The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 4 -

Amaryllis Shows the Flag

         At first sight it may seem a remarkable feat to
         take a small vessel of twenty-eight tons gross
         around the world via New Zealand, and a rela-
         tively short time ago it would have been so re-
         garded, but it is now recognized that quite
         small, well-found vessels are safe even in bad
         weather. They are not comfortable under such
         conditions, indeed they are acutely, almost in-
         tolerably, uncomfortable, but most of them are
         safe if properly handled.(1)

when facing it. The harbor at Plymouth, England, lay still and not
a ruffle of wind disturbed its oily sheen. Presently chugging along,
raking a deep furrow and rolling smooth twin waves from her plumb
bow, comes a yawl-rigged Brixham-type yacht, starchly white under
a new coat of paint, her gaffs swaying gently as her two-cylinder
American kerosene engine pushes her at four knots toward the open
  At the dockhead stands the deputy assistant harbormaster in his
new blue uniform with gold lace. Across the water comes his voice:
  "Halloo What ship is that?"
  "The Amaryllis."
  "Where bound?"
  "Auckland, New Zealand."
  There is a pause, then: "Well, good luck."

       ~ 38 ~

  The time was September 6, 1920. The long and exhausting world
war had been over for almost two years. England and the world had
begun to recover. War wounds were healing. Adventure again had
begun to appeal to restless men. Ex-sailors, with four to six years of
hellish sea duty behind them during the war, either never wanted to
see salt water again, or were drawn back by incurable sea fever.
  One of the latter was the ex-Lieutenant George H. P. Muhlhauser,
who had served brilliantly as navigator and commander of Q-ships,
patrol craft, hydrophone trawlers, and minesweepers. One day, while
waiting in an Admiralty office, Muhlhauser glanced idly through a set
of Sailing Directions for various parts of the world. The descriptions
of exotic ports, courses recommended through intriguing straits,
winds and currents in the high southern latitudes, struck a vague
response. He could not get this out of his mind, and when demobi-
lized soon after and a free man and his own master once again, he
determined to find himself a suitable vessel and sail her around.
  He found his dream fulfilled in the Amaryllis, which a well-known
yachtsman had been outfitting for a West Indies voyage before
changing his mind. Muhlhauser paid an exorbitant price for her,
although she was not the ideal vessel in his opinion,(2) and then
suffered through long months of shipyard strikes and shortages before
he was ready to sail.
  Amaryllis(3) had been built in 1882 by A. E. Payne later Summers
and Payne and her hull was still as sound as the day she was
launched. Of 36 tons Thames and 28 tons gross, she was 62 feet
overall, 52 feet on the waterline, 13 feet beam, and drew 10 feet of
water. There was 3.5 tons of lead on the keel and the rest inside was
iron ballast.
  She was flush decked with skylights and hatches, but had no cabin
trunk. Below in the fo'c's'le were cots for three men and a coal stove;
behind this were the pantry and lavatory, with an alleyway to the
saloon. Then came a cabin on the starboard side, the small engine on
the port side, and finally the owner's cabin with two bunks.

  Muhlhauser, a bachelor, was already in his middle forties, and in
his pragmatic, rather starch-collared way, he was working off a middle-
aged itch. Born in Surrey, England, he was educated at Merchant
Taylor's School and immediately went into business. But since child-
hood he had had a deep affection for the sea and ships. During school
holidays, he would ship out with the North Sea trawling fleet. Once
in business in Essex, he was able to save up enough to buy an interest
in a three-ton sloop in 1901. Four years later, he and two friends

