|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part V / Chapters 5-6|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part V - In Search of A Wayward Wind|
Until 1100 hours that June 7, the winds were virtually non existent. The sky gradually turned from pale amethystine shades at sunrise to smokey blue as Sol rose, unperturbed, over the gradually lowering Manila skyline in the distance. It was impressive. A sea mist hung close to the water protecting the sleeping life below from the erstwhile chill of the night until the blanket was pushed aside by the increasing warmth of the closest star.
The engine rattled in constant rhythm as we pushed onward on a heading of 238° past San Nicholas Shoals and some 15 miles westward of Manila where we altered course slightly to clear Fuego Point. The sea had practically no swell and, other than our modest wake through the water, nothing disturbed the placid surface other than an occasional gull touching down to retrieve its morning meal and fish breading the water with a leap upward to avoid becoming a morning meal by something larger below.
The clear unpolluted air offered us an increasingly quartz clear view of the tropical green landscape we were passing. It was a panorama which could not possibly be captured by mere man even on canvas. The feeling of serenity was enhanced when, at 1105 hours, the wind behind us was sufficient to set the 160% Genoa, main and mizzen and turn off the engine. An unfettered REBEL YELL, shaking herself loose from the unnatural iron girdle which was her engine, responded to her calling under sail alone by wisping along, hull angled slightly by the pressure in her sails, as if she were some tropical bird tilting her head to listen for the slightest command. The only sound now heard was the gentle rustling of the wind through her bustle and the swish and gurgle of the passing water under her derriere.
We moved onward, muted, past the southern tip of Corregidor and its guardian fortresses which had been carved out of rock formations conveniently left by nature. Left there in the sea until man altered them to suit his carnivorous nature. It was when the engine shut down that Chris and Jeff appeared on deck. They, too, sat in silence talking in the tranquility of the scene. It seemed as though we were still and a panorama of shore was moving past us like a movie set.
The wind held until 1900 hours and by that time we were abreast of the Gobo Island light where another course change was in order. Our tract was to take us past Lubong Island where we would turn more southward and pass through the Strait of Mindoro. The Calamian group of islands and their dangers would be adroitly avoided by altering directly south to the Quyo Islands. There we turned somewhat westward on a path calculated to take us directly to Puerto Princessa.
Puerto Princessa is almost midway on the eastern shore line of Palawan Island at a latitude of approximately 9° north. Manila, in comparison lays near 14° north. We sailed more and more into real tropical seas and the scenery was formidable. The further south we sailed, the less we had to worry about Typhoons. This was good.
The Phillipine Archipelago is abound in tens of thousands of small islands. Some inhabited by man and some not. The fish and wildlife hereabout is a Sierra Clubber’s delight. Ernie, the fisherman, had carved a fishing lure which resembled a tailless stub-winged airplane about 8 inches long. To this he connected about six feet of strong leader and a large tri-hook artfully concealed within a home made artificial lure. The main fishing line was 60 pound test and this was played out behind the yacht as we slipped silently through the water. A rubber innertube was split up and used as a shock cord between the trailing line and the part which was fastened to the rail.
In these relatively shallow waters, which are a wonderland of upward thrusting living coral thriving in a warm shallow sea with pure clean sand at the bottom, it was predestined that but a few moments would pass before Ernie let out a war whoop.
"PESCADOR! A fish!”
Where he was pointing the hand carved skip lure (teaser) which normally flitted gaily on top of the water simulating a wounded flying fish, had dipped below the surface and the bungee shock cord was pulled out almost to the breading point. Something big had taken our bait!
“Do you want me to lower sail or come around dead in the water?”
“No No! It’s a big one and we have to use the speed of the boat to wear him out!”
“You know, Ernie,” I cried as excited as he was “as long as I’ve been sailing and tried to catch a fish while under sail, this is the first time it has ever happened!”
By then everyone on board was in the cockpit watching the event. Our first fish! The Sayes was on the helm so we could all witness the fight. Jeff was jumping up and down like a yo-yo. After a few moments, the fish started running towards the boat. Ernie took advantage of the slack to haul in the line. When the fish sounded again, he draped the line over the nearest cleat to give him the advantage he needed to hold the line against the fighting fish. The fish would sound, then break the surface in a magnificent leap before sounding or running towards the boat again. This procedure was repeated time and time again until the quarry was close enough to identify what we had.
