Joe Van Staden - Birth of the Sea Org, Pt. 1

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Joe Van Staden - Birth of the Sea Org, Pt. 1
Name Joe Van Staden
Period Early SO
Location Las Palmas
Year 1967

Editors Note: The following account was posted on Aida Thomas' Blog[1] and at another Internet site[2] previously and is being re-posted here so it can take it's rightful place as an important contribution to the history of Scientology. The wiki editing has added many references, links, headings and some spelling corrections to make it more readable and provide context for the time, people and places described. This is an early example of what I am calling a "3-D" view of the history...made possible by the Semantic Wiki. More pictures and other articles and pages linking into this article, will enhance the readers grasp of the topic. Contributors are needed. The insight this article provides is unique and valuable and so is now part of the LRH biography in the "Anthology" category. - Dl88008

Welcome aboard![edit | edit source]

By Joe van Staden who served as Captain of the Athena [3] and the Apollo [4] at various times.

The Athena, originally known as the Avon River

Undoubtedly the story of how it all began has been told more than once – each time from a different perspective no doubt. In the following account of my personal involvement in the birth of the SO I hope to provide a perspective which may shed some light on later developments within and around that organization.

My first contact with Scientology was in Johannesburg (1960). There I met L Ron Hubbard for the first time when he came out to South Africa to run the first South African ACC. Toward the end of 1962 I went over to St Hill UK to do my SHSBC. In 1965 I did my class 7 course after which my wife Jill and I joined staff at St Hill. At some point LRH mysteriously disappeared from St Hill. As we found out later he had left for Las Palmas.

early St. Hill[edit | edit source]

Most people on staff and on course at St Hill in the early and mid 60’s would agree; it was idyllic. It was a meeting place for like-minded people – people who could not find what they were looking for in life through conventional institutions and teachings. St Hill prospered. I believe that period has even been referred to as the golden age or something like that.

St Hill Manor, East Grinstead England

It was very easy to just BE and not be concerned as to how you were being. For instance, there was no ethics officer ready to pounce on my friend for doing his yoga exercises out on the lawn at St Hill. Nor was there any reason to think that that might happen. The typical molded org persona, with all its heaviness, which became so prominent in later years, just wasn’t there.

Ed. Note: Watch this video for a look at St. Hill, LRH and the crew of the Apollo of the time.

How did this seriousness come about? In the simplest of terms; when did the “spirit of play” go out of being on staff and was it necessary to stop having fun while in pursuit of greater awareness? Perhaps I can offer a feasible perspective on that.

sea project[edit | edit source]

One day several senior St Hill staff members were approached by Joan Thomas. At that point I was Qual sec and my wife Jill was either Dissem sec or HCO at the time. A bunch of us were recruited into the Sea Project and told to get our sailing skills in order. So, once a week off we went to the south coast and had our sailing lessons. It was fun and we also did learn to sail – somewhat.

Hull[edit | edit source]

Several weeks passed and came the day the group was bundled onto a bus and taken to Hull in the north on the Humber River. By this time we knew we were joining a ship but had no idea what to expect. As the bus entered this particular section of the harbor we saw her. Listing about 10 degrees, rusted and battered, there she was; the Avon River[3] – a North Sea fishing trawler pushed to her limits by her previous owners. I looked at my fellow passengers. For a moment there was stunned silence. Then a kind of confused nervous laughter started spreading around the bus. Was it excitement, I don’t think so. I think at that instant it was more a case of; What the F….. is this?

Hull, UK

For various reasons, at times I will refrain from using the full names of some of my old shipmates and instead just use initials.

Anyway we settled in. The temporary captain was FM; he and two others had been aboard prior to our arrival.

Without much delay the crew was put to work cleaning and getting the boat ready for sea. Keep in mind the Avon River[3] was a fishing boat – her decks were covered in about 2 inches of solid petrified fish oil, all of which had to be scraped off. For several weeks we worked long hours but as far as I can remember, not a single crew member lacked in enthusiasm and commitment. In the evenings we worked on our seamanship check-sheets – it was a long day. And tired as we were when we hit our bunks late at night, nothing could dampen our spirits and anticipation of what lay ahead. Well, maybe at times the grey damp Hull weather got to us.

If my memory serves me right the Avon River had room for 140 tons of fish in her hold, which now was filled with all sorts of bits and pieces scavenged from other derelict boats. To this day I don’t know what LRH wanted to do with it. The stuff was later dumped in Las Palmas.

