was able to repair the recalcitrant engine with one of Peter's
hairpins, cleaning out the carburetor air vent which had been the
source of all the trouble. From there, they sailed to Palmerston Island
during the tail end of the hurricane season, visiting William Masters,
the charming old seadog who had come to this place in 1862, leased
it, married three wives, by each of whom he had a large family, and
all of whom now lived a simple but happy and wholesome life.
  Next they called at Savage Island, or Niue, the former haunt of the
terrible blackbirder, Bully Hayes. The Friendly Islands came next,
now the kingdom of Tonga, where the crew of the Dream Ship were
wammly entertained.
  It was here, at the island capital city of Nuku Alofa, in a local
social club, that Ralph met a genial gentleman who much admired
the Colin Archer cutter and wanted to buy her. Stock said he did not
want to sell. The man asked him how much the vessel was worth to
him. Stock replied with such an outrageous figure that he expected
the genial gentleman to be off. Instead, the genial gentleman said,
"I'll take her," and whipped out his checkbook.
  In a daze, Ralph Stock left the club with a small fortune, but no
Dream Ship. The voyage had come to an end. Now one problem
remained: how to break the news to Peter and Steve. This proved to
be painful and embarrassing, and Peter would not speak to Ralph for
  Flushed with new wealth, Ralph tried to salve the situation with a
new plan. They would continue their journey around the world, but
by steamer, stopping at various places to explore at their leisure. No
more seasickness, faulty celestial navigation, bad water, and harbor
thieves. They would do their circumnavigation in style.
  But his companions were not buying this. Steve went to Samoa
and obtained a government job in Apia. Peter took herself off to New
Guinea alone. Ralph went to New Zealand and Australia, visiting
until he became bored with it all. Hearing about the pearl luggers of
Torres Strait, he hurried to Thursday Island in hopes of finding
another Dream Ship. But his stay on "T.I.," or "Thirsty Island," was
spent socializing with the local military and government families and
the owners of the pearling fleet. The population numbered only five
hundred, and most of them remembered very well the visit of Cap-
tain Joshua Slocum. Ralph went skin diving with the Japanese divers,
made several side trips, and tried to put together a dictionary of
pidgin English. Then one day a steamer from New Guinea tied up to
the wharf and off stepped Peter, this time in a more forgiving mood.

  ~ 36 ~

  Together they made their way home via the Indian Ocean, the
Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean, never having found another
Dream Ship.
  Back in England, Stock restarted his sporadic literary career, spent
his spare time looking for another yacht, lived in France for a while
where he became acquainted with another ex-soldier, now a famous
tennis star and restless young socialite named Alain Gerbault.
  Once more returning to England, Stock wrote a couple of books
and several stories and finally found Dream Ship II, an English
Bristol Channel pilot cutter, for which he paid  1,450. Immediately
he notified Peter to come a-running and sent a cable off to Steve in
  Then one day, while he was working on deck, a thin, lithe, sharp-
faced young man appeared alongside. It was his friend Alain Gerbault
from France, in England for the tennis matches. He came aboard, and
Ralph got out his best wine. Gerbault seemed somewhat preoccu-
pied, but he expressed much admiration for Stock's new boat. He had
read Ralph's book on the South Pacific cruise. They talked of ships
and bluewater sailing, and of anchorages in faraway tropical ports.
Life had become a bore, unreal, Gerbault confided. There must be
some meaning to it all, somewhere.
  While they talked, Gerbault's eyes wandered to a nearby yacht, a
sleek, lean Dixon Kemp six-meter racing machine with the plumb
stem and the extreme overhanging counter popular in that day. The
name on the transom was Firecrest.
  Gerbault inquired of the yacht. Was she for sale? Probably. Would
Ralph introduce him to the owner? But, of course. In the end, Fire-
crest became Alain Gerbault's dream ship and magic carpet to
  As for Ralph Stock and his Dream Ship II, the new voyage to
romance and exotic places never materialized. Somehow the zest had
gone out of it. As with the novelty and thrill of a first love affair,
everything else was anticlimactic.
  Once dreams are gone, Stock came to understand, they cannot be
rekindled. When he sold his boat in Nuku Alofa, he had peddled his
dreams for coin. Such fragile, nebulous things cannot be tinkered
with. You must grab them while you can, for usually you do not get a
second chance.

   ~ 37 ~

- end Chapter 3 -

To Chapter 4.

====================================================================== AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Three 1. The Cruise of the Dream Ship by Ralph Stock (London: Wil- liam Heinemann, 1921, 1922, 19Z3, 1927, and 1950). Ralph's sister, "Peter," also wrote a book of their cruise, The Log of a Woman Wanderer (London: William Heinemann, 1923). Peter was an early women's libber, but a petite and delightful one (and her real name was Mabel) . 2. It is a detail, in fact, that stands in the way of most dreams of this kind, but those who are really serious and determined will somehow find a way Unfortunately, most chroniclers of escape via bluewater boats are aggravat- ingly vague about the details of how they managed to finance their dreams. This can be exceedingly frustrating to a working slob, stuck on a boring job and keeping one jump ahead of the bankruptcy referee. A parallel to Ralph Stock, however was Gerry Trobridge, the South African who carried his battered plans for a John Hanna ketch through World War II with him, and finally made it home to build his own in his backyard. 3. Then, as now, small-boat sailors mind the old ditty: June, too soon July, stand by August, if you must September, remember October, all over. 4."Swizzling," of course, referred to swizzle sticks in highballs. Most other travelers to the West Indies have made a point of mentioning the insolence and arrogance of the local natives. 5 Most voyagers spoke of the harrowing experience in the locks. Robinson was the first to suggest a practical method of handling a small craft in the turbulence, but not until Mariorie Petersen of Stornoway, did any of them write a complete and graphic account of a typical Panama Canal yacht passage. See Stornoway, East and West (New York: Van Nostrand, 1966). Local lock tenders tell me, however, that there is no excuse for giving yachts the treatment they get at Panama. They say the water intake can be controlled by the lock tender to avoid the turbulence. Also see Boating magazine, March 1971, p. 62. 6. The Union Club. 7. Balboa is also known as the used-yacht graveyard of the Pacific, where broken dreams of hundreds of erstwhile voyagers have ended for many reasons, mostly financial. At this writing, Balboa is considered a happy hunting ground for purchasers of "previously owned" dream boats. 8. Muhlhauser, a year later, described this treasure-hunting fever in detail. 9. Muhlhauser got fresh water here in the same manner. 10. Stock did not mention the legendary host of Nuku Hiva, Bob McKittrick a former sailor who jumped ship to become a trader and who, for decades, served as a greeter of visiting yachts. Muhlhauser, however, did men- tion McKittrick, but the trader had been there in the Marquesas for several years already. 11. Stock did not mention two other famous ex-World War I refugees, Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were to produce Mutiny on the Bounty, Hurricane, and many other South Seas classics.

To Chapter 4.

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