“Tuna!” Ernie said. “Big one!”
And indeed it was. At least 30 pounds of silver and blue tuna flashed back and forth under the surface of the water just behind the boat.
“God, Ernie, look at the size of him! How are you going to get him aboard?” I knew that we didn’t have a large gaff. How in the world had I forgotten to buy a gaff when sailing through one of the great fishing grounds in the world?
The boat continued to slip through the water at about 5 knots and the tuna soon tired. Ernie was able to bring it up alongside and the three men and Jeff tried to haul it aboard using the leader alone. Half way up the side it made just one more courageous burst for freedom . . . and the line broke!
“Oh hell!” I shouted. Ernie stood there with nothing but bare line in his hands. The fish had not only broken the main line but had taken with him the carved lure, the leader and the hook-lure.
Ernie looked at the empty line. “I get more lure made.”
“Dad, if we get another one, can I pull it in?” Jeff asked. He had been yelling and running up and down the deck during the fight even more excited than the rest of us. I looked at my skinny little boy and figured that, pound for pound, he and the fish were probably a push!
“If Ernie says its OK, then its all right with me. I would suggest you use some help, however.”
Even Chris enjoyed the show and allowed that this kind of fishing could really be fun.
“Very few fish that size are found in New Mexico,” I offered in reference to her childhood home. It was nice that something about sailing had finally tweeted her sporting interest. We were starting to have fun and that was the way it was always intended to be.
The trip settled back down to what was perfunctory. Florento was usually around and in sight only during those hours which demanded that he be on watch or when the feed bag was on. The rest of the time he spent sleeping. I never saw anyone sleep that much except perhaps a very old man ready to kick over the traces or on the other end of the stick, a six months old baby! His long hours of rest did not seem to dim his appetite however. What he lacked in enthusiasm, Ernie made up in spades.
Always busy, Ernie made short ropes for tying sails when not secured in bags and braided the main sheets into what he considered to be a better example of boatswainship. From time to time, he would go below and make coffee or tea and serve it to anyone on deck. Other times he would work on fishing gear or do such cleaning and polishing as he thought was necessary. He spent a lot of time with Jeff teaching him the things he knew. Ernie was the ideal crewman.
Chris alternated from the owner’s cabin where she hid to read (all access doors were then closed as an indication of her desire to ostracize herself from anyone’s company), and a position amidships where she sunned herself underway. In any case, she offered little conversation and barely answered anyone including Jeff. It was just her way of kicking back and enjoying the tranquility of sailing under ideal conditions. As we had sufficient crew, no demands were placed on her regarding watches. Sometimes she volunteered.
Jeff spent most of his time in the forward cabin reading illegally produced copies of comic books (the Taiwanese copy everything and sell it at a discount), magic trick books and games for calculators. He alternated his reading with hours playing with the Micronaut collection of which he owned every one made at the time.
The routine of eating aboard went something like this. For breakfast we usually started off with instant coffee which Ernie always made. It was consistently God awful strong and, if you didn’t say anything each time aforehand, heavily laced with sugar. Filipinos always sock the sugar to everything! We did not fry bacon or the like which would splatter grease because of the obvious fire hazard on a pitching rolling boat. We would have dry cereal swimming in "6 months milk” a reconstituted whole milk which had been pre-treated to prevent spoilage. To this we would usually add scrambled eggs and sometimes diced Spam. Fruit, too, if we had it.
At noon we usually shuffled for ourselves. Peanut butter (the Yankee cruiser’s mainstay) and jelly sandwiches seemed to be everyone’s favorite. We also had sliced cheese and dried salami for snacks. The cheese, like the butter, came in cans from Australia or New Zealand and was very good. Chris had taught Ernie how to make scones in the frying pan and, as the bread we brought along would last only a few days before spoiling in the tropical heat, they became a worthy and nourishing substitute. Also, we had a passel full of saltine type crackers which came in special tins to keep their crispness. Hard boiled eggs were also consumed in quantity in addition to all types of fresh and canned fruits. In other words, at midday, we snacked!