   ~ 39 ~

purchased the Vivid, and in 1910 Muhlhauser became sole owner of
the Wilful.
  Muhlhauser's idea of yachting was to put to sea and stay out of
sight of land until he had to come back. He became an expert in the
ways of the sea and especially in navigation. A few weeks before the
guns of World War I thundered, he sailed Wilful to Norway and
back with a companion who was sick all the time and stayed in his
bunk. Muhlhauser gloried in the boisterous passage, and turned
around without going ashore to make the return trip, much to the
disgust of his companion.
  Just after his return, England went on a wartime footing. He laid
up his yacht and volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve, obtaining
a commission and later transferring with a fellow yachtsman, Stuart
Gannett, to active sea duty on the former steam yacht Zarefah,
which was manned by Cambridge rowing blues.
  A superb seaman and a natural and instinctive navigator, his most
astonishing exploit was taking the captured German oreship Dussel--
dorf of 1,200 tons from Norway to Scotland without a sextant and a
compass made erratic by the ore. Traveling in a North Sea storm and
with a rebellious German crew, Muhlhauser made a perfect landfall
after weaving through the minefields.
  So now, on September 6, 1920, he stood at the tiller of his own
ship again, his piercing blue eyes conning the channel with the easy
attention of the professional.(4) Graying hair showed around the band
of his yachting cap with the RCC emblem. He was a reserved man, not
easily approached except by close friends, inclined to be frank and
direct in his remarks. His lips formed a close straight line, and he had
prominent clefts in his cheeks, a bold bulldog chin, pug nose, and
dark heavy eyebrows. He spoke in crisp tones and was inclined to be
somewhat lofty with those not considered his equals. He was a
martinet aboard a vessel, but with close friends he was a warm,
sensitive person. He was, in every way, a professional yachtsman. He
had already published one book on the subject,(6) and in the back of
his mind he planned another based on his journals of this voyage
around the world.
  Aboard the Amaryllis, Muhlhauser carried 240 charts, which would
take him as far as Australia. Before he returned, the number would
grow to 500, and he would have sailed a total of 31,159 miles, ending
at Dartmouth.
  His circumnavigation took him to Vigo, Spain; thence to Las
Palmas, Funchal, Santa Cruz, Barbados, Trinidad, and the Caribbean

  ~ 40 ~

islands, the Panama Canal, Marquesas, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, New
Zealand, the East Indies, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Suez
Canal, and the Mediterranean.
  Amaryllis was believed to be the third small vessel to circumnavi-
gate, and the first English yacht.(6)
  Typical of Muhlhauser, although he did not like the Amaryllis and
the voyage began to bore him by the time he reached the South
Pacific, he took time to thoroughly cruise New Zealand and South-
west Pacific waters, which had seldom been done, and he was the first
to cruise extensively through the East Indies. His seamanship, flaw-
less passages that included plotting great circle courses even near
the equator and boldness of decision make him one of the greatest
of all small-boat voyagers.
  As the Amaryllis made for the sea, the burgee of the Royal
Cruising Club flew from her masthead. Guests and crew aboard
included Charles L. Prowse, a RCC member, his brother, John M.
Prowse, and A. D. (David) Craig, a young Irishman who had re-
sponded to an advertisement from Italy. Muhlhauser had also signed
on a young fisherman to go as far as New Zealand, who turned out to
be a dud and had to be bought off with a month's pay in order to get
rid of him even before they left England. Charles Prowse was an
experienced yachtsman; his brother, John, who was not, volunteered
to be cook.
  Off Ushant, they were becalmed, but the passage to Spain took
only five days, and gave them an opportunity to shake down their
gear and routine. They left Vigo on September 17 for Funchal,
Madeira, and on this leg experienced a violent series of squalls, easily
weathered, which proved to be the last bad weather experienced
before Amaryllis reached Tahiti, 8,500 miles away.
  In Funchal, they took on fresh fruits, dined at the Palace Hotel,
and made the hair-raising toboggan ride down the cobbled street on a
sled piloted by two elderly men.
  From there, they sailed to Las Palmas, where they obtained
Greenwich time from a British warship and loaded aboard more fresh
fruits. Leaving Las Palmas, David Craig came down with a virus, and
unable to beat it back they put into Santa Cruz, Tenerife, to see a
doctor. After a short visit, they departed for the West Indies. A few
miles out, John Prowse came down with the same virus. Muhlhauser
consulted the Ship Medical Guide, and the only thing he could find
with the same symptoms was beriberi. They decided it was the same
mild virus that David had caught.