Initially we were to tow a barge filled with even more of this “junk”. Fortunately that Idea was dropped. Looking back and recalling some of the weather we had to contend with on our trip, I can’t imagine us managing to tow a barge all the way to Las Palmas.

While in Hull we did some real live docking and un-docking drills. This picture should suffice to get across what most of it was like. Imagine the Key Stone cops as would be sailors, falling all over each other as the boat rammed up against the concrete dock, snapping mooring lines and breaking anchors. As they say; you had to be there.

off to Las Palmas[edit | edit source]

Eventually the day of departure arrived. Originally the idea was that the trip be done without any non-scientologist help. In the end however, LRH thought better of it. He told us to hire a professional captain and a professional chief engineer for the trip, which we did by the way, the chief engineer arrived in a taxi motherless drunk minutes before our departure and had to be carried aboard.

Sailing down the East coast of England something broke in the engine room forcing us to pull into Harwich. It’s possible that this was simply a ploy by the chief engineer to go ashore – probably to buy booze. Anyway, repairs done we headed south. Up to then the weather had been kind, but shortly after leaving Harwich Neptune decided to introduce himself properly.

sea sick[edit | edit source]

Most of the crew, myself included, had never seen anything like this – mountains and valleys of green sea. The propeller kept coming out of the water. Perhaps someone who was there will say that they were the exception, but as far as I know everyone including the hired captain was sea sick.

Falmouth, UK

Gradually the wind eased and our trip along the south coast of England became quite pleasant. At Falmouth we had to pull in and refuel for the long stint to the Canary Islands. Something went wrong during fueling and the black bunker fuel began to spill all over the decks. Fortunately we prevented too much of the stuff spilling into the harbor. It was during this episode that the tension between the hired captain and the temporary Scientologist captain came to a head. FM packed his bags and left the boat.

atlantic[edit | edit source]

By the time we got well into the Atlantic we had this wonderful gentle following swell and no wind. Most of us very soon got our sea legs and began feeling really at home on the bounding main.

The choice that cannot be escaped[edit | edit source]

Perhaps this is a good point to deviate and express my admiration and respect for my fellow crew members as well as comment on a particular observation.

During all of those early years, no matter the conditions: be it taking on the most extreme weather or having to deal with some other dangerous situation, I never worried that we wouldn’t be able to see it through. Some of the guys and gals may at times have been scared shitless, but I never saw it in the performance of their duties. Some skeptics will say we weren’t aware of the danger we were in, we were naïve – we were blinded by our faith in the “powers” of LRH or our belief in past lives gave us a false sense of immortality or, we thought with several clears aboard we were safe, or whatever. Be that as it may, I am grateful for having shared some crazy adventures with some extraordinary people.

A significant factor behind the creation of the SO was to develop effective cohesive teams committed to The Cause. Running ships provide an ideal environment for this purpose. However, traditionally crews of ships and teams involved in extraordinary ventures naturally bond and camaraderie becomes commonplace. Hence, the age old problem faced by leaders of religious, political, military and other similar type organizations throughout history: How to get the crew – the team – the followers, to first and foremost, above all else, be loyal to The Cause. No doubt this topic can turn into a lengthy discussion, but let’s cut a long story short.

Two schools of thought are particularly relevant here. There is the one that says when it really comes down to it – when all hell breaks loose – the troops are motivated to stand their ground and hold their position based on the bond they have with their comrades. In other words, in the trenches ordinary soldiers first and foremost fight for each other. Then there is the school of thought which claims that in the heat of battle the most effective outfit is one where the troops fear their own officers more than the enemy.

Where the bond between people is the telling factor the top brass is inclined to see total commitment to The Cause as being undermined by too close a connection between friends and family. Hence, throughout history instilling fear of those in command has been adopted more often than not. And as is clear to ex SO members, the latter is SOP in the SO. But this wasn’t always the case. Imagine refusing a direct order from LRH because of a bond with the crew. In the early days a captain of the Athena was ordered by the commodore to com-ev his entire crew. He refused and was gladly com-eved instead. It is undoubtedly incidents such as this which contributed to the development of the current SO modes operandi, which first and foremost demands total loyalty and commitment to The Cause.

