- 5 -
Hi Jinks on the Speejacks
Man was never meant to dwell for a year and a half in a world measuring 98 feet by 16 feet, and if he sets out to do so he must be prepared to pay a price for the happy memories which will be his reward for the foolhardiness.(l) As THE DECADE OF THE 1920s BEGAN, THE WORLD WAS STILL adjusting to the post-Armistice economy and social upheaval, if not to peace. In the United States, Red anarchists were being deported by the shipload from Ellis Island. Troops were deployed along the Mexican border as Americans were being killed by Villistas. President Wilson had come home from Versailles broken in health and in spirit by double-dealing and with less to show for his efforts than the defeated but truculent enemy. Elsewhere, violence continued in Germany and Switzerland, where Reds were fomenting riot and revolution, and a permanent League of Nations had been empowered to maintain liberty and justice for- ever. Insulin, discovered by Canadian doctors, made possible the treatment of diabetes for the first time. Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur W. Brown flew nonstop across the Atlantic in a Vickers-Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland, most of the time "upside down" in a heavy fog, making the 1,980 miles in 16 hours and 12 minutes. It was the decade of the Flappers, rum-runners in the dry United States, bow ties and Bearcats, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, speak- easies and short skirts, Charleston and runaway inflation, shortages ~ 47 ~ of everything but bathtub gin, barnstorming thrill-seekers in war- surplus Jennies and of circumnavigators in small ships. Joshua Slocum and John Voss had already done their thing. Jack and Charmian London had already abandoned their Snark in the South Pacific and gone back to their own paradise in Mill Valley. Ralph and Mabel Stock and their friend, Steve, were on their way in the piano-equipped Dream Ship. The quiet martinet, G. H. P. Muhlhauser, was about to embark in his Amaryllis. Puckish Conor O'Brien was having his Saoirse finished at Baltimore in Ireland, even as the Civil War was ending. Captain Harry Pidgeon had completed Islander on a Los Angeles harbor tide flat and was getting ready for his world trip by making a shakedown cruise to Hawaii and back. In New York City, the summer heat wave of 1921 continued fiercely into August, breaking all records, drying up reservoirs. The first automatic telephones were being installed. Herbert Hoover made a speech in Washington that was heard and seen in New York on an experimental A.T.&T. apparatus called "television," but commercial use of it was doubted by many experts in the industry. On August 21 a vessel named the Speejacks departed New York with a crew of eleven men and one woman, outbound on what was one of the most astonishing and unusual, if not entirely arduous circumnavigations . Speejacks had been built by Consolidated Shipbuilding Company of Morris Heights for a wealthy Cleveland and Chicago industrialist and sportsman named Albert Y. Gowen and his wife, Jean, a charm- ing and outgoing Texas beauty. Speejacks2 was the fifth yacht of this name built for Gowen, each one a little larger and more elaborate. She was built of wood, with teak decks and coppered bottom, 98 feet overall by 17 feet wide and drawing only 6 feet of water. A typical J. P. Morgan type of yacht, she had a straight stem, rounded fantail, single dummy stack coming out of the deckhouse, a full-length awning, and a mast on which a steadying sail could be set. Speejacks was powered by two 250 horsepower Winton gasoline engines, consumed about 2 gallons a mile at cruising speed of 8 knots, al- though she had a top speed of 14 knots. Her fuel capacity was 5,000 gallons and Gowen had arranged for fuel dumps at strategic points around the world. The problem was that Speejacks had a safe cruis- ing range of only about 2,000 miles and some of the ocean passages were nearly 4,000 miles long. But for a man like Gowen, this was just another little challenge to be accepted. The yacht reflected Gowen's nature. Virtually a mini-ocean liner, ~ 48 ~ she was a self-contained little world, equipped not only with the most modern internal combustion engines, but with intercabin telephones, an elaborate wireless communications system, electric heating, light- ing, refrigeration, cooking, and ship-handling machinery. In addition to the usual life-saving equipment, there was a large raft mounted on the deckhouse top, and two small boats including a New England dory. Provisions for months at sea were stored aboard, including fresh meat, fish, and vegetables in the freezers and coolers. Every possible item of luxury, convenience, and emergency was aboard including two World War I machine guns in case they were attacked by pirates. The Gowens occupied one of the two luxurious cabins aft; the other was taken by a party of guests that included Ira (Jay) J. Ingraham and Bernard (Burney) F. Rogers, Jr., both of Chicago. Ingraham was a professional motion-picture photographer who re- corded