  ~ 41 ~ 

  Landfall was made on Barbados, and twenty days out of Tenerife
they put into Carlisle Bay off Bridgetown. After the formalities of
customs, health, and harbor fees, they settled down for a short stay.
John left the yacht here, finding work on a vessel going to the United
States. Muhlllauser tried to recruit a crewman to take his place,
including a convict the prison warden wanted to get rid of, but in the
end found a bright lad from a Venezuelan schooner, named Ste-
phane, whom Muhlhauser described as "90 per cent white, but for
his woolly hair would pass anywhere, except perhaps in America."(7)
  Stephane could write but not speak English, although he could
speak both French and Spanish, which Muhlhauser attributed to the
fact that the lad was "un peu catliolique, un peu protestant." He was
quick to learn and became a faithful if somewhat erratic member of
the crew.
  They stayed a month in Trinidad, where they were entertained by
the local society and diplomatic corps. Muhlhauser had to discharge
James, a native boy he had also signed on, who turned out to be a
trouble-maker who had the cunning to know something of his
"rights." Muhlhauser had to buy him off, too, and send him home
first-class on a steamer.
  The Amaryllis continued a leisurely cruise of the West Indies,
during which time David joined his wife in Jamaica and left the ship.
Charles Prowse had already taken his departure. So now Muhlhauser
had only Stephane to help him with the big yacht. A broken boom
caused by a gybe, and a fouled propeller delayed them in Kingston. A
San Blas Indian named Sam was taken on here upon the recom-
mendation of the local sailmaker. Sam could speak no English and
only enough Spanish to quarrel incessantly with Stephane.
  On March 4, they departed for Colon, went through the usual
formalities, and made the canal transit. Muhlhauser reported a
delightful visit here with the consular corps and the American colony.
Several days were spent at Balboa, taking on stores and getting clear-
ances for the Galapagos and Marquesas. The well-known Ecuadorian
red tape was frustrating, but Muhlhauser was determined to visit the
"Darwin" islands (made famous by Charles Darwin of the Beagle),
influenced by Ralph Stock's fascinating account of his visit the year
before. On April 9, they crossed the equator and celebrated with a
Christmas pudding sent by Muhlhauser's sister, and an extra issue of
jam, which the boys ate like candy.
  They spent a short time in the Galapagos, just long enough to take
on water, and then departed on the 3,057-mile leg to the Marquesas.

  ~ 42 ~

The time passed quickly, but as Muhlhauser wrote: "A small sailing
ship wants as much looking after as a harem, and there was always
something to do about the decks." The only break in the routine
otherwise was the constant bickering of Sam and Stephane.
  On May 10, they came to anchor under the lee of Ua Huka and
the next day sailed into Nuku Hiva. Here Muhlhauser was greeted by
the legendary Bob McKittrick, and made the acquaintance of the
famous Nuku Hiva no-no fly. A pleasant time was had with the local
colony, which included beachcombers, American botanists, and
French officials. In Tahiti, Muhlhauser met a broad-gauge American
named Frank N. Abercrombie, whom he took a liking to, and who
joined the ship at various times in the South Pacific. Muhlhauser was
also astounded and somewhat disturbed that the British consul in
Papeete was an American. "Why this should be so, when there are
plenty of suitable British about, seems strange," he wrote.
  Considerable time was spent in Moorea with friends, including
Captain Gilmour, an RAF ace who had thirty-four German airplanes
to his record, and who had escaped after the war to the South Seas to
live in seclusion with a Chinese servant.
  Muhlhauser did not enjoy his stay at Rarotonga, mostly because of
the noisy natives who pestered him. In Nuku Alofa, he came upon a
piano which he said had once been aboard the Amaryllis before he
owned her.(8)
  At Suva, he met another local personality often mentioned by
voyagers in the 1920s, the obliging harbormaster, Mr. Twentymen.
Here Muhlhauser also encountered his first newspaper reporters,
whom he despised. One, a Mr. Able, rowed out to interview him, and
although Muhlhauser told him nothing, "he had made quite a long
article out of it."
  He goes into great detail about the famed German raider, Count
Von Lucknow [Felix von Luckner?], who ended his career in these parts. 
On September 9, his friend Abercrombie showed up on the steamer and 
joined the Amaryllis as cook. They stopped for a visit at New Caledonia, 
where they were "depressed" by Noumea. At Sydney, after a rough passage,
Abercrombie told George he wouldn't take a million dollars for the
experience, and wouldn't do it again for another million. Both the
men fell in readily with the social whirl of Sydney, and received much
attention from the press and newsreels. Stephane and Sam saw
themselves on the screen for the first time to their delight and
Muhlhauser's disgust. Here Muhlhauser met an old Q-ship comrade
and suffered an attack of homesickness.