Here is the thing; whatever the reason for choosing The Cause above friends and family the top brass will expect every SO member to have made the right choice. The point here is not that one choice is better than the other; the point is that there is no escape from having to choose. The best an SO member can hope for is to never be pushed into having to make a choice and then having to act on it. But as we know many have been forced to act on the choice between The Cause on the one hand and friends and family on the other.

Back to the original story[edit | edit source]

Las Palmas[edit | edit source]

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

On arrival in Las Palmas the two hired professionals were immediately put on a plane back to the UK. Within a day or so of our arrival the boat was hauled up on the slips and local Spanish work teams began the refit. At the time L Ron Hubbard was living in a Villa outside Las Palmas accompanied by some household staff. He also opened an office in town with a couple of locals as staff.

refit[edit | edit source]

As part of the refit the boat was sandblasted from top to bottom and stem to stern, during which time the crew remained living on-board. And it was also during this time that it became obvious that LRH was beginning to experiment with some new lower ethics conditions. For instance, Roger Buckeridge and I were the first two people ever to be put in the newly formulated condition of non-existence. There was no condition lower at that time. As part of our formula application we shoveled the mountain of sand left by the sandblasters off the ship. Still, in spite of these developments the general atmosphere was light and at times even festive.

bottle of rum[edit | edit source]

At that time the day to day relationship between LRH and the crew was inclined to be determined more by nautical tradition and sailor behavior than by The Cause of clearing the planet. For instance; John O’Keefe, Jill and myself on a visit to the villa one evening were asked by LRH what we would like to drink. John said he would have a scotch, Jill a glass of wine and I said a brandy. The old man turned to Yvonne Gillham who was his personal steward at the time and said; get John a bottle of scotch, Jill a bottle of wine, Joe a bottle of brandy and me a bottle of rum. Yvonne dutifully complied. No, we didn’t finish our bottles, but we all did pretty well. And yes, the rum in LRH’s bottle was real.

The old man has been known to use this ploy to loosen people’s tongues and get them talking about stuff regarding the crew and boat.

It was in the early hours of the morning when the three of us got into the car to drive back to the ship. After several attempts the car just wouldn’t start, obviously it needed to be push started. Insisting that the three of us remain in the car LRH put his back to it and pushed us at least 20 meters before we got going. I can’t exactly recall what we talked about that evening but it certainly wasn’t about the evils of booze.

During the stay in Las Palmas there were many really funny and memorable episodes, some of which I am sure has already been told by people who where there. Many an evening a bunch of us would sit out under the stars sipping the best duty free cognac while discussing a wide range of topics. Speculation on what we would do once the refit was complete was rife. (Las Palmas was a duty free port, hence the duty free cognac)

the first mission[edit | edit source]

A clue as to the direction the Sea Org was heading was provided one evening during a visit by LRH to the ship. He announced that it was time the Sea Org came out of non-existence – it was time to make an impact on the orgs out there beginning with St Hill. It was mission time. The first mission’s purpose was mainly to assert and affirm SO authority and presence. As it turned out the three members of this first SO mission was my wife Jill, Fred Payer and me.

Jill Van Staden, one of the first Missionaires

first SO mission arrives at St Hill[edit | edit source]

Arriving from Las Palmas, before walking into St Hill, Jill, Fred and I changed into our SO uniforms and made our dramatic entrance as intended by LRH. The incident of me going into the manor monkey room and sticking the dagger into the ceiling is described by Bent Corydon in his book; Messiah or Madman.

To tell the truth, this dagger thing was a bit embarrassing for me, I didn’t share L Ron Hubbard’s leaning toward the theatrical.

During the mission Reg Sharpe was removed from post. Up to then he had been LRH’s right hand man. Reg left and with him his girlfriend, Jenny Edmonds. Were they SP’s? Of course not. It was the missions brief to get rid of anyone who in any way questioned the authority of the Sea Org – there was to be no doubt about the SO’s powers and position at the top of the ladder. And as has been confirmed since, the mission was a success.

A note on the concept of SP[edit | edit source]

At the time of the first SO mission I only suspected but later became convinced that SP declares were as much a political tool as anything else.

In the bigger scheme of things it had less relevance to an individual’s case.

Sure, there are anti-social characters running around, but let’s face it; by no stretch of the imagination did Reg Sharpe and Jenny Edmonds along with hundreds of other declared people fit the definition of SP as described in policy.