Late in the day, weather permitting, a hot dish would be served. In deference to the Filipinos every meal included rice. (Ernie said he got sick if he didn’t have his rice.) Potatoes were fried with onions and corned beef and served with plenty of catsup on top. Macaroni and cheese or a concoction called chili-mac was offered at least once a week. Canned hamburger provided the meat for both spaghetti (which everyone ate with gusto) and the other pasta dishes. Rather than make spaghetti from scratch, we carried pre-processed jars of sauce which had already been laced with meat and mushrooms (such as Ragu or Prego). To this we would add canned tomatoes, a hell of a lot more seasoning and the meat. It came out so well that, even today, rather than spend the time to make the sauce by hand, this quick method is resorted to and no one seems to know the difference. In addition to the above, the many types of Campbell condensed soups were used to make thick sauces to serve on top of rice. Tuna casserole was a weekly easy-to-make favorite of the entire crew (except me). Later, we supplemented everything with fresh fish. Sundays we had chicken and dumplings. This southern favorite was made from canned whole chickens and bisquick.
We did not have the luxury of an ice maker aboard. It wasn’t missed so much as a keeper of fresh vegetables and meat as it was as a mixer of drinks and a cooler of beer! This, and the fact that there was only a two burner stove to work with which, coupled with the usual unstable platform on which to cook, caused us to compensate gourmet cooking for simplicity. We did learn to bring along lots of condiments such as chutney and generously lace all dishes with spices. Everyone seemed to be content with the diet and the result was that everyone either remained slim or lost weight on the cruise.
In the evening, usually about sunset, the winds slacked off or quit altogether for a spell and, as we drifted along, most everyone came to the cockpit for our social hour. The men drank a couple of glasses of fruit juice laced with rum (none for Ernie), Jeff partook of the many cases of canned soft drinks on board and Chris would mix herself vodka martinis complete with olive.
The canned juices provided the necessary vitamin C. (For an extended cruise, it is better to carry lots of canned juices in lieu of more plain water. It supplements the water supply and provides diversion and vitamins.) During this period Ernie would haul out his guitar and the two crewmen would sing plaintive Filipino love songs. All in all the happy hour, looked forward to by all, was just that!
A rather unique watch schedule was maintained which worked so well it is well passing on. As long as Chris did not like to stand watches regularly at the wheel, a three man itinerary was established consisting of two four-hour watches for Ernie and Florento and a two-hour random staggered watch for me. That way each crewman would get alternate four hours on and six hours off. It also alternated the times so that one person did not always have an undesirable shift. The saying, at sea the Captain never sleeps is very true and for that reason it is not good for him to stand regular watches the same as the rest of the crew. Conversely, it is good to be able to personally examine each watch from time to time. Sleep at night for the Captain is sporadic at most, especially when sailing in waters sprinkled with nautical dangers. Once in a while Chris would come out of her relaxation mode long enough to volunteer a watch now that the self steering system worked so well.
This turn of events was always welcomed and much ado was made of it by the entire crew. (Chris was beginning to enjoy the privileges of rank.)
The regular watch schedule as described was for an entire 24 hour period but, during the day, no one paid much attention if the person on watch snoozed alongside the wheel. Others were always there, alert and ready to take over. Conversely, snoozing on watch at night is a no-no of enormous magnitude!
Navigation techniques in these waters was relatively simple. There was no need to take a star or sun fix as there was never an occasion when we were ever of sight of land. Verification of dead reckoning was consistently done using visual land marks and triangulation. I immediately set about to teach the crew how to read the charts and make sightings via compass line.
We did not encounter many cargo ships in this area so that was not a problem. Besides, most cargo vessels use radar and we had a detector aboard.
The course plotted carried us mid channel in most cases and therefore well clear of any rocks or reefs. The depth sounder was on most of the time to verify charted depths. (The most one could say about the charts was that they were sporadically accurate as far as depths went. They could only be used as a guide.) The entire archipelago was relatively shallow so a close lookout had to be maintained for depths ahead.
For a while the radio beacons from Manila could be used for a position line. Most of the islands also had small local commercial stations. These could not be readily identified by someone without a working knowledge of Tagalog but Ernie always provided that service.
