SUBIC BAY NAVAL STATION, PHILIPPINE ISLANDS
There is a soft swelling on my abdomen.
Here we are, just Freddy and I, sailing leisurely down the coast of Luzon headed for Subic Bay and then to Manila. Geff and Christie got off in San Fernando to head back to Hong Kong after an uneventful sail across the South China Sea.
Uneventful except for the bad fuel, that is. It was full of sea water. The injector pump filled up with sea water, so I had to take it apart on the dinette, at sea, and clean everything with a tooth bush. I never did get all the pieces back into the pump again, but it works.
A gorgeous day. The light easterly wind wafts us along at 5 knots. The mountains are green, tall, craggy and spectacular. Tropical. That's the word. Luzon looks tropical.
I glance down at the soft swelling which just shows above my black bikini. It puffs out as I shift my weight from one leg to the other with each passing wave.
Freddy is fixing lunch. I stare abstractly at a small island about 4 miles ahead. It stands a mile or so off the coast. Subic Bay, according to the chart, should be just behind it.
I look down again. The bulge is still there. "Oh damn, damn, damn, damn" I mumble to myself. "That does not look good. Not good at all." It doesn't hurt. I gently poke it. "Not good at all."
I look up again, my mind exploring my innards, chanting the mantra "Hernia. Hernia. Hernia." Whereupon the little island just ahead erupts into a tower of flame. My mouth drops open. "Hey Freddy! Come have a look at this! The goddamned island just blew up!"
As she pokes her head out the companionway a jet screams overhead, corkscrewing straight up into the sky. The island explodes again, accompanied by a teeth rattling sonic boom from the jet.
"Jesus CHRIST! We're on their bombing range!" I heave the wheel hard to starboard and head straight out to sea, wondering how far out we have to go to be outside the danger area. Also wondering how the boys up there in the jets might feel about a yacht casually sailing through their bombing zone. Some welcome we'll get onto the base.
I was a worried about that even before we sailed into their target range. Not being associated with the military normally makes getting onto one of these bases a stuffy operation with guards and passes and all that. I never tried to just sail into one, let alone sail into one via their bombing range.
It is no surprise to see the long, sleek, gray ship come smoking out of the bay as we approach. We have our American flag flying and all kinds of apologies ready for them. They come towards us at a very respectable speed. Damn fast, in fact, for a big ship.
"Here they come," I say somewhat unnecessarily, turning into the wind to stop so they can come alongside.
They streak past us, headed out to sea, as if we didn't exist. I let the helm fall off and we sail slowly into the bay. From the sea, Subic Bay looks like any other part of the coastline - green, hilly jungle - except for a few antennas sticking up here and there. But once clear of the big island in the mouth of the bay, the base opens out before us.
"Whooeee! Talk about hardware." I reach over and pick up the binoculars. There are two aircraft carriers, fields full of jets, radar domes, enormous buildings and ships and boats everywhere.
A drop-nosed speedboat roars across the bay clocking at least 50 knots. A Marine stands on the foredeck. He looks tough with his sidearm and camouflage uniform nicely color coordinated with the boat's paint job. They head directly for us and heave to about 30 feet away.
"Are you proceeding to the yacht club?" The marine shouts.
"Yes Sir!" I shout back.
"Good, 'cause Typhoon Ruby is headed our way and we wouldn't like to have to go look for you." The attack boat rears back and is gone like a shot, the Marine holding onto a bow line, a cowboy riding a bucking bronco.
Freddy and I sit there dumfounded. "So much for security?".
"Maybe he mistook us for that other yacht." Freddy muses, referring to another Peterson 44 which belongs to an officer stationed here.
"Where the hell is the yacht club?" I yell after the speedboat, now a tiny dot in the distance. Freddy laughs.
I get out the binoculars and scan the maze of death machinery. "There it is" I point, "I see the tops of some sailboat masts over there, behind that nuclear sub."
