Hong Kong in mid-November 1963 bustled with life. John Leary, a Qantas airline pilot, picked me up at the Kai-Tac airport in his Mini Minor, a two passenger four-conveyance conveyance just a hair bigger that a moped, and drove at something very close to super-sonic speed down narrow downtown streets crowded, gutter to gutter, with zillions of busy Chinese toting every conceivable type of merchandize. I totally lost my breath as we zoomed into this mass of people with John, as relaxed as I would later see him at the Hong Kong Cricket Club bar, sat back as he squeezed a large air horn with his right hand while he dove into the crowds. In the left hand seat, I felt totally powerless without a wheel and worse yet with no brake peddle. How we missed hitting anyone remains a mystery to this day.

            I’d flown from my home in Manila to crew on Bill Andrew’s boat for the trip back to the Philippines. Bill, a Manila Yacht Club buddy, had sailed the boat up months earlier, had major maintenance completed and was now ready for the return trip. Bill and George, our fourth crewmember, were two drinks ahead of us when we zoomed into the Cricket Club bar. No matter, we caught up in no time.

            After a light snack we drove out to Hebe Haven, in the New Territories, where the boat lay for provisioning. I tossed my bag aboard then headed into town with Bill and the two Aussie pilots in a slightly larger auto yet propelled at the same incredible speed through dense masses of humanity. In the next four hours we hit every sleazy bar in both Hong Kong and Kowloon then dined I cannot remember what. When we got back aboard I passed out in more than one way.

            After two days of loading aboard what seemed to be half of Hong Kong, we cast off. A fifteen-knot breeze blew us right out of Hong Kong harbor, past the airport, and into the South China Sea. On a Southeast course and a Westerly breeze, the 800 miles to Manila should be a snap. With a crew of four, two on and six off is about as close to heaven as an ocean sailor can get.

            On day two we went in minutes from heaven to hell. A strong Manchurian high-pressure system blew in. 25 to 35 knot winds quickly built the waves into 30 foot hissing locomotives. We lowered the main and upped the smallest jib aboard. All we could do during the next three days was to use both hands to hang on. Meals consisted of grab-a-piece-of-bread and jump back into the bunk ordeals. Every third wave washed the boat from stern to stem. We remained sealed within the cabin. The helmsman, securely tied to both sides was, more often than not, afloat. One hour at the wheel was max as the temperature hovered in the low fifties.

            On the fourth day out of Hong Kong the Manchurian High blew itself out or, perhaps, we escaped its grip, In any case, life aboard became bearable. Bill fixed us a super omelet for breakfast then turned on the AM radio. A bit more than 200 miles off the coast of the Philippines, he tuned to one station after another. All we heard was slow, sorrowful music. No advertising, no news, nothing. Strange. What’s going on? At the top of the hour a voice broke in with, “We express deep sorrow for the loss of our dear departed leader”.

            “Holy mackerel”, Bill cried out, “Macapagal bought the farm!” Macapagal was President of the Philippines at the time. He turned up the volume while scanning the A.M. band. All three of us, eager to get more, watched his every move. Next came a news broadcast datelined Washington, D.C. The Chief of Police had just announced that due to the many dignitaries arriving in town, he could not guarantee their security.

            Wow!!! What in the hell is going on??? The problem is not Filipino based. Then we got the news. President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas and that his killer had been shot while in police custody! All hell has broken out on shore. Perhaps we should stay out at sea.

            Glued to continuous A.M. and short wave broadcasts that took us through the sorrowful burial of President Kennedy, the now somber crew sailed into Manila, unsure of the secure world they had left behind just days earlier.


© William A. Butler 2004