We were all leaning on the “Pilgrim’s” rail when I looked at my watch, it was just a few minutes after 10 o’clock. The tugs that pulled us away from the dock had backed off and whistled “bon voyage.” The Gatti-Hallicrafters African Expedition was headed under its own power for the Atlantic Ocean and Africa. The ship was about 500 yards away from pier 33 when Gatti came out on “our” deck where we were watching the skyline of New York City pass in review. “Please come down to the dining salon for a very important staff meeting,” he said through a curious smile. “Right away,” he added. We followed him down to the salon. Gatti’s invitation to a meeting at this point didn’t set too well with me. Here we were, virtual captives on the African Pilgrim for the approximately 40 days it would take to reach Mombasa in Kenya Colony, and I was sure we would have plenty of time for “important meetings,” so I wondered why the sudden urgency. In January of 1943, I had watched the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge pass overhead as we sailed for Australia on a troop transport, so I wanted to watch New York disappear in the hazy gloom of that cloudy November day. But no such luck; I was a little miffed. The “important meeting” started with a lecture on the rules of conduct during the voyage. He repeated basic rule one: we were to stay on our side of the ship, period. Gatti’s lecture was interesting. It covered his plans to photograph the native population, the animals, and of course, the Hallicrafter’s radio equipment in action. He talked about where we were going, and how we were going to shoot pictures of the “Goodyears,” the “Remingtons,” the “Evinrudes,” the “Schults,” and a dozen or more products that were “sponsoring” the expedition. Not one word was said about any experiments being “scientific.” The most interesting sponsored product Gatti talked about was an electric fan. We apparently had a bunch of them in the cargo hold. Gatti demonstrated how he wanted the natives to pose with the electric fan. He put his hand over his mouth and turned on the greatest “astonished look” I have ever seen. “Have them say ‘Ahhhhh’, and open their eyes as wide as possible,” he said as he demonstrated the pose. “We want them to look African by dressing African!” he exclaimed. His whole act tickled my funny bone. For me, Gatti was a dandy comedian, and he did it without trying. “Snyder,” our commander said, “your movie making experience will come in for good use. While we are at sea, I’d like to have you write scripts for the films we are to make.” Up to this point all my duty conversation had dealt with the ham radio operation, now the “snapshot” of me standing by the camera was working its magic. Gatti had plans for me, and the camera, too. This was exciting news, but writing scripts for the films tossed me a curve. But, what the hell, I was never at loss for ideas, so I nodded my acceptance of the job. The ship began to roll a bit as we entered the open Atlantic and slowed down to drop off the harbor pilot who had guided the vessel out of the New York area. Gatti continued to pass out work details for each member of the crew. “Leo and Snyder,” he said, I would like you men to do a little typing for Mrs. Gatti. She writes what we call ‘Lily’ stories for the Toronto Star Sunday supplement. They need typing on the ‘Underwoods’ for submission to the editor, and Mrs. Gatti would like to have that done.” The addendum to the contract was now showing up in practice. Gatti then explained that his wife wrote only in long hand, and she had contracted for six “Lilys” a year. Now I knew why the “Underwoods” had been dropped into our cabin. The Underwoods, by the way, were all portable typewriters (with, I assume, exceptionally good resale value in Kenya Colony of the British East Africa). My typing on the “Underwood” portable would be horrible. I’d spent most of my life typing on a telegraph keyboard which does not have lower case letters and the figure keys contain the numeral “1.” I surmised it would be tough for me to learn to use the shift key and the lower case letter “L” instead of a figure one. But, because it would occupy time, so I looked forward to doing it. By the time the first “important” meeting was over and Gatti had repeated his orders that his “side of the vessel” was off limits unless invited, it was almost time for lunch. The ship’s clock sounded 7 bells and Phong, the Chief Steward, asked us to leave the salon so he could set up for lunch. We went out on the deck and watched the United States disappear in the far distance gloom. Phong, a small Chinese man, was also our purser and table waiter. He spoke fairly good English with a marked oriental accent. I could see straight away that Phong was a very efficient steward. The coffee pot, like coffee pots on all merchant marine ships, was an endless source of hot java for the officers on the ship. Meals for the midnight and 4 a.m. watch changes were placed in a refrigerator and could be heated in a pantry oven. At noon the Captain came down from the bridge and we, the Gatti-Hallicrafters crew, the other two passengers, and the ship’s officers gathered for lunch. I was seated where I could hear Captain Graham instruct Phong: “Don’t serve anyone until Mr. and