90° To Zamboanga is a 20 year marijuana smuggling adventure story consisting of dozens of ‘mini-adventures’ depicting a sweeping saga of exciting and often bizarre vignettes illustrating what it took to make such a story really happen.
Setting the stage for one of the more strange events…
The four of us departed San Francisco on a sailing odyssey in a 41 foot sailboat bound for Thailand in July of 1974. The goal was to score a ton of the most potent exotic marijuana in the world and bring it to market in California… a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles. The plan would take over a year in the making and would require worldwide logistics, coordination and involve the taking of extraordinary risks and the experiencing of survival in some of the planet’s harshest conditions that mother nature was willing to offer.
Although the conditions at sea are sometimes foreboding and daunting for the mariner, other times it can be the ‘idyllic picture of sailing into the sunset’. And on one such occasion it was exactly that… and this is the bizarre scenario that happened as we sailed westward across the Pacific and over one of the deepest ocean trenches in the world, on a full moon… on acid!
One might think that water is water and ocean is ocean and that it’s all the same. It’s not! When sailing over water of such great depth one can actually feel such an ‘endless deep’… of course, being in the throws of an acid trip could greatly enhance such an experience as it did on Halloween night in 1974 aboard the yacht Nepenthe as she crossed the Philippine Trench inbound towards the Surigao Straits, the southern Philippine Islands and into the Sulu Sea beyond.
In the following excerpt from 90° To Zamboanga, here’s how it all came down…
…The following night was Halloween. Nepenthe was pushing westward on an inbound course toward the Surigao Straits, the eastern passageway into the southern Philippines. The water was smooth as glass and mirror-like as we stealthily knifed through the phosphorescent Western Pacific in light air blowing eight to ten knots under a full moon. The huge brilliant orange-white moon rose over our stern as I calculated our exact position to be directly over the dark waters of the Philippine Trench. At nearly 35,000 feet below sea level, it is one of the deepest spots in the world. Out in the ocean, all water is not the same and here you could feel the vast depth as we sailed over what seemed like a bottomless black pit. Just black deep nothingness. It was something strange and different from any waters we had previously been in and we all noticed it. Willie had decided this would be the perfect setting to
‘kill two birds with one stone’, as he put it; simultaneously celebrating his dog Sunshine’s birthday and Halloween. The celebration would be in commemoration of his fifth annual ‘Peaking Pumpkin Party’, a yearly quasiHalloween affair on the full moon which he had started while he was an undergraduate at Arizona State. The general theme of the party was to take LSD and celebrate while peaking under the full moon on the powerful hallucinogen.
He had brought along a few hits of the famous ‘orange sunshine’ acid. We both took the acid about eight o’clock in the evening, and by quarter to nine, the familiar bitter copper taste was in our mouths as the drug started taking effect. To me, it was as if every neural cell suddenly expanded, all synapses firing impulses two times faster than the speed of light. Joe and Killian appeared flat, two-dimensional clownish figures while Willie’s body seemed to be glowing, discharging yellow sparks and purple lightening flashes like St. Elmo’s fire. The sky above was a vast serene blackness filled with an infinite number of pulsating white hot diamonds.
Gravity seemed to be playing a strange trick on me. My body felt ridiculously heavy, as if it was ten thousand pounds. Unable to stand, I slowly sank to my hands and knees and began crawling forward toward the bow. The moon climbed higher in the black sky. The ghostly white orb was now the color of bleached bones.
With my arms and legs locked around the bowsprit, I looked down into the curling bow wave. Glowing green phosphorescent shapes darted past the boat leaving a vanishing day-glow trail in their wake as they disappeared into the inky deep. ‘This can’t be real,’ I thought. ‘It has to be the acid playing tricks with me.’ I wondered what psychedelic unreal vision would be next, but the same image kept repeating itself before my unbelieving eyes. It was then I heard through the sound of the bow sloshing through the water what seemed like a million chirps coming to life beneath me. Dozens of porpoises were playing in the bow wave, their black shiny bodies arching out of the water in incandescent flashes. I leaned down as far as I could without falling in, put my mouth close to the rushing water and began to whistle as if I were whistling for my dog Papi. The chirping noise I was hearing was their squeaking replies to my presence. I looked down, less than one foot beneath me and gazed deep into one of the eyes of a porpoise who had rolled on his side and was looking directly at me. I reached down and stroked its shiny black skin. It just stayed right there as I gently stroked it and continued softly whistling to it. It was squeaking back to me. The edges of its mouth were turned up at the corners and it was smiling up at me and taking in the entire scene.
Willie had been sitting in the cockpit descending into a maelstrom of fear. Where I had been awe filled, connecting with the natural forces surrounding me, Willie had allowed his terror-struck mind to whirl him downward toward the darker primal reaches of his imagination. He was obsessing on what might lie far beneath the jet black waters of the Philippine Trench nearly seven miles below. An unspeakable slimy thing might come swimming up from the lightless depths and devour the boat and all the crew.
He didn’t seem to notice Joe sitting next to him wearing headphones and steering the boat. It was only ten o’clock. Suddenly Willie noticed I was missing. He tried to stand, but became aware of a bone crushing weight forcing him to his knees. He, too, crawled forward on his hands and knees to where he saw me lying prone out on the bowsprit, one arm wrapped around the teak extrusion which the upper part of my body was lying on and the other arm extended down in the water. My hand was gone!
“Ahhh! God! No!” Willie shrieked. In his drug-ravaged mind the porpoise I was reaching out to and stroking was not a porpoise at all, but a Loch Ness sea monster who seemed to be on the verge of eating his best friend and had already taken off my hand.
“Rick! Rick! Get back or you’ll be eaten by Ness!” Willie wailed. The porpoises had put him tottering on the edge of the abyss.
I turned, a quizzical look on my face. I sensed Willie was having a bad trip. From far away I could hear myself shouting to my friend, “Willie, they’re porpoises, not sea monsters! They’re our friends!”
Right then, the jib directly above us filled with a loud pop. Both Willie and I looked up to see the moon explode, crumbling into pieces of sparkling white bone which tumbled into the sea.
Now, with all luminescence gone, Willie’s mind panicked. His senses went wild as he tipped over the edge. A rotten putrefying smell of decay at the back of his throat seemed to come from over the weather rail. Beyond all reason, with the drug flooding every cell, he looked up to see a giant scaly repulsive looking thing, three times the size of the fifty foot mast having the body of Godzilla and the laughing head of a jack o-lantern lurching toward the boat.
“Oh, no! That’s it. We’re finished! Abandon ship!” Willie screamed.
“What’s going on? What happened?” Killian shouted from the companionway hatch. He had been awakened by Willie’s blood curdling cry.
“Willie’s having a bum trip. Go on back to bed, Dave,” I yelled from the bowsprit. I was starting to come down.
I inched backward from the bowsprit speaking reassuringly as we both slowly crawled aft toward the cockpit. Willie continued to rave as I tried my best to calm him down. Only after opening up the medical kit and forcing twenty milligrams of Valium and a Seconal capsule down Willie’s throat did the ‘Peaking Pumpkin Party’ begin to wane forty-five minutes later...