    ~ 43 ~

  He was now fed up with his ship and the voyage and tried to sell
Amaryllis. Failing this, he sailed for New Zealand and spent two
pleasant months cruising the coast. The Tasman Sea crossing was a
nasty one, and Christmas Day was spent hove-to. Again he advertised
Amaryllis for sale, and finding no takers for a forty-year-old ship, he
had no alternative but to sail her home. There were three possible
routes: westward and north of Australia, via the islands of the East
Indies, and around Cape Horn He chose the exotic East Indies,
waters that were not well-charted and through which few yachts had
ever gone.                                    I
  Sam left the ship in New Zealand, and in his place came aboard a
Niue islander named Pinimake or "Joe" for short. Joe did not get
along with Stephane even as well as Sam, so Muhlhauser took
on a man named C. R. Tadgell of Melbourne, who wanted passage
home to England. He was a man of twenty-five and experienced on
sailing dinghies and as it turned out, he was an agreeable compan-
ion. Moreover, Tadgell brought along some eighty admiralty charts.
  After four months in New Zealand, the Amaryllis departed, stop-
ping again at New Caledonia, on her way to New Guinea, New
Britain, the Solomons, Java Sea, Timor, Singapore, and Penang. This
intricate leg of thousands of miles was made in typical flawless
fashion. It was especially enjoyable to Muhlhauser, who was fasci-
nated by the region and the people. Tadgell and the boys fell ill
several times with various diseases, but if Muhlhauser was distressed,
he never hinted at it in his journals. In some backwater areas,
formerly under German control, he found people who did not even
know the war was over. Frequent stops were made for sightseeing,
and Muhlhauser proved to be a fair-to-good photographer.
  From Bali, they went to Batavia, then across to Sumatra, sailed up
Banka Strait to Singapore, then through the Malacca Strait past the
tip of Sumatra at Sabang, and stopped at the Nicobar Islands.
  From here, Muhlhauser felt at last they were on the homeward leg.
He began worrying about his business, and how to sell the ship. The
crew now included a Lascar, Abdul Rahman, hired for $25 a month
and homeward passage; and a man named Enden, who soon resigned
in a huff over one of Muhlhauser's candid remarks.
  A ketch or schooner, Muhlhauser noted in his journals, would be
more suited to the tropics. The gaff yawl, he conceded, was the worst
type for a voyage of this kind.
  At Sabang, he checked his chronometer with the captain of a
Dutch ship, and found an error of only two seconds. At Colombo,

