The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


Moby Dick and Other Hazards

Robertson, turned bluewater sailor, and his family, including his
wife, Linda; his son Douglas, 17; the twins, Sandy and Neil, 12; and
a student friend, Robin Williams, 22, were about 200 miles from the
Galapagos Islands on the downhill run to the Marquesas, aboard the
old 39-foot schooner Lucette.
  Robertson was below, working out a sextant sight. Suddenly the
Lucette shuddered under a wrenching blow. He first thought they
must have struck a submerged reef or a heavy floating object, perhaps
a derelict. Then, to his horror, Robertson saw the head of a killer
whale poking through the bottom strake, almost where he was stand-
ing at the chart table.
  The Lucette had been savagely attacked by a pod of at least four
killer whales, one of which was believed to have killed itself by
smashing its head against the lead keel.
  Robertson quickly set up emergency procedures. The fiberglass
dinghy was cut loose (it had been built by students at Miramar High
School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1970 as a class project). Only
nine feet long, it could not function as a lifeboat, but they also had
aboard two rafts, and a three-day survival pack. Within sixty seconds,
the Lucette sank, so there was no time to save the sextant and chart,
or to take more food and water.
  Distracted by the death of their comrade, the other killer whales
paid no attention as the family scrambled into the dinghy and rafts
and paddled around the scene trying to collect a few items from the
flotsam, anything that would help them survive.
  For the next thirty-seven days, the castaways survived through raw
courage, incredible ingenuity, and unfailing hope, until they were
picked up by the Japanese trawler Toka Maru, seven hundred miles
to the north off the coast of Costa Rica, and within one hundred
miles of Robertson's estimated position. They, of course, would never

   ~ 38O ~

have been able to make it back against the prevailing winds to the
Galapagos Islands, nor could they have hoped to survive a drift down
the three thousand miles to the Marquesas.
  During their ordeal, they caught small fish, dolphins, sharks, and
turtles with fishhooks from the survival kit. Some of the fish was
eaten raw, the rest sun dried. Moisture was obtained from the eyes of
the fish and the blood of a seventy-pound turtle. To help prevent
dehydration, they gave themselves enemas with brackish water, which
would have induced vomiting if taken by mouth.
  Seven days after the sinking, they sighted a ship about three miles
away, but the vessel steamed on without stopping.
  When finally picked up, Robertson estimated that they had suffi-
cient supplies for fourteen more days.
  This region of the world's oceans has a long record of whale attacks
or intimidations, whether by true whales or killer whales. The first
recorded instance was the sinking of the ship Essex by a huge fero-
cious whale on November 20, 1819, which assaulted it again and again
as it went down. This episode, and another related in Mocha-Dick:
or the White Whale of the Pacific, by J. N. Reynolds, which appeared
in the May 1839 issue of the Knickerbocker Magazine, formed the
basis for Herman Melville's immortal Moby Dick. In the latter case,
the creature was described as being more than 70 feet long, and that
"the scars of his old wounds were near his new." It could have been a
right or a sperm whale, probably it was the latter.
  Although there is no space to relate it here, the escape of some of
the crew of the Essex in a whaleboat, and their subsequent adven-
tures until they reached South America, is one of the great untold sea
stories of all time.
  Another early recorded case was the ramming and sinking of the
Ann Alexander by a whale in August 1851, the news of which pro-
vided a lucky coincidence for the sale of Moby Dick, which had just
been published.
  In more recent times, Ray Kauffman wrote in Hurricane's Wake,
while he was in that area in the mid-1930s, of encountering a pod of
four menacing whales, which appeared about to attack until some-
thing changed their minds and they swam off.
  Gerald Spiess, in a letter dated April 16, 1971, told of how, on a six-
day passage on Yankee Doodle, a 17-foot sloop, from Panama to
Esmeraldas, Ecuador, he was constantly harassed by whales:
  "There were about a dozen, some of which were jumping com-
pletely out of water. We tried to avoid them, but as we passed them,

   ~ 381 ~

one came charging directly for us. He came at us until he was about
200 feet away, then followed alongside for about five minutes before
jumping completely out of water, crashing down, and rejoining the
  On March 8, 1973, four hundred miles off the coast of Mexico, just
to the north of where the Robertsons were rescued, another Briton,
Maurice Bailey and his wife, Marily, on a circumnavigation aboard
their 31-foot sloop, Aurelyn, were attacked by or collided with a
whale (this one probably a gray whale), and began taking on water.
They had just an hour to get their Avon raft over, collect supplies,
and get away from the sinking derelict.
  For the next incredible 118 days they drifted about on the Pacific,
sighting many ships and yachts, but unable to attract their attention.
Drifting slowly southward, they fished with bent safety pins, catching
at least six small sharks, and ate about thirty turtles and eight
  They were finally picked up by the Korean ship Weol-Mi off
Guatemala on July 4, l973, in a semi-conscious condition. Given
emergency treatment, they recovered to the point where they decided
to go on with the ship to Korea, instead of getting off at Honolulu,
and then return to England to build another boat to continue their
  Just before leaving on the world cruise, Bailey, a printer by trade,
ironically had published a book called, Safety and Survival at Sea.
  The famed trimaran designer and sailer, Arthur Piver, who was
later lost at sea, reported that on his passage from Wairoa, New
Zealand, to Rarotonga on Lodestar, a group of twenty killer whales
surrounded and paced them close astern for twenty minutes, while
the crew remained rigid with fear and suspense, wishing their ten-
knot speed could be doubled.
  In 1971, during the Cape Town to Rio race, the South African
yacht Pioneer was at about the halfway point in the South Atlantic
when she was rammed by a whale and sank within fifteen minutes,
shortly after midnight. The crew barely had time to launch a life
  Before the yacht sank, it turned over enabling them to see where
the spade keel had been torn out of the fiberglass hull, leaving a
gaping hole. The five crew members were miraculously picked up a
few hours later by a passing American freighter. Race officials later
said that it would have been three weeks before anyone could have
determined the yacht was in trouble, and their chances of making

