The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 19 -

Because It Was There

         It has been left to Miles and Beryl to tell us
         just where the limits of safety lie. At the risk of
         offending them, however, I must stress the fact
         that these are most unusual people, lest ordi-
         nary yachtsmen should be tempted to follow
         them down towards Cape Horn.(1)

craggy man with the mass of bushy graying hair, and his tall and
energetic wife, left their yacht, Tzu Hang, and motored up to the
Defense Force Headquarters in Tokyo. They found that the colonel,
who was writing the history of the war in Burma, was a small, pre-
cise, and meticulously dressed man who spoke English well.
  The couple told him of their mission: to return the sword of sur-
render to a general whose name they could not remember, but who
was chief of staff of the Japanese Thirty-third Corps and later of the
Japanese army in Burma.
  "Ah," said the colonel, "that would be General Sawamoto. You
have good fortune, for he has only come up to Tokyo today. He is at
the officers' club now. I will ring up the club and tell him you have
brought his sword."
  The sword had been a prize of war, taken by Brigadier Miles
Smeeton, whose brigade was in contact with the enemy in Burma at
the time of the surrender. Smeeton had been ordered to give the
surrendering forces their preliminary instructions, which were handed
to General Sawamoto! and hostilities formally ceased.

     ~ 185 ~

  Later, Smeeton was in charge of the large number of Japanese
prisoners in the area, and when the generals officially surrendered
their swords, he was given that of General Sawamoto. When
Smeeton left Burma, the sword went along with him, rolled up in his
bedding, and was left with his other military and war memorabilia
with his sister in Yorkshire, where it remained for the next eighteen
years. The sword had been brought out to the Orient again with
Miles and Beryl Smeeton on Tzu Hang, their only weapon on this leg
of their circumnavigation. War and the military life had been left in
the far distant past. The Smeetons wanted nothing left around to
remind them.
  Arrangements were made over the telephone to meet the General
and his wife at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Yokohama and
then go down to the yacht for the presentation. The meeting was
held on schedule aboard Tzu Hang, the General's wife dressed in obi
and gaetas, accompanied by a merry, roguish interpreter who had
been a senior intelligence officer in the India-Burma area, and the
man behind the Indian politician and defector, Subhas Chandra
  There was some small talk and tea, then came the formalities. The
General read a long letter of gratitude, interpreted by "the rogue."
They both bowed. Smeeton then got the sword out of the forward
cabin and presented it formally, with more bowing, and a great deal
of emotion. The General recognized it as the sword given him by the
Emperor, and of greater personal value than his other sword, a