During my stint as director of review at St Hill, before the SO came into being, LRH was doing research on SP and PTS. At that time this data wasn’t seen as an ethics issue – it was a purely tech matter. With LRH wearing the hat of case supervisor and me an auditor several new procedures were tried out – such as S and D (search and discovery). I recall the blunted purpose factor being identified as a main contributing factor to SP behavior. From there procedures developed. Anyway as it turned out, attempts to handle “troublesome sources” in Scientology through tech weren’t working and ethics action was resorted to. What was originally a Qualifications Division function was replaced by ethics. In effect the review auditor was replaced by the ethics officer. Some would argue that ethics tech was a natural development born out of better understanding of human nature. I disagree.

pioneers & consolidators[edit | edit source]

Confirmation of my views on SP data as a political tool came one evening while in conversation with LRH over dinner aboard the Athena. I can assure you, conversations with the old man were never boring. He told me that there were basically two types of people in organizations; the pioneering type and those who consolidate. For those in charge, there was a time and place to use the pioneers and a time and place to bring in the consolidators. As throughout the ages, when new territory needed to be opened up only the pioneers are effective, but once the land has been tamed it was necessary to bring in the consolidators. It was a case of bringing order – introducing laws and policy – setting parameters for behavior – curbing further pioneering activity within the established territory. That’s what consolidators do.

Here is an interesting thought; from the perspective of a typical pioneer; a consolidator is likely to appear suppressive and from the perspective of a dedicated consolidator the “uncontrollable” pioneer can easily be perceived as suppressive. It’s simply a matter of perspective. .

Some may prefer terms like innovative creative types and administrative management types rather than pioneers and consolidators.

Consolidation of territory gained, invariably presents a problem; what to do with the pioneers once they have done their thing. Retire them? Relocate them? Put them on ice until needed again? If you have been around Scientology organizations for some time you will have become aware of the favored method – use ethics to get those who have established the existing structure out the way. This also serves as a way of dampening their pioneering spirit until needed again – this idea doesn’t work so well in practice. There have been several occasions when, according to LRH, a particular organizational structure in Scientology passed its use by date. New structures had to be put in place, which meant the old had to be dismantled – personalities and all. More about this later.

Royal Scotsman[edit | edit source]

The Apollo, originally The Royal Scotsman

Anyway as the first SO mission to St Hill came to an end Jill and Fred were recalled to Las Palmas and I was sent on another mission. My orders; go to Glasgow Scotland and buy another ship for the SO. On arrival at the ship brokers I met a Mr. Scott. Since a ship; the Royal Scotsman[3] had already been identified as a possibility by Otto Roos, my task was reasonably straight forward. So, after having checked out the ship and a price agreed on, Mr. Scott and I shook hands and the deal was done. Or so I thought. On phoning our lawyer DT at St Hill, asking him to send the check, all I got from him a couple of days later were a 10 page document to be signed by the brokers. This inevitably resulted in lawyers on both sides getting involved and doing what lawyers do. I think it was close on two weeks after Mr. Scott and I shook hands and still the lawyers had not settled the matter. It was then that I called DT and told him, send the check or else! I receive the check and handed it to Mr. Scott. The 10 page document wound up in the trash can and I took possession of the ship for the SO.

Part of the deal was that a delivery crew was to take the ship to Southampton. My immediate dilemma was to familiarize myself with the ship as much as possible during the trip south. In size and complexity she was certainly a step or two up from the Athena. I needed help, so I got in touch with St Hill and recruited Ron Pook and an Australian. Quite frankly I can’t recall the details of how exactly I got hold of these two guys. Anyway between the three of us we would keep our eyes open to pick up any relevant information about the ship.

After several days at sea we arrived at Southampton. The gangplank had hardly hit the dock and the delivery crew was gone. Bemused and bewildered the three of us looked at each other – what now? Do we know enough to take care of this big bucket of bolts until who knows when? While still contemplating what the worst was that could possibly happen, it happened. From the dockside some official looking gentleman shouted that we can’t stay were we where, we had to move to the other side of the harbor.


how do you sail this thing[edit | edit source]

Now, Southampton just happens to be one of the busiest ports in the world, with huge ships coming and going all the time. Was the three of us expected to take the ship across all that traffic and safely moor her on the other side? To begin with, starting up the massive Burmeister and Wain diesel engines was out of the question. In the end it all worked out. We got a tugboat and hired some hands hanging about the docks looking for work.

ship-shape[edit | edit source]

The Royal Scotsman had birthing for a few hundred passengers, a massive main hold for cargo and in-between decks for cattle. As with the Athena she had been pushed hard by her previous owners – a lot of cleaning was required. Bright idea – go to St Hill and recruit sea org members. Not sure how many were recruited during that period but this I do know; the day LRH arrived with some of the crew from the Athena the Scotsman was spotless.

