My recent yacht delivery to Kwajalein via Johnston Atoll was a nice 2,100 nautical miles in 17 days. The passage was interesting as we requested permission to revictualize our fresh water supplies at Johnston Atoll. To stop at a biological weapons testing and disposal facility for something to drink! ?
The day before, they’d told us we’d have to wear gas masks if we touched land. I couldn’t help but think of “The Cobra Event” – the book by Richard Preston that illustrated the kind of research that went down in the middle of the Pacific.
“The trials, which went on steadily from 1964 to 1969, were successful far beyond the expectations of even the scientists involved. These events were officially called a “joint naval exercise,” but that was a cover for the fact that what was going on were hot field trials for the strategic use of biological weapons over large areas of territory. The trials had been gradually increasing in scope since 1964. At the peak of the trials there were enough ships involved to make up the fifth-largest navy in the world. This was as large a fleet as the naval forces used in the air tests of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean during the 1950s.” – “The Cobra Event”.
In one such test, ships were staged at ten mile intervals for hundreds of miles downwind of the island. Aboard each ship, the crew wore bio-hazard space-suits with special air filters for protection. Also aboard the ships were scores of monkeys, on deck, below-decks, and inside air-tight compartments.
Just offshore of Johnston, a Marine Corps Phantom jet flew a low and straight trajectory, about two hundred meters above the water, traveling just under the speed of sound for fifty nautical miles. It flew by the pristine white sand beaches, heading west toward the setting sun.
“It carried no stores underwing except for a small, strange looking pod. The wing pod was known as a dry line-source disseminator. What was coming out of the pod was a living weapon in the form of a dry powder. The particles were very small, and they had been treated with a special plastic to make them last longer in the air. They were between one and five microns across, the ideal size of a weaponized bioparticle. It is the size particle that can be inhaled deep into the human lung, a particle that will stick naturally to the membrane of the lung. Fifty particles lined up in a row would span the thickness of a human hair. One or two such particles trapped in the lung, if they are a weapon, can cause a fatal infection that kills in three days. Particles this small do not fall out of the air. They stay aloft. You can’t smell them, you can’t taste them, you don’t know they are there until you get sick” – The particles inhaled by the monkeys had a 100% fatality rate.
The virus continued past the last ships all through the night, riding the warm Pacific trade-winds until the following morning when sunlight killed the pathogen. How many seabirds, whales, dolphins – inhaled the cool air of the many thousand square miles covered on this dreadful night of many?
Creepy like the X-Files yes? The crew aboard the 28ft Hawkfarm “Bellwether” thought so! Nonetheless, after waiting for a couple of hours near the pass, the general granted us permission to enter the lagoon under ‘escort’. No less than ten cars followed along the shore including a Hum-Vee with a 60 calibre machine gun pointed toward us. Minutes later, we tied alongside the off-loading dock for the island – imagine the stuff handled on this maritime pier! Enough ‘cocktails’ to annihilate the world’s population hundreds of times over. Anyway, I tried to keep the storm within my head under check as two gun yielding officials jumped aboard to insure we weren’t hiding a boat-load of terrorists. Then they most gracefully allowed us to top off our defunct fresh water bladder. And heh, a tub of ice cream, a Playboy, and some hot grub for supper from the PX! We were back under-way in less than forty-five minutes – what a ‘pit-stop’ for us! I will never forget standing bare-foot on the dock in Johnston.
Back underway, we flew the spinnaker from dusk till dawn, pushing hard toward Kwaj because it was during the middle of hurricane season. Three hundred miles out, I get this message from my dad on the SSB radio, “Watch out – you’ll have fire-works tomorrow!” The next day, we watched the contrail of a Minuteman ICBM nuclear missile from America pass directly over our mast-
head before the ‘Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle’ launched from Kwajalein blew it out of space! It was part of the ‘Star Wars’ Strategic Defense Initiative, right over our heads!!! We were all spun out, what a passage. A delivery aboard a 28ft boat in full hurricane season, a bio-weapons facility for drinking water and a nuclear missile intercepted straight over-head! I can’t use enough exclamation marks to illustrate the jokes and late night talk during our many watches!
Luckily, all of us arrived alive. And what a beautiful landfall it was! Kwajalein is the biggest lagoon in the world and has some of the best diving anywhere. I was sad to fly home after just three days in paradise. However, I am delighted to be preparing for an epic delivery from Australia to Honolulu via the Southern Ocean aboard the S+S 34 design – “Stray Bit'”. New Years 2000 at sea is just what I dreamed of. With any luck, we’ll be the first to experience the millennium as we cross the International Dateline!!!
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