National Geographic : 1937 Sep
ECLIPSE ADVENTURES ON A DESERT ISLE BY CAPT. J. F. HELLWEG, U. S. N. Commanding U. S. Navy Detachment, Eclipse Expedition, 1937 T HAT all-important day, May 6, of our sailing from the Hawaiian Islands for the National Geographic Society United States Navy Eclipse Expedition, toward which our efforts had been bent for more than two months, dawned hot and still. A tropical rain the night before had made everything muggy and heavy; the clouds still hung threateningly over the tops of the mountains around Honolulu. As we hurried through town in our little car, not much was said. Each was busy with his own thoughts, checking over for the hundredth time all details to insure that none of our eleven tons of scientific equipment, ranging from huge telescopic cameras to tiny stop watches, had been overlooked in the rush of the last two weeks. Each knew he had done his best during those hectic days, from the moment we arrived in Honolulu and started moving the expedition's freight even before we had located our hotel rooms. Yet each of us was tormented by the same unspoken ques tions: Would everything work? Had we overlooked any detail? The scientific party, led by Dr. S. A. Mitchell, had arrived on the Mariposa on May 3, and had been busy checking their equipment and procuring last-minute sup plies, such as flashlight batteries and sun helmets. For months previously they had been working feverishly to prepare the deli cate apparatus that would record the scien tific data of the eclipse (page 361). Suddenly we made out the Avocet, a Navy seaplane tender assigned to the expe dition, lying snugly alongside her dock on the water front. Her undisturbed, peaceful air, her smart appearance, her very evident readiness to go, cheered us tremendously. Her gear and equipment were stowed and lashed as only seamen can do it; every thing was trim and taut. We were ready. As the time for our departure ap proached, the crowd was hurrying down converging streets toward the dock. The Governor of the Islands and his staff ar rived, followed almost immediately by Ad miral Murfin, from Pearl Harbor. Ladies carried fragrant leis. The Royal Hawaiian Band was already in its place outboard of the gangway, cars began to gather on the dock, and the National Broad casting Company experts were busy rigging their portable equipment. Abruptly conversation ceased, a clear strong voice was speaking. The broadcast was on. Music by the band, addresses by Governor Joseph B. Poindexter, Admiral Orin G. Murfin, and the members of the expedition followed. Again the soft Hawaiian music, a few last earnest goodbyes, and then a sharp "All on board." "Stand by your lines." The gangway was hauled on board, the crowd on the dock separated into small groups, and those without any duties lined the rail. "Let go, aft." "Slow astern, hard right." "Let go, forward." And with that, our eclipse adventure had begun. OFF, ON COURSE 207 The Avocet slowly turned and headed for the open sea. The crowd on the dock grew smaller and smaller, their faces be came blurred, the handkerchief-waving groups melted together, three long blasts on the Avocet's whistle, and Lieut. William son, our skipper, said quietly, "We're on course 207, sir, our course for Enderbury." * Seven days later, still on course 207, after a remarkable run, we sighted, in the early morning light, palm trees, creamy surf, and then the dazzling white sand of a low-lying tropical isle. But meanwhile there were many inter esting happenings on board ship. The second night out, at dinner, Dr. Herman A. Gross, Navy surgeon, and I were spinning yarns about China. "Captain, do you remember that big mail buoy just outside of Chinwangtao?" "Why, yes, doctor, but I never put any letters in it. I always felt that those Chi nese pirates stole half of the letters." Someone interrupted with "Captain, what does a mail buoy look like? What are they for?" "Oh, down here, they are big yellow buoys with large, blue M's painted on their * See page 380, and The Map of the Pacific Ocean, published as a supplement to THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for December, 1936.