   ~ 382 ~

land or being sighted by another vessel were perhaps one in a million.
  In the summer of 1967, the 30-foot fiberglass Seawind-ketch
Opogee, the first of its kind to circumnavigate, was running down the
trades under twin jibs in the Indian Ocean, more than 700 miles
from the nearest land, when it was attacked by a school of whales.
  Skipper Alan Eddy had just gone below to get a dish towel to dry
the dishes he had washed in the cockpit, when he heard and felt a
tremendous crash. Opogee shuddered from keel to truck. Thinking
he had struck a tree or some other large floating object, he rushed up
on deck to see a dark shape moving alongside the vessels. There was
another shuddering crash, which echoed from the fiberglass hull like
a drum. To his horror, Eddy saw three or four more whales swim-
ming abreast of Opogee, their fins and blunt noses out of water, and
their small beady eyes trained on him. He could have reached over
and touched the closest one.
  Again there was a drum-like sound of a collision and Opogee
shuddered. Off in the distance, there appeared a dozen or more
whales, attracted by the action. Now they came rushing over to join
in. Eddy knew that if they all made a concerted attack, he would
never survive. Already his cabin flooring had been knocked loose.
  But after about thirty minutes of this, during which Eddy dared
not show any movement, the whales tired of the play and went away.
  These creatures were about thirty feet in length or about the
same size as the yacht. They were black with white markings and
high dorsal fins. From Eddy's description, they appeared to be false
killer whales, sometimes called pilot whales.
  In the twenty-fourth Sydney-Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day,
December 26, 1968, a usually boisterous one of 640 miles across the
Tasman Sea, there were 67 entries. One of these, the 45-foot Matuka,
was attacked and sunk by a whale. The crew was able to take to the
life raft, which had been obtained for the race just before leaving
New Zealand in order to comply with the race rules for safety. The
crew members endured five days on the raft before being sighted
and rescued by the steamer Whoolara.
  In 1970, three German bachelors set out from Hamburg on their
31-foot sloop Beachcomber for a leisurely circumnavigation. Aboard
were Erich Neidhardt, Wolfgang Stolling, and Sigfried Schweighofer.
They visited the West Indies, went through the Panama Canal,
sailed down to the Galapagos Islands.
  After a pleasant interlude in the islands, they set out once more on
the classic run down the trades to the Marquesas. About 1,900 miles

   ~ 383 ~

southwest of the Galapagos, they were attacked by two whales and
the Beachcomber sank almost immediately. For twenty-four days, the
three Germans drifted with a dinghy and a life raft, sustaining them-
selves on a half cup of water and some oats a day. They were rescued
by a Russian ship on a passenger charter from Australia and New
Zealand to the United Kingdom.
  Commander Bill King, after his capsize and abortive attempt at a
nonstop circumnavigation during the 1968 Golden Globe Race, set
out again in 1970 on Galway Blazer II. Forced by health and need for
hull repairs, he put in at Western Australia, and on December 12,
1971, left again from Freemantle. About 400 miles to the southwest,
he was suddenly attacked by a killer whale and the yacht badly stove
in. Only his skill and heroic efforts were able to keep the vessel afloat
until jury repairs could be made, including a patch over the hole. He
managed to limp back to port.
  After the attack, Captain King reported, the killer whale came up
astern and leered at him, but did not attempt a second charge.
  D. M. R. Guthrie, in the summer of 1969, on a passage from
Antigua to Bermuda on his 30-foot Widgee, which he had sailed for
30,000 miles on his circumnavigation with his Welsh dog, Cider,
heard and felt a crashing thud. The vessel rolled down on her beam
ends, although the weather was mild at the time. He thought at first
that he had hit a tree or an uncharted reef. Then came another
jolting crash from astern. He rushed up on deck to see a large swirl of
water. Then an enormous black fluke rose ten feet in the air, thrash-
ing angrily. Guthrie said later that he thought it was a blue whale.
More likely it was a finback.
  The next morning, when it was light, he found a lump of skin and
torn blubber caught in the rigging. It took two days to fix the rudder
where it had been jammed before completing the fourteen-day
voyage to Bermuda.
  The Cruising Club of America book Far Horizons recorded this
episode from a report by Dr. Hendrik M. Rozendaal:

       During an early morning watch, Bill Hartman, the first
       mate, ran into a solid object with such force that we
       below all fell out of our bunks. We ran for the com-
       panionway. Just behind the stern of Katrina we saw a
       30-foot sperm whale sticking his head up above the water.
       After a long and ugly look at us, he disappeared under
       the water. For a few moments we lived in lively fear that
       he might give us a whaloping with his flukes. We hastened

       ~ 384 ~

        to check the bilge. Fortunately there was no evidence
        that Katrina had been damaged. I had never thought
        about this hazard of ocean sailing, and I am sure it must
        be a rare occurrence.

