Ferdinand Magellan and me (18) Constipation

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Vasco da Gama arrives in India

The Portuguese arrive in India.Under Viceroy Almeida, the Portuguese invaders including Ferdinand Magellan ranged across the Arabian Sea. They built forts at strategic points on the east coast of Africa and west coast of India. Numerous battles were fought as resistance grew.  Calicut, about 70 miles north of Cochin had been a  prosperous  part of the Arab spice trade for many centuries and had powerful allies. The Zamorin of Calicut raised a fleet of about 200 ships but was defeated by Almeida’s son, Lourenςo, at the Battle of Cannanore. He fought back with the help of the Mameluke Emir Hussein of Egypt and inflicted the first defeat upon the Portuguese, in which Lourenςo was killed.

Affonso de Albuquerque arrived in 1508 with a commission from King Manuel to relieve Almeida as Viceroy. Almeida had unfinished business, including revenge for the death of his son, and promptly clapped Albuquerque into prison. Almeida put together a fleet of 18 ships, probably with Ferdinand Magellan as one of its captains and  Duarte Barbosa, who was to become Magellan’s brother-in-law, as scrivener or accountant. The fleet sailed northwards towards the rich province of Gujarat and was met by an opposing fleet of 12 ships near the island of Diu. The Portuguese ships were the most formidable ocean-going men-o-war of their day; heavily armed and manned by seasoned sailors. Opposing them were small vessels designed for commerce in the relatively sheltered waters of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. They included Venetian galleys whose only real advantage was the ability to manoeuvre in windless conditions. Fortunately for the Portuguese, the breeze held and they inflicted grievous damage upon the enemy but not sufficient to satisfy Almeida’s thirst for revenge for the death of his son. He embarked on a murderous campaign against the populace that was to inform the policies of his vice-regal successor who still languished in prison: Albuquerque.


Calicut, now also known as Khozhikode, was definitely on our agenda since Ferdinand Magellan played a big role in the conflict with the Zamorin. Evidently, Almeida gave him a letter of marque that authorised him to attack enemies of Portugal almost at will. Magellan is credited with a few attacks upon local shipping.

For some reason that I failed to understand, the Cochin officials refused to give me a clearance for Khozhikode because on our entry form I had given our destination as Goa.

“We’re still going to Goa but I want to go to Calicut first,” I explained to the harbour master.

“Ah, but I’m afraid there is an extra fee payable for the paperwork ,” he said with an apologetic little smile. He was a middle aged man with a trimmed moustache and in our previous dealings had been affable and helpful.

I smelled a rat. I took the matter up with our friend, the father of Indira, the girl who wanted to study in Australia. He was a retired colonel of the Indian army and I guessed he knew a thing or two about how bureaucracy works.

“Oh yes,” he said, “unfortunately the wheels require a little grease to keep turning, but you should be careful. If you do offer to pay and the so-called fee is not legitimate, you could be in trouble for bribing an official.”

Robin also had an opinion. “Bloody outrageous,” she said in her endearing straightforward way. “We didn’t come all this way to miss out on Calicut.”

“Okay,” I said. “Never mind. “We won’t miss out on Calicut.”

The sailing is beautiful off the coast of India when the monsoon is right. You get a nice breeze off the land with a hint of cinnamon or coriander in the air. By this stage we were aficionados of spices which, after all, is what the story was all about. Bucko couldn’t stop sniffing.

If you read Wathara’s logbook for that period you will see that Robin and I had suddenly developed stomach cramps, high temperature and even a touch of diarrhoea. Suspected cause was food poisoning. By the time we reached the latitude of Calicut I, as master of the ship Wathara, declared a medical emergency and claimed Force Majeure under the International Law of the Sea.

We dropped anchor near the lighthouse, launched the dinghy and rowed ashore straight into the clutches of a person in a khaki uniform waiting for us on the beach.

“You are a foreign yacht?” he asked.

“Well, yes, you could say that.”

“Your papers, please.”


“Yes, your papers,” he said with infinite patience as if addressing a half-wit. “Passports. Travel documents. Clearance from last port.”

“Oh, the papers. Yes we do have papers.”

“May I see them please?”

I handed over our passports duly stamped with visas and our clearance from Cochin stamped by the harbour master.

“Your clearance is for Goa, not Kozhikode. Why have you come to Kozhikode?”

“Force Majeure,” I said.

His eyebrows lifted and he looked around the horizon at the placid sea with a gentle breeze blowing under a clear blue sky.

“I see no severe weather. Why do you claim Force Majeure?”