While I was on the boat buying mission in Scotland the Athena sailed from Las Palmas to Gibraltar, where she was left under the captaincy of John O’Keefe. It was from there that LRH and crew came to join the Scotsman in Southampton.

board of trade[edit | edit source]

A few days after being joined by the crew from Gibraltar we were all set to leave, but the British authorities had other ideas. The British board of trade required all sorts of certificates and documentation from us before they would permit us to sail. I think this was the reason for us hiring a non-scientologist chief engineer, a certificated boson and carpenter. As for the certificates we required for the life rafts, life boats as well as some other stuff, it was left up to Jill to handle the authorities, which she did very well. We eventually got Clearance to sail for Brest in France, just across the channel. Once there we were supposed to get the work done as stipulated by the British board of trade, which of course we had no intention of doing. At that stage LRH was captain and I chief officer.

Flagship Apollo

As we headed south, passing Brest on our portside, LRH called all senior officers into his cabin. Then he made a gesture as if falling off his chair. Did you feel that, he asked. Puzzled we looked at each other – feel what? What’s the matter with you guys, he said, can’t you tell when you are in a really bad storm. Then we got the message. We were supposed to have by-passed Brest because the bad weather made it impossible for us to enter.

Relax and enjoy the sun[edit | edit source]

Pillars of Hercules, Gibraltar

What followed were several idyllic weeks, the likes of which was probably never experienced in the SO again. We were truly on an Ocean cruise which became a Mediterranean cruise once we sailed pass the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and entered the Med. After that cruise I never again saw an SO crew, including LRH, nearly as laid back for such a length of time. With so few of us onboard, everyone could enjoy the luxury of lots of free space. I loved my job and looked forward to being on watch late at night or early morning. Few things compare to being out at sea on a starry night in fair weather.

Pleasant as things were, eventually we had to face the problem of not being able to go into a port for supplies or anything else. We were still sailing under the British flag and since we were only cleared to sail to Brest from Southampton we had a problem. (The excuse that we couldn’t enter Brest because of bad weather was in retrospect a no brainier). Solution – register the ship under a different flag and escape any restrictions placed on us by the British board of trade.

lifeboat number 8[edit | edit source]

We were a couple of miles off the coast of Majorca. Using lifeboat number 8 the two guys selected for the mission of changing the ships nationality was taken in the dead of night and dropped off on some deserted beach.

After that commando style operation the Apollo sailed around aimlessly for awhile longer. Eventually we came within a mile or so off Monte Carlo and several of us went ashore in lifeboat number 8 to send telex’s and establish comm. with the outside world. Why do I keep referring to lifeboat number 8? It was the only one with an engine – a not too reliable an engine I might add. On this occasion as we approached the Monte Carlo harbor, lined with multimillion dollar yachts, number 8’s engine packed up and we had to be rescued and towed in by a harbor launch. So, what’s the big deal? Here is the thing; I am convinced that our rescuers in their stylish jumpsuits, on their “perfect boat”, had never laid eyes on such a scruffy bunch of desperado’s. They must have thought for a moment that we were boat people escaping from some North African country.

At some point after Monte Carlo we obviously got our new flag and new nationality (Sierra Leon). From there we called on several ports, sometimes staying in one place for long periods of time. The Royal Scotsman, I think, had by now become the Apollo, LRH promoted himself to commodore and I became captain of the Apollo.

Tunis, Marseille and other ports[edit | edit source]

Map of the Mediterranean, click for large view

I am not certain of the sequence of events and places around this time but I do recall certain places due to particular incidents. For instance, a memory of serene peace at dawn and the echo from minarets across the bay as the faithful were called to prayer places me in Tunis North Africa – as does the incident of the Apollo drifting helplessly into the channel without engines after someone had let go the last mooring line. The most memorable meal I have ever had puts me in Marseilles France where several of the Apollo crew where entertained by an official and his wife. Recalling the entire bow of the Apollo disappearing into one of the biggest straightest waves I ever saw locates me on the Atlantic side of Morocco as we left the port of Agadir. An incident of the Apollo getting ripped loose from her moorings by a gale-force wind reminds me of Cagliari Sardinia. The most physically exhausted I have ever been takes me to just before we entered Milatzo Sicily – I had been on the Athena’s bridge during a storm for two days and two nights. The sequence of events during this time of us cavorting around these exotic places may be a bit fuzzy but the experience is not. Take that other lifeboat number 8 incident for instance – it is worth expanding on.

