Modern Piracy

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Well, folks have been asking me about my autobiography. It’s not done. Dunno what to say except that writing about my life is a long and slow task, partly because of the variety in my life, partly because there’s no surprises ’cause I’ve heard the whole thing so it gets boring at times, and mostly because far too often my monkey-mind sees something shiny and goes haring off after it, leaving autobiographical scribing for a future date.

So anyhow, to fill in the time until the autobiography is finished, here’s part of the story of my looney life. This was something that occurred back in 1984, and it has nothing to do with weather or climate at all. A friend and I had been hired to go to Fiji, with my lovely ex-fiancee of over 30 years now, to install a blast freezer on a beautiful 60-foot (18 metre) steel sailboat called the Askoy II. We just called her “the noble Askoy”, we lived on her while we did the work. My wife was ship’s nurse and cook, my friend and I built and installed the freezer.

Figure 1. The noble Askoy under sail off of Suva Harbour, 1984.

A few years after the crew and I finished installing the blast freezer and we left the boat, the Askoy was later bought by smugglers, used in some illegitimate ventures, and subsequently seized in Fiji. There she sat at the dock for a few years, eventually sinking and being refloated there, still tied to the dock. A friend of mine named Lindsay bought her at auction for a thousand bucks. He fixed her up and went to take her to his home, New Zealand. Just as he arrived, the engine died and she went up on the beach …

the noble askoy II wrecked

where she sat for years before being rescued by some Belgians. Turns out the boat was once owned for a few years by Jacques Brel, one of the few Belgian stars, and before that, she was the pride of the Royal Belgian Yacht Club, so a bunch of Belgican folks put together a foundation and salvaged her from the beach and took her back to Belgia, her ancestral home, as you see below

the noble askoy II arrives

where she’s now been refitted and is almost ready for sea again. Lindsay’s story of the Askoy and the wreck and the subsequent salvage is here. … but dang it, the story of the noble Askoy, that’s another story, not the story I set out to tell. See, that’s the problem with writing an autobiography, you get side-tractored all over the dang place, it’s hard to hold a fixed course in that kind of weather. Anyhow, the noble Askoy now looks like this, hooray, she lives again,

the noble askoy II fixed

and is slated to put to sea again in the New Year, 2013. The history of the Askoy is here, and of Harlow Jones, her erstwhile captain that I worked for at the time, and the Harlow Island Packet Trading Company … but there it is, I’m getting diverticulated again, that’s enough about a marvelous boat returned Lazarus-like from death on a distant beach. Here’s the story I started to tell you, a story of modern piracy, from the time when my gorgeous ex-fiancee and I were living on the noble Askoy and working on the blast freezer, anchored up just offshore from the Royal Suva Yacht Club.


“Piracy?? … You boys don’t know what piracy is these days …”

I was in a group of sailors sitting in the bar at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, some of us from the Askoy crew and some off other boats, watching one of those lovely Fijian sunsets and talking over stories we’d heard about recent acts of piracy — yachts lost in the Southern Philippines, Vietnamese boat people savaged by Thai ‘fishermen’, rape and murder in the Straits of Singapore. This was back in the eighties, before the Somalis pretty much got a lock on that particular sector of the black economy.

Old Bill sat next to the group of us, about six beers into his usual evening. Bill was an Englishman, who usually bored everyone with his highly doubtful story that he was married to Samoan royalty. He must have been listening in on our conversation, because he said “I had the bad luck to find out about modern piracy. You think it’s all pistols and eye patches? Well, that was in the old days. Modern piracy’s different, let me tell you.”

We waited for him to ‘tell us’, but he just sat quietly looking at the bar. After a while, the message got through, and we asked Waisaki to bring him another beer. “Better make it a Black Russian,” Bill said. Waisaki brought the Black Russian, smiled, didn’t say anything, just listening to the story. Bill drank it in one swallow. “Black Russians lubricate the throat, y’know. Medical fact … now, where was I?”

“Modern piracy.”

“Oh, yes. Well, this all started when I was fishing up in Samoa. Tuna fishing on my own boat, as sweet a boat as you might ever want to see. Fifty-six foot long, all the modern gear. Name of the ‘White Star’. I was making good money fishing it, I was sitting pretty. Fridays, I would come back into Apia, spend the weekend with my young wife. Did I ever tell you I was married to Samoan Royalty?”

We allowed that yes, he had indeed told us that.

“They must have been watching me and knew my schedule, because one Monday morning, I came down to the docks, and my beautiful boat was gone! … Gone, dammit! When I asked around, some people said that three guys had come down on Friday night, gone on board, started it up, and drove it out of the harbor.

“I called the authorities, we put the word out, I even hired a helicopter, but that was a thousand bucks an hour for nothing. I was furious, all my money was tied up in that boat, gone …”

The word “gone” reminded him of his glass, and he looked at it until we signaled to Waisaki to fill it up again. Waisaki smiled. “Make it a double,” Bill said. When it came, he drank it in one swallow … “Where was I?”


“No I wasn’t, I was telling a story.”

“Modern piracy.”