We chug past the long, deadly looking, all black submarine and pass through the narrow entrance of a small yacht basin. There is an excellent dock to tie up to, so we do. Nervously, we wait for the base security to arrive. Nobody shows. I step off the Moira onto the dock. Nobody. I amble down the dock and up to the office. A Philippine man is sweeping the floor. Very slowly. Nobody else is around. I ask him if it is OK to tie up there. He smiles and nods his head. I'm not sure he understands what I said. Never mind. I walk quickly back to the Moira and get aboard, gently fingering my newly discovered hernia.
Bright and early the next morning I troop down the dock again. Now the office is open. A woman sits behind a metal desk and a middleaged couple stand in front of it.
The man says, in a thick accent, "Zie guard standing at zie gate our passports vill not accept (he waves a German passport) for comingk onto zie base. Zis is ridiculous, no? Zey are excellent identification. How can ve our boat return?"
The woman quietly explains,, "I'm sorry, but base passes are a necessary evil on all American military stations. I will arrange for proper passes this morning." The German harumphs but seems to accept this. I reflect that the Germans somehow did manage to get back onto the base, despite not having official passes.
She turns to me, smiles, "And what can I do for you?"
"Uh...Well. we just came in last night. On the Moira. I was wondering if it was OK to stay for awhile."
"Sure, no problem. Have you cleared customs and immigration?"
"Of course. In San Fernando." This all seems too easy. There must be a catch. "Well, that's great. What about water. Is it OK if we use water from the wharf?"
"And the cost?"
"Oh, there's no charge." she offers her hand, "I'm Darlene Lewis." She is an attractive woman dressed in casual civilian clothes with her jet black hair pulled back and fastened in a bun. She says her husband, Ben, works for the ship repair facility. She took on the job of director of the yacht club for something to do.
Subic Bay has two functions, repair and maintenance of the hardware of war and rest and relaxation for the men of war. If I had to pick a place to have a hernia fixed, I suppose this is the best place in the Western Pacific. Sailors with hernias are common enough in the hospital here. And the facilities for fun and games are beyond compare....horseback riding, golf, swimming, 5 movie houses, snorkeling, scuba diving, tennis, archery, bowling halls, clubs, restaurants, and who knows what all.
Darlene fixes up the passes for the German couple and for Freddy and me. We have the run of the place except for the officer's club - "but anytime you want to go to the officer's club you can easily find someone who will be glad to take you."
Nobody says a thing about our sail through their bombing range.
Yesterday morning, a nuclear aircraft carrier dumped 6000 young Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 into Subic Bay Naval Station. Most of them made a beeline for the base gate which leads to Olongapo City, by-passing the beer vending machines, 5 movie theaters, archery range and horseback riding and all those well organized military recreation activities. This evening they are still streaming on and off the base, like army ants trailing out through the gates, over the bridge into town and back again. Freddy and I are right in the middle of their multicolored parade, making our first excursion off base.
It's drizzling. The young sailors look slightly soggy but perky, ready for action, hot to trot. We flow with them past a cold, damp, bored marine guard, out onto the bridge which spans Shit River - a garbage and filth filled moat separating the base from the town. The failing light and misting rain adds a surrealistic touch to the scene of about a hundred 18 year-olds in cowboy outfits jostling each other along the bridge rail.
"Hey! Lookee Heeere!" One of them shouts in my ear. I look. And grab Freddy by the arm. For there, suspended in the miserable dank dusk on the other side of the bridge rail, is a stunningly beautiful girl dressed in a flowing white gown, with a glittering diamond tiara on her head.
"Do you see what I see?" I ask Freddy in a low voice.
"I see three of them," she replies. I peer into the gloom. Sure enough, three little lovelies are suspended some 15 feet above Shit River. They are precariously balanced on thin bamboo towers rising from three long, narrow dug out canoes. A young boy sits in each canoe, hands on the gunnels, trying to counterbalance the weaving beauties high above them. Each girl has two wire cups, one in each hand. The American sailors, whooping and laughing, throw peso coins at the girls. The object is to toss the coin just far enough so the girl will overreach and topple into the murky brown water swirling below. The river gives off a satisfying rancid stench, spice for the tasty game.