Just as defensive driving is the best way to keep from having accidents, defensive sailing keeps you from getting into trouble in unknown waters. One cannot become paranoid about such things but simply keeping alert and planning ahead for eventualities never hurt. We conducted regular exercises on emergency sail dousing, come-abouts and man overboard recoveries. There were some dangers which were not so straightforward to defense against.
On the 9th of June we sighted the Quyo Islands off our port bow and changed course to take us more westward toward Dumaron Island which lay just east off the north coast of Palawan. It was good to keep well clear of the entire group of Quyo islands because of unknowns. The islands were still growing coral atolls and, as such, contained numerous uncharted reefs and rocks which were barely awash at times. The islands proper were very hard to see as most of the land rose up only a few feet above sea level. There was a standing order that all hands keep a clear watch night and day for white water. Also, this was Moro country.
The Captain was to be advised immediately, night or day, if we were being approached by any other craft. We had now entered the Sulu Sea and the further south we went, the more danger there was from Pirates. It was still hard to believe that, in this modern day and age, such existed. Nevertheless, contingency plans had to be made.
It was necessary to formulate a method of defense against the possibility of an encounter with unfriendly seagoing natives. There were two kinds of pirates in these waters: professional and amateurs. Defensive techniques were unique for each type. Most of the seagoing bandidos fell into the later category but, unless treated seriously, were just as dangerous as the pros.
In case of approach by the amateurs, I would stand on deck with the 30.06 rifle in hand. The sight of a man holding a high powered rifle is usually enough to keep them away. They knew that it was possible to pick them off from about 250 yards and a show of intent is sufficient to let them know that we were serious. With the professionals, a show of this nature would be a catastrophe. They would just stand off and rake us with their 50 cal guns.
The pros could be identified quickly as they used the large graceful 50 foot outrigger canoes instead of the smaller ones. Their boats were powered by two 250 HP Volvo Engines thoughtfully provided through auspices of certain wealthy Muslim nations who were sympathetic to the revolutionary aims of the Moros. This information came from no less a source than our friends in the Phillipine Coast Guard.
The type of craft used is capable of operating in the very shallow waters which abound thereabouts, particularly in the sea lanes of the Strait of Balabec between Borneo and the Phillipines. Adding to the confusion in those waters was the fact that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Phillipine governments disputed the ownership of the strait. The problem with pirates in those waters is so great that the Phillipine government deploys a cruiser there at all times but that does not seem to inhibit the random occasion of everything from full sized freighters to private yachts being brought dead in the water, boarded and pillaged. The terrorists (for that is really what they are) use yachts for practice. In almost every case, the entire crew on the private yacht is murdered. Being stopped by those blood thirsty Moros was tantamount to ending any world cruise right there and then!
Some of the yachts calling through these seas took aboard such desirable little goodies such as surplus bazookas, small mortars and machine guns. It was revealing to the novice that those kinds of weapons are readily available world wide to anyone who has the contacts and the money to buy them.
I had long since determined that getting into a running battle with an adversary who was much faster and maneuverable was not the answer. There had to be another way. Hopefully, the stories were just that. . . stories.
When the sun goes down near the equator, night time comes suddenly. It is then that the full realization of the breathtaking beauty of what you are experiencing comes to full flower. The sky is crystal clear and the heavens are suddenly cluttered with an agglomerate of stars which seem to be so close one had to resist the temptation to reach up and pluck just one. There were so many just one wouldn’t be missed. Per instruction by the Coast Guard we were running without lights. This made the experience even more personal.
Most of the time the breeze came up soon after sunset from the reversal of cooling effect between land and sea. Like a Will-O-the-Wisp, we flitted over the waters trailing behind us millions of bubbles of phosphorescent light in bright colors of electric blue, fire red and and yellow and luminescent green. Chris became somewhat of a dichotomy and sat for hours in the still of the night wordlessly looking off into the darkness and scanning the slay for its beauty. A land originated light was almost unknown. It was all natural. Sailing in this manner seems to be an experience given by the Great Spirit to only a few. In moments such as we were experiencing, who could deny the reality of a loving Super Existence or whatever man chooses to call Him.