“Oh, right. Well, we didn’t find the boat. I was in a blue funk. Then, about three weeks later, I flew from Samoa to Fiji on some business, and damned if the ‘White Star’ wasn’t sitting at the dock in Suva, looking pretty run down. I went to the police, filled out the forms, and had the boat impounded.”

“What luck!”, someone said, “did you get it back?”

“I’m coming to that. The guys on board claimed to be the real owners of the boat … said they had a Bill of Sale from me, with what they claimed was my signature at the bottom. Bunch of damned forgers, they were. So I filed a complaint and took ‘em to court. The court said the calendar was crowded, it would be a couple of weeks until the case would be heard, so they put a guard on the boat and we all settled down to wait.”

“Who were these guys?”

“Well, they claimed that they were part of some corporation called ‘Deep Sea Limited’, out of Australia.”

“Couldn’t you prove it wasn’t your signature on the Bill of Sale?”

“I figured I might, but I talked to a barrister and found out how that one goes. You get an expert to say it isn’t your signature, they get two experts to say it is, you get three experts, they get four … it goes on forever.” The word ‘forever’ seemed to send him into a brown study … or perhaps it was a Black study, so we gave Waisaki the high sign again. “Make it two doubles,” Bill said. I doubted very much if one of them was for any of us. He drank the first one in a single swallow. … “Where was I?”


“Right … Turned out the signature didn’t mean a damned thing anyhow, ‘cause one morning I was driving down the hill into Suva, you know the road by the old cemetery with the view of the harbor, and I saw the ‘White Star’ heading out the channel past the wreck of the old ‘Nam Hai’ … sonsabitches had gotten the guard drunk, and made off with my boat again. I drove like hell over to the Fiji Navy Base. The Commander got their boat fired up, guys were running all around, the Commander said ‘How fast does your boat go?’ I said ‘Eleven knots’ … all the activity died down. ‘Let’s go, they’re getting away,’ I shouted. The Commander said ‘Our fastest boat only does 10 knots …’”

“A trifle slow for a stern chase,” I commented.

“Modern piracy,” Bill said, and drank down the second double.

“What did you do?” There was another long pause, and another nod to Waisaki … “Make it a pitcher,” he said, “saves trouble in the long run.” Waisaki brought the pitcher of Black Russians and smiled, a big easy knowing Fijian kind of smile. He’d heard all of Bill’s stories more than once. “Where was I?” Bill asked.

“Moving a little bit slow to catch the boat.”

“Oh yes. Well, they had let slip that the ‘Deep Sea Limited’ corporation was based out of Brisbane. I’d be buggered if I’d let them get away with it, and the boat was worth about two hundred thousand dollars, so I flew down to Oz, and started searching the harbors. Before too long, a little harbor north of Brisbane, bingo, there she was. Repainted, with a different name, but the same boat, same hull number welded over the bulkhead. I went down to the Australian authorities, swore out a complaint, and had the boat impounded again.

“Just like in Fiji, the Aussies told me that the court calendar was a bit crowded … only the Aussies said that it would be fourteen months before they could hear my case, guess there’sa lotta pirates in Australia. Anyhow, they put a guard on the boat, and said that the two parties to the case had to share the cost of the guard. And the Australians had a real guard service, not another alky like in Fiji.”

“How much did that cost?”

“Fourteen hundred Australian a month.”

“Not cheap, but I guess it’s worth it. So what happened?”

“Well, nothing’s happened yet, that was all only seven months ago … no, no, something has happened. The goddam corporation filed for bankruptcy. They said that I had tied up their only asset, that they had no money … of course it was all a scam to get out of paying for the guard. So now, I’ve either got to drop the case, or pay for the guard by myself, fourteen hundred a month … I’ll be bankrupt for real myself before the goddamn case even gets to court, and if I can’t pay for the guard service, then the case is dropped and I’ve lost my boat. Now that, boys, is what I call modern piracy. No AK-47 machine guns, no eye patches, no rape and pillage, no walking the plank … just courts and writs and signatures and impoundments and guards and you get a bill from the pirates for fourteen hundred a month to guard your own damn boat … real modern, all right.”

By this time, we had all started helping ourselves to Black Russians from the pitcher, and we were young and full of fire, so we started to figure out how we might be able to help old Bill get his boat back. He assured us that yes, the Australian Navy definitely did have boats that would do more than eleven knots, so no, we couldn’t just drive the boat away. However, he had a complicated plan that involved getting the boat out of the harbor and then painting it at sea, and using some plywood to make a false superstructure which might pass inspection from a distance, and sailing it back to Samoa where his relatives in the Government would keep the boat safe … but by that time, the velvety tropical russian blackness had started to close in around everyone’s brain, and the rest of the evening is unfortunately lost to history.

In the morning we all went back to our boats or our jobs or both. The plan to save the ‘White Star’ from the modern pirates remained, though, and it was discussed with old Bill, and improved on for a few days. But then new interests came up, and it gradually faded, and eventually was not heard of again.

And that might have been the end of it, except that it was such a good story to tell.