the voyage on 100,000 feet of film. Rogers was an accom- plished amateur photographer and a friend of the Gowens. In Australia, another guest came aboard, Dale Collins, a friend of a friend of the Gowens who became the expedition's official chronicler, equipped with endless enthusiasm and admiration for the Gowens, if not with much writing talent. The crew included Cal, the Australian wireless operator; Oscar, assistant to the chief engineer, Jack, who had also supervised con- struction of Speejacks; the navigator, Cap, also an Australian; Bert, the moon-faced Belgian cook, who was afflicted most of the time with seasickness; and Louis, a French sailor gone native on the beach in Tahiti where they picked him up as a deckhand. For the first half of the voyage, the captain was Jack Lewis, who even performed a mar- riage ceremony (of doubtful legality) aboard ship. The sea tracks of Speejacks, as Collins called them, took the yacht from New York to Panama via Jamaica; from Balboa to Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Noumea, Australia, New Guinea, the Solomons, New Britain, the Admiralty and Hermit Islands, Spice Islands, Celebes, Java, Singa- pore, Seychelles, the Red Sea, Cairo, and Spain; thence across the Atlantic by the southern route to the West Indies, Miami, and home to New York. Flying the burgee of the Cleveland Yacht Club, Speejacks motored 34,000 miles and consumed 73,000 gallons of gasoline costing from 31 cents to $1.24 a gallon to become the first motorboat in history to circumnavigate . ~ 49 ~ The run to Jamaica was uneventful, although they just missed a hurricane. At Panama, they encountered another and larger yacht, the Aloha, owned by Commodore Arthur Curtis James of New York, also making a famous circumnavigation. Alongside the Aloha, Spee- jacks looked like a tender. The canal transit was made without difficulty. In Panama, a Peruvian oil magnate tried to court Jean, whom he thought was Gowen's daughter. Once through the canal and tied up at the Balboa Yacht Club, their first problem faced them the 4,000-mile passage to Tahiti with no refueling stops. How was this to be accomplished? By obtaining a tow, of course. Gowen arranged to have the U.S. steamship Eastern Queen take them in tow so they would not have to burn any gasoline until they got within range of a supply. Speejacks thus could also claim the longest tow of its kind in history. A 10-inch manila hauser, forming a sling or cradle around the entire ship, was used. This was attached to a 6-inch towing cable. Although Speejacks was a superbly designed and built yacht, she was tender and quick in a seaway. Under tow, she was even worse. The 3,400 mile tow was a nightmare from the start. Everyone was seasick almost continuously, and no one became accustomed to the awful motion. Cooking was virtually impossible. Meals became mere snacks grabbed with one hand while hanging on with the other, eaten merely to keep alive. At one point during some rough weather, the Eastern Queen sent over a crew to adjust the rope cradle. They were overcome by seasickness and the Speejacks crew had to finish the Job. They crossed the equator on October 3, during cold, squally weather. A week later, a wireless message was intercepted with the news that Speejacks had been lost at sea. The news made headlines all over the world and caused much consternation at home. The Eastern Queen dispatched a signal that all was well. About eighteen days out, the water supply ran low and the crew was limited to a gallon a day.(3) On the twenty-first day, the Eastern Queen notified Speejacks on the wireless that she was about to release the tow rope and make for Takaroa. The Winton engines were started, and the Speejacks got underway on her own, hoping for an easy hundred-mile run to replenish water tanks. Only twenty gallons of distilled battery water remained on the yacht. But, at midnight, the rudder cable broke and an emergency tiller was rigged. In the morning, Takaroa appeared on the horizon. The party found much hospitality here, but no water. They were entertained with ~ 50 ~ dancing, singing, and a roast pig. Among the visitors was the famous schooner Roberta and Captain Winnie Brander. Burney Rogers and Jean demonstrated the latest Broadway dance steps on the beach under Speejacks's electric lights, to the tune of the latest music on the gramophone records. The 250 miles to Tahiti were made without water. There the captain took time to marry a couple. The bridegroom was the father of a well-known American baseball player, and the bride the divorced wife of a local gentleman who also was the best man at the wedding and gave the bride away. The reason for the shipboard wedding was French law, which prohibited remarriage within six months. After the wedding, a huge party was given for everyone at the home of the ex-husband. Speejacks left Tahiti for Pago Pago on the same day that 200 townspeople gathered to watch a Chinese being beheaded, which rounded out the entertainment during their stay there. The 1,300- mile passage to Samoa was a rough one, during which green water was taken over the ship and the electric system drowned out temporarily. The next leg took them to Fiji and past Good Hope Island, otherwise known as the Tin Can Island.