It was during those intimate moments that I first heard my true love REBEL YELL whispering forbidden things. She promised interludes even better and called to me to stay with her at the expense of all others. With a guile passed down through eons of time to all women, she told me things that I, as a man, wanted to hear.
You were born for a life such as this. Only I can show you the ecstasy of the moment for a life time. I will love you and care for you. No danger shall touch you. We are as one. All else in the world is inconsequential. It is only you and I together that matters.
She seemed real so I listened. Was there ever such a lover? One who managed to give one a true feeling of absolute freedom and personal satisfaction in one’s inherent maleness? Yes, others have heard their ships. Josh Slocum, Web Childs, Cook, Drake. All of them! They all experienced the forbidden knowledge that destiny resides in each person’s own hands and they passed this word on and where the secret had come from.
It was not the Sirens ashore who enticed the other Jason, he of the Argonauts. In his odyssey, it was his ship which called to him. Is it any wonder that my mortal wife seemed to be passing further and further into the recesses of concern? She cannot appreciate the fact that she is being replaced for just a momentary passing interlude. Perhaps some day my son would come to understand and experience the same in his lifetime. Everyone deserves such a love affair at least once in a lifetime.
We sailed on . . . each of us with our own thoughts.
By all calculations, there should have been more than sufficient fuel to make Puerto Princessa. Even if we had motored all of the way. Either the engine was using considerably more fuel than anticipated or something else was happening to give a false indication of a full 70 gallons of fuel in the main tank at the start. Just as we reached the outer harbor entrance of Puerto Princessa, the engine quit. The only thing which makes a diesel quit is lack of fuel. It was 0815 hours the 10th day of June.
The tell-tale symptom of lack of fuel in a diesel is the sudden racing of the motor, a cough, more racing, then silence. Normally when the first racing occurs, the engine should be immediately shut down by the helmsman before the lines are fully drained of fuel. If it is caught soon enough, fuel can be added to the tank and the engine started forthwith. If the lines are drained it will be necessary to bleed the engine feed lines free of air before she will start. The dip stick showed that we had about 12 gallons of something in the tank. It was reasonable to assume that we had taken on a load of fuel which contained water. When the tank depleted to where the water lay, the engine would starve. With this in mind, 15 gallons of fuel was added from the jerry cans. (This is why it is always good to carry some extra fuel external to the tanks.)
Bleeding the lines is quite a ritual. Lucky for us it was morning and the wind was dead. There was also no perceptible currents in the channel at the time so it was not necessary to set the anchor even though we made it ready on deck. The Perkins is a bear to bleed. It took us a good 45 minutes to get the thing started again.
Puerto Princessa harbor is naturally extremely well protected from weather in any direction. To make the harbor proper, it was necessary to sail directly west until the main bay opens up northward. The bay is shaped somewhat line a gourd wherein the narrow neck crooks around and opens into a large holding area. It is one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world.
Native huts reached out on stilts into the water all around the bay The town itself consists of buildings made mainly of rock and stucco. The outlying suburbs (barrios) consist of the usual bamboo stilted huts with thatched roofs. A 15th century church with spires reaching to the sky sits on a hill and predominates the entire village. There were queues and a T shaped pier to which ships of all kinds, deep and shallow draft, large and small, were tied. We chose to anchor out in the clean waters of the bay itself. In this way we would have our privacy and, in addition, be afforded quite a bit of protection from the always present mosquitoes.
The anchor set in about 30 feet of water some 100 yards from shore. The GD Dink went into the water and the family went ashore pointed for the first place offering a cold beer! Ernie and Florento stayed aboard to secure the boat.
Puerto Princessa is the main town on the island. Actually, it is the only real settlement which would qualify as a town. The island is so isolated from the mainstream of civilization that a few years before our visit a WWII Japanese soldier discovered that the war had ended and he gave up his one man attempt to hold the island for the Emperor. The incident was a delightful respite from the worrisome self inflicted esoteric problems incurred by the world since the conflict ended. It also pointed out the futility of warsome man’s most noble and self sacrificing gestures in the name of patriotism. This son of the rising sun had ventured forth out of his self imposed isolation to a place in time where the oil cartels are already bringing in work crews to survey and start the drilling of wildcat wells off the north end of the island. The respite from worldly concerns will not last long under the new conditions. The virginal aspects of the beautiful and unspoiled tropical paradise will soon be sullied. We as private world travelers moving under sail are privileged to see many places such as this before they disappear.