I told people about the modern pirates with their writs and their court cases on various occasions, and one day a few years later in the ’90s, through a series of misunderstandings and coincidences I chanced to be sitting once again in the very same bar of the Royal Suva Yacht Club. Waisaki was still behind the counter. There I met an interesting man and we got to talking about piracy back in the ’80s.

“The best story about piracy I’ve heard was the story of old Bill and the ‘White Star’,” I said.

“Yeah, I heard all about that,” he said.

“Oh, you heard the story?”

“I knew Bill,” he said. “In the end, the whole thing drove the corporation bankrupt.”

“Of course, that was all a scam,” I said.

“Yes, that was finally proved in court,” he said.

“Oh, it finally went to trial?” I asked. “Did he get his boat back?”

“Whose boat?”

“Old Bill’s boat. The ‘White Star’.”

There was a long pause, and then in a slightly incredulous tone of voice he said “Old Bill’s boat?” I nodded assent.

“What’re you talking about? Bill never owned that boat in his life!”, he said scornfully. “The ‘White Star’ belonged to three Australian farmers who’d had a good year and figured they would buy a boat. But the poor buggers didn’t know anything about fishing, so they set up a corporation to fish it, looked around for somebody to run it for them, and had the bad luck to find old Bill.

“He took the lease on the boat all right, ran it up to Samoa, and then he had a Bill of Sale made out and forged the signatures on it. When they heard about it, they went to the Samoan authorities, but the Samoans just laughed. Did he tell ever you he was married to Samoan royalty? Turns out he was. He used his connections to hold on to the boat. In desperation, they finally had to steal it themselves, and he chased those poor farmers around half the Pacific trying to steal it back again. He knew that if he could just get it back to Samoa, he and his relatives would make sure that it would never be lost again. I even heard rumors at one point that he’d recruited a bunch of young studs with more balls than brains, he’d conned them with some story, the fools were going to go down to Australia and help him steal the boat away from the Australian courts, but I guess that never came to anything …”

Since his tale was in full spate, I considered it an act of mercy not to increase the burden of his store of knowledge on that particular point … he continued:

“In the end, the farmers almost lost the court battle when Bill came up with two bullshit experts to claim that the signatures on the Bill of Sale were real. The case went right down to the wire before the farmers won, and even then all they got was their own boat back, never mind all the time and money they had lost, and their corporation bankrupt … yeah, you’re right, that is about the best story of modern piracy that I’ve heard.” We both laughed. His laugh was somewhat more hearty than mine. I didn’t press the subject after that, and in a bit he left the bar.

I sat there in the lovely Fijian warmth … I thought about all of that for a while as I watched the sunset … asked Waisaki to bring a couple of Black Russians. He brought the drinks … smiled … didn’t say a word. He’d heard all the stories. I lifted the glass, and I drank one of the Black Russians straight down in one swallow as a toast, and then sat and nursed the other one until the bar closed, gazing out over the night-time harbour toward the mooring spot where my love and I had once lived and worked with Harlow and the crew on the noble Askoy.


PS—Of course, the South Pacific being a tiny place in some ways, it was fated that I would run into old Bill again, when he managed to sink an sixty foot (18 m) barge in Lautoka Harbour in Fiji, and my friend and I had to get out the scuba tanks and the underwater welding gear and go down and refloat it from where it was sitting, 30 feet (9 m) down on the bottom of the briny blue … but again, that’s another story, and I’m out of Black Russians.

Bill was a classic character of the South Pacific, though, and a con artist through and through. A friend of Bill’s once told me “Most con artists, their problem is they can tell you a story that is so good, so well crafted, that you’ll believe it without question. But Bill’s worse than that, he’s got it so bad he can’t escape—that poor boy tells his stories so damn well that he’s ended up believing all of them himself”.

…  from Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …

65 thoughts on “Modern Piracy

  1. “that poor boy tells his stories so damn well that he’s ended up believing all of them himself”.”
    And you said it wasn’t about climate science and 21st century piracy. LOL.
    Another great piece, I thoroughly enjoy it.

  2. Modern Piracy…
    Kinda reminds me of Climate-Gate…Climate Disruption… Climate Change…
    Tell the tale long enough and fast enough you believe it yourself…. 🙂

  3. John West says:
    December 29, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    “that poor boy tells his stories so damn well that he’s ended up believing all of them himself”.

    And you said it wasn’t about climate science and 21st century piracy.

    Oh, very good. I hadn’t even picked up on that connection, it’s hilarious.
    Many thanks,

  4. “…I even heard rumors at one point that he’d recruited a bunch of young studs with more balls than brains, he’d conned them with some story, the fools were going to go down to Australia and help him steal the boat away from the Australian courts,…”

    Speaking of sidetracks, one gets to wondering to just how that part of the story got/was told. Did ‘Old Bill’ tell others about conning the young studs, or is there someone else in the picture who told the story but was neither old Bill nor one of the young studs…
    Stories and lives are alike in that paths forever diverge. Long after one or the other path is chosen, a person reflects on what might have been if one had chosen or acted on the other path… Somehow, Willis the pirate just doesn’t have that ring of a wicked brigand; you are obviously fated to act on paths of sense and decency.
    I am reminded of a movie where a ship captain’s ghost (played by Rex Harrison) yields a story called “Blood and swash” for the lady, (a desirable saucy Gene Tierney), he favors. Any thoughts towards the name of your book?