  There is a growing body of evidence, however, that whale attacks
or at least encounters are not as rare as most sailors hope. This
mounting evidence may be because of the increasing number of small
vessels sailing the oceans of the world, which leaves a higher per-
centage of surviving Ishmaels to tell the story; or it may be, as the
more imaginative speculate, that the oceans' large mammals, hunted
ruthlessly into the farthest corners of the globe and decimated by
man to the point of near extinction, have begun to fight back, attack-
ing any target that comes into range. It may also be that the more
frequent episodes are the result of more vessels accidentally colliding
with the huge mammals, and becoming damaged in the encounter.
  In the March 1973 issue of Sail magazine, the editorial writer
pointed out:

        The attacks (by whales) have made sailors speculate on
        the risks they run, and what actually causes an attack. Is
        it the shape of the hull, the color of the anti-fouling, the
        accidental intrusion into a whale ceremony of some kind?
          Dr. Peter Beamish of the Marine Ecology Laboratory
        in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, talked with us recently
        about his research on whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
        For his work he found it necessary to use a sailboat and
        he moved among the schools of whales not killer whales
        without fear.
          "Occasionally they would come straight at our boat,
        but they always would dive before reaching us," he said.
          The attacks on Lucette and Galway Blazer II, are of
        course, immensely interesting to anyone who sails ofF-
        shore. They add a new dimension, just as the cluttering
        up of our oceans with massive and potentially dangerous
        pieces of debris does for small boat sailors. But surely the
        lesson of the Lucette is that of the attitude of her skipper
        and survivors.

  During the pre-World War II days, while sailing among the
islands of Southeast Alaska, I often encountered whales in the
passages. They seemed to be leaping and playing we thought to
shake off barnacles. They would frequently come up alongside the

   ~ 385 ~

boat or dive underneath, or even follow astern. Always, however, they
would avoid actual contact with us. At first it was frightening, espe-
cially when we could smell their foul breath they were that close
aboard at times. But after becoming accustomed to the encounters,
we came to be amused, and even to look forward to meeting them.
Needless to say, this youthful naivete tends to give me cold chills
today when I think of it.
  In more recent years, cruising the west coast of Baja California, we
have encountered the gray whales, which migrate from the Bering to
some of these remote tidal lagoons to breed each year. They seem to
offer no danger, unless you happen to get between a female gray and
her youngster.
  Practically every voyager in small vessels who has written about his
experiences has reported encounters of some kind with whales,
including Captain Joshua Slocum. He relates how, on the long run
from Juan Fernandez to Samoa, he had at least one hair-raising
experience and near miss with a great whale that was "absent-
mindedly plowing the ocean at night while I was below." The noise
of the whale's startled snort and the commotion of the sea brought
Slocum up on deck in time to take a wetting from the water thrown
up by the mammal's flukes. The monster was apparently just as
frightened as was Slocum, for it quickly headed east, while the Spray
continued west. Not long after, another whale was sighted, following
in the wake of the first.
  Vito Dumas, on his epic circumnavigation in the Roaring Forties,
reported many whale encounters. Once, off Tasmania, he awoke to
find two huge cachalots (sperm whales) swimming alongside. As
soon as he made a movement, they disappeared. On another occa-
sion, he reported a baby whale playing off to port, while the mother
cruised alongside, keeping a baleful eye on the vessel.
  In the Indian Ocean, Dumas saw many whales, often all around
him, so close he could smell their breath and hear their breathing,
which sounded to him like a far-off naval bombardment "punctuated
by the splash of projectiles."
  Off Cape Leeuwin, a cacholot nearly 50 feet long made two passes
at Legh II, but did not make contact. Another time, during a dark
night, Dumas spotted a whale dead ahead. It swerved off and swam
around to the stern, probably out of curiosity. But Dumas did not
like such a "dangerous neighbor" and flashed his electric torch to
scare it off. This was followed some time later by an incident when an

      ~ 386 ~

enormous whale cut across his bows and nearly collided. Just as the
vessel was about to touch him, the whale dived.
  Marjorie Petersen relates in Stornoway, East and West, how, in the
Mediterranean, they encountered a huge whale which circled while
huffing and puffing, but eventually swam away without attacking.
  Chay Blyth, who sailed nonstop around the world "the wrong
way," from east to west in the high southern latitudes, related how in
the vicinity of Cape Horn he encountered whales close aboard and
for a few tense moments pondered whether or not to use the explo-
sive charges he had brought along just for this purpose. He finally
decided it might anger them into attacking his 57-foot steel yacht.
  Eric Hiscock, in Around the World in Wanderer III, wrote:

        We had previously regarded whales as benign and harm-
        less creatures, as indeed they generally are; but now that
        we know more about them and their habits, it seems to
        us that when we are sailing through a pod, especially at
        night, there is some risk of a yacht striking, while ap-
        proaching in the blind sector, and the result might then
        be serious. We kept a more careful lookout than usual
        on our way home and saw a large number of whales.