Mrs. Gatti arrive and are seated. They’re our most important guests.” We sat making idle chatter and waiting for the grand entry of the “most important guests.” Nothing happened—no Gattis, so after about ten minutes of waiting, the Captain signaled Phong to serve the meal. I could see he was a bit put out, but he covered his tracks rather well. The meals on the African Pilgrim were very good.They came up from the ships galley on a deck below by dumb waiter, and Phong served them with speed and dispatch. There were only six tables in the dining salon. The Captain’s, the Chief Engineers, the Mates, and rest for the passengers. Merchant marine vessels are limited to 12 passengers by international law. If a ship’s passenger count exceeds that amount, it must carry a medical doctor and have 24 hours of radio operator service. There are other requirements, too, so the shipping companies keep the count under 12. It is also possible to sign on a ship’s crew as a “supernumerary” and get passage, but most cargo vessels do not carry more than 12 passengers. The salon was on the weather deck level of the Pilgrim. It was directly under the captain’s cabin and above the crew’s mess room. It had a pantry on the starboard side of the salon where the midnight lunch refrigerator and coffee pot were situated. There were round portholes looking out over the weather deck which occasionally picked up wind-driven spray from the ocean hitting the forepeak of the ship. The Captain finished eating and excused himself from his table. He had Baron Theo Roth, a genuine nobleman, and another passenger as his table guests, plus the two empty chairs reserved for the Gattis. All of a sudden I saw Gatti going into the pantry where Phong was busy sending the used lunch dishes down the dumb waiter. I nudged Bob to turn his gaze towards the pantry where the two men were quietly talking. With a flash of speed, Gatti vanished out of sight. All eyes were on the pantry. We didn’t have to wait long before we saw Phong exit the pantry carrying a tray covered with napkins up the stairway to the passenger deck. I turned to Bob and said, “Looks like Gatti is having room service.” Jim Powers smiled. “I wonder if we’ll ever see his wife?” he said. “I’m looking forward to it,” I said. We were now on our way to Africa and the Atlantic was rolling with medium seas. It was a pleasant roll and the Pilgrim creaked a little as it passed over the wind-driven swells. The wind and November temperature were such that we didn’t wish to try out the deck chairs on “our” side of the ship, so we stayed in our cabins. Gatti did not bother us at all that afternoon. We were at liberty to do what we wished. I took a short nap and recuperated from the night before sailing party. The motion of the sea lulled me to sleep as I rolled from side to side in my bunk. Most of the others joined me and did the same. When I awoke, my curiosity led me to look at the cameras we had been given to use. There were two Bell and Howell Filmos and a high speed Filmo that I had never seen the likes of before. All were spring-driven 16mm cameras. The high speed was a single lens machine, but the other two were turreted for three lenses. The assortment of “C” mount lenses that accompanied the cameras was not what I would have picked out. Normally a professional cameraman uses matched lenses; the Gatti assortment contained some that I would not have wanted in my kit of tools Errol Prince and I tried out the lenses by screwing them onto the cameras. One wide angle was so big we had to take the other two lenses off the turret to use it. We were both disappointed at the selection. “I think,” said Errol, “that some New York shyster camera store got to him. The cameras look used, particularly the high speed.” “The Camera Equipment Company tripod looks brand new,” I said as I pulled it out of the fiber carrying case and examined the wooden legs and friction pan and tilt head. Errol wound up the spring on the high speed Filmo and pushed the go button. The camera, designed for slow motion shooting only, picked up speed and whirred, making noises like a wounded banshee, for about eight seconds and then died down. “This only runs at 128 frames per second,” said Errol, “and it should clear the African veldt of animals when they hear it run.” For non-camera fan readers, normal sound speed for a motion picture is 24 frames per second, so 128 frames per second would stretch out a scene a little over five times at projection speed. The normal Filmo could film slow motion at 64 frames a second, which produced a fairly slow motion picture. “I don’t think we’ll use this job very much,” said Errol putting the camera back in its case. “What’s the film supply like?” I asked Errol. “We’ve got a bunch of Anscochrome. Gatti may have chiseled this out of the company for free. It’s a brand new item, I think,” Errol said. “And we’ve got daylight Kodachrome, too.” “I mainly use Kodachrome Commercial,” I said, “it’s the low contrast film designed for duplication. The regular stuff we have is projection contrast and doesn’t make the best copies.” Errol was a cautious workman, so he said, “Let’s shoot some test scenes on the ship and have them processed in Capetown. We’ve got to calibrate the lenses before we do any serious work