Cagliari[edit | edit source]

While in Cagliari the Apollo was moored stern to with several other ships moored similarly on either side. In other words, there was this row of ships, side by side, with their sterns all facing the dock while their bows were held facing away from the dock by their anchors laid out in front of them. Each ship was secured to the dock by at least 4 stern lines. The distance between stern and dock was around 6 to 8 meters and the distance between ships approximately 40 meters.

Cagliari, Sardinia

On this particular day the wind was howling and exerting extreme pressure broadside on the large surface area of the Apollo’s side. This put serious strain on the two port stern lines holding us to the dock. I noticed this and had the crew put out our “insurance line” to support the other two port side lines. This was a wire cable twice the thickness of the other lines.

near disaster[edit | edit source]

Anyway Norman Starkey, who I think was the 2nd mate at the time, and I were in the aft lounge having coffee when it happened. We heard a loud crack like sound. I immediately knew what had happened; a line had snapped. We ran up onto the aft deck and watched as the second line began to unravel under the strain. Within seconds it too snapped followed by the next. The Apollo was visibly beginning to pick up sideways momentum.

Obvious unfolding scenario: The remaining starboard stern lines would not be able to stop the increasing sideways momentum of the Apollo.[4] Within less than a minute all remaining lines where going to break. This would mean that within about two minutes or so we where going to be smashed up against the boat lying next to us. The possibility of her stern lines holding against the impact of the Apollo crashing into her was unlikely. We where looking at a high probability of a domino effect – each ship in turn being ripped from its stern moorings by the others being blown onto it. But what about the bow anchors out front – wouldn’t they eventually prevent all these ships from being blown across the bay onto the rocks on the other side? Fortunately this possibility was never to be put to the test.

photo of an anchor winch

Anyway, there we were; disaster staring us in the face but, as it turned out, it wasn’t inevitable. Unlike most ships the Apollo had a stern anchor. Since we had no use for it we consequently never used it and that presented a problem once I realized that our only hope of averting disaster was to let go the stern anchor. The thing is that unless deck equipment like winches, anchors and stuff like that are regularly used or inspected the mechanisms become corroded and unusable. So, to my horror I discovered that the devils claw holding the chain and the anchor brake were jammed solid. To this day I don’t know where I got a crowbar from, but I used it to apply leverage to the brake wheel and bashed away with it to dislodge the devils claw. Keep in mind every second was priceless.

Eventually the devils claw came loose and I got the brake wheel to turn. But still the chain wouldn’t run. It required several hefty kicks to loosen up the chain and down the anchor went with a splash. This was not the end of it, there was no guarantee that the anchor would hold.

To increase the chances of the anchor holding I had to allow some chain to run out. But how much chain will do the trick? All stern lines had broken by now and the ship toward which we where moving looked like it was within spitting distance. I recall seeing, out of the corner of my eye, her crew scrambling around the decks panic stricken. I picked my moment and applied the anchor brake. The Apollo kept moving as she took up the slack in the chain – now we were within actual spitting distance of the other ship. Suddenly the Apollo lurched and rolled over slightly as the anchor bit into the ground. I couldn’t believe it – the anchor held. Imagine the dire consequences to the SO had things not worked out the way they did.

Life boat number 8 ~ again[edit | edit source]

Cagliari, Sardinia

The Athena I believe was in Gibraltar at the time she was ordered to join the Apollo in Cagliari. On route she ran into one hell of a blow. I am not to sure how LRH got news of the Athena’s encounter with this storm, but he called me up to his office and told me to take some people and go meet the Athena several miles out. O’Keefe, the Athena’s captain, I think was to be replaced, some other changes were to be made and the Athena was to be sent back to Spain. Hanna (Whitfield) wore the HCO hat – she was to handle the ethics side of things. Anyway, my job was to get the “mission” to the Athena and back – in lifeboat number 8. There was a designated engineer for the trip and I remember Baron Berez being the communicator. Altogether we were about 8 or 9 people in the lifeboat.