  Bill and Phyllis Crowe, who also won the Blue Water Medal, on
their circumnavigation had an almost identical experience to the
Hiscocks in the same general location.

        One evening while in the galley fixing coffee, there was
        a sudden crash that shook the ship from stem to stern.
        My knees came up and I had to hold on to keep from
        falling. Lang Syne was clipping along about eight knots
        with the mate at the wheel . . . so my first thought was
        that the mainmast had broken, and I ran to the hatch.
        The mate was holding her side and pointing to a com-
        motion in the wake astern of us. "A whale," she gasped.
        "He threw me clean off the seat!" Several sleeping whales
        had been seen on the surface and I had always wondered
        if they would hear us coming if we got close. This one
        was evidently a sound sleeper. . . The bobstay was
        slack and the seven-eighths inch diameter bronze eyebolt
        had been bent and the stem split.

  Whale attacks or at least recorded legend goes back to Jonah,
son of Amittai, who, in fleeing the presence of the Lord, went down

   ~ 387 ~

to Joppa and found a ship bound for Tarshish. He paid the fare and
went aboard. During the voyage, the Lord caused a great tempest,
during which the captain and the crew threw Jonah overboard to
appease the evil spirits. The Lord then appointed a "great fish" to
swallow up Jonah, and he remained in the belly of the whale for three
days and three nights, before the whale vomited Jonah up on dry
  Few of the reports of encounters identify the large ocean mammals
by species, but generally lump them all into the term "whales."
Actually there are many families of whales baleens, finbacks, nar-
whals, sperms, and beaked whales, as well as the large dolphin family
which includes the so-called killer whales. Of the true whales, the
finback, sperm, and gray have been regarded as the most dangerous,
especially during the mating and calving season. Charles Nordhoff
(uncle of the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty), in his rare book,
Whaling and Fishing, wrote that sperm whales were known among
whalemen as the ones which fed upon the giant squid from the
bottom of the sea. The sperms would make incredible dives of up to
a mile deep to find and do battle with the enormous cuttle fish
which some believed to be larger than the largest whale. This was
undoubtedly the "kraken" of ancient tales.
  Hunted commercially for at least 500 years, whales are believed to
have once numbered more than five million. During the past fifty
years, more than two million have been ruthlessly slaughtered, mostly
by the killer fleets of Japan and Russia, until at this writing eight of
the fourteen species over twenty feet long are on the brink of extinc-
tion. The largest of the fourteen, the blue whale, which is believed to
be the largest animal that ever lived on earth, reaching a length of
more than one hundred feet, numbers only about a hundred remain-
ing in all the oceans. This may be too few for the survivors to find
each other for mating purposes.
  The finback, once estimated at half a million, now numbers less
than 80,000 and is a prime target of the Japanese gunners. The
Pacific right and the gray whale border on the endangered zone. The
sei, sperm, humpbacked, and Baird's beaked whale are also in deep
  The other species over twenty feet long include the Pacific black-
fish, little piked whale, killer whale, false killer whale, goose beaked
whale, and Stejneger's beaked whale.
  The United States banned all whaling in 1971 and now even
prohibits the imports of whale products. Canada followed in 1973

  ~ 388 ~

with a similar ban. Neither country, however, had much of a whaling
industry left, the economics of it being prohibitive. The net result
was that Japan and Russia continued their intense whaling efforts just
outside the twelve-mile limit off the North American continent 
waters which U.S. and Canadian whalers had abandoned. In 1973, the
total Japanese and Russian take of whales in the North Pacific alone
was about ten thousand.
  If any species or family of species on earth has had reason to turn
upon man, it is the whale.
  Many of the encounters have not been with whales, but killer whales.
This species (Grampus orca) has long had a reputation of being a
ruthless and ferocious hunter, compared to the more docile whale.
Killer whales are found in all oceans and seas, tropical and polar, from
the Arctic to the Antarctic. They are distinguished by the distinctive
white patches on an otherwise black skin, and large conical teeth.
They often travel in packs, hunting like wolves. In fact, they are
sometimes called the "Wolves of the Sea."
  Rogert Strout, Who built and circumnavigated in a reproduction of
Slocum's Spray, from 1934 to 1937, reported how he and his wife
witnessed an attack of a pack of killer whales on a blue whale in the
Tasman Sea. The killers circled the whale, repeatedly darting in to
slash the victim until it died.
  Once, while salmon fishing from a small boat in the waters off
Vancouver Island, I witnessed a blood-curdling episode. A large pack
of about twenty killer whales appeared, almost in military formation,
their high scimitar dorsal fins cutting precise wakes, the largest in
front, the smaller ones or juveniles behind. They were pacing a large
school of salmon, which was migrating through the strait on the way
to the Fraser River. Suddenly the killer whale formation broke off
into two circles, each going a different way around the school of
salmon. As the circles drew smaller, the salmon were driven to the
surface in a boiling frantic mass of confusion and panic. Then, when
the salmon were bunched up and disoriented, the killer whales broke
formation and slashed in for the kill. Few of the salmon escaped.
  Killer whales, according to Dr. Bruce W. Halstead in Dangerous
Marine Animals (Cornell Maritime Press, 1959), are fast swimmers
and will attack anything that moves. They have been known to come
up through the ice in polar regions and to knock people and seals
into the water. They are extremely intelligent animals, and a number
of them have been caught, trained, and kept as pets in the Puget
Sound area.