with this stuff?” And he added with a sigh, “I wish he’d consulted us before he bought all this stuff. We’re going to have fun!” As we were putting away the movie equipment, Jim Powers came into our cabin and complained, “I’m not used to eating dinner at such an early hour, so I suppose it means we’re going to have an early cocktail hour.” I could see a gleam in his eyes. Jim was a tall, skinny person with long fingers seemingly built for pounding a typewriter. He wore glasses and had a peculiar twist to his mouth when he talked. “Which kind of whiskey should we start with?” I asked. “It’s all bourbon.” “Well, if that’s the choices,” Jim smiled, “make it Old Grandad, if you have it.” I ceremoniously opened the first jug of the Hallicrafters present and we toasted our expedition. Then the cocktail hour talk centered on the Gattis, the Captain’s table and this question, “Would they show upfor dinner?” The cocktail hour ended when Phong came up from the dining salon and pounded a three-note xylophone- like chime. He poked his head in our cabin and announced in his Chinese accent, “Dinna served.” I could hear the chimes echoing on the off-limits Gatti side of the ship as Phong went from cabin to cabin. We gathered for dinner in the salon. The Captain and his table waited only a few minutes for the Gattis to arrive before he began to eat. I could see frustration on the Captain’s face as he dined. Right in the middle of the meal, I saw Phong rush a tray covered with napkins out of the pantry and up the stairs to the passenger deck. In a few minutes he returned without the tray. Gatti was getting room service, I surmised. After dinner the five of us gathered in our cabin and consumed the rest of the Old Grandad fifth as we got better acquainted. Weldon told of his capture by the Japanese during the war, and Errol told of shooting pictures of outboard motors and boats. Jim Powers gave us a run down on his experiences as a newspaper man, and how excited he was to be going to Africa for a six month period. He lamented the fact that he was going to be out of touch with the world for about 18 days, and so was planning on sending a big story from Capetown when we docked there. When the jug was empty, I walked out on the deck and tossed it into the ocean. It was dark and the wind was cold. I stood for a minute and watched the florescent foam stirred up by the ship’s forward progress through the sea. I’d seen that effect many times in my previous 20 plus ocean voyages, but it always fascinated me, so I watched it for a short while before the wind chill sent me back to the cabin and the gabfest. The next day Bob and I made friends with the ship’s radio officer, Bob Van Gelder. All radio men on ocean- going ships are traditionally nicknamed “Sparks.” It stems from the old days when radio transmissions were done by an actual spark gap that generated radio waves for communications purpose. I had learned on previous freighter voyages to cultivate a friendship with Sparks so I could spend time listening to the ship-to- ship and ship-to-shore traffic in the radio shack. It was a good way to kill time on a merchant marine vessel, and the primary source of world news on the ship. Part of every radio man’s daily duties is to copy the weather reports for the navigator and the world news for the passengers and crews. A capsule edition of the daily news was received by radiotelegraph Morse Code at about 22 words per minute. The news in Morse Code broadcast lasted for two hours daily and was sent by the radio company that the shipping company subscribed to for service. I was familiar with the news service, for I had copied hours and hours of press when I was overseas in the army. The radio shack is always on the top deck of any vessel, and on freighters the operator’s stateroom is right next to the radio room. This was so the operator could be alerted by an auto-alarm arrangement should he be asleep and another nearby ship sends an SOS emergency call. Sparks, lots of maritime people will say, has the best job on any ship. He gets all his port time off, because in most foreign countries the transmitter is sealed for the duration of stay. So, with no duty watches to pull, Sparks can do lots of sight-seeing and girl chasing while in foreign ports. And the pay is good, too. It was fun to go up to the radio shack and chew the rag with Sparks Van Gelder. We would listen to the traffic lists from RCA radio in the states and copy anything that was listed for the Pilgrim. Outside of the daily observation message from the captain to the weather bureau and a few company reports, not many radiograms were transmitted. The trip settled down to becoming an 18 day grind. Gatti continued to avoid eating in the salon, and Phong was seen trucking food trays up to the Gatti cabins at every meal. The Captain stopped waiting for them to arrive at meal time, but the two seats at the table remained empty each day. The third day out, the Atlantic was a bit rough and Powers complained of seasickness. When Gatti made his daily inspection tour of our quarters, he found out that Jim was sick. He came into our cabin and inquired of our health. Neither Bob, a Naval officer in the war, nor I suffered from mal de mar and we told him so. “Mrs. Gatti and I have a