"Get it! Get it! GO! GO!" shouts one crazed and ugly sailor, eyes bulging, a vein throbbing on his forehead, his teeth a luminous white gash in his face - a macabre reflection of the flowing white gown on the girl. His grin is awful to behold. He knows he's going to do it. He knows he's going to be the one. He lobs a peso. The lovely vision snakes out a shapely arm and snags the coin in midair. The bamboo tower does not even sway.
A roar goes up from the far end of the bridge. There is a piercing screech and I see a girl plummet into the river. Her dress billows up around her. She is not very graceful about it - a big white egret blasted out of the air. She hits the water with a mighty splash and there is a harmonic chorus of "EEEEYYUUCKKKKK and YYYETTCHHHH" from the spectators. Seconds later, she oozes up the mud slope of the river bank covered with brown gooey slime. The sailors go crazy, leaping and jeering. Coins fill the air, hundreds of them land on the wretched girl like silver sequins, others plop into the mud and into the river like hail stones. A dead dog, bloated, floats by with its legs straight up, inches from the bright red, high-heeled shoes of the girl. A peso hits its distended stomach and bounces off.
Stupefied, Freddy and I mosey on to see the other delights of Olongapo City.
Neon lights on shabby curio shops, embroidered shirt backdrops for polished buffalo horns and wooden statues with gigantic wangs, and a virtual jungle of elaborate macrame hammocks. Nightclubs are stitched between the souvenir shops and eagle festooned tattoo shops. Litter and filth accent the decor.
"The best bar in town is the El Dorado," a Filipino man insists as Freddy and I walk past. "Just there." He points at a blazing maze of neon lights. Loud music - very loud - blasts through the open door.
We walk over to the open door and and peer into the gloom. Sailors are crammed three deep to the long bar which circles the interior. Smoke is a thick, layered fog swirling to the beat of acid rock booming out from speakers at least 15 feet high. Filipinos dressed in American cowboy clothes work their instruments in the colored strobe lights of a small stage. One is masturbating his guitar and orgasming every stanza.
A friendly looking, cute naked girl promenades down the bar with two beers in her hands. The sailors gape up at her rounded, ripe buns as she undulates by, creating a groundswell of rising and falling heads. She stops and leans over to put the bottles in front of two men and hands them their change. One man takes his change, a bunch of pesos, and carefully stacks them on top of his bottle of San Miguel beer.
The girl smiles and, with a nifty little dancestep, stoops over the beer bottle, the top of which - along with the coins - slides smoothly into her pussy. She stands up, tosses her long raven black hair over her shoulder with a flip of her head, and sways back down the bar. The bottle of beer has not moved a millimeter but the stack of coins is nowhere to be seen. I am sincerely impressed but Freddy makes a kind of moaning sound and pulls my arm in the direction of the street.
A man at my other elbow says. "Hey, man, you want some action?"
We check out a small restaurant down the street. The food is not very good. What is really interesting, however, is the bread and butter. The bread is the same bread they serve on the base. The butter pats look exactly like the ones in the base cafeteria; little "U.S. Navy" and anchor and all.
"I guess that says something about the supply line from the base to the local community," Freddy observes.
Dr. Guest takes one quick look at my groin and says, "Hernia. Go down to room 206 and sign in, we'll fix it in the morning."
I knew it. I walk down the hall looking for room 206. Great. Just what I need. Why this? It all seems an incredible uphill grind. Two months of senseless hassles in Taiwan, a month of repairs and frustrations and expenses in Hong Kong, the typhoon aborted first try for the Philippines....Undoubtedly where I got this hernia, trying to save the stupid wind vane....the bad fuel, delays with Philippine customs people, Typhoon Ruby, which is dumping endless rain on us as she plows out into the South China Sea, the flu, and this damned hernia.