   ~ 389 ~

Among other recorded whale encounters are the following:

    The 42-foot plywood Matufu was sunk by a whale in December
  1968 between New Zealand and Australia.

    The 32-foot fiberglass fin-keel Pioneer was sunk by a whale in
January 1971, during the Cape Town to Rio Race.

    The yacht Rage hit what was reported to be a 30-foot sperm
  whale in the 1971-1972 Sydney-Hobart Race.

    The Phayet hit a whale during the 1972 Bermuda Race and
  injured the whale.

    The 57-foot slooper Aries was hit three times by a whale 180
  miles from Tahiti during the 1972 Tahiti Race.

    Flame and Sargasso II both reported hitting whales in the 1972
  Victoria-Maui Race.
    One of the crewmen on the Sargasso II told me that the yacht
  had run up on the back of the whale, and for some time was in
  danger of being capsized.

  Not all encounters have been with whales or killer whales. In
Desperate Voyage (New York: Balantine Books, 1949), John Cald-
well tells of a giant devilfish:

       Slightly abaft the beam and about 100 yards out, the sea
       surface rippled, then it rippled again. I stood up and
       watched, expecting to see a school of porpoises. The
       splashes and eddies drew never. Then, breaking the water
       and gliding smoothly beneath the keel, came a giant
       devilfish. He approached Pagan as though he hadn't
       seen her, and when he passed, he turned and slipped
       deliberately back, coming close enough to touch the
       planking, eyeing me with black protruding eyes . . . re-
       morseless in his power; confident as a peacock; more ar-
       rogant than a shark.                     

  In one of his fine books on voyaging, Eric Hiscock related how
Wanderer III was attacked in the South Atlantic by what appeared
to be a giant swordfish.
  In a similar episode, Dr. Holcomb reported that on his circumnavi-
gation, while in the vicinity of Madagascar, his yacht was rammed by

    ~ 390 ~

a giant swordfish, its sword holing a plank below the engine bed,
which was inaccessible from inside the hull. The pumps had to be
manned for four days, until they reached Cochin where repairs were
  Alain Gerbault also reported an attack by a giant swordfish in New
Guinea waters.
  The most dangerous sea creatures, however, are not the large
mammals. Dr. Halstead, in Dangerous Marine Animals, lists dozens
of marine denizens that bite, sting, or are poisonous to eat a large
percentage of which are usually fatal to man. Sharks are a serious
hazard to swimmers and divers. So are groupers, rays, barracuda,
morays, tridacna clams (the kind that Slocum filled Spray with in the
Keeling-Cocos), sea wasps and anemones, a number of species of sea
worms and urchins, ratfishes, catfishes, scorpionfishes, stonefishes,
and poisonous molluscs. The seas are swarming with such hazards.
  But by far the most serious are the many species of man-attacking
sharks. Since antiquity, when man first entered or sailed upon the
seas, the shark has been regarded as a mortal enemy, and with good
reason. One of the early references to this comes from Pliny the
Elder, during the first century A.D., who wrote about the encounters
of sponge fishermen with dogfish (a species of shark).
  During World War II, when thousands of men were thrown into
the sea by ship sinkings, and the chance of finding one's self in the
salt chuck among the maneaters was very good indeed at times, the
Navy published a good deal of nonsense designed to reassure sailors
and soldiers, and a number of so-called shark repellent devices were
invented and issued. Today we know that most of the advice on how
to handle sharks was hogwash, and most of the repellents do not
  Not all marine creatures are enemies of man, however. For more
than twenty years, until the spring of 1912, mariners crossing Cook
Strait between the main islands of New Zealand reported being
piloted by a dolphin. This was Peloris Jack, probably a Risso's
dolphin (Grampus griseus), and his appearance was always regarded
as a good omen. Peloris Jack disappeared in the spring of 1912, and
was believed to have died of old age.


how good was their health when making passages, the incidence of
sickness, deaths, and emergencies requiring operations is far larger

    ~ 391 ~

than most voyagers would like to think. Medical disasters probably
account for the unexplained disappearance of as many, if not more,
small-boat voyagers than marine mammals. Not many especially
not many singlehanders leave detailed clinical journals of their
problems, as did Donald Crowhurst, who lost his mind and com-
mitted suicide in the 1968 Golden Globe Race.
  In this age of vitamins, concentrated minerals, and health fads, the
idea of the ancient disease of the sea scurvy seems as far-fetched as
a kraken. Wasn't this cured and wiped out as far back as Captain
James Cook's voyages?
  Not so. The disease, often unnoticed or undiagnosed, has struck
even some of the transatlantic solo racers, even those on a daily diet
of vitamins. Undoubtedly, many of Vito Dumas's medical problems
during his solo circumnavigation in the Roaring Forties can be attrib-
uted to the early stages of scurvy. On a passage from Bermuda to
England, Captain J. H. Illingworth, the famed British yachtsman and
naval officer, began to feel the symptoms only a week out, although
he was taking vitamins and had fresh fruit aboard.
  Conor O'Brien, who suffered from blindness on his homeward
passage from Pernambuco to the Cape Verde Islands, was without
doubt a scurvy victim, and by the time he got to port his Tongan
mate was also incapacitated by some unknown illness.
  Ann Davison, who singlehanded across the Atlantic to New York
in 1952 aboard the 23-foot Felicity Ann after her husband died,
reported the effects of what surely was the early stages of scurvy.
  In no less than half of the hundred or so voyages analyzed for this
book, symptoms of this mariner's disease cropped up here and there,
usually undetected by the victims. Symptoms begin with a depressed
mental outlook, then progress to boils, abscessed teeth, great weak-
ness of limbs, loss of hair, and skin rash. Even in mild cases, loss of
some teeth is common. Nutritionists say that the disease is not un-
common today, even among those on land who follow "normal" diets,
especially if they are limited to dehydrated milk and juices.
  The food lists and diets published in the appendices of many
accounts of small boat voyages vary from the incredible to the bizarre,
and are guaranteed to shock any conscientious dietitian. They are, in
fact, dietetic time bombs which can create not only loss of good
judgment on long passages, but also a physical condition that cannot
cope with unusual sea conditions.
  The cure for scurvy, of course, is simple and spectacular, and has
not changed since Cook's day. Raw vegetable and fruit juices, and

