Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific (I)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

A few people commented on the true and amazing 'Story of Bents Green Lodge' from way back in 1888. An old newspaper story that I blogged about a few weeks ago. Well here is another amazing story of coincidences and circumstances but this time, it dates from the 1920's.

I came across this very interesting old newspaper article, which due to the age of the paper and
Sample scanned text
the feint print was quite difficult to read. Here is a sample of the quality of the scanned image. Scanning the text into the computer (to do a scan to text conversion) also proved to be quite problematical. I have spent a great deal of time editing the text by hand and eye. I have not been able to find another source of the text on line. 

The newspaper story is so old that it is out of copyright. In fact the newspaper closed many years ago. However for me it has proved to be a very interesting story from way back in 1923. It's also a story that was well worth reproducing again.

The author John Edwin Hogg has written a book that might interest other boat owners. (Twice Across North America by Motorboat) which as the title suggests is a record of his experiences when crossing the North American continent by boat. The crossing was accomplished using rivers and lakes and included passing through more than twenty state boundary. Copies of the book are available from the usual sources.

The story of being lost in the Pacific seems to be straight out of a 'boys own' magazine of that era. I can imagine that at the time. The story would have captured the imagination of 'boys' of all ages.



Probably the vast majority of persons who read this narrative, unless they happen to be very observant students of geography, have never heard of Las Perlas Islands. Therefore, to make clear the details of an adventure that caused me to, spend three nerve racking days adrift in the Pacific Ocean in an open eighteen foot boat, and which came within the scantiest of margins of making my wife a widow.
The exact location of these islands is important. Las Perlas is Spanish for "the pearls" and the group of islands bearing this name may be located on any good map or chart, showing that portion of the Pacific Ocean, off the north-west coast of Columbia, or the extreme eastern portion of the Republic of Panama, the islands being under the political jurisdiction of the latter country. 
For anyone to attempt a voyage in an eighteen foot row boat with a two horse power outboard motor, from the Pearl Islands over ninety miles of open ocean to the port of Balboa, the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Sounds like madness that under the pressure of necessity one often does things which, if one stepped to think one would probably leave strictly alone. So it was with me. 

In March, 1923, I was knocking about in Balboa, in the Panama zone, when I fell
in with a company of American engineers, who were carrying out certain map-making survey. They were as fine a lot of men as I ever came in contact with, and after setting acquainted with them, through friends, at the Balboa Yacht Club, they took an unusually friendly interest in me and my work. They offered me every possible help, and invited me to accompany them as a guest aboard the yacht which was sailing for the Pearl Islands to continue the surveying there.

This yacht was to leave the following day, returning to Balboa a week later. Mr Hutchinson, the chief of the engineers party told me many interesting tales concerning the Pearl Islands about the picturesque natives, the queer animal life of the tropical jungles in the interior, the excellent hunting and the wonderful sea fishing. If I cared to accompany the expedition, he said, I could make myself at home at the engineering camp. I could return with the yacht the following week, which would give me ample time to catch the ship in which I was to sail for the Pacific coast of the United States two weeks later.  The trip would not have been quite as alluring had it not offered the promise of excellent fishing, for fishing is one of my weaknesses. I couldn't resist it, so I shook hands with Mr. Hutchinson, thanked him for the invitation, and agreed-to-be aboard, the yacht at daylight next morning. 

The trip to the Pearl Islands was uneventful. We sailed out of Balboa Bay into a silent, glassy sea that looked as if it might have been given a coat of oil. There was scarcely a ripple on it, and the yacht the Invernada, an eighty-foot steam craft that drove along through the water with her bowsprit barely moving in any direction except straight ahead. In a couple or hours we lost sight of land, saw innumerable ships that were evidently passing in and out of the Panama Canal, and towards 2 o'clock in the afternoon picked up the Pearl Islands a group of low lying, palm fringed sandbars protruding from steaming hot, mirror-like sea. By 4 o'clock we had entered a tiny landlocked, bay, surrounded by a luxuriant growth of 'palms and other jungle vegetation. There the Invernada dropped anchor and we were rowed ashore in a dingy.