The next morning, we watched the SAGGIN' DRAGON pull in and anchor within swing room of REBEL. She had hove to outside the harbor until dawn. During the cruise we would pull ahead because of superior speed. Their trip had been as uneventful as ours but just as satisfying.
A lesson in efficient penalogy for the world to learn.
The impending coming of civilization will certainly have an impact on a settlement which depends largely on its isolation: the colony of Iwahig. It is the largest unfenced penal colony in the world. Dangerous characters such as murderers, rapists and thieves are instituted there along with political hacks who have caught the wrath of Marcos by opposing any of his policies or dared to run for office without his blessing.
There the prisoners build their own shacks, go into business for themselves and grow their own food. The upkeep, being self contained, has a minimal impact on the financial structure of the Phillipine government,to say nothing of the taxpayer. Somewhere along the line this simplistic approach for making prisoners pay their own way rather than becoming a financial burden has been summarily ignored by the more sophisticated approach to restitution employed by the western world. Their relative happiness and satisfaction with their lot is further assured by the condoned (even encouraged) practice of wives and girlfriends (and sometimes both) visiting. Some even re-settle on Palawan on Iwahig grounds and seem to be leading a life at least as enjoyable when their men had their freedom.
Crime on the reservation is practically non-existent. The penalty is so high, so swift and so permanent it is understood implicitly by all. Justice for the inmates is also very cheap to exercise as the felons are not protected by civil law but are covered by military law. Long drawn-out trials and appeals are eliminated. The single penalty for even the least of crimes by an inmate is specified as death! The trial, if you can call it that, is monolithic in nature, quick in determination and immediate in execution. This feature does seem to make the inmates think twice before they covet their neighbor’s goods or wives! Interestingly enough, many prisoners opt to stay on in the institute after their term is up. Life there bears a look.
We were invited to tour the colony under auspices of the Navy and made the trip in an ancient stake truck which couldn’t possibly have been equipped either with shock absorbers or springs. Once away from the town proper, the roads deteriorated rapidly into a classic combination of washboard and boulder pavement. Chris rode in the front with the driver and Jeff. I stood on the back platform, knees acting as shock absorbers, and held on for dear life. The driver refused to change his 50 MPH speed for any condition of the road or traffic. We had decided to rough it on this cruise and this certainly was an opportune time.
The prisoners hawked all sorts of handiwork. They also trapped various kinds of tropical birds which they displayed for sale. In spite of my warnings that the bird would not live for long on the yacht, Jeff bought and concealed from me14 a baby owl. A small zoo had been put together by the inmates which contained quite a few examples of the local types of fauna. The most interesting of them all were the island deer which were no larger than large rats. They looked more like Chihuahuas. The inmates had also cemented in a large area near the stream and diverted water into it for a swimming hole. Somehow we got the impression that here was an example of misfits in society who were being rehabilitated far more efficiently and realistically than what we were doing at home.
It was in Puerto Princessa proper where I first noted an inordinate interest in my young son Jeffry (then 10 years old but big for his age) by the opposite sex. At first it was dismissed as an obvious ploy for his attention the usual pre-teen games pubescent emerging girls try. At Jeff’s age these manifestations by members of the opposite sex are just annoying. I soon discovered that these little Filipino girls were downright serious in their intentions. There was this one in particular.
She was a very pretty girl, all of 12 years, with delicate features and an extremely feminine way about her. She had definitely set her bonnet for my son who was blissfully unaware of the more serious nature of her willing companionship. His size, compared with the small boned people of the Phillipines, made the two year age differential inconsequential. When this one sided courtship was duly noted by the crew, they both informed me that that the girls here in the tropics matured at a much earlier age and started looking at ways to fill their nest as soon as the symptoms of womanhood came upon them. Thus alerted, I began to watch the developing tender trap more carefully. It seemed to moving along much in the same manner as anywhere except that the enticement was being baited at a much more tender age!