  5. Dear Willis
    Loved the story, I once worked with a guy who could spin tall tales about his deeds only trouble was that he would talk about things others in the group had done as if he had done them himself, then get all worked up if this was pointed out to him. He would have made a great modern climate scientist, having no grasp of or need for boring old facts.
    James Bull

  6. Another fabulous tale from Willis.
    Life enhancing.
    And yes, a great example of the Law of Bullsh#t. He who is most adept at manufacturing bullsh#t is condemned to believing it himself.
    We all know ’em. Trenberth, Jones, Schneider, Briffa, Meltdown Mann….

  7. Dear Mr Willis Eschenbach
    Great Story.
    Should be in print, and read again and again, and kept together with “Treasure Island”, among one’s favorite pirate tall tales. Treasure Island has movies made from it, but this has photos of the beautiful Askoy…
    Thank You so much for another great story.
    Especially now, that ” The forces of evil” seem to be regrouping , in a last effort to impose their rules to all.
    Hope this next year finally sees the triumph of liberty, of common sense, of doubt, and of real science ( not consensus science and policies ), the whole world over.
    Best Wishes for 2013 !!!

  8. A fascinating tale Willis, or two tales if you will. I too have a touch of the maritime about me. All our family were naval men ( i screwed up, got a court order against me whilst awaiting my papers to start basic training at HMS Raleigh, a small legal matter that changed my life. Ended up in the army, oh the shame ;)) My father is a shipwright, once well respected and one of very few still alive in the UK due to the demise of British shipbuilding. Something he foresaw as he refused to allow me to follow in his trade. For those who don’t know, a shipwright is a master carpenter involved in the building of ships and fitting them out. Even the steel ships of modern times required a shipwright to make a wooden template of all parts of the ship’s hull for the steel men to work from. Computers do all the work now of course. I too became a carpenter and joiner but went into the construction industry and as a result i’ve had the good fortune ( cough, the wise will note some sarcasm there ) to work with my father on many a project that he was called to for his expertise.
    My favourite of which was the Zebu, tall ship. A 19th C. design, brigantine rigged (square fore, gaff aft ) Baltic trader built in Sweden, 1938.
    Once a training ship who sailed the world this old girl was in some disrepair before being taken on by a Liverpool maritime trust. Allow me some pictures ( some years after conversion )
    Here in our dock at her previous to last major refit
    me at the helm 2008
    me on the t’gallant starboard yard
    and under full sail coming into Belfast harbour
    Restoration is an exploit close to my heart, whatever the age of a vessel, our progeny deserve to see these beautiful things and hopefully learn the skills to keep them afloat.
    As to the second part of your story? tales. ah I’ve met many an old salt with wonderful tales. Not least my father and his father, both great seamen. my grandfather served on HMS Prince of Wales which was lost in the South China sea in combat…as he was luckily ashore with a minor infection.
    The Zebu had an old gentleman sailor affectionately known as ‘Mac’ who was christened the father of the ship and he would sail with us until he was 81, regaling us with fascinating stories of the sea. He sadly passed aged 82 but as per his wishes his ashes were fired from the sip by cannon in Whitehaven harbour, the ship’s ‘second’ port. The tales remain but as people pass on I often find myself thinking that i didn’t hear enough tales and I should have been writing them down.
    People tell me I’ve had a varied and eclectic life. I suppose I have up to now and it still goes on with me being involved in world class motorcycle racing today but I suspect that you Willis, could trump my stories every time. As I don’t see a possibility of having you ever at my dinner table to wonder at your stories I shall eagerly devour your autobiography as the very next best thing.
    Fond regards

  9. I very much enjoyed the story, Wills. Thank you.
    BTW, I heard there is now a pirate copy of IPCC’s AR5.
    It’s called ARRRRRRR 5.

  10. I suspected this guy Bill was the real con artist when I read the name of the boat was “White Star.” There was at one time a brand of canned tuna by the very same name, which later was rebadged as “Chicken of the Sea.”

  11. Willis, what a strange story. Was aware of the part where the boat was restored in my country, because of its former ownership by Jacques Brel, a still quite famous artist here, who spent his last years on an island (Hiva Oa) in Polynesia, until passing away in 1978. Seems that the world is smaller than we expect…

  12. …“Most con artists, their problem is they can tell you a story that is so good, so well crafted, that you’ll believe it without question. But Bill’s worse than that, he’s got it so bad he can’t escape—that poor boy tells his stories so damn well that he’s ended up believing all of them himself”….
    This is a classic problem for politicians. Hitler ran into it during the second half of WW2, and many politicians before and since have foundered on it.
    At the moment most of the politicians around the world fervently believe in Global Warming – Cameron in the UK in particular has made it a cornerstone of his policy. I do not think there is any way that they can be brought to see reality…

