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A U.S. Coast Guard Hercules C-130 plane passes over the Odyssey. It was reassuring to see the coastguard so far from even the remotest hint of civilization or human presence.
Photo: Roger Payne

November 27, 2000
Enter the Coast Guard
Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Roger Payne talking to you from the Odyssey, under mainsail, mizzen and jib as we sail west across the rolling tropical pacific. We're a week west of Christmas Island, and alone once more in the rolling blue infinite, accompanied in daylight by occasional flocks of seabirds and a few flying fish (and at night by raucous choruses of unfamiliar dolphins-which are totally cheering, on the moonless nights we have been having).

Since leaving Galapagos in mid July, we have seen only two other vessels while crossing the Pacific. All the gyrations of the unresolved presidency seem a part of some other planet, and we have grown at ease with a life far from the so-called civilized world.

Today however, we had a shock, when Marcia shouted from the helm, 'Hey everybody come look at this!' Everyone was immediately on deck, and there, practically on top of us was a huge plane not 200 feet up, both engines trailing faint wisps of black smoke (exhaust as it later turned out) while it headed straight for us. It was a U.S. Coastguard. C 130 Hercules, and its pilot's voice was soon on our radio.

Apparently the U.S Coastguard flies regular patrols across the tropical pacific and its U.S. territories, basing out of Barbara's Point Military Airfield in Hawaii. The formalities over, the co-pilot of the plane cam on for a word and she turned out to be from the crew we had met only a few weeks ago in Christmas Island (where they had come on a humanitarian mission to try to save the life of a woman having grave difficulties in childbirth). They had told us over dinner one evening, that their flight path usually took them from Hawaii to American Samoa, or around other U.S. territories, including Midway, Palmyra, Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Johnston and Guam. They explained how the majority of their missions are search and rescue or other humanitarian assistance, but their primary objective is to scout for boats involved in fisheries violations.

It turns out they had recognized Odyssey from a long way off, and then flew close enough to us to give everyone an excellent view of the plane.

The C-130 Hercules is one of the more versatile aircraft in the world, capable of landing in remote, inhospitable areas on very short landing strips. It can also shut down two of its four engines in order to increase flight time, and can fly at flight speeds as low as 55 miles per hour (handy for short take-offs and landings as well as for storms when the plane can stand still above a fixed point in high enough winds). Its extensive cargo hold allows it to carry large quantities of the kinds of supplies, that it sometimes has to deploy in emergency rescue situations.

It was reassuring to see the coastguard so far from even the remotest hint of civilization or human presence. I think we had all silently assumed that we were totally beyond help should we find ourselves in an emergency. But we hadn't counted on modern avaiation. It is one thing to read about rescue efforts carried out hundreds of miles from base, and quite another to have the evidence of that possibility pass roaring over your head. We wished them well and they jokingly promised to keep an eye out for whales and send any they encountered in our direction.

Log by Roger Payne

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