Before the guests left, the General gave Miles a silver cigarette case, and Miles thought that he was a good man and now was glad he had gone to all the trouble to return the sword. A few months later, back in Canada, Smeeton had word that the General had died. Born in Yorkshire in 1906, Miles Smeeton went to Wellington and Sandhurst, then joined the army, first serving in the Green Howards and later in Hodson's Horse in the Indian army. His army career in the halcyon pre-World War II days took him to many parts of the world. When war broke out in the east, with the Japanese attacks of early December 1941, Smeeton had already served with distinction in the Western Desert where he won the M.C. Sent to the Burma Theater, he rose to brigadier and was awarded the D.S.O. His wife, Beryl, grew up an army brat her father and brothers were soldiers. She was one of those indomitable English ladies who are completely unflappable and manage to find themselves at home ~ 186 ~ in Tibet or Patagonia. She had traveled widely in Russia, Persia, China, and South America, and had written extensively about her travels. Married in 1938, for the next few years she and Miles lived the colonial soldier's life, mostly in India. They were active people, both keen for mountain climbing, as are many bluewater yachtsmen. Together they climbed Tirich Mir, one of the Himalayans, where Beryl went higher than any other woman had previously climbed. 'The war over, the Smeetons, like many other British colonials, were wearied by the long conflict and the tensions, and retired in Canada, where they bought a farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. By 1950, the damp and unexciting life on a British Columbia stump farm had begun to pall. The Smeetons took a year's absence, went home to England for a visit, and there discovered for sale the graceful Bermudian ketch with the fascinating name of Tzu Hang. Tzu Hang, they learned years later in Japan, meant "the wooden ship of Kwan Yin" or "under the protection of Kwan Yin"or "Kannon Sama." (Kwan Yin and Kannon Sama were the Chinese and Japanese names for the same goddess. ) Here was a dream ship to lure the most unromantic. In a ship like this, one could go anywhere in the world, and in the 1950s there was a great awakening among yachtsmen to the romance of bluewater voyages. Many people, restless with the letdown of the postwar period, and still nursing childhood dreams of sailing around the world, had begun to haunt the boatshops and moorages. It doesn't hurt to look, does it? Neither Miles nor Beryl had ever sailed a boat before, but they fell in love with Tzu Hang immediately, perhaps because of the fetching name. So they bought her, and with Clio, their only daughter, then only eleven and still in school, they packed up and sailed Tzu Hang back to British Columbia via the Azores and West Indies, and Panama and the west coast of North America. They learned their seamanship, navigation, and meteorology en route, and at the same time gave Clio her regular daily classroom lessons. Back in Canada (they regarded themselves now as Canadians, but were about as much Canadian as Jean Gau was American), they settled into a life divided between the farm, the local social whirl of Victoria, and sailing the coastal waters.(2) In 1955, the Smeetons could not resist the call any longer. Tzu Hang was a ship made for sailing to exotic places, not to be moored to a British Columbia stump farm. They sold the farm, loaded Clio ~ 187 ~ and their belongings aboard, and sailed to Australia via the United States west coat and Hawaii. There they spent the remainder of the year fitting out the vessel for a passage to England via the old clipper route along the Roaring Forties and around Cape Horn.(3) Not many small boats had attempted this up until then, and of those that had, few had survived. There had been Pandora, the Spray copy, which had been rolled over and dismasted; and Conor O'Brien on Saoirse, who made it look so easy; and, of course, Vito Dumas, who had circumnavigated around all three capes while Miles had been fighting in the desert war.(4)