  13. A great story – and more importantly, one which should be imparted to the young and inexperienced on a daily basis!
    As commented above, there is a loose CAGW science connection in that many ‘believers’ (aka liars) have in effect convinced themselves that what they speak is the truth.
    And it continues..
    Firstly, no two accounts are the same, and in this instance are so diametrically opposed, as to raise instant suspicion of both ‘tellers’ in an enquiring mind. Secondly, without demonstration of the evidence (of either party) it is impossible to determine which might be true, and which not – the lack of physical hard evidence is something which is pretty much central to the CAGW cause. Thirdly, given the obvious delay issues, etc, – how difficult would it be to accumulate the ‘real’ evidence? Ergo, the ‘story’ can perpetuate for a long time, without resolution – during which time, (in this story), the ‘lawyers’ would get rather well paid!
    On the ‘modern piracy’ theme – I would say that that is likely quite true, except that it is really just ‘con-artists’ in some way shape or form, using the company/corporate legislative protection to extract money/finance from somebody (or government!), spend it, lose it, hide it, etc, etc – and ultimately to avoid criminal conviction, and then move on to the next one. The green energy sham immediately springs to mind!

  14. viejecita says:
    December 30, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Dear Mr Willis Eschenbach
    Great Story.
    Should be in print, and read again and again, and kept together with “Treasure Island”, among one’s favorite pirate tall tales. Treasure Island has movies made from it, but this has photos of the beautiful Askoy…

    Ay, mi jovencita, que perlas de mentiras elegantes y graciosas caen de tu boca encantada … siempre estoy feliz leer tus palabras melosas, chica.
    Y tienes razón, que mundo magnífico! Esta Tierra ultimadamente misteriosa, que tiene no sólamente más de lo que imaginamos, pero más de lo que podemos imaginar …
    Con besos, bonita, y deseos de años mas de tu gozamiento de esta infinidad milagrosa, este ensueño encantado …
    Su seguro servidor, pa’ siempre, po’ supuesto,
    PS—Dang, girl, is it my imagination or is your English improving?

  15. In 1978 we flew a large airborne geophysical survey in Iran, which was fitting because oil was discovered in Persia with money from the Australian Mt Morgan Mine, for which we now have BP. The flight specs were very tight, so we got the best military range-range TANS radar from the RAF and top gear from Silicon Valley. Specified terrain clearance was 250 ft all day and there were several thousand miles of demanding flying, so we had to pay for a very good pilot, Ken Jones. (There’s a whole other story there).
    In 1988, Ken the pilot was on the ocean, ferrying a luxury 20 meter yacht ‘Patanella’ from Fremantle West Australia, through the Bight, through Bass Strait, on the way to the Whitsunday resort islands off North Queensland.
    There was a garbled radio call from near Sydney, then not another anything. 4 people gone, no wreckage, expert navigator & seamen …
    Not told as Willis does, but not without unsolved mystery – unless it’s defence secret, to be revealed in 2018 through parliamentary papers now under the 30 year embargo.
    In abstinate Iran we drank beautiful Russian vodka for $1 a litre, though it was not sold there, the Iranians said. The office we rented was owned by the keeper of the jewels of the Peacock Throne. I wonder where they are now?
    Things disappear.

  16. ZootCadillac says:
    December 30, 2012 at 12:47 am

    A fascinating tale Willis, or two tales if you will. I too have a touch of the maritime about me. …

    Thanks for all of that, Craig. The boat Zebu, that you show in the pictures is a real work of art. Like you, I had the good fortune to work with a shipwright, although in my case for only a year. He had an amazing eye. As you would know, right up in the forepeak of a wooden boat is a piece we used to call the “king piece”. It was a miniature sculpture, roughly shaped like an arrowhead. It has to fit the wood coming in from both sides plus the deck, all at different angles He would hold up a carpenter’s pencil, with his big spatulate thumb, and mark angles and lengths. Then he’d take his saws and his finely-honed chisels, and set to work. When he put it in, it would fit to within a few shaving strokes with one of chisels.
    I assisted him with the rebuilding of an early 20th century “Monterrey boat” style fishing boat. Can’t tell you how much I learned from the man. His name was Clayton Lewis, and in addition to being a shipwright he was among other things a gifted sculptor, jeweler, and painter. Working with him was a privilege. We made money by commercial fishing together out of an old 1850 built San Francisco rowboat used during the Gold Rush. Clayton’s dead now. Some of his art is here at his official website, along with a picture of the old man at the place where we lived when we were working on the boat and fishing together.
    Best regards,

  17. Hi Willis,
    I read stories like this and think about Woody Allen’s 85% of success is showing up. That wasn’t ever the whole thing, though. The other 15% is paying attention, which you’ve clearly done.

  18. “Turns out the boat was once owned for a few years by Jacques Brel, one of the few Belgian stars, ”
    Oh no! the boat’s cursed, it must be! Brel suffered from depression, killed himself, and all his songs are about dying, a love dying, comitting suicide, drowning in the Belgian rain and dying. Leave her to rust! The fools!