It was already dark when we set out to rendezvous with the Athena.[3] Since we picked her up on the Apollo’s[4] radar before we left we had some idea of the course on which she was coming in. The further we went out the choppier the sea became. It was a dark night, windy and turbulent. Vision was poor. All shore lights had long since disappeared behind us and we were completely surrounded by blackness. Anyway, at some point we spotted the Athena’s navigation lights. They were probably told by radio to look out for us. She kindly presented us with a lee so that we could come along side without too much trouble.

It immediately became obvious that this ship had been through something really bad. Rust streaks were everywhere as if the waves had “sandblasted” the hull and superstructure. The two large bins meant to carry extra meat and which were fixed to the aft deck by several 12 millimeter bolts, were gone. The bolts had been completely sheered off by the force of the waves. I looked up my buddies who were part of Athena crew. I remember Graig Lipsitz, looking like he hadn’t slept for a week, so did Fred Payer. Yvonne Gilham looked tired but as usual she was smiling and quite expressive in her account of the event. There were actually several guys who didn’t seem to be hassled by their experience. I suppose what I saw to a large extent was the relief that it was over. Little Margarita, the non-scientologist Spanish staff member from Las Palmas, seemed unfazed, even exited while she told me what went down. So, while I was being entertained by Margarita, the serious ethics stuff was being implemented. I got the distinct impression that the Athena crew was not too happy about being sent back.

turnaround[edit | edit source]

Our mission done, we got back into the lifeboat and hung about to see the Athena turn around and head back to Spain. It was now about 23.00 and the wind had picked up quite a bit – waves were much bigger. OK, I said to the engineer, start the engine and let’s get the hell out of here. An hour or so later we had still not managed to get the engine started. Here we were bobbing up and down, getting wet, being cold, in pitch darkness and no engine. Well it was inevitable; suddenly there was the crackle on the radio held by Berez. It was LRH. He wanted to know where we were and when we expect to get back. Berez gave the old man a brief rundown on what was happening. After some advice from LRH to the engineer he went off the air. But not for long. Soon the howling wind became blocked out by the sound of the old man’s voice over the radio as he yelled instructions.

The scene was something like this; At first, communication between LRH and us, via Berez, was about getting the engine started. When this didn’t work out it was about getting us to row the boat. Anyone who has ever tried to row a typical lifeboat in more than meter high waves will tell you, it’s a waste of time and energy. Anyway you can imagine how the volume of the old man’s voice steadily increased during these attempts to run the show from the Apollo via a radio.

The Sea Org ship Diana, previously called the Enchanter

row the boat[edit | edit source]

Apart from us merely going through the motions of carrying out these impractical instructions another scenario was unfolding. After the initial communication and as the “heat” was turned up by the old man, Berez decided It was no longer wise to be at the receiving end of this erupting volcano. Next thing I know Berez chucks the radio to me. As it flies through the air there is this thundering voice emanating from it. I catch it and decide instantly; no way. I immediately chuck the radio to someone else, who clearly had also decided that they would rather skip this opportunity to converse with the commodore. Just as quickly the radio is passed to another who also figures they will give it a miss and chucks it to someone else. I know this went on for a few minutes until someone boldly reestablished comm. It seemed now that LRH finally realized the situation. Once the engine packed up we were left with two options. One; we make ourselves as comfortable as possible and wait till dawn, hoping the weather won’t get worse. Two; someone comes out as soon as possible and tows us back into port.

As it turned out LRH informed us that the Diana[3] (a 65 ft SO ketch) was coming out to tow us in. We figured it would take her close on two hours to get to us; all we can do now is cuddle up to each other and try to keep warm. By this time staying dry was out of the question. Then, out of the blue, someone says; who feels like a drink, holding up a bottle of vodka. Our hero, I can assure you. We passed the bottle around, each taking a gulp. The bottle made only one round and it was empty.

A wonderful sense of camaraderie settled over us as we relaxed and began to see the humor in it all. It seemed that we stopped resisting the considerable motion of the lifeboat. I recall me sitting back thinking; I wouldn’t change this for anything.

Joe Van Staden, 2010

After about two hours there was the Diana[3] with LRH looming large, bullhorn in hand. We took the tow line and got back in port just as dawn was breaking. And for whatever reason the old man told the cook to fix us all a very special breakfast.

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references[edit | edit source]

[3] [4] [5]