cure for seasickness,” he said confidentially, “and I’ll show you how we do it. I’ll be back in just a minute.” He left our cabin and returned in about two minutes. “Here is some literature on the cure,” Gatti said as he handed each one of us a leaflet. “It’s a magic cure, believe me,” the commander said. I looked at the brochure. I couldn’t believe what I read. The “cure” consisted of two thin metal pieces cut to fit inside a person’s shoes. One was made of aluminum, the other brass. The instructions were to place one in each shoe and the dis-similar metals would keep the earth’s magnetic field of forces from affecting the wearer’s balance, or some such strange logic like that. “Does it work,” Errol asked. “Mrs. Gatti and I use this remedy and swear by it; it works fine!” Gatti was adamant in his belief. When the commander left the room, we all had a good laugh. And all I could think of was that our little group was locked into going on a “scientific” expedition with a leader who thought that way. Wow! With the passing of each day, the weather became warmer. We were now plowing southward through the Atlantic Gulf Steam current. The sun came out and we started a bit of suntan exposure to our lily white northern bodies. Out on the open deck beside our cabin were deck chairs for each passenger. The Gattis, we assumed, had their own private deck area. The ship’s library, small as it was, became our leisure resource. Each of our GH crew devoured books like popcorn. Like on all good ships, the vessel’s deck hand crew was continually chipping paint, removing rust and painting the vessel whenever the weather at sea permitted. The American South African Line, the owners, had a nice group of vessels, all painted alike and very well kept. Like a good military commander, Gatti briefly came in to our cabin every day to inquire of our welfare. We were only a few days out of New York when the first of the Lily stories arrived for typing. Bob and I took the “Underwoods” down to the salon where we could use the tables and began work. Like I had assumed, I had trouble with the keyboard. My big hands were unaccustomed to the key placement and the shift key was a stranger to my touch system, but I struggled. Bob was more adept at the system, so he made better progress than I did. I really didn’t think too much of the Lily stories, they were good, but not my kind of fiction. Nevertheless, I plunked along as best I could trying to keep the strike-overs to a minimum. As my typing improved, I began to think about the movie scripts. We had one to do for Hallicrafters, one for Schult Trailers, and one for International Harvester. Bob and I were taking a little sack time one afternoon when he handed me a piece of paper. “Did you get one of these?” he asked. “I picked it up at the press party.” I looked at it, it was a publicity release from the International Harvester Truck Division in Chicago. I started to read it aloud. Commander Attilio Gatti played host today to 300 invited guest at a showing of the unique equipment that will ship to Africa later this week with the Gatti-Hallicrafters Expedition. The exhibit was held at the 42nd Street showroom of International Harvester Company, eight of whose trucks will power the expedition. The project is the eleventh venture of veteran explorer Gatti into the interior of Africa, the first since 1938-40 when he and his wife astounded the Pygmies of the Belgian Congo with his palatial streamlined “Jungle Yacht" trailers. In addition to the colorful caravan of trucks and specially built trailers the showing included such modern adjuncts as a radio shack-on-wheels; a rolling laboratory; a floating island based on PT boat adaptation; a diving eye with stroblights, built by the Manhattan Research Laboratory for underwater observation; magic- eye cameras and magic-ear electronic-mirror recorders; motion picture machine gun; and “giraffes” and other ultra-Hollywood lighting devices. I dropped the paper on my chest and looked over at Bob. “Did you see any of that stuff at the showing?” I asked. “I think the publicity writer for Harvester had been reading Gatti’s brochure. That’s all,” said Bob. “I wonder what happened to the diving eye, the floating island, and the magic eyes and ears,” I laughed, “They must have disappeared along with the helicopter “eye-in-the-sky,” or whatever Gatti called it.” I enjoyed our gab sessions for I learned more about our companions. Errol Prince had done a bit of industrial cinematography, but his real specialty was advertising stills. Any movie work he had done had been scripted by agency writers. The scripts that I had filmed from at that point in my career had also been done by others; I had never tried my hand at it. So it was a little hard for me to get started typing my own scripts. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should write for the advertising films we were going to make. Gatti made no suggestions; he apparently was going to leave it all to me. We had been at sea for about ten days when Gatti announced the grand introduction ceremony to the hidden Mrs. Gatti. At this point, she had been cloistered like a nun in heat, but now we were going to meet her in person! The unveiling was to be at a ceremonial cocktail party on “Gatti’s deck” at three in the afternoon. All our GH crew slicked up for the grand occasion, and, at the appointed hour, presented ourselves to the off-limits side of the African Pilgrim. As we trouped out on the deck where Mrs. Gatti was seated with a Martini glass carefully held in her left hand, I got my first look at her. My first impression: her facial features were plain, bordering on ugly. After typing Lily stories wherein Mrs. G described the beautiful heroine and her escapades, I expected to see the author with some of those characteristics she put on paper. But I was disappointed, Mrs. G was large, slightly plump, and the more I looked at her, the less pretty she became. However, I must say, Mrs. Gatti was gracious. Our introduction was pleasant. She seemed to know all about all of us, and my conversation with her hinted at that information. Was she the power behind the throne in the Gatti household? I began to wonder. Gatti must a have pumped Phong up with heavy tipping, because the eating goodies to accompany the boss’ booze party were nicely made and beautifully displayed. The snack table, brimming with all Phong’s handiwork, was set up under the lifeboats which hung from davits above the deck. Gatti was the perfect host. He mixed excellent drinks and smiled at us like we were all vice presidents of International Harvester, and he was out to charm us out of money. I was impressed, Gatti was a charmer. Mrs. Gatti was pleasant and what little conversation I had with her was interesting, but she was not a raving beauty. I tried to talk with her about the Lily stories, but Gatti interrupted and changed the subject. I didn’t push it further. About the time Gatti’s liquor was starting to “jolly” our Gatti-Hallicrafter’s crew, a gush of water came out of the lifeboats above us. The canape table and all the little goodies were drenched. We all looked up to the deck above us. The boatswain and his crew of deck sailors had opened the sea cocks in the lifeboats to drain the rainwater and sea spray that had accumulated during the voyage. The wind, caused by the 16 knot headway of the ship, had grabbed the water as it exited from the lifeboat and sprayed it all over the party below. Gatti was furious. His smiling face became livid with anger. I detected a few Italian words which I assumed were heavy-duty cussing. “Bo’sun,” he yelled up to the lifeboats, “You’re treating us like cattle! Damned cattle!” “Sorry,” was the one word reply from the boatswain. “I’ll never take another ship on this line again!” Gatti was mad, really mad. The whole episode was funny to me, but I contained my laughter. Our other crew members, I’m sure, felt the same way. We’d been waiting for this moment, and now to have it spoiled by routine maintenance of the ship was sort of funny. The sailors finished dumping the bilge water from the lifeboats, slapped the canvas covers on and departed from the deck above. Gatti was still raving when the ship’s bell chimed eight times and we said goodbye to Mrs. G and departed for the dining salon. Gatti and his woman remained behind. We all had a hearty laugh when we arrived down in the sanctity of the salon. It was openly funny. The Captain arrived and the dinner meal commenced. Phong was at his best and the chef in the kitchen below had produced the usual excellent meal for us. Everything was going as usual when Gatti burst into the salon and blew his fuse, “Captain, your damned crew are treating us like cattle! I’m going to complain to the company!” His face was livid and he stood waving his arms in tune with his statements. “Mr. Gatti,” the Captain said quietly, “I’m having my dinner, and if you have any such complaint, please come to my office and make it.” Everyone in the salon quit eating and watched the show. “They dumped dirty, filthy, rotten, slimy bilge water out of the life boats on our deck cocktail party,” Gatti almost screamed. He was mad! Captain Graham listened, carefully wiped his mouth with his napkin, looked Gatti squarely in the eye and said politely, “This is no place for such conversation. Mr. Gatti, I’ll discuss it with you in my office.” The skipper was calm as the cucumber he was slicing. Gatti sputtered something unintelligible, waved his arms again, then turned and stormed out of the salon. He had been bested. No one said a thing. The Captain finished his dinner, excused himself and climbed to the stairs to his quarters. The Gatti-Hallicrafters crew had plenty of fuel for the evening gab fest. “The memsahib, she’s a monster,” said Jim Powers, his eyes full of sparkle. “What do you mean, memsahib?” someone asked. “Memsahib, its an old Hindi term from India,” said Jim, “Rudyard Kipling jargon. Means a white woman: the master’s wife. Sahib and memsahib go together. I can see sahib Gatti and the memsahib, the monster, wearing those special pith helmets, riding on top an elephant in India, with a whole bunch of Hindus running behind carrying martinis on trays. Make a great scene in a movie.” “Monster” and “memsahib”—those two words stuck with me. This trip is starting to be fun.

CHAPTER 4, The Ocean Voyage

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
Hard working on the ship Bill Snyder tries out one of the 16 mm movie cameras while aboard the African Pilgrim on the way to Africa.