  19. Ah, Point Reyes… Driving through California almost 8 years ago with my wife, in a rental car, we were on our way to San Francisco. Looking for a nice route coming from Lake Tahoe, someone had recommended to take a detour via Point Reyes. So we did, but we had underestimated the time it would take. We had to be in SF at night, so while thoroughly enjoying the scenery, we decided to turn around before even making it to the other side of the peninsula.
    We the drove to SF on highway 1. I normally love such roads and views. However, while the sun was slowly sinking, so was the fuel indicator. Instead of enjoying the views, I was quite worried that we would get stuck without gas, in the dark, on the narrow road full of bends. Where we’re from it’s rare to drive such a long way without any signs of a gas station, especially when that close to a major city (we’re from The Netherlands). Right when I thought the last drop of gas was coming very near, we drove into the outskirts of SF and finally ran into a gas station.
    Thanks for the great stories these past days (and all the earliers ones as well). And all the best for 2013!

  20. Dodgy Geezer says:
    December 30, 2012 at 2:00 am
    “This is a classic problem for politicians. Hitler ran into it during the second half of WW2, and many politicians before and since have foundered on it. ”
    The problem for Hitler was that during the first four years of his reign he concentrated on robbing the country blind and enjoying high times at the Obersalzberg. Now, unemployment remained stubbornly high, the Natsies proved to be not the economic geniuses they thought they were and ever increasing price fixing measures only lead to empty store shelves and black markets.
    So, reluctantly, he had to do something so he fell back on his old fantasies from Mein Kampf… had he not abolished all political parties before, he could have just decided to lose the next election and maybe enjoy his fortune at his hideout.

  21. Loved it Willis! You definitely need to write a book of your exploits. If you do, I will be one of the first on line to buy it. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. And whatever “BIg Oil” and the Koch’s are paying you, they should double it in 2013 (sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 )!

  22. Another great story – you have a gift, Willis.
    Can I suggest that rather than a conventional autobiography, it would worth acknowledging WUWT as a catalyst and interspersing the narrative with blog post anecdotes at appropriate points? I do hope your story is full of digressions and anecdotes. I’m sure whatever you come up with with be highly readable.

  23. Beautiful steel hull on the Askoy. And she must have originally been built out of high quality steel to survive all that corrosion and still be worth salvaging and rebuilding.

  24. Thanks, Willis, great story. It seems unbelievable that anyone would look at that hull rusting away on a beach and think, hey, let’s salvage that.
    It’s probably not lost on you how mischievous it is to believe you’re incapable of being conned. And what that has to do with climate “science,” I’ll let the reader decide for himself.

  25. Good tale, well told. I like the way you expand this blog’s focus, under Anthony’s rubric of “Puzzling things in life,” no doubt. Did you take notes on those long disquisitions of Old Bill’s, or they reconstructions through the filter of time and memory? Either way, I’m impressed; I can remember expressions here and there, but never whole monologues.
    /Mr Lynn

  26. G’day Willis, your tale brought back many memories of Suva. But I missed you by a few years – 1977 for me at the Royal Suva. However in those days most cruising yachts (few that they were) ended up moored Med style, stern to to the somewhat sleazy (in those days) Tradewinds Hotel. My route to Fiji was a somewhat backward beat to windward in the trades from the Solomons via Tikopia – but that’s another tale.

  27. Great story or tale. You had me riveted to the plot. Just one question; Where’s the farmer’s boat now? Surely there is more to the story, or should be!
    Piracy can manifest itself in a covert and an endless circular manner and the more players there are the more complex the plot. Could a handful of pirates over a long enough period of time hijack science and the world’s economy?

  28. Wills: great story. When is your autobiography to be published? Please tell us? Then we can be prepared to rush the bookshops.
    If I ever get round to writing mine, much will be influenced by advice from an old fried who is afflicted with Parkinsons. He is resilent beyond belief and incredulous of the IPCC. His advice, based on his personal philosophy: `if I ever get afflicted by a nasty disease (which of course he has poor chap), may it not be dementia because I would not wish to forget my enemies`. I believe that IPCC and its acolytes are the enemies of all of us and our descendants. Bear this in mind when you (anyone) write their autobiography, especially those of us who might have been more outspoken earlier against them.

  29. Great tale Willis. The architect sent it to me. I was lucky to keep his sticky fingers off Fiddlers Green. He was great company. Did you ever hear the story of the encounter between the Samoan wife and the Fiji policeman??

  30. Doug Jones says:
    December 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

    G’day Willis, your tale brought back many memories of Suva. But I missed you by a few years – 1977 for me at the Royal Suva. However in those days most cruising yachts (few that they were) ended up moored Med style, stern to to the somewhat sleazy (in those days) Tradewinds Hotel. My route to Fiji was a somewhat backward beat to windward in the trades from the Solomons via Tikopia – but that’s another tale.

    Yeah, I spent three years living in a houseboat just off of the Tradewinds. Great fun.

  31. Colin Dunlop says:
    December 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Great tale Willis. The architect sent it to me. I was lucky to keep his sticky fingers off Fiddlers Green. He was great company. Did you ever hear the story of the encounter between the Samoan wife and the Fiji policeman??