Room 206 has a girl at a desk. She looks up, pushes a registry book at me, and goes back to reading a magazine. I sign in, hand her the slip from the doctor. She says, "Room 230" and points. I walk down the hall to that room. It has a bed in it. It's cold, really cold, from the overworked air conditioner. I wonder if I can turn the damn thing off but there is just the vent, high up on the sickly green cement wall. I lie down on the bed. A nurse comes in - a male - and gives me some pills. I worry for a while about Freddy. This was supposed to be just a visit to the doctor. But she'll figure it out and come visit later.
I'm not really worried about the operation. It's better to get it fixed here. There won't be any chances after we leave here. I begin to feel the effects of the pill. And in the semi-placid stage of the dope or whatever they gave me, I begin to think about the Moirae.
It's a weird trip. I mean the whole thing with the Moirae, not the pills. Despite the excuses I hand myself from time to time I really and truly am here - now - because of the Moirae. Imagine that. A guy who is supposed to be a scientist decides to chuck it all and sail off because of a vision.
I remember a dream I used to have when I was a kid. I was on a road - an elevated path - walking sure and safe through unknown lands. The road was always there to guide me. Sometimes, when things got tough, I'd dream the road had a fork in it. There was always some kind of a sign to point the way I should turn. Sometimes I'd have to wait until someone showed up to tell me which way to go. When that happened my dream-self sat down and looked around patiently. The way wound through valleys and over hills, headed in the general direction of a big tall mountain in the distance.
The thought of getting off the path, walking away into the fields of wherever I happen to be fills me with foreboding. I can see that road now, oh so clearly. But I seem to be stopped. Just lying there on the road going nowhere. I have to get up and go on. I must keep going. I HAVE to get up.
I wake up. I HAVE to get up and pee.
Back in the frozen slab of a bed I think again about the Moirae, the constant feeling some nebulous entity is leading me on, trying to show me something.
The male nurse pokes his head into the room. "You OK?" he asks and vanishes without waiting for an answer.
"Hey, wait!" I call. He reappears. "Are you sure this isn't the morgue? I'm freezing my ass off. How about turning down the refrigeration a bit."
"Sorry, that's a problem. I'll get you a blanket." And he's gone again.
Maybe I should already be able to see whatever it is the Moirae are trying to show me. It must be something obvious. I feel it has something to do with evolution. With destiny. Fate. The Moirae. Maybe the Moirae are trying to show me how they work. What they are. Or is this all a delusion? My unconscious mind trying to educate me. Something I see on the hunch level that I'm acting out to get it to a conscious level?
I lay on the bed, freezing my ass off, and look up at the air conditioning duct. So help me Christ, there is ICE on the vent!
Maybe the delays and problems are part of some preposterous Moirae plot although I shudder to contemplate what comes next. What lesson can I learn from the Subic Bay Naval Air Station? Dr. Guest said I'd have to stay off my feet for 2 weeks and avoid strenuous activities for 6. Arrrrrgh. I shiver from the cold and fade with the dope.
My last thoughts are about the Moirae. A little voice whispers, in a some language not composed of words, the trip can't be my own devious subconscious because the odd sequence of events have not been - even in the slightest - under my control. Or at least I think that's what it says. Then I am asleep, lying naked on a glacier in the frozen, arctic wasteland of the Subic Bay Naval Air Station Hospital.
I wake up from a dream about a beautiful Philippine villa high in the mountains, feeling good. Much better than I have for a long time. The scar from the operation looks better, too. I get up and go forward.
On the deck there is a maggot. White, plump, ugly, humping along.
"There's a maggot in here," I call out to Freddy, who is still in bed. "You must have something dead or rotten in the galley."
"I do not!" she calls back, offended.