   ~ 392 ~

raw potatoes, especially those which have not been washed of the
earth from which they were dug are recommended. One of the best,
if not the best, anti-scorbutics, is the lemon. Fresh bread, made from
flour, yeast, or sourdough, is believed helpful. Any kind of raw vege-
table and most fruits are also good. In any case, voyagers should
consult a physician who is also a nutritionist (many doctors know
little or nothing of dietary matters), before departing. NASA research
for space travel, when released, should be invaluable.
  If one needs any incentive to do so, a reading of Anson's circum-
navigation in the early eighteenth century should convince anyone. In
one of the most horrible continuing episodes of scurvy in maritime
history, 626 men out of the combined crews of the Centurion, Tryall,
and Gloucester, totaling 961, died from the disease.
  William Robinson, who had not been sick a day in his life, even
during his first voyage when he lived for months on native fare in the
remote islands of Melanesia and Micronesia, including disease-ridden
New Guinea, described in living color his experience with a ruptured
appendix in the Galapagos Islands on a second voyage aboard Svaap.
The spectacular rescue by ships and planes of the U.S. Army and
Navy from Panama in the nick of time, and his recovery, has been
told elsewhere in this volume.
  The Galapagos area of the Pacific, in fact, has been the scene of an
astonishing number of appendectomies. Perhaps it is the water or the
food. After leaving one appendix in a hospital in Balboa, the Irving
Johnsons on Yankee had a second such emergency, which required a
detour into a mainland Ecuador port to get air transportation back to
Panama. Later, on the same voyage, another appendix case occurred
as they approached South America from the Atlantic side, this one re-
quiring an emergency operation.
  Robin Lee Graham, the youngest person to sail around the world
alone, suffered an attack of appendicitis during an earlier voyage with
his family on the 36-foot Golden Hind. The attack occurred while in
the doldrums, and again when 120 miles from Tahiti. He spent three
weeks in a primitive hospital infested by giant cockroaches.
  On their last voyage, around Cape Horn and up to the Hawaiian
Islands, the Smeetons nearly ran out of luck. Beryl Smeeton was then
developing a serious intestinal problem which erupted soon after they
reached Hawaii, and required major surgery. Had it happened a little
sooner, she probably would not have survived.
  Sicknesses have been common. Jack and Charmian London had to
abort their circumnavigation on the Snark in New Guinea because

   ~ 393 ~

Jack picked up a serious tropical bug. The fun-loving Ray Kauffman
was decked in New Guinea waters by recurring tropical fevers, which
required a detour to medical facilities in Australia. The Fahnestocks
had to abandon their circumnavigation and sell Director in the
Philippines for the same reason. Both Peter Tangvald and his girl
friend suffered what he reported as heart attacks on his circumnavi-
  Leonid Teliga and Walter Koenig sailed around the world with
terminal illnesses that took them soon after completing the voyages.
  Commander George Fairley, who had been invalided out of the
Royal Navy for diabetes, required daily injections of insulin on his
voyages. This often became a matter of life and death when the seas
were too rough to boil a needle, to say nothing of administering to
himself. Once or twice he ran out of insulin before reaching port,
arriving just in time to be taken ashore in a coma. His dream ship was
a 23-foot sloop, Dawn Star.
  The Reverend Frederick Watts was 82, and he had loved the sea
and sailed over it all his life. He had just survived another heart
attack and major surgery for cancer. He knew his time was about up.
He left Suva, Fiji Islands, in April 1969, without a destination, on
Jessie W., his trimaran. In July, his vessel was found dismasted and
sinking. The last entry in the log, dated May 29, just a routine note,
was beside the body. The captain of the ship which found him
decided to sink the Jessie W. with the body aboard. The seacocks
were opened, and he was buried at sea with his ship.
  Steve Dolby discovered in 1964 that he was going blind, at age 26.
Before this happened, he wanted to see more of the world. He out-
fitted his 24-foot fiberglass sloop, installed a self-steering vane, named
the ship Ghost Rider, and departed Sydney, Australia in July 1971 on
a circumnavigation. His first leg was to Mauritius. Encountering a
gale in the Indian Ocean, he broke the top of the mast, and made
port under a jury rig for repairs. Leaving there, he headed for South
Africa, again alone. By this time, he could not take a star sight
because of blurred vision, and could only read a chart by holding his
face a few inches away from it.
  No one will ever know how many erstwhile circumnavigators
succumbed to the loneliness of weeks and months at sea. Even
Slocum, who had sailed the oceans all his life, including five circum-
navigations, reported how on several occasions he gave way to his
feelings and broke down.