    ~ 44 ~

Ceylon, they took on provisions, and Muhlhauser met another Q-ship
comrade, now the pilot of a tug. The hull was scrubbed and routine
repairs made. Muhlhauser found Aden, on the coast of South Arabia,
to be a fascinating combination of Moorish and Oriental culture.
The passage up the Red Sea was a difficult one, with head winds and
uncharted reefs. At Port Sudan, they restocked and enjoyed the local
hospitality. On March 29, they left Suez and proceeded up the canal,
stopping at the midway point of Ismailia, where Muhlhauser and
Tadgell left the ship for a visit to Cairo and the pyramids, and spent
some time at the yacht club in Alexandria. Returning to the ship,
they went on through into the Mediterranean after pausing again at
Alexandria for more party-going. The thirty-day passage through the
Red Sea is considered, even today, as a most remarkable one, and by
now Muhlhauser was considered a celebrity in yachting circles.
  Before leaving Alexandria, he had the ship's bottom coppered, and
accepted a life membership in the Royal Yacht Club of Egypt. He
inspected the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides at ceremonies as the band
played "God Save the King."
  On April 22, he departed with a large escort, including the Scouts
who raised their oars in salute. He had taken on another crew mem-
ber, a man named Horowitz, who was soon discharged. Following a
quarrel with Stephane at Malta, Hashim, a new recruit, also wanted
to leave, but was reconciled. Stephane then tried to resign and even
left the ship, but returned later. Another new man named Galea
came aboard.
  "Galea," Muhlhauser wrote in his rock-ribbed Empire Tory style,
"is shaping up very well. It is a great thing to have a white man
forward; natives are all very well in their way, but a white man. is
  He stopped at Cagliari Harbor, Italy, for sail repairs. It was now 750
miles to Gibraltar, and 1,070 miles to Dartmouth. He was getting
anxious. A stop was made at Minorca. Then came Gibraltar and
lunch with the Admiral and members of the RCC and a visit to a
Moorish castle. At Vigo, Spain, a stop was made after a rough passage
past Portugal. At 7 A.M., on July 6, land appeared out of the mist.
The next day, the Amaryllis entered Dartmouth harbor and moored
at the yacht club, ending the long voyage around the world. Muhl-
hauser's arrival was met with quiet British reserve. Not a single
reporter was there to interview him. He was immensely relieved.
  The last entry in his journals was:
  "Here not a soul has taken the slightest notice. It is delightful. I

   ~ 45 ~

smile when I think of the ruses I planned to avoid reporters. This is a
real homecoming to dear old casual England."
  He did not live to finish his book. It ends in the East Indies. There
were some knotty business affairs to take care of. For many weeks, he
had the feeling that all was not well, that his time was running out.
Once home was reached, he began to go downhill rapidly. A friend,
E. Keble Chatterton, saw him on the Amaryllis in August and re-
ported that Muhlhauser had aged ten years in three. Then he had to
enter a hospital for an operation.(9) Not long after he died. He was
buried, as he would have wished it, with the White Ensign, under
which he had served so well, and the Blue Ensign, which he had
flown from the Amaryllis's mizzen around the world. These two flags,
Chatterton said later, symbolized Muhlhauser's life.
  His book was finished by his sister, who edited down the volumi-
nous journals to fit the publication limits.
  Always aloof and uncompromising, with rather Blimpish views of
social and political matters and a somewhat condescending manner
toward those below his station, he was, however, a man who all his
life had one overwhelming passion, and that was for the sea.(10)

  ~ 46 ~ 

 - end Chapter 4 -

To Chapter 5.



Chapter Four 1. The Cruise of the Amaryllis by G. H. P. Muhlhauser (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1925). 2. "She struck me as a sound, wellbuilt, and powerful little ship, snugly rigged, and fit to go anywhere. Nevertheless, she is not my ideal cruiser, as she has a counter 10 feet long, is yawl rigged, and steered with a tiller, whereas my preference is for a very short counter, or canoe stern, ketch rig, and wheel steering. Moreover, her draft of 10 feet was rather too much for knocking around amongst coral reefs, though a very good feature from the point of view of keeping the sea." It should be noted that this analysis was made after Muhl hauser returned from his voyage around the world, with practical experience to back it up. 3. Amaryllis was the shepherdess in Virgil's Ecologues; it is also any of the genus Amaryllis of the bulbous African herbs with showy umbellate flowers, a type of lily. 4. By coincidence, Plymouth was celebrating the three-hundredth anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, which accounted for the full-dress uniform of the deputy assistant harbormaster. 5. Small Craft, published by the Bodley Head. 6. Not counting Ralph Stock's Dream Ship, which did not actually complete a circumnavigation. 7. Muhlhauser meant North America, not the United States especially. 8. This was the piano that belonged to Peter Stock, and had been aboard the Dream Ship when Ralph Stock unwittingly sold her on their visit to this port. 9. Muhlhauser probably had an incurable cancer. 10. As Muhlhauser vas returning from his long voyage, another erst- while circumnavigator named Conor O'Brien was leaving Dublin on Saoirse. And it is interesting to note that the famous Claud Worth, considered the father of British yachting, wrote the introduction to the accounts of both these in- trepid bluewater yachtsmen.

To Chapter 5.

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