The engineering camp was about half a mile-inland from the boat landing, and in anticipation of the arrival of the yacht several men were waiting on shore with a dozen saddle horses to carry us up to the camp. Hordes of scantily clad natives were also down at the boat landing to meet us or to sell us gaudily coloured parrots, pet monkeys, green coconuts, bananas, pearls anything that might be traded for the white man's golden pesos. 

A very few minutes after arriving at the camp, which was admirably laid out, Mr. Hutchinson had introduced me to all the engineering officials, assigned me to a tent, and had a place for me at the long table in the tent that served as a mess hall. As I looked about the camp, finding, intense interest in the immense flocks of parrots that whistled and squawked overhead on the way to their sundown roosts, I began to muse as to how fortunate I had been to fall in with this group of men. 

In my luggage I had included, at Mr. Hutchinson's behest, a piece of my personal equipment that I considered invaluable as an adjunct to successful fishing nothing more or less that a small detachable outboard row boat motor, a little machine that can be carted about by the average traveller with no more trouble than a dress suit box, but which makes all waterways open highways for hunting, fishing, and general aquatic touring. It can be fixed over the stern of any boat almost instantly, and gives the tourist or fisherman a much greater travelling radius with out the drudgery of pulling a boat about with oars. On this same trip from the United States to Latin America that same little motor had already given me a "private and personally conducted tour" both ways through the Panama Canal. It had shoved me in a native dug out punt up the Bayano River and the Rio Ligettoe, on the mainland of the Republic of Panama, in quest of tapirs and alligators, and had previously given me excellent service in the States. There were boats at the engineering camp boat landing and plenty of petrol and oil, so it required little imagination for me to contemplate all the pleasure and wholesome recreation that I expected to be able to obtain fishing with this combination off the Pearl Islands. It is, perhaps, just as well that I had the enjoyment of these pleasurable anticipations, for had I had at that time the slightest idea of the scrape that I was destined to get into, I should most certainly have gone back to Balboa aboard the Invernada when she sailed for the mainland the day following my arrival in the islands. 

Next morning I borrowed one of the engineering company's most seaworthy boats, fixed my Evinrude motor over the stern, and put to sea with two of the men from the camp. In about an hour we found a shoal about six miles off the islands where there was only about ten fathoms of water, and over which Wilson and Blake, my companions, who were the thoroughly experienced sea anglers, declared we'd be almost certain to catch fish. Forthwith we baited our hooks and began trolling over the side of the boat, with the motor well throttled down. For the time being I was content to let the other men do the fishing, while I operated the motor and watched them. 

My companions had scarcely got their lines out before the fish began to literally leap at their hooks. Wilson caught a ten pound white bass, which was brought to gaff in about ten minutes, and the fish was no sooner in the boat than Blake hooked a thirty-pound Corbina, which was brought in twenty minutes later. After that the strikes came thick and fast. I shut, down the motor and got my line out, and then all three of us drifted about on the calm sea pulling out one fish after another. My first fish was a forty-pound Corbina that I played for half an hour before I could get him into the boat. Then I hooked a sixty-pound Tuna, played him for forty minutes, and got him alongside.  For the rest of the day it was just a case of pulling in one fish after another. I pumped fish up from the sea bottom with my rod until my arms ached, and we loaded the boat with corbina, tuna, jack-mackerel, and half a dozen varieties of fine tropical food fish that I'd never seen or heard of before, until all of us actually tired of it. It was sport that any king or millionaire might have envied, and tired though we were, it was discontinued only when the trade winds began to whip the sea into foam, compelling us to put ashore an hour or two before sundown. The whole camp feasted on fish for dinner that day. 

During the four succeeding days of my stay in-the islands the-fishing was much the same. It was merely a case of shoving out to sea, finding a shoal, and then having the fish leap at the hooks. It was fishing that was actually too good to be interesting. By the end of the fifth day I had caught so many fish that I felt I never wanted to catch another, and the entire camp had eaten fish till they were tired of It. With my desire for fishing satisfied seemingly for the rest of my life, I decided to spend the last two days of my sojourn on the islands studying and photographing some of the picturesque Indians dwelling in the interior. I mentioned this to Mr. Hutchinson at the camp and in his characteristic fashion he volunteered to let me have as many horses as I needed, and offered to send a man with me as a guide and interpretor. 

(Continued in part II)

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