(4) In Fiji, everyone went sightseeing in earnest. During the eleven days there, they spent ten days on a canoe trip up the Wainibuka River, each night stopping at a native village and eating native food. They witnessed the fire walkers of Bequa, dined on turtle flippers, drank kava, and were entertained by native chiefs who had been educated in Europe. Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, came next, after an 800- mile rough passage, with the crew landing on New Year's Day. Here they found Jack London's Snark, now a dirty and neglected island trader.(6) The party noted that the island was overrun with deer, which were hunted wholesale. The government even paid a bounty on them. The next stop was Australia, where Dale Collins joined the cruise. From Sydney, the yacht meandered along the coast of Queensland for a thousand miles. Many stops were made to explore ashore where they met hermits and aborigines, and beachcombers on the famous Dunk Island. On March 12, they turned through Cook Passage and headed for New Guinea, making Port Moresby their first landfall. Here they all joined in adventures among the pearl divers, and visited savages living among the mangroves, missionary stations, and sticky Australian plantations. Up the coastline of Papua, they cruised, stopping to fish and explore. Leaving New Guinea waters, they sailed ~ 51 ~ for the Trobriands through unmarked and uncharted reefs. After two days, they reached these "isles of pearls," a romantic, lovely, and mystical paradise guarded by reefs and great sharks. They reached Rabaul in New Britain at Easter. At Maron, north of the Admiralty Islands, they celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Anzacs at Gallipoli with four ex-soldiers aboard to help them. The party was held in the tropical palace, built by the German Pacific millionaire, Rudolph Wahlen, in prewar days. Next came Hollandia, the cosmopolitan city in the Dutch New Guineas of the Southwest Pacific." During their visit, the Bird of Paradise boom was on, and these gorgeous birds were being hunted down and exploited. Two pounds each was the going price for these beautiful golden-brown and rare creatures. Many of the Dutch colonials they met had not seen Europe or their homes for more than thirty years, but still held on rigidly to their "civilized" old country customs. For the trip to Ambon on the island of Ceram, they had a fuel supply of only 2,080 gallons the exact amount calculated to reach their destination without refueling. They tried to get a tow from a Dutch ship, but were quoted a price of £500. Running on one engine to save fuel, they started out. On the eighth day, they reached Ambon with a margin of only 100 gallons of fuel left. Here, for the first time, they entered a different world one of spices; Malays in bright sarongs; Arabs in gold-topped, round white hatchs; bearded Indians; Chinese riding bicycles in their "pajamas"; bullock carts, and a river of humanity with all the smells of the ancient Orient. Among these odors, Collins commented, were those of spices, drying fish and smoke, and the "distinctive smell of coloured peoples." Here they found the Dutch masters, living in the colonial splendor of three hundred years of rule the social routine of afternoon siestas, evening drives in the country, whist clubs, drinking beer and gin at the clubs, dances and concerts, entertaining on the wide verandas of their baronial cottages, dining late at nine or ten o'clock. They found the Dutch colonials to be great eaters, starting at six A.M. with a breakfast of sausage, snacks of cold meat, spiced tidbits; later, riz tafel or rice table was served at midday, with dozens of native boys waiting upon them carrying plates of stewed meats, curry, salted and smoked fish, boiled fowl, chutneys, bread made from prawns and batter, spices that burned like hot coals. In the evening came another riz tafel, and then the main banquet. ~ 52 ~ Next came the Celebes, the great whirlpools of the Malay Straits, and a visit to the sultan of the fairy kingdom of Bouton, the Portu- guese colony of Makassar where the richest man was a Malay who lived in native fashion although he owned a fine home and the greatest landowner was a Chinese whose father had arrived there as a coolie. The Dutch, they found, were the merchants, importers, and ex- porters, and the Chinese were the middlemen and the gamblers. The natives were the producers. Next came Bali, with its lovely bare-breasted women, where much time was spent ashore exploring and enjoying the local scene. Then they headed for Java and at Surabaja they missed their mail because of the Dutch law which did not permit holding mail more than thirty days. They did find a few registered packets waiting which had just arrived, however. The crew and guests of the Speejacks were glad to leave this noisy, greedy, raucous commercial port, but first