Now I saw why the yachties in Cochin had said the Indian bureaucracy was worse than the Indonesian. You can bullshit Indonesian officials because most don’t speak very good English but I couldn’t even bullshit this bloke in French.

“Medical emergency,” I said. “Food poisoning. You can read my logbook.”

“You require medical attention?”


“I may inspect your logbook.”

He turned and waved towards the lighthouse and before long an inflatable dinghy with a powerful outboard motor arrived from nowhere, came in through the low surf and landed on the beach.

“We shall visit  your vessel, please,” he said in velvet tones concealing an iron fist.

We returned to Wathara but had to put a collar and leash on Bucko, who was barking his head off. After verifying our medical condition in the logbook the official made a thorough inspection, opening lockers, lifting cushions and peering into the bilge.

Somewhat reluctantly it seemed to me, he stamped our passports and said, “Your medical condition will be dealt with.”

He took us back ashore and then escorted us to a pharmacy in the business district. He introduced us to the pharmacist, who seemed to be a friend of his and described our condition as ‘loose motion.’ He watched while the pharmacist stirred up some brew with a mortar and pestle and then watched to make sure we took our medicine. We were both constipated for a week after. To this day I wonder whether he had been tipped off by the Cochin harbour master. I fondly remember this incident as the Zamorin’s revenge.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (17) Cochin

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Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cochin in 1503 sailing in a fleet commanded by  Dom Francisco de Almeida.  Dom Manuel, King of Portugal, had declared himself Lord of Commerce and conquest of the Arabian Sea, Persia and India. He appointed Almeida first Viceroy of the Portuguese state of India. Almeida set about building forts along the east coast of Africa and on the island of Socotra at the mouth of the Red Sea. The grand plan was to block the Arab spice trade from the Far East through the Red Sea to Europe. Already Portugal had her eye on the Spice Isles.

When Vasco da Gama reached Cochin in 1498, initiating the Portuguese occupation, he found a small Christian community among the Hindu populace. It was said to have been founded by St Thomas, doubting Thomas, who would not believe in Christ’s resurrection until putting his finger into the print of the nails in the Holy Ghost’s hands.  By the time Magellan got there the Portuguese were well established.

Magellan took part in a number of sea battles along with his cousin, Francisco Serrano, who was to become a key figure in Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Isles. Magellan would have heard first-hand stories of the fabulous Orient here. Since Marco Polo’s original expedition, a trickle of European adventurers had travelled to the Golden Chersonese, marked on Ptolemy’s 1st century world map. It showed the Mediterranean Sea at the centre of the world surrounded by land. The fantasy was only disproved by Vasco da Gama’s voyage 1500 years later.

Magellan undoubtedly saw a copy of this map as a page boy in the court of Queen Leonor in Lisbon. Prince Henry the Navigator had set up the Institute of Navigation at Sagres on the stormy cliffs of Cape St Vincent. Navigation and Geography were part of every page’s education as Portugal stretched its tentacles down the coast of Africa seeking booty of gold and slaves.


We arrived in Cochin after a rough sail from Galle and anchored off the Malabar Hotel. It was only a temporary anchorage for the purpose of completing Customs and immigration formalities, which took two days. Then we shifted to an anchorage off the Bolgatty Island hotel, former palace of colonial governors. Five foreign yachts had beaten us to it: Swedish, German, British and two Australian. All issued warnings about the Indian bureaucracy: even worse than the Indonesian according to some.

Cochin is of course rich in history and diverse in culture, with an abundance of exotic churches and temples. The countryside is lush and picturesque. We made the acquaintance of a girl planning to further her education at an Australian university. We gave her lots of information, probably inaccurate, and in return she and her family took us to places we never would have found without their local knowledge. Pink flamingos waded in shallow lakes and barges loaded with spices poled their way to market as they had done for centuries. We also attended the festival of Ganesh, the god that is half man, half elephant. Elephants decorated with flowers and embroidered head cloths paraded through the city streets led by boys blowing horns and banging cymbals.


ganesh-festival, CochinGanesh festival Cochin



Whisky Tango Foxtrot

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Whisky Tango Foxtrot

Sea story, love story, war story; Whisky Tango Foxtrot is  based on true events. Eighty two men died in a collision between HMAS Voyager and aircraft carrier Melbourne in 1964. Jim Price was saved from certain death by his mate Charlie, but Charlie didn’t make it. Jim blames the disaster on Voyager’s singular captain, known in the Navy as Drunken Duncan. He vows to obtain justice for his mate but finds formidable obstacles placed in the path of justice. To complicate matters, he has fallen in love with Jenny, whose brother is a draft dodger and whose mother leads anti-Vietnam war demonstrations against a deceitful government.