Back in San Francisco, before crossing the Pacific, they had en- countered a fellow Yorkshireman, John Guzzwell, who had also migrated to Canada where he built the tiny Trekka and was single- handing around the world. Trekka and Tzu Hang sailed to Hawaii together, cruised there among the islands, and then headed for Australia and New Zealand. For the Cape Horn passage, the Smeetons sent Clio to England by air, and enlisted Guzzwell as a crew member. Treka was hauled out and stored in New Zealand. On December 22, 1956, Tzu Hang cast off from the moorage in the Yarra River at Melbourne. The course took them southeast past Tasmania to about 170 longitude, then around the south side of New Zealand, along the fiftieth parallel, which they followed closely during most of the war. Weeks later, nearing the region of the Horn, they encountered a survival storm. While Beryl was at the tiller, a giant wave pitchpoled Tzu Hang, throwing Beryl into the sea and dismasting the vessel. The doghouse top was gone, the interior a shambles. Somehow Smeeton and Guzzwell managed to rescue Beryl, who was badly injured. Then, with great skill and courage, drawing from their enormous reserves of discipline, the three made repairs, rigged a jury sail, and limped into a Chilean port for repairs.(5) With the help of the English colony, the Chilean navy, and Guzzwell, who was a first-rate cabinetmaker, the Smeetons rebuilt Tzu Hang. When the work was nearly done, Guzzwell left to con- tinue his own adventures on Trekka. Had it not been for him, they might not have survived the dismasting, but they could not ask him to stay on any longer. On Christmas Eve, 1957, Miles and Beryl were again alone in Tzu Hang, boiling along under twin jibs and reefed mizzen in the boisterous Southern Ocean, about three hundred miles off the Chil- ~ 188 ~ ean coast and five hundred miles off the entrance to the Strait of Magellan. It had been a lonely day, and they were somewhat de- pressed. They had their evening cocktail and settled down for the night. The next morning, they set the twins early and opened Christmas presents at breakfast, finding bottles of Vermouth and Pisco, ciga- rettes, and cookies. The barometer was still falling, and soon the wind was up to Force 7. By midday, it was Force 8. They drank to Clio's health and to friends. They ate lunch in the doghouse below the half-open hatch. In the afternoon, Tzu Hang was leaping from crest to valley. First they had to shorten sail, and finally hand them entirely. They secured for the night and went below while their ship, unattended under her little storm jib, reeled off the miles south through the dark night, the mugs shaking on the hooks and the stove rocking in its gimbals. They could not sleep. They lay in the bunks, reading and now and then getting up to check. At daylight, Beryl took the helm. The barometer was down to 28.8. By 10 A.M., the gale was full-blown, and the glass was at 28.6. Back at Talcahuano, navy men had told them, "Don't let the tigres get you." The sea now took on a whitish look, streaked and furrowed with foam, with wide white tops roaring down in a mass of spume. They lashed the helm and went below to lie in the bunks and read, or watch the seas through the doghouse windows. Miles suggested they put out a sea anchor. Beryl thought a moment and then said it was a bit late, was it not? Besides, they had never tried a sea anchor under such conditions. They did not think of using oil, although they had some spare engine oil handy. As they settled back again, the cat Pwe went from one to the other to be petted. They clutched the sides of their bunks anxiously as each spiller roared down on them and struck the hull. The cat was unaware of the danger, and her calm and unconcern served to calm the Smeetons. At 4 P.M., Miles thought of making tea. The storm had been raging for ten hours but now the glass seemed steadier. There was relief with the thought that it might soon be over. Just then, Tzu Hang heeled over sharply as everything went dark again. Instead of panic, Miles found himself cursing. Not again! Not again! Then there was total darkness. He was struggling under water. He found Beryl in the water and together they struggled up. The dog- ~ 189 ~ house was still there, but the hatch was gone, along with the mainmast. On deck, everything was a jumble of broken spars and rigging. Below, everything was a mess, too. "It's the same again," said Miles. "I'll see to the jib," said Beryl. This second capsizing and dismasting occurred at about 48d 30'S and almost due west of the Strait of Magellan, in the same general area as the first one, a year previously. Once again they set about, first to save the ship, then to make repairs, and finally to rig a jury sail and limp back to Valparaiso. This time, they simply loaded Tzu Hang aboard an English freighter and sailed back as passengers via the Panama Canal. Home in England, they hurried off to see Clio. The first words she said were: "Are you going to try again?" "Once was enough," said Miles. "Twice is too many," said Beryl. At least for the time being. After a winter tied up in Paris, writing a book, they returned to England to ship a new diesel engine.(6) With the help of designer H. S. Rouse, they added a new doghouse, bow and stern pulpits, an im- proved rig with slightly larger sail area, and made other changes. At Falmouth, Clio rejoined them and they sailed August 2, 1960, from the Helford River on the first leg of their next long journey. They had no particular itinerary, except to go east-about. They stopped at Spain and Portugal, visiting and exploring ashore. From Gibraltar, they called in frequently along the south coast to Carta- gena and Ibiza, where they spent the winter. From Minorca, they called at African ports, then went to Malta, through the canal with some difficulty from officials, then down through the Red Sea to sweltering Aden. Reef crawling, they sailed the north shore of the Gulf of Aden to Ras, then picked up the northeast monsoon and ran down to Socotra. From there, they cruised down the east coast of Africa to Mombasa, headed east to the Seychelles, then to Diego Garcia, and reached down across the southeast trades to Rodriguez, Mauritius, and Reunion. From here, they sailed to Durban, stopping at exotic places along the way. After some time in South Africa, they went up to Mozambique, crossed to Madagascar and went north again to the Seychelles. At various times, they shipped friends aboard as crew members. From the Seychelles, they beat to Addu Atoll, north of Chagos, then to Ceylon and from Colombo to the