   ~ 394 ~

  Dumas reported many fits of melancholy, especially during his
Atlantic crossing to South Africa in 1941. It was during this voyage
that an arm became so badly infected that he had decided to
amputate it himself. Fortunate]y, the septic wound broke open and
drained itself in his sleep, before he had to attempt a self-operation.
  Fits of loneliness have affected even the most extroverted of
voyagers, such as Tahiti Bill Howell, who at times broke down and
cried with frustration when things went wrong. The case of Donald
Crowhurst has been well-documented, and the authors of the clinical
book on this tragic subject offered the rather sobering reminder that
would-be voyagers ought to consider what happened to Crowhurst
when contemplating long singlehanded passages. The records of even
the popular Transatlantic Singlehanded Race, a relatively short pas-
sage with plenty of assistance available if needed, show a high
incidence of mental and emotional breakdowns. Dr. David Lewis,
who with his family circumnavigated in their catamaran, recorded
almost clinically the mental and emotional strains of sea life, and how
unreasonable fears and anxieties nearly aborted their voyage at the
start. Such unflappable sailors as Eric Hiscock admitted to these
mental pressures. Hiscock wrote that at sea on a long passage, espe-
cially during rough weather, anxiety almost always was present, some-
times bordering on panic.
  This ever-present subconscious fear of the sea, in fact, may be the
psychological reason for its great fascination for many voyagers,
although few of them have really understood this, and fewer yet have
admitted it.
  F. DeWitt Wells, the aging middle-class New Yorker who pur-
chased the famous teak ketch Shanghai from its owners upon its
arrival in Denmark from the Orient in 1924 to fulfill a life-long
ambition to make an ocean voyage, realized this and candidly wrote
of it in his book, The Last Cruise of the Shanghai, in which he
related the causes of dissension on the rough two-month passage
across the North Atlantic with an amateur crew:
  "Chapman had told the truth, and like all truths it hurt; for I
realized for the first time that I was afraid nearly the whole of the
way, but I did not know that I had shown it. I began to question
whether after all I was not a coward and I decided that I was. It was
a curious psychology that probably the reason I had taken the trip
was because I managed to get such a tremendous pleasure out of
being afraid of the sea. The sea is an enemy to everyone."

    ~ 395 ~

  The effects of such mental and emotional pressures often resulted
in hallucinations, especially when accompanied by a physical prob-
lem such as when Slocum ate purple plums and white cheese, and
rolled on the floor semi-consciously as Spray sailed on through the
night. It was during this attack when the pilot of the Pinta appeared
to take charge, and thereby became the patron saint of all single-
  Slocum also reported hallucinations in the high southern latitudes
near the Falklands, when seagulls appeared on the horizon as big as
ships, and the next instant everything appeared microscopic, like
some latter-day Gulliver's travels.
  No one will ever know how many vessels have disappeared without
a trace (including Slocum's Spray and the first copy of it, Pandora),
because of judgments influenced by mental aberrations. None other
than the founder of the Slocum Society himself, John Pflieger, went
this way. On a voyage from Bermuda to Antigua in the spring of
1966, aboard his Stella Maris, he disappeared. The last entry was July
10, 1966, when he spoke a large tanker overtaking him at 2026'N
and 6118W.
  When the Stella Maris was found, everything was in order, and
Pflieger's pipe was on the seat.
  William Wallin left Kalmor, Sweden, aboard his sloop Vagabond
on May 1, 1969, headed for the Azores via Kiel and Plymouth. His
vessel was found abandoned with everything in order on July 6, by
the Swedish ship Goler, 600 miles short of the Azores. His disappear-
ance is a mystery.
  One of the most poignant medical disasters happened to Com-
mander George Fairley, who started on a four-year circumnavigation
in July 1968 with a companion, Mrs. Jean Oatley, who was also a
diabetic (see above), aboard Dawn Star. On June 25, 1969, they
sailed from Las Perlas bound for the Galapagos Islands. Four days
out, Mrs. Oatley complained of illness but continued to stand
watches and cook meals. The next day she was in much pain, local-
ized in the abdomen.
  Fairley turned the vessel around and with both sail and power,
tried to find help. On July 1, Mrs. Oatley died. The Dawn Star's log
for that date reads:
  "Stopped at 1800. Gave service and wrapped her in a blanket and
with two shackles round her legs, committed her to the deep at 1015,
five miles west of Cabo Mala."