Review by: Malcolm Torres on July 22, 2016 :
This book is part adventure thriller, part memoir, part history. It was fun to read because I love sea stories and my life intersects with some of the locations and scenes in this story. My favorite parts are when the author describes nautical technology like how systems and gear aboard ships works. I also like the pace of the action, with disasters at sea, love affairs, being shipped off suddenly to exotic and dangerous locations.

Review by: Jonathan Lee on July 22, 2016 : (no rating)
I was captivated by the breadth of this novel from navy cadet to politics to civil rights demonstrators to government corruption to CIA conspiracies, all seen through the eyes of a bizarre accident-capsize-at-sea survivor. This is the first novel I have read set in Australia and I found the Australian manner of speech and relationships fascinating. After enjoying the novel so much, I found the ending somewhat sudden and shocking. I wish the ending could have more tension, more build-up and more drama so that I can reach a satisfying conclusion to what was a fantastic read.

Review by: Boris Seaweed <https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Seaweed71> on June 19, 2016 :

Thought-provoking and captivating book, written in smooth English and interspersed with Australian everyday spoken language, idioms and slang. Describing different sides of Australian life (the Navy, business, university life, Sydney city life, fashions, etc.) the author also delves into the recent history (Vietnam war and antiwar movement, politics, etc.). He also dares to weave into the plot and connect with the main character his version of mysterious disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt on December 17, 1967. And it is also a charming love and family story. Personally I have read the book in one breath.

Official Review: Whisky tango foxtrot…copy by John regan
Post Number:#1 by Katherine Smith » 19 Apr 2017, 18:16
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Whisky tango foxtrot…copy” by John regan.]

4 out of 4 stars
Review by Katherine Smith
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Whisky Tango Foxtrot written by John Regan is a historical fiction novel set in Eastern Australia. The novel begins in the summer of 1964 with the main character, petty officer Jim Price and his best friend petty officer Charlie Krantz of the Royal Australian Navy. Both men work as engineers in the Engine Room Artifices Fourth Class on the destroyer HMAS Voyager. Alongside the HMAS Voyager is the aircraft carrier Melbourne, who accompanies the ship during training exercises. Jim’s world is shattered after a collision between the two ships leads to the deaths of eight-two men including Charlie.

As Jim heals from the broken leg he suffered in the explosion, he begins to grapple with his purpose in life. During this time, he meets Jenny who is a nurse at Royal North Shore Hospital. As their romance blossoms, Jim enters into the naval college to become an officer also known as a “pig”. Despite his quick advancements, Jim becomes disillusioned with the Navy and its traditions. His breaking point comes during his service in the Vietnam War where he repeatedly witnesses death and destruction. He finally quits the service only to realize that his life feels even emptier than before. As violent protests sweep the country, Jim becomes increasingly more agitated and suspicious. His final act against those he feels have wronged him fulfills the beginning quote that “revenge is a dish best served cold”.

The main character of this book is a realistic representation of not only Vietnam veterans, but all veterans. His struggles with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in Vietnam are a lesson on the horrors of war. His awkwardness at trying to navigate the war time society of Australia as a civilian without the support of social services furthers the believability. The author uses this book as a psychological study of the military and the politics of war.

The author’s use of the anti-Vietnam War protests gives the book authenticity, especially with the chants of “No, no, we won’t go”. The protests and the various organizations that arose from this anti-war sentiment show the high level of detail. When I was reading this novel, I could picture the hot steamy jungles of Vietnam and the guerrilla tactics used by the North Vietnamese against the allies. I also could picture all of the protests at the Navy yards including one in which protesters laid down in the street. The descriptions of the country’s volatility and the references to Bob Dylan songs made the novel seem more like an autobiography than a historical fiction piece.

I rate Whisky Tango Foxtrot 4 out of 4 stars because of the novel’s realistic depictions of the hippie counterculture and the mental scars that are inflicted when someone goes to war. I would recommend this book to any members of the military, former protesters and anyone who is interested in historical fiction.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (16) Galle

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Ferdinand Magellan would have visited Sri Lanka as a member of a fleet under Sequira on its way to Malacca. He spent several years in this region and took part in many battles as the Portuguese expanded their empire. The inhabitants of southern Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in several respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong throughout the region, Buddhism and Islam maintained more or less orderly societies and trade flourished among the various nations, much of it by sea.

Well before Christopher Columbus, the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho made a voyage nearly twice as long as his but the Celestial Empire was not interested in conquest, burglary or proselytising. Their benign attitude was their downfall and even China later fell victim to European cannons powered by a Chinese invention – gunpowder. The Chinese used gunpowder for fire crackers but Europeans turned it into a weapon of war. The cannon is what made the Europeans invincible. European ships carried cannons to the doorstep of major cities like Malacca, Galle and Colombo, Cochin and Goa. The British occupation was quite brutal.