Nicobars. Their unusual route took them on to Penang, Singapore, Malaya places long famil- ~ 190 ~ iar to the couple which they now experienced in the context of postwar politics. They were in Sarawak when the news came of the assassination of President Kennedy. Taking the ship route to Sibu, they found the Ghurkas fighting the guerillas, and met a famous lady war correspondent who was doing a story on them. Since Miles had fought with the Ghurkas, and Beryl had been with them on her mobile canteen in the Burma war, they were allowed to go along in the helicopter back into the bush to the encampment. From Malaysia, they sailed across the Sulu Sea to the Philippines, winding through that archipelago to Okinawa. Wintering in Hok- kaido, Japan, they hauled Tzu Hang out and refitted her. On May 15, they sailed from Kushiro, bound for the Kurils, the Aleutians, and British Columbia. On board were Clio; Henry Combe, a friend; Kochi, the dog, and Pwe, the cat. They put in at Attu to the aston- ishment of the lonely U.S. Coast Guard post there. They landed opposite the loran station and hiked across on foot. The first voice they heard was a sailor yelling, "Hey, you guys, there are two broads and a man in a red coat coming over the hill!" They were entertained here and at numerous other outlying posts along the chain, becoming one of the first yachts to explore these fascinating waters. They had written the U.S. Defense Department for permission to enter Dutch Harbor, but had not had a reply. As they arrived, they saw a truck coming down to the pier. It was a man named George Wright and a couple of helpers. He shouted across to them that he had just finished reading Annie Van de Wiele's book, and looked up to see Tzu Hang entering the harbor.(7) At Cold Bay, they encountered an unfriendly and aggressively combative female postmaster, who was also part-time customs official, who told them that Tzu Hang had entered U.S. waters illegally. They were advised by friendly fishermen, however, to go to Sand Point in the Shumagins which had a port of entry for Canadians.(8) There they were warmly welcomed and helped through the red tape, but re- ceived orders to report to the customs officer in Juneau. The trip across the Gulf of Alaska was marred by a feeling of impending doom. At Ketchikan, however, they reported by radio. By now, the news of their plight had become widely known. Although they were technically liable for a fine of up to $3,000, they were let off the hook for only the price of a telephone call. From Ketchikan, they entered Canada again at Prince Rupert. The next year was spent trying to decide what to do next, and in ~ 191 ~ the end, the call of the wild goose flying south got to them. They packed up and headed out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, past Cape Flattery, and down the west coast, stopping at San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, the Mexican islands, and Acajutla in San Salva- dor, where they were arrested and taken to port by two trigger-happy gendarmes and had to buy their way out of another customs mess. They stopped once more at Punta Arenas in Costa Rica, went on to Balboa, through the Canal and on to Portobelo and Jamaica, where Miles had once served some time. From Jamaica, they went to the Grand Caymans, through the Florida Straits and up the U.S. coast to Charleston. By now, through their books and articles, they were world-famous among yachtsmen. The Smeetons were lionized at every stop. They were guests ashore at the lovely tidewater Delaware mansion of Henry Du Pont. They were invited by the prestigious Cruising Club of America to join their annual summer cruise to the Bras d'Or Lakes and Newfoundland, and were nearly overwhelmed by the yachting communities of New York and New England.(9) From Nantucket, they sailed with a loose fleet of yachts to Nova Scotia, then to St. Peter's and Bras d'Or Lakes on Cape Breton Island. From Sydney, they crossed Cabot Strait to Newfoundland, then continued on to Belle Isle and across the Atlantic via Iceland and the Hebrides to England. They had, at last, completed a long, unplanned circumnavigation east-about. Now it was 1968, and Clio was married and had a nine-year-old daughter. With her husband, Alex, and the new grandchild of the Smeetons, they came down to Yarmouth to visit. Somehow, Miles and Beryl felt cast adrift after almost two decades of wandering the oceans of the world. They had been thinking for some time of return- ing to Canada. They were also remembering their two unsuccessful attempts at Cape Horn. Tzu Hang was ready to go. They did not want to try it alone, however, so they enlisted Bob Nance, brother of Bill Nance, who had sailed Cardinal Vertue around the three capes alone. They had met him two years before as a crew member on Andy Whall's thirty-foot Australian sloop Carronade. He was twenty- six then, tall, broad-shouldered, and robust, a typical Aussie ready to try anything. Soon Bob arrived with a large roll of charts. Tzu Hang had been given a new coat of red paint. Sailing on August 19 from Yarmouth, they went to Spain, then to the Cape Verdes, and across the South ~ 192 ~ Atlantic to Montevideo. From here, they started the rugged loop of 50d S to 50d S as had Al Hansen on Mary Jane years before. They remcmbered that Al Hansen had been lost, wrecked on the Chiloe coast. On December 11, they were off the entrance to the Strait. On the thirteenth, they passed Staten Island. On December 15, they were on the latitude of Cape Horn, and on the eighteenth they passed close to that misty rock just as the weather cleared enough to see it and take pictures. On December 17, they were south of Diego Ramirez, and on the twenty-first in approximately the same location as they had been on their second dismasting years before. By the end of December, they were well up toward Juan Fernandez. After stopping at Talcahuano again, their old refitting port, they sailed to Nuka Hiva. They had an easy passage to Hilo and spent several weeks cruising the islands. Suddenly Beryl came down with a severe intestinal attack, requir- ing an emergency operation. Had this occurred only a few weeks earlier, it would have been fatal. It was something to think about. Leaving Oahu on June 5, they made an easy passage to Victoria, arriving June 29. In British Columbia again, they sold their beloved Tzu Hang to Bob Nance, who went to work in Canada to pay for it.(10) Then the Smeetons disappeared for a time, showing up in the mountains of Alberta, far from the sea. This time, they had swal- lowed the anchor.(11) ~ 193 ~ - end Chapter 19 -

