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Papeete

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An old 1950's photo of the Papeete waterfront. Sailing boats from all corners of the world used to tie up here.


As soon as I had nearly recovered from the dangue fever I decided to see if I couldn't catch a ride back to the States on one of the passing yachts that were always tied up along the Papeete waterfront more or less opposite to where Quinn's Bar used to be. I had hardly started to search when I came across Bob Griffith's 53 foot cutter "The Awahnee II" the crew said that one of the members was flying back to New Zealand and that Bob might be looking to replace him. What amazing luck I had, I came back later to see Bob and after a good bit of discussion he finally agreed to take me on as a replacement crew member. He planed to sail up through the Leeward Islands before heading to California. This was about as good as it gets, I couldn't have imagined a better way to get back home.

The internet is fantastic sometimes, just now searching with Google, I found a description of a book that Bob Griffith wrote about his three circumnavigations with his wife, Nancy, and son, Reid. The first in the Uffa Fox-designed cutter, Awahnee I, which was lost on a reef in the Tuamotus while engaged in a rescue mission for a missing American yacht; and the second and third in their home-built ferro- cement cutter, a modified version of Awahnee 1. The first circumnavigation was east to west around the Horn and Cape of Good Hope; the second was east-about via the Capes and Japan; and the third, a 12,800-mile voyage in the high southern latitudes around the Antarctic continent from Bluff, New Zealand, with time spent in port at American, Russian, English, Chilean, and Argentine scientific stations. This book, entitled: Blue Water: A Guide to Self-Reliant Sailboat Cruising, can still be found at Amazon.com (check it out!)



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A photo of the Awahnee from Bob's book, Blue Water.



Bob was anxious to get underway and we were soon heading off on the leg through Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora before the long haul to California. He was an old salt and an expert sailor. He had been shipwrecked a number of times and said that in every case having a radio never helped so, now he didn't even have one. The only bit of gadgetry he had was a Radio Direction Finder. His supplies were a bare minimum of basics. Our crew consisted of Bob and five green crew members. The other guys had signed on in New Zealand, their only experience was the 19 days it took them to sail to Tahiti. My only experience was as a passenger on large ships like the Caledonien.



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My berth was right up front by the hatch (click on these plans to see an enlargement).



On a smallish 53 foot boat, six people makes for close quarters. If you are prone to sea sickness, you won't want to be on a boat like this. I can honestly say that on the Awahnee I never experienced any problems with sea sickness, in fact I often cooked dinner, one of the jobs that seems the hardest if you are at all affected by sea sickness, the strong smell of onions cooking in the fat of some greasy corned beef is sometimes hard to take even on dry land. We each took turns at watch and cooking, but as some preferred not to cook, I wound up trading my early morning watches for cooking duty. So I can say that I was virtually immune to sea sickness having been on boats large and small. However some years later on an old cargo ship I got the worst case imaginable, so this is another mystery.


Bob Griffith

This is the only photo of Bob that I can find for the moment, looks like he is having a good laugh here and not the best photo in some ways, but you can still imagine his character from this shot, anyone who knew Bob in his later years would recognize him from this, so I have decided to include it here, until I find something better.
(Click on this LINK, for more details about the Awahnee and Bob's previous voyages).

After so much experience, Bob was a rather stern and hard master of the ship, he called an ace an ace and in no uncertain terms, totally frank and up front at all times. I remember one particular occasion when one of the crew members, who was perpetually maladroit, lost our large skillet overboard while washing it. Bob was fuming, and the guy, wanted to apologise and said that he was very sorry. To which Bob replied: "Don't tell me your sorry! sorry will never bring the frying pan back, I have no time for people who say they are sorry." He was in many ways a tough captain and when he shouted you jumped. Everything was tight rations, you brushed your teeth with sea water, because there was no water to waste. There were no showers either, you used a bucket of sea water for that, the toilet was just an improvised seat on the railing at the very back of the boat.

But a tough captain is just what one needs for a long trip like this one. One night all of sudden in pitch black I was aroused from my sleep by a great commotion and shouting. A sudden squall had come up in the middle of the night, and we had way too much sail up, Bob was at the helm and shouting at us to lower the sail and reef it in. the wind was fierce, the boat pitching wildly, the decks were wet and slippery with the waves washing over them, and it was very dark, with the only light being Bob's lantern at the helm. If you fell overboard, no one would have been surprised, and once overboard, the chance of you ever being found again, indeed slim. If you were working with skilled seamen you would have felt a bit better but in our case if we got it right the first time it would only be due to being very lucky, and the fact that Bob was in command and shouting out orders in a way that would make any man jump to it. All this can arrive at any moment on the high seas, some nights you are skimming lightly across a nearly flat sea, watching the iridescent plankton swirling past the rudder, in the light of a magnificent moon and balmy air of the tropics, then suddenly a few hours later you may be facing the gates of hell, with all the fury of God's wrath whipping around you, and when you survive this moment you thank your lucky stars that you are sailing with a man like Bob.

So this was the setting, we were on our way to California and now about a week into the trip after leaving Bora Bora, when Bob with great solemnity announced that his heart was failing and that he didn't think he was going to live long enough to see California. If any other person told you this you probably would have taken it with a grain of salt. But as it was Bob we took it as it was, deadly serious. Bob was a veterinarian by trade and a doctor of sorts, he was 54 years old and knew what he was talking about. He said that we should start learning how to navigate so as to be able to get to shore without him. Some of the crew, those who were pessimists by nature, took this news quite badly.

When I first met Bob and he was asking me what I knew about sailing, I told him that I had studied Astrology and thus knew the basics of calculating positions albeit in a reverse way, So now he turned to me and said that I would have to quickly learn how to plot our position from sextant readings and to combine this with RDF readings. I don't know if I really thought that Bob was going to die, at least I wasn't too worried, for me this was a turn of events that would force me to learn how to navigate, something that always interested me ever since my days as 'Lawrence the raftless'. Also it was a bit like being promoted to second mate. We had to think carefuly about our situation and as Hawaii was closer than California, we decided to change course and head there. From where we were it seemed like a down hill run and we made good time to Honolulu.



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Here is a great photo from Bob's book showing the Awahnee off Diamond Head, Honolulu.

My last strong memory of my voyage on the Awahnee was our approach into Honolulu, it happened that there was some big waves just as were were entering the pass. The Awahnee was picked up by the strong following waves and we literally surfed into the harbor, very exciting but again a time where you needed cool nerves and an experienced hand at the wheel. For those who want to sail their own boat around the world I recommend Bob's book.



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Once we got into the Yacht Club in Honolulu, our fortunes changed, Bob was an honerary member and we were back in the land of luxury.

One of the crew members, a very nice guy from England named Graham, decided that he would catch a plane to California rather than waiting to see if Bob was able and willing to continue on. Myself I didn't have any money for an extended stay in Hawaii and so decided to go on the plane with him to San Francisco where a very good friend of mine from my first voyage on the Caledonien, was living on a houseboat in Sausalito.





See the next page, Kennedy's houseboat in Sausalito





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l.a.miller@mail.pf








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