Sailing is not all smooth seas and balmy weather. Chores have to be done, like periodically anti-fouling the boat’s bottom. It fell due in Galle and Don Windsor, the yachties’ agent, was only too happy to advise. No doubt he took a good commission from the boatyard where we hauled Wathara out of the water but who was to complain? First mate Robin proved a dab hand with a paint roller and especially with the fancy bits like touching up the name on the stern.

Windsor also introduced us to a particularly fiery brand of curry. I suspect he took secret glee from the startled expressions on our faces as we took the first mouthful and groped for the water decanter. By the end of our fortnight-long stay, however, it had become our favourite dish.

The first mate in action: not just a pretty face.

Haulout-first mate Robin gets to work


Ferdinand Magellan and me (15):Monsoon

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Portuguese ruins litter SE Asia

The north east monsoon provided some glorious sailing across the Andaman Sea. Day after day Wathara cruised along in the hands of our most important crew member: Fred – the wind vane self steering gear. While we humans lounged around the cockpit reading or snoozing or listening to music and Bucko kept watch sniffing the air, Fred tirelessly steered the boat towards our next destination – Galle. My role was to take star sights at dawn and dusk and sun sights at noon and forenoon, which I found almost spiritual. There is something mystical about peering through a sextant’s telescope, doing a bit of arithmetic and then marking a position on the chart. It represents your location in the cosmos at this point in history. No one has ever been at that timeplace before and never would be again. As a traveler in history I found this awesome.

In the age of sail back to pre-historic times the reversing monsoons had dictated the ebb and flow of commerce throughout the region. By the time the Portuguese arrived, sea trade routes were well established. The Chinese under Admiral Cheng Ho had penetrated as far as Africa long before Columbus found the New World. The inhabitants of South East Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in some respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong, Buddhism and Islam maintained orderly societies and trade was brisk. Then the Europeans arrived.

The Portuguese ruins in Galle are more extensive than those elsewhere, partly because the Dutch and English refrained from destroying them. The English used the Portuguese fortress as their administrative headquarters throughout their occupation of the island. Galle’s main attraction for us was the service offered by a man named Don Windsor, recommended by several cruising yachts. And upon arrival in Galle’s snug harbour we were reunited with some of them: Nangkita from Fremantle, Gresham from Auckland, Sophia from Rotterdam and Olivia from Buenos Aires – all part of the multinational cruising village.

Don Windsor was a flamboyant character given to wearing garish shirts and making dramatic announcements about the need to beware of government officials, who were all corrupt. That’s why we needed to entrust him, Don, with any official business. For a modest fee he could take the stress out of our encounters with bureaucracy. Having experienced the Indonesian bureaucracy we were happy to comply, leaving us free to explore this historic town.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (14) Malacca Strait

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Portuguese ship replica in Malacca

Malacca had a nautical museum featuring a replica of Albuquerque’s flagship Flor de la Mar, which sank with a fabulous treasure. Father Pintado, the Portuguese priest, was a keen supporter of the museum. He and his sister had been in Malacca since 1948 and had accumulated many antique books; original sources in old Portuguese that were unfortunately inaccessible to me. He translated some of the choice bits for me. He seemed a peaceful man rather than happy, with a gap in his top row of teeth and an impish squint when he laughed. Although he belonged to the Society of St Peter he was fascinated with St Francis Xavier, who was buried in Malacca for 9 months before being shipped to Goa, in India. It still lies in state and is placed on view every 10 years. He and his sister waved goodbye from the jetty when we set off on the next leg through the Malacca Strait.

Strong tides, foul winds and frequent squalls made the going fairly tough but snug anchorages compensated somewhat. Pangkor was a pretty place marred only by over-friendly fishermen and holidaying Chinese singing Karaoke on the beach at night, pounding out old chestnuts like ‘I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts’ in nasal, high-pitched accents. The fishermen redeemed themselves by trading a bucket of crabs for two glasses.

As in other parts of the region, Portuguese colonisers were succeeded by the Dutch and then the English, with the British East India Company setting up a trading post on Penang Island in the 18th century.  Independence came after a turbulent period of insurrection and war but the British colonial influence was still evident in a number of yacht clubs along the Malacca Strait. Club- houses resembled English pubs, with silver sporting trophies in glass cabinets and international yacht club pennants pinned up on the walls. Robin and I felt quite at home in these places. We left behind a pennant of our own.