The young lady would show up at the boat in the morning in her outrigger asking for Jeff. This in itself was innocuous as it is not unusual to solicit a playmate. What was unusual was the manner in which she was dressed. There, during the middle of the week, in the soggy tropical heat, she would appear sitting primly in the dugout sporting the best Sunday finery she had. Her hair was always in place and she wore shoes on her feet. This in itself was most unusual! She was scrub-wash clean. But, it was the shoes which alerted me as to the seriousness of her work. Filipinos never wear shoes in the outback except for formal affairs. They are too expensive and too hard to come by. Just having them to wear meant that her parents had given their tacit consent for this courtship!
Now, I have to admit, Jeff was a very good looking boy. He was as skinny as a rail and his posture left a lot to be desired but, his hair was the color of summer wheat and his features were fine. He had a quick mind and was generally polite and pleasant, especially to strangers. I think though, that it was his eyes which always did them in. (The women, that is.) Young and old. They resembled his mother’s in that they were quite large, set far apart and were enhanced by exceedingly long lashes and perfectly formed Brooke Shields type eyebrows. At home, with the advent of the long hair, he was often mistaken for a girl when he was younger. Of course, this royally ticked him off and we tried to keep him looking and dressed as boyish as possible to avoid this kind of affront to his maleness. His eyes had a slight almond shape as an indication of his Indian ancestry and, as both his mother and I sported green eyes, so were his. This color is quite uncommon in the orient. It seemed to be a combination which was most attractive to the average oriental female.
Jeff had been patiently putting up with strange adult women reaching out and touching him (particularly his hair) ever since Taiwan. His lady barber there had carefully picked up all the cuttings from the floor and bagged them.
Jeff was blissfully unaware of the girl’s now transparent (at least to all of the crew and me) intentions. To him she was just another interesting playmate who happened to have a toy (the outrigger) which was fun to share.
The friendship continued to blossom until he was being regularly invited to her home for dinner and to meet the folks. What was interesting and unusual in this kind of boy-girl relationship at this age, was that the little girl even prepared the entire family meal. It was undoubtedly done to impress him of her domesticity. Predictably, it went right over his head. She didn’t even score a near miss on that point!
Not long after his second or third invitation to dinner, the 11 year old younger brother informed me (man to man and quite seriously) that his sister was still a virgin “unlike most of the girls her age in the village.” (My God, I would hope so!) If Jeff had shown the slightest symptoms of anything but casual friendship with a playmate, this would have been the point at which there was cause to worry. I didn’t dare confide in Chris my concern. She would have laughed me right out of the sack!
This oblivion on his part permitted me, as a father, to be interested but really unperturbed and somewhat amused. I would let the courtship run its one sided course until the time came for us to sail. The sailor’s true logic!
We attended church services at the magnificent old cathedral that Sunday. The priest had noted our presence, sought us out after the service and invited us to have lunch with him at a small restaurant on the edge of town. The charming and attractive widow of a US Marine who owned and operated the place was relatively well off on his pension and did quite well with her investments. As a lot of Filipino women are, she was also very hard working and ambitious. She knew that the oil men were coming in greater numbers and was busily building individual native style huts as self-contained rental units in anticipation of the influx. Her food was western in style, outstanding and extremely reasonable.
“You must come here tomorrow night,” she advised us as we commented on the quality of the steaks just wolfed. “The fishermen always bring me the largest lobster catches. Do you like lobster?”15
“Are you kidding?” Chris answered with spontaneous enthusiasm not exactly exhibited recently. “Fresh lobster dipped in melted butter . . . ummmmm!”
“I’ll save you some choice ones,” our hostess smiled. “Be sure to be here sometime before six in the evening.”
The next evening, the three of us arrived for our lobster feast. Now, if there is anything which Chris relishes better than a good steak, it is lobster on the half shell. The cost of such in the States makes it generally out of reason except on special occasions. We had no idea the kind of meal we were going to be treated to.
Besides the usual potatoes, rice, soup, vegetable and salad, the main course was freshly caught lobster grilled over an open fire. Two for Chris and two slightly smaller ones for Jeff. Each of Chris’ weighed in at well over four pounds. The one the owner reserved for me overflowed a large steak platter! The monster weighed in at over thirteen pounds! Of course it was not at all like me to be inundated, but so I was!