    ~ 396 ~


that should be given consideration by any would-be circumnavigator.
These include such things as harassment by customs and port offfi-
cials, harbor thievery, lack of supplies and repair facilities, and
outright piracy.
  Such incidents are as common today as they were when Slocum
spread tacks on his deck and loaded the old Martini-Henry, or outran
the pirate fellucas. Richard Zantzinger recorded in The Log of the
Molly Brown how he was boarded by phony port officials at George-
town, who left only at the point of a shotgun; and of being robbed by
a sixteen-year-old hoodlum in Mauritius.
  Captain Ted Falcon-Baker, an Australian ex-commando, was at-
tacked one night aboard his 30-foot sloop off Haiti, near a place
appropriately called Massacre Bay. The three persons aboard were at
the time suffering from fish poisoning when the attackers came out in
a canoe. One of Falcon-Baker's crew was killed by a knife wound, but
not before two of the attackers were killed by shotgun.
  A similar encounter occurred to another voyager, Francis Brenton,
off the Dominican Republic.
  But of all the non-medical emergencies that can occur at sea, the
most frequent are man-overboard, collision, fire at sea, hull failure,
and weather in that order, with weather far down on the list.
  Falling overboard is a far more frequent happening than most
people, even sailors, realize. It does happen often, and in the case of a
singlehander, can be a harrowing experience. Robin Lee Graham
went over the side twice during his circumnavigation, both times with-
out the safety line attached.
  It has occurred even to such careful and experienced sailors as Dr.
and Mrs. Bob Grifffith. On one passage, Nancy was caught by a
bellying mainsail during an accidental jibe and thrown up six feet and
over the rail into the ocean. At the time, they were making a good
eight knots. It took a half hour of expert ship handling to get her
back aboard.
  Beryl Smeeton was thrown into the sea during their first capsize
after her safety line snapped on their attempt to round Cape Horn,
and was miraculously rescued by John Guzzwell and Miles Smeeton,
although she had a dislocated arm and the vessel was in imminent
danger of sinking.

   ~ 397 ~

  Chris Loehr, on a singlehanded transatlantic passage aboard his
yacht Frilo, was swept overboard and lost. The last log entry aboard
was dated January 31, 1971, made during a storm. The yacht was
taken aboard the British ship Port Vinoles in good condition.
  Aake Mattson, on a singlehanded passage from Sweden in 1971,
was swept overboard from his wrecked yacht off Brazil and swam for
two days before being rescued by a passing trawler.
  Rudi Wagner left England aboard his new 35-foot catamaran with
his wife and son, Rudi. They had a rough passage, and in the Bay of
Biscay, Rudi was washed overboard by a following sea which swept
the decks clean. He was saved by his lifeline, which held, and his wife
pulled him back aboard.
  Probably the most harrowing of all was the experience of single-
hander Fred Wood, who was swept off the deck of his Windsong in
an accidental jibe during a passage from Tahiti to Hawaii. At the
time, fortunately, he was only five miles from Christmas Island. He
swam for seven hours before reaching a reef.
  He managed to stay clear of the surf breaking by listening to the
sounds in the dark, and made his way on the coral to a place where
he could fashion a raft and cross the lagoon. He reached the settle-
ment 15 days after the accident, surviving on coconut meat and land
crabs. He never saw Windsong again, nor has the vessel ever turned
  The most controversial case of man-overboard, of course, was the
disappearance of Captain John Voss's mate, Louis Begent, on the
passage from Fiji to Australia. Voss's former mate, Norman Luxton,
later accused Voss of murdering Begent.
  The incidence of collision, too, is far higher than most sailors like
to think about. As the oceans of the world become increasingly
crowded with vessels of all kinds, the problem is bound to get much
worse. But it has always been a problem, and it is entirely likely that
many missing voyagers have been run down unnoticed by passing
ships, even in the most remote parts of the oceans. Both Slocum and
his successors on the Pandora are believed to have disappeared this
way. Captain Harry Pidgeon was nearly dismasted by a freighter in
the South Atlantic. Robin Lee Graham missed being run down by a
freighter one dark night in the Solomon Sea by the thickness of a
coat of paint.
  Even if they see a yacht on a collision course, modern ships, es-
pecially the big tankers, cannot be stopped or even turned in less than
about a mile. Some of them are so huge that the people on the bridge 

   ~ 398 ~

cannot see anything on the water less than eight miles away. Radar is
of questionable help. The officers on the bridge glance at the screen
only occasionally. Lookouts are notoriously lax in keeping a sharp eye
out for other vessels or obstructions. Many ships, especially those of
marginal operations, are undermanned and criminally careless even
during periods of fog and limited visibility in crowded ship channels.
  For the small-boat voyager, in addition to the very real danger of
being run down by a larger vessel, there is also the hazard of colliding
with the increasing amount of flotsam on the oceans of the world 
derelicts, logs and trees, partly submerged tanks, lumber, and trash of
all kinds.
  The waters of the North Pacific, where I cruise, are filled with
floating and half-submerged logs which are called "deadheads," with
good reason, and are extremely difficult to see. On the ocean, I have
found the best indicator to be seagulls. Every floating log will usually
have a few birds perched on it.
  On one voyage off the coast of Baja, in 1969, we struck at night
what turned out to be a large wooden cable reel. It damaged the
prop, bent the rudder, and nearly holed the vessel.
  Clearly, the oceans of the world are inherently hazardous and
unforgiving to those who would sail upon them, especially in small
yachts. This, however, has not in the past and never will in the future
deter those blithe souls who take to the sea in small boats. There are
hazards and things to worry about everywhere in life, including the
home, office, and city streets.
  If the circumnavigators have had anything in common, it is that
they do not worry much about things that might happen.

  ~ 399 ~

end chapter "Moby Dick and Other Hazards"

To - Around the Three Capes

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