To Chapter 20.

================================================================== AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Nineteen 1. Paraphrased from Nevil Shute's introduction to Miles Smeeton's Once is Enough (New York: John de Graff, Inc., 1960). The Smeetons, incidentally, were the prototypes for John and Jo Demmott in Nevil Shute's Trustee From the Toolroom. Unlike the Dermotts who tried to get out of England with their funds converted to diamonds embedded in the concrete ballast of their yacht, the Shearwater, the Smeetons planned to use their impounded savings to buy a yacht, sail it to British Columbia, and sell it there. See Smeeton's last book, The Sea Was Our Village (Sidney, B.C. Gray's Publishing Ltd.). 2. John Guzzwell was also in Victoria at the time, building his tiny Giles-designed Trekka. 3. Tzu Hang was designed by H. S. Rouse and built by Hop Kee at Hong Kong in 1939. She was 46.2 feet overall, 36 feet on the waterline, with a beam of 11.7 feet and a draft of 7 feet. A double-ender, she was originally fitted with a Gray gasoline engine. 4. In 1951, William A. Robinson, with a crew of Tahitians, sailed his 70-foot brigantine Varua over the same route and survived the ultimate storm. 5. Tzu Hang's first capsize and dismasting was in the same general area where Robinson encountered the ultimate storm in 1951 Robinson later reported that he believed this was an uncharted shoal area. 6. Like many a sailing man, the Smeetons were hung-up on engines. Not liking them, they gave them little attention except in an emergency, when, because of neglect, they usually didn't function. Nevil Shute chided them mildly for this. At the first opportunity, the Smeetons replaced the old engine with a modern lightweight marine diesel. 7. The West in My Eyes. See Bibliography. 8. The Smeetons were miffed over this legal entanglement which spoiled their stay in Alaska, but had no one but themselves to blame for it. It is surprising that old travelers and experienced hands at dealing with customs would fall into this trap They did not enter Alaska properly, but even so they would have gotten away with it had it not been for the over-officious part-time agent in Cold Bay. Moreover, the fact that a port of entry is maintained at Sand Point in the lonely Shumagins for the express purpose of serving Canadian fishing vessels suggests that there is a continuing customs problem here with Canadians (and the Smeetons flew the Canadian flag). It is a standard joke in the Aleu- tians and Westward Alaska that the Canadians think they own Alaska. Most Alaskans overlook it, but to some it is a continuing galling irritation. 9. The Smeetons were awarded the Blue Water Medal for 1973 by the Cruising Club of America. 10. During the preparation of this book, I saw the Tzu Hang from the deck of an Anacortes-Sydney ferryboat, tied to a mooring in the San Juans, looking peaceful and content to stay home. Later I made a special trip back by private boat but could not find her. 11. Trying to locate the Smeetons, I was told by their present pub- lisher, Tim Campbell of Gray's Publishing, Ltd., in Sidney, B.C., that I could track them down in Alberta. "They are presently raising two moose on their own game farm near Cochrane, Alberta (about forty miles west of Calgary). They sold their boat to Bob Nance, but come back to the coast now and then to check up on her." When I found the Smeetons in Cochrane, Alberta, Miles Smeeton confirmed that, indeed, they were really raising moose, and that they were working on their next book, Moose Magic. Clio and her husband were also living in Canada. At the time I contacted the Smeetons, they had just entertained Annie Wiele, who was on a visit to Canada.

To Chapter 20.

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