    Yikes, it’s DUNLOP! Everyone look busy!
    (For those not recognizing the name, Colin Dunlop is one of the best naval architects in the Pacific. I had the good fortune to live on a houseboat moored up near to his houseboat in Fiji for several years, as well as to work with him on a project involving the building of a number of big steel fishing vessels. It is a great and most pleasant surprise to hear from him, it has been some years. Those of us who love him refer to him as “His Crustiness”, although his enemies typically use more colorful names … he is also the man who explained Bill’s nature as a con man to me, in the quote at the end of my post.)
    Anyhow, Colin, no, I never did hear the story of Bill’s Samoan wife and the Fiji policeman, but I have to admit, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that such a story exists. You write it, I’ll publish it here.
    Colin, can’t tell you how glad I am to see you still cranking along … please give our very best to Carol, and regards to the architect.
    PS—Colin has an equally amazing wife, Carol, who is one of the very few female superyacht captains … with her unlimited masters ticket covering all oceans, us ordinary seamen just bow down, she’s maritime royalty. They have “retired” to their olive farm at Quail Ridge, New Zealand, where as near as I can tell, they work harder than they did before retirement. Check out their site, order some olives, give them some business, they are amazing folks.

  32. Willis,
    Much appreciated.
    My forty years in shipping feature an ‘Old George’ – rather than ‘Old Bill’ – but similar approach to the truth.
    Many thanks for your input this year and past years – and, I trust, next year!

  33. Just as an aside – and as a long time sailor myself – I was intrigued at the genoa on the photo of the Askoy. A lovely shaped sail – No luffing, a pretty straight forestay, and yet the construction seems to be in parallel sections? (Ok, perhaps showing a little stretch at the foot and clew? traveling deck blocks in the wrong place?) – or is the appearance of parallel sections just an optical illusion?. I know, I’m being pathetic – but these kind of things intrigue me!

  34. I have a tale. It’s a tale of the land and not of the sea.
    When I was 19, 40 years ago, I volunteered for the military. As a soldier I became incredibly fit and I loved the life. The travel, the friends, the cameraderie were fantastic and it was the best time of my life, without a doubt.
    One of the major activities that the military persue is ‘exercises’, which is practicing and testing the men, equipment and processes against various scenarios. In effect, it is an extreme form of training, with the different components being subjected to extreme stress tests.
    As a lowly foot soldier, my extreme stress test was to function, in the field, for as long as possible, with as little sleep as possible. The object was to see if you could drive yourself and others for days, performing tactical assaults, route marches, fortifying, maintainance, cas-evac, cooking , washing and guarding, with as little as zero hours sleep a day. And still do it right.
    So there I was on day 4. Two hours before dawn in a foxhole on Salisbury plain in England, on guard duty, covering an arc that included a forest edge (the likely enemy approach) and an open barren field.
    We had been attacked earlier by an armoured unit that had veered off when they were hit by our supporting aircraft and now we were expecting infiltration. So I waited, staring into the pitch black, straining all of my senses – and then I saw him.
    He was obviously the scout. The pointman.
    He came across the field crouched, silent, and not at the forest edge where we were expecting him. Very clever.
    He stopped about 25 m in front of my position. Damn, he must have seen me.
    He moved forward a meter, looked left, then right, then crouched down. He knew I was there but he could not mark me precisely.
    Being on guard duty is not like you imagine from watching the movies. There are rules. Standard operating procedures and IA’s (immediate actions) that are designed to prevent the tired soldier from making a costly blunder.
    For example, I might have shot him – but he might be a friend, and I would give my position away.
    I might have challenged him for the password – but he was so far away that I would have to shout, which would give my position away and alert the enemy to the nature of the challenge.
    I might have gestured, after all, he was within visiblity, but he might be an enemy who would then shoot me.
    So I kept still.
    I stared at him. He stared at me. – A stand off.
    I wondered if he had other scouts who were similarly probing up and down the line. We had flares and jinglies set up in the trees, that was safe, but out here in the freezing field was our weak spot.
    He moved his weapon to the left, had he seen something ? my mate, Pick, was over there, to my right. was he awake ? did he know what was going on ?
    This enemy soldier had the patience of a saint. He was cool calm and totally professional. Good job it was only training and he was actually a friend. I was just starting to warm to the bloke when he turned towards me, pointed his weapon at me then smiled and nodded. Could he read my mind ?
    It was a long night
    But it was dawn soon. was he mad ? either attack or withdraw, but dont say in an open field.
    Then the light came. Dawn broke over the plains, and I could see that my enemy scout was a small gorse bush.
    His weapon was a spindly branch that waved in the breeze. His smile, helmet and nodding head were adornments of my tired imagination.
    Yet he seemed so real. so very very real. I was 100% certain he was real.
    Since that night, I have never trusted my senses completely. I check everything twice. Then I get someone else to check it again. It is so easy for the human brain to go a little haywire that anyone who trusts theirs without question is a fool. in my opinion.
    This is the basis of my scepticism. Everytime my head tells me something , I ask – ‘hey, just how sure am I about that?’

