MOONLIGHT MADNESS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Boys will be boys is an old saying, but it holds true with teenagers like Art Arrowsmith, a fellow student who also attended Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya in the 1950s. Art sent me this true humorous adventure of his a few years ago. Since it’s a long story for my blog, I’m going to present it in two segments.

Art A
Art Arrowsmith
Art and good friend and classmate Eric Norby, also Class of ’57, had discovered a pontoon boat on the beach near Art’s house at Wheelus Air Force Base. As Art writes, “It was constructed from a modified F-86 fuel drop tank. The top half of the tank had been cut away, leaving a boat that resembled a bathtub with pointy ends. Attached to the boat by several rope-lashed two by four’s were two 50-gallon drums that provided an outrigger arrangement to balance the catamaran-type craft. Our plan was to wait until dark, launch the boat and paddle it parallel to the shore all the way from Wheelus to Giorgimpopoli, a distance of some 15 miles.”

Their respective parents had been told the teenagers would be spending Friday night together since Eric lived in Tripoli and Art lived on the base. The parents didn’t ask for specifics: Eric’s folks thought he’d be at Art’s home; Art’s parents thought he’d be at Eric’s.

Eric Norby

Eric Norby

February in Tripoli isn’t toasty. The Mediterranean water is no longer warm and the evening breezes can be very cold. Had we considered such things as wind and tides, water temperature and coastal currents, reefs and time of day, perhaps we…

Eric was wearing his ever-present light tan leather jacket, imported from Germany: his trademark in those days. I wore my dad’s flight jacket that he’d had for many years, the only warm jacket in our house. It goes without saying that we both wore jeans; that’s all we ever wore. We were wise enough to have a couple of bottles of water for the long voyage, a loaf of bread along with peanut butter and jelly: all stashed in the boat over the last couple of days.

Launching the boat proved to be an incredibly arduous task. We tugged and pulled and lifted and rearranged and sweated and struggled and stumbled our way to the edge of the water. The fuel-tank hull of the boat was smooth and slid easily along the sand and over the seaweed. The 50-gallon drums dug into the seaweed, even though it was like walking over wet noodles. Our feet slid over the slippery sea weed but the drums parted the wet strands and clawed their way into the underlying sand. Eric proved to be the heavyweight lifter as we inched our way to the roaring waves. He lifted the forward drum and side-stepped toward the water, pivoting around the boat hull, as I pushed the hull forward from the opposite side, attempting to match his progress. After a couple of these maneuvers we would trade places and repeat the process. Eventually, we reached the water. We rested about 15 minutes, caught our breath and discussed our next move. We looked at each other with doubt etched across our faces, but wouldn’t admit to the doubt. Neither wanted to be the one to call it off. It was then I found out Eric couldn’t swim!

Art and Eric brazened it out and pushed the homemade craft into the cold water, despite incoming tide and a strong wind. The moon was nearly full, which equates to high tide they discovered much later, but they weren’t trained seamen. They had to clear the offshore reef and then head west to their destination. The moon gave them light to see and there were lights along the shore. How difficult could it be?

Look for the ending of this sea adventure on Sunday, November 20.

1959 Wheelus Beach

Summer 1959 Wheelus Beach – definitely not the weather the teens experienced.

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