the yacht had to be drydocked, recoppered, fumigated and the engine over- hauled. In spite of frustrations with incompetent workers and broken promises, they accomplished this but only with the influence, finan- cial resources, and energies of the owner. While the work was going on, they visited the health resorts in the mountains and made train trips to inland cities. Gowen, the financier, marveled at the huge profits of the sugar barons. Some plantations made three hundred percent a year; an average profit return was fifty percent. The party also took in Singapore in the Straits Settlements, and a motor trip was made to Batavia. When Speejacks sailed again, she was spotless in gleaming white, her cockroaches were gone, a bent propeller shaft had been straightened, and the valves ground on the Wintons. "You leave Java behind," Collins wrote, "with a feeling that, in company with the rest of the Orient, there is a growing unrest here. Gandhi's preachers from India have made their appearance, and there is much talk of Java for the Javanese. It is the same problem that Britain is facing, but the Dutch have neither the power nor the prestige of Britain with which to stem the tide. They have no easy task in the management of this small island with a population of 35 million, but they seem to be fair and far-sighted rulers."(7) The Gowens had hoped to go from Colombo to the romantic Seychelles, where the Vacuum Oil Company had agreed to dump fuel supplies, but at the last minute no ships were available. After weeks of uncertainty, a sailing schooner was dispatched from Mauri- ~ 53 ~ tius with fuel supplies,(8) and they were able to cross the Indian Ocean before the monsoon season. They sailed out through the Banka Straits into the China Sea without Bert, the Belgian cook, who could not take the seasickness any longer and left in Singapore. That night they crossed the equator for the second time, played a concert on the gramophone over their wireless to the shore stations listening, and entered the crowded shipping lanes filled with lumbering junks, fleets of sampans, and ships of all flags. Much as they disliked some of the colonial ports, they spent much time visiting and being entertained by the Chinese millionaires of Singapore. They called at Sumatra, the port of Belawan Deli, again finding the Dutch colonials to be a strange bunch just as have other voyagers in small vessels since then. But Sumatra was clean, orderly, and prosperous for the Dutch, if not the natives. From here, Spee- jacks returned to Singapore and Batavia for supplies and fuel. They took aboard 3,200 gallons of gasoline and carried 300 cases on deck, making a total of 6,200 gallons for the 3,100 miles of ocean they must cross. Five tons of water went into the tanks and the pantries were jammed with food. A large crowd saw them off, and on board were three new pas- sengers: Fleurette Finnigan, Peggy O'Neill, and Michael three monkeys given them by friends. Also aboard was Charlie, a Chinese cook who replaced Bert. Starting out running on one engine to conserve fuel, they found that they could make six knots this way. A strong southeast trade wind helped them on the way, but the seas were on their quarter and at times the wind and waves were boisterous. Then they rigged a steady- ing sail. Chasing the sun, they headed across the Indian Ocean. The new pets aboard became increasingly annoying, and after much de- bate the monkeys were chloroformed and their bodies committed to the sea. The days and weeks passed. They averaged about 175 miles a day.(9) In the Seychelles, they found their shipment of fuel waiting. After a short stay here, they continued to the Red Sea, stopping at Aden to explore ashore. At Port Sudan, they stopped to refuel again, and then spent eleven days making the 1,400-mile passage, burning 4,700 gallons of fuel. With a pilot, they passed through the Suez Canal to Port Said; then it was on to Alexandria, where the party made a fast visit to Cairo and visited the pyramids. In the Mediterranean, they visited Greece, where Gowen threw a ~ 54 ~ party for seven that cost only $3.86. In the Corinth Canal, that ancient slot built in A.D. 67, they went aground and nearly met with disaster. But they found the Adriatic blue and beautiful, and passed Scylla and Charybdis without seeing any monsters. At Naples, A. Y. bought a Fiat at a bargain price, and while the yacht proceeded to Marseilles, he, Jean, and Jay motored via Rome, Genoa, and the Riviera. At Monte Carlo, A. Y., the high-roller, began losing. He was implored to stop, but he kept betting on 35 and 26, the latter because it was the Broadway address of the Standard Oil Company. Finally, number 26 began winning. A. Y. doubled his bets. The bank notes on the number began to pile up. Next he played 35 again, and again the bank notes began to pile up. At that moment, when spectators who had crowded around to watch the action thought he would go on to break the bank, the Yankee millionaire exercised his unique instincts and quit. He had won enough to pay for the car and the entire