Dick Bartlett, Jr. became crew aboard Siboney, my 39 foot Robert Clark cutter, at the Island of Hermana Mayor, off the coast of Luzon in the Philippines during late March 1967. We had just completed the race from Manila. His father’s 65-foot Sparkman & Stevens yawl, Green Beret, had just been disqualified and Dicky was pissed. When Siboney crossed the finish line, Dicky had jumped into his dinghy, motored over, asked permission to become crew, was accepted, and motored back to get his bag.

Dicky, a Green Beret in Vietnam and severely injured by the Viet Cong, had recovered his health except for his hearing. Totally deaf from a grenade that exploded near his foxhole, the Army had taught him how to lip-read. He was good. In many a latter race, for instance, he on the bow at night, I’d shine the flashlight on my lips, give an order and he’d shoot back, “Gotcha skip”.

After a good start out of Manila and a super quick spinnaker job, we’d led the fleet across Manila Bay until the bigger boats powered right past us. When we passed Corregidor, Green Beret was about two miles ahead. The wind eased right off as we sailed in the lee of Bataan towards Hermana Mayor, about 65 miles to the north. When it got dark, we kept an eye on Green Beret’s masthead light. At about 3 a.m. we began to close in on them. I ordered all lights off and total silence as we ghosted along. At four we edged by Green Beret as it sat in irons, the helm, no doubt, asleep. At first light, Siboney, now in the lead, brought panic then total frustration to the opposition for the Green Beret gave up and motored right past us. Dicky had had it with his father and his buddies.

Dicky returned with a bundle of his gear. When he handed it up to Eric Neale, a 45-caliber handgun fell onto the deck with a scary thud. I cried out, “What the hell is that? Hey buddy, we’re lovers on this boat, not warriors.” Dicky came back with, “Skip, I need that. There are some guys who want to zap me.”

Over a cold San Miguel beer he told his story. When he returned from Vietnam his father had cajoled a friend with a lumber mill in the northern Philippines to hire him and teach him the ropes. Dicky was doing great until the plant manager was shot to death in the town of Laoag. Two days passed and none of the mill personnel dared go to town to bring the body back to the grieving widow. Dicky told them he’d go in town and bring the body back. With three buddies in a WW II personnel carrier, all heavily armed, he headed to town. Shots rang out and Dicky hit the pavement and began to stalk his prey a-la-Green Beret. He peered around a corner and there was the enemy, his gun aimed at him, jammed. Dicky put three quick shots into him. Soon later he zapped a second man. The others ran. They proceeded to the funeral home, picked up the body, and headed back to the mill. Ever since, he had been warned that the men he had shot were part of a large gang. He’d better be careful.

The race to Hermana Mayor had started early on a Friday and finished Saturday noon. Beny Toda, who owned the island met us with a fabulous banquet on the white sandy beach, and then feted all crews that evening at his home with more food and a movie. By noon Sunday, all boats had hoisted anchor and sailed back to Manila. Except, that is, for Siboney. Its crew lounged on shore enjoying the fabulous hospitality. The Filipino waiters knew exactly what each crewmember wished. The Toda’s flew away by early afternoon, leaving us alone with the left over food which we loaded aboard, then lifted anchor at last light.

We sailed then motored and when the wind picked up, motored again. Siboney leaked like a sieve, its manual centrifugal pump enough to wear out the strongest crew in but three minutes. As we approached Subic Bay, water just rushed in, much of the time covering the floorboards. Dicky would take the pump for ten minutes at a time in an attempt to empty the bilge. I steered close to shore in the event the boat went down and we had to swim for it. The endless night drew on. No one slept. The pump never stopped. I remained totally convinced this was the end. But we did make it back to haul the boat and repair five dozen or more cracked frames.

Dicky had lost all hearing but joined in all our gams as long as he could see our lips. He was an ardent racer and in the days before roller furling, this meant continuous sail changes if we wanted to perform. A race from Manila around the island of Lubang and back was as bad as it ever got. Wind shifted all over and shot from 25 knots down to 5 and back up a dozen times. It was 250 miles of hell. Sails were dropped into the forward hatch when they came down. In one rare moment when the going was smooth Dicky, who always insisted he was the last to sign on and did not merit a bunk, spread out in the bow atop the pile of head sails. Cooky, Eric Neale, Hugh Kimbrough and myself hopped into the bunks to grab some shut eye.

We were all out for a couple of hours. I was the first one up. The others snored heavily. Dicky wiggled out of his lair in the bow and as he walked up the companionway called out loudly, “Geez, seems like a frog pond down here!”

© William Butler, 2004