The Filipino seems to take life pretty much as it is dished out and does not overly perturb himself at political events over which he can exercise no control. Their main concern is to make enough money to survive. It was common knowledge that this port was being used by the gun runners as a loading place or transfer point for the things necessary to keep their little Moro revolution going on. How did we know these things? Our friends in the military told us so!
The military knew that the fuel used by the pirates was bought there and transported by private motor launch to small coves and bays throughout the area for use by the insurgents. Nothing was done to eliminate this practice because the military knew that if they shut off the Moro’s supplies, the war would end and they wouldn’t have any excuse but to go home and live on the usual $50 per month everyone else did. This was very practical thinking by the Oriental.16
All one had to do was walk down the finger pier and there would be at least four or five boats at one time taking on 50 gallon drums of high test fuel and storing them on their decks. This was one of the reasons that we wouldn’t spend much time there fueling up. The potential danger was obvious in the way this highly volatile fuel was being loaded . . . casually!
We were sitting on the fan tail one evening enjoying our happy hour when it happened. One bright flash accompanied by the thunder clap of an explosion ripped the air. The launch which I had been idly watching blew up right in front of my eyes carrying with the initial blast two men who were thrown well into the air and into the water.17 The pier immediately burst into flame which rapidly spread to the other boats which were tied up. Quickly the entire wharf seemed to be enveloped.
Other explosions came. The crewmen from some of the boats managed to cut their lines loose and push off before they got their engines started. Not all of them made it. It wasn’t long before the entire wharf was stripped of every craft which could be moved and wasn’t burning. Explosions, one after the other in rapid succession, started ripping things apart as the heat got to the drums. Parts blew through the air in every direction.
The single fire department truck from the city and two others from the military base arrived but were unable to pump their water far enough to have any effect on the fire. The water reached, at best, some 75 feet short of the burning area but they continued to spray, unabashed if ineffectual. Some of the firemen were so busy watching the excitement that for ten minutes or so they sprayed into the water of the bay itself. Might as well. That had as much impact on the flames as the other. The question was why were they using water on gasoline? It did wash it into the bay and, for a while, caused some excitement on the boats anchored out, such as we were. When this action started we cranked up the Perkins, drew in the anchor and moved further out.
After about 45 minutes of intense heat and sporadic explosion, there was a sound not unlike a salvo from the New Jersey. The engine from the boat which started it all exploded and was launched about 200 feet into the air on the side opposite to us. The boat, thus relieved, sank unceremoniously into the water. A fireworks finale worthy of a Saturday night at Seaworld!
The show lasted about an hour and a half and I’m quite sure that everyone on the island within driving or walking distance except the felons at Iwahig made it to the scene. Many of the onlookers were injured by the various metal parts which were acting like projectiles after each explosion.18 It never came to light if the two men initially thrown overboard in the original blast survived. It was time to leave our quiet little port in paradise!
The next day we moved most gingerly to the burnt out landing and took on fuel and water for the trip to Balabec. The SAGGIN' DRAGON tied up alongside and followed our example. We loaded enough essential fluids to make it all the way to Brunei, our next major port of call but were advised most seriously that it would be best to put in to Balabec to get any protection we needed for our passage through the strait where the pirate problem was most likely to occur. These people were really serious about the dangers. While we were loading essentials, Chris and Jeff replenished our supply of fresh bread and fruit. Ernie showed up at the last minute with a complete banana stalk for us to eat as it ripened under way. The taste of bananas fresh off the stalk makes you want to kick all the other kind under the table. He also brought along about 300 feet of 200 pound-test fishing line and some hooks which looked large enough to snag a whale.
As we left the dock, there Jeff’s little girl friend stood waving goodbye dressed in all her finery for one last stab at it! Tears were copiously streaming down her face while her younger brother somehow managed to look as if he had failed in his assigned duties. I looked affectionately at my son and reminded myself that it was tradition that men of the sea leave their weeping ladies standing ashore as they headed out to adventure at sea again. Usually never to touch shore at that port again. But, I said to myself, wasn’t Jeff starting somewhat young to establish that tradition for himself? He was blissfully unaware of the fretful condition he left ashore. I was lucky. I had my lady with me. His time would come soon enough!
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