European portion of the voyage. A call was made at Barcelona, where A. Y. and Jean were horrified at the killing of bulls in the bullfights, although the matadors, including Del Monte, the idol of the period, were personally presented to the Gowens. From Spain, they went to Gibraltar, stopping to entertain the men of the U.S.S. Pittsburgh, which was in port. Then the course was joyously set for home, with a rough run to the Canaries, during which the Speejacks was again reported lost at sea. The 1,500-mile run to the Cape Verde Islands was made in the worst gale of the entire voyage. There 6,000 gallons of fuel were put aboard. Fortunately, the crossing was a mild one, what with the huge deckload they carried. The 2,600-mile run to Puerto Rico proved to be easy. At San Juan, the yacht tied up to American docks for the first time since Pago Pago. They picked up hundreds of letters and telegrams from friends and family, and then continued on to Miami, which they had not seen for sixteen months. As far back as New Guinea it had been decided that Thanksgiving would be spent in America, and the timetable had that in mind. At Gibraltar, A. Y. had cabled a friend, Carl G. Fisher, offering to bet that Speejacks would arrive within an hour of 10 A.M. on Thanksgiv- ing Day. Fisher declined to wager. The yacht actually arrived at 11:15 A.M. A large fleet turned out to welcome Speejacks to the Flamingo Dock. Sirens, whistles, and flags flying greeted the voyagers. The ~ 55 ~ thousand-mile run uphill to New York was made in heavy and bitter cold weather, but they arrived on December 11, again receiving a tumultuous welcome. A. Y. was heard to remark: "I wouldn't have missed it for any- thing, but I wouldn't do it again for a king's ransom!" Jay had taken 93,000 feet of film, all but 300 of which was con- sidered good footage. Total mileage was 34,000; total fuel, 73,000 gallons. The Winton engines performed flawlessly, requiring only valve grinding. Replacement parts included only one leather washer, costing 15 cents. As Speejacks lay at the New York Yacht Club dock, her guest book was full of names from more than a hundred exotic ports, and her bright work showed the effects of sun and sea from three oceans. How much did the voyage cost? A. Y. remained close-mouthed about this. All he would say was that it cost a great deal more than he expected. But he could afford it. Taking a vessel of this sort around the world in those times, in spite of his resources, was a remarkable feat, and it was surprising that so little difficulty was encountered. The voyage of the Speejacks was important, not only because of this, but for the era she represented, which was coming to an end in the aftermath of World War I. Moreover, she proved that you don't have to be a penniless dreamer or a dropout from conventional society to sail around the world in your personal dream boat. Even millionaires can do it, and have fun, too. ~ 56 ~ - end Chapter 5 -To Chapter 6.
To Chapter 6.
AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Five Sea Tracks of the Speejacks by Dale Collins (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1923). 2 "Speejacks" was the college nickname of Albert Y. Gowen. He was educated at St. Paul's School and at Harvard. His primary business was cement, in which he had made a wartime fortune, but he also had other substantial business interests He was a well-liked man, not the least pompous or imperious who enjoyed life and wanted to get the most out of it. 3. Most bluewater voyagers in smaller sailing yachts have found that a half gallon a day per person adequately supplies crew needs. 4. Tin Can Island was a famous tourist attraction. Here, passing ships delivered the mail by placing it in sealed cookie cans, which the natives would swim out and retrieve. They got to keep the cookies, while the mail was delivered to the addresses. 5. The circumnavigation of the Snark, while ill-conceived and exe- cuted, would have become one of the most famous in history had not the famous author and his wife become ill. On this voyage, the crew included a young man named Martin Johnson, who later became the famous explorer with his wife, Osa. Years later, young Dwight Long, in Idle Hour, met the John- sons in the East Indies while on his circumnavigation. 6. William Albert Robinson on his circumnavigation put into Hol- landia desperate for supplies and funds from home. He found the port almost deserted. Most G.I's will remember it as a huge supply port and staging area in World War II. 7. These were prophetic and surprisingly perceptive words. Later events dramatized the changing social and economic order but not until a quar- ter century and World War II had come and gone. 8. Gowen was a large stockholder in Standard Oil Company, which simplified his fuel problems considerably. 9. A speed of 175 miles a day for a twin-screw motor boat of 98 feet length cannot be considered even average. Most well-founded sailing yachts of much smaller waterline length can equal or surpass this.
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