I pick up the maggot and drop it in the trash bag. There is another humping along the deck. That one gets trashed, too. There does not seem to be anything dead in the Galley but there is a rotten smell. I open the hatch and go out on deck. The smell is worse. I look over the side, into the water. Or at least where the water should be. Instead of water I see a flat plane of solid garbage. A dead pig floats up against the hull. Tacky white maggots ooze off the pig and climb up the hull, onto the deck, and down below. "Oh my God!"
The whole basin is filled with floating garbage. The overall effect is utterly disgusting. Darlene is at the yacht club door looking at the panorama of floating filth. "Lovely day," I walk towards her.
"The chain broke." She says as if that explains everything.
"What chain?" I stop in front of her.
"The base keeps a big chain net across Shit River to keep all this stuff out of the harbor. I guess it broke last night."
"They do?" I imagine the sheer weight of Olongapo City's effluvia backed up Shit River over - say a month. Tons of it. I turn and see those tons of effluvia standing some 3 feet deep everywhere. "But that's ..... I mean the chain is bound to break sometime."
"Yeah. Well, it does every so often. But then they drag the harbor and clear it out all at once instead of every day." She says in a bored voice. "It's too bad they can't see this in Florida. Or maybe Washington DC or San Diego. Americans don't really appreciate what true pollution looks like."
"We're learning. I thought Taiwan was bad but this is unreal."
"Here comes a yacht. I wonder what they think of this." Darlene says. I look across the garbage towards the entrance and see none other than Madame Butterfly cleaving through the dead animals and degassing heaps of decay.
"Hey, Leo!" I call as he approaches the dock. "Welcome to Olongapo's finest."
"Hey, Rick!" He replies, "This is paradise compared to the Manila Yacht Club. The sewer from Manila comes out right under the yacht club wharf. Right under the restaurant."
"Lots of it." We laugh and I help him secure the little green ketch to the wharf. Freddy drags everyone aboard Moira for coffee and toast.
"What happened to you during the typhoon?" I ask. "We called you on the radio schedule and got no answer. We thought you'd sunk."
"God, it was terrible. You remember the extra guy we took on as crew?"
"Mr. Muscleman?" Freddy asks.
"Right. Well, he lay down the minute we cleared the harbor and didn't move until we got to Manila. My nephew and I wound up sailing the whole way by ourselves plus we had to take care of our muscular basket case." He sips his coffee and looks serious. "We found out our main mast is in the wrong place. We've got to move it aft about two feet."
"Wow. That's not going to be easy." I say, "But you came to the right place. What they can't do for a ship here can't be done. Darlene's husband, Ben, works over in the ship repair facility. Right now there are no big ships in so they don't have much work to do. He's offered to balance my prop and shaft today so I've got to get in and pull it out. You're just in time to help."
"You're not going to get in that water!" Freddy snaps.
"You can't even FIND the water," observes Darlene.
"Look. We'll never get another chance to get the whole thing balanced - prop and all. I've got it all worked out."
"I'm with her," Leo holds up his hand, "I ain't getting in that water."
A few hours later I don my wet suit, mask, fins, flippers and SCUBA tank. Freddy pours a steady stream of water from the dock hose on the garbage behind Moira. Slowly it parts, leaving a hole - like a hole in the ice - through which I descend. At times like this one must keep the mind focused on the task at hand and ignore the extras. Below the layer of garbage the water is pitch black, the visibility about 3 inches. Leo lowers down a bucket with my tools and I proceed to remove the propeller and then attach a line to the shaft.
Moira's stainless steel shaft is almost 4 meters long and 38-mm thick. It's heavy and limber and not at all willing to remove itself from the stern-tube. But, just as I'm sucking the last of the tank dry, it comes free and swings down into the black void. Leo and Freddy haul it aboard. I emerge through the hole which Freddy has dutifully kept open in the filth and she hoses me down for a full five minutes before she will let me back up the ladder and onto the deck.
"Ahhh, the joys of boating," Says Leo as he helps me off with my tank.