  35. EternalOptimist,
    Your story reminds me of my first night of guard duty in Viet Nam. No moon, pitch dark, and I began seeing things that were not there.

  36. You are great, Willis. Your thinking, analytical and communication skills are superb. For some reason, your story reminds me of Sir Bryan Todd from Wellington NZ. He was into many things but made most of his money in oil and gas development , distribution, retailing and motor companies in New Zealand and Australia. He and his wife Helen, celebrated their 75th birthdays sailing by themselves from Wellington to Italy. His home above the park in downtown Wellington is filled with items from his many ventures and travels. He is dead now but his memories linger with me and I am sure with others who knew him. He was a doer as are you.

  37. @Brian H I assure you that my links are nothing more than direct links to a few old photos. I apologise if your browser is taking issue with them but I assure you there is nothing malicious in them (i can’t speak for the content host but that’s the price of the internet these days)

  38. Willis loved that Sea Story. I think I worked for Old Bill’s Brother except he ran a commuter
    airline that I worked for….
    I ended up making money that wasn’t paid me by working for the various owners repossessing
    various aircraft. He actually had the Accountant/Office Manager/Madam(long story on that one.)
    cook the books to make it more impressive to a well heeled buyer.
    Then the meeting with said buyer ‘Ol Mitch(not his real name) looks at the books, turns to his
    paramour/accountant and says:”Not for sale I’d be crazy! I’m sittin’ on a gold mine!!”
    “No SALE!”
    The staff could’ve killed him on the spot. BTW the Prospective buyers started what became Horizon that is now owned by Alaska Airlines.

  39. Michael Moon says:
    December 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm
    Why do you write on here? You are making the site, and yourself, look useless.

    Why do you write on here? Willis’ posts add a great deal to the variety of material available at WUWT and if you check the site header you might see that it’s quite within the remit.
    If you came here expecting dissemination of published literature and staid review of said publications then it’s you sir, who has found himself in the wrong place.

  40. @DirkH: “Brel suffered from depression, killed himself, […]”
    Only if you call chain smoking a suicide method. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974 and died of a pulmonary embolism in Oct. 1978, aged 49.
    He had bought the Askoy II in Feb.1974 and practically lived on the boat until he sold it in June 1976.
    It’s all here:

  41. markx says: December 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm
    [snip . . thank you for the advice . . mod]
    Glad you appreciated it, pity it was disregarded. Good luck to Mr Moon and his trolling.

  42. Askoy II is also the star of this song and video clip . (“La Cathédrale”, in which Jacques Brel compares her to a Picard, Flemish or Artesian cathedral and evokes his odyssey on board Askoy, from Flanders to England, Madeira, the Canaries, the Antilles, the Panama Canal, the Pacific…)

  43. @Michael Moon
    I quite like the idea that Willis ,Anthony and the rest have rea life experience. They are interesting and have a story to tell, most who post here do.
    I know that it is a lot more difficult to de humanise and hate someone when you discover they have a real personality and a set of real achievements, so I do understand your predicament

  44. Another great tale Willis! Makes me wonder if you ever met my friends Geoff and Lesley Black who sailed their steel-hulled yacht Thorendor in those waters for a decade when you were there. I had the privilege of editing and publishing Lesley’s account of their life Sea Gypsy.
    Since you seem to appreciate the craft of building wooden boats, if you ever get around to returning to Australia, we have a wooden boat school ( and The Living Boat Trust ( here in Franklin, Southern Tasmania. Not to mention a biennial wooden boat festival in Hobart.
    I’m not particularly boaty, but my ex-fiancée of 29 years rows in a ladies team a replica whale boat. The ladies recently completed building a St Ayles Skiff (the first in Australia) and are going to row in a competition in Ullapool, Scotland later this year.
    If you are ever in these parts, it would be fun to have you get together with my friends who take www to mean water, wind and wood for some fine food and drink.

  45. Pompous Git, thanks for your lovely invitation. I do get to Oz once in a while, but I’ve never been to NZ, it’s on my bucket list. Regards to your ex-fiancee, and congratulations on the boat. You got pictures? if I get to the Antipodes, I’ll give you a shout.
    All the best,

  46. Willis, boats owned by the LBT here:
    SWMBO and her friends until recently usually rowed the Swiftsure. The recently launched St Ayles Skiff hasn’t been included on the website yet. There’s a picture of one being rowed here:
    Some pix of vessels built at the Wooden Boat School:
    Many pix of the Wooden Boat Festival here:

  47. Willis, I took the liberty of pointing my countrymen (“some Belgians”) restauring the Askoy to your article and they were delighted to discover this piece of “petite histoire”.
    They ask me if and how they can contact the author, who may own more pictures of the Askoy in better days…..

  48. Leo, tell your friends that they have my thanks for their marvelous work. Unfortunately, I have only one other photo of the Askoy, of me and my ex-fiancee standing at the wheel, which doesn’t show much of the boat. I’ll drop you an email offline that you can pass to them with my email address.
    All the best,

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