The ship rolled from side to side most of the 436 ocean miles to our next port of call located on the Indian Ocean: Port Elizabeth, the second city and port of the Cape Province. It was a city of 146,000 souls divided into races as follows: 64,000 Europeans, 31,000 Cape Coloured, 47,000 natives, and 3,600 Asians. The captain said we would be in port for a couple of days off loading materials for the area. Gatti had been to Port Elizabeth before, so he knew that one of the biggest tourist attractions was the Snake Park and Museum. He called us into the salon and issued his instructions for filming at the Snake Park. “I want good, very big closeups of Johannes, the snake man,” he said while waving his arms to demonstrate what he thought the picture should be like. “I’ve made special arrangements for Johannes to be there, he’s retired and only works on Tuesdays.” Gatti was acting like a film producer and making special arrangements. It wasn’t like the cable car to Table Mountain. “Johannes puts a poisonous snake up on top of his hat,” Gatti continued, “and then he waves his hand and tries to get the snake to strike at it. It’s a very dramatic picture! And, if you can, get some good pictures of snakes that don’t show fences or pits. I want moving pictures we can use later to cut into jungle films.” Gatti then passed out expense money for the taxi ride, a gratuity for Johannes, and the shilling and a half admission charge to the Snake Park. Johannes turned out to be an aging Zulu with a rich South African accent. His uniform was heavy leather shoes and puttees, jodhpurs, tunic, a flat-top policeman-like cap and heavy leather gloves. The Snake Park had been started in 1906. Johannes had been a janitor there the day the previous snake handler had been bitten and quit the job cold. At that point, Johannes became the handler and had stayed until his retirement. He had been bitten over 20 times by heavy-duty poisonous snakes, and untold times by the slightly venomous varieties. Johannes knew his snakes. We all walked around and looked at the various snakes in glass cages. I was particularly interested in the mambas, a front-fanged snake that reaches great length. On display were two types, the green mamba and the black. The information at the cage said both were aggressive, extraordinarily swift, and best left alone unless you were armed with a shotgun and were a good shot. The green mambas in their cage looked to be about 10 feet long, not a pretty sight to one about to go into the bush country, their habitat. We slipped Johannes a few shillings and set up our cameras to record his act. He walked around in the snake pits filled with cobras and puff adders. He would snag one of them with his snake hook stick and demonstrated milking venom into a flask covered with a rubber film. He put them on his hat that resembled that of a railroad conductor, and did the act that Gatti wanted. It was quite impressive. I was setting up the camera on a tripod to try and get some “snakes without fence” pictures when I noticed an adder starting to swallow a small cobra. A snake was eating another snake. The only problem was the location of the two snakes, they were half in the sun and half in deep shadow, and the Anscochrome 16mm film we were using at the time was not too responsive to such contrasty lighting. So, I called to Johannes who climbed down into the pit with the snakes and tried to move them into the full sunlight. “The adder will spit up the cobra when I try to move them,” said Johannes. “Try it,” I said. He did, and sure enough, the adder spit up the cobra and the dazed cobra shook his head a few times and slid slowly and painfully away from the lazy adder. I often wonder if the adder had the same snake for dinner after we left the Park. I felt good about our shooting that day; I felt we had some excellent footage. I did, however, have some qualms about shooting Anscochrome film for the first time, with no tests in our new camera and lenses. When we arrived back to the ship, Gatti was having cocktails with the author of the Lily stories. He came to our cabin for a report of the shoot. He seemed pleased, so we all went down to the dining salon and Gatti went back to the cocktail hour. The next port of call on our trip was East London. The cargo off-loading was very light, so we were only there for a day, then it was back up the coast of South Africa to Durban. It was now getting close to New Year’s Day, so we hoped it could be while we were in port in Durban. The 253 miles from East London to Durban was about a day’s run, so we docked in the big city and went ashore for a dinner away from the vessel. We had to walk quite a ways from the ship to the downtown area, and the area seemed to be unfriendly, so we resolved to take cabs whenever we could. The problem was finding a taxi when you wanted to go to the downtown area. Durban was the largest city in the province. Its population at the time was divided as Europeans, 125,000; Coloured, 10,000; Asiatics, 113,000; Natives, 108,000; for a total of about 367,000 people. In Durban we were still 1,981 miles from Mombasa, our final destination. A Canadian freighter was unloading cargo near us, as were other vessels from the Union Castle line. Durban was a very busy port. As soon as we docked, the hatch covers were removed and the cranes began lifting out the cargo destined for the area. More Jeeps, bridge timbers, and all kinds of palleted cargo came up out of the bowels of the Pilgrim. The captain posted the sailing notice for January 2nd at 3 p.m., so we were going to stay in Durban for the New Year’s celebration. The first night in Durban gave us a couple of thrills. First, Fong, the Chief Steward, and one of his Chinese workers visited the city proper for an evening on the town. In the dark of night they walked back to the ship. At one particularly dark area, a couple of local natives held them up at knife point and took their clothes, money and everything else they had along. Fong and his partner walked back to the ship completely naked. Meanwhile, the GH gang were trying out the night life of big city Durban. We didn’t meet any ham radio addicts there, but we did manage to find some local European ladies who showed us the town after dark. They took us to a wild night club where we were having nice conversation and a couple of scotch whiskey drinks (the word whiskey means scotch in British countries), when a wild fist fight broke out both inside and outside the night club. There was a lot of swearing and yelling between the European men. My date leaned over and hurriedly said, “Let’s get out of here! By the back door!” She grabbed my arm and pulled me out through the kitchen of the club. The rest of our Gatti-Hallicrafters crew followed us. Outside in the night air we regrouped and walked quickly down the alley to safer territory. When I asked what the problem was, my date said knowingly, “The seaman on a Canadian ship in the harbor were fighting some of our local South African men. Don’t ask me what about, I don’t know. I thought they might mistake you Yanks for Canadians and beat you up, too.” We took a cab back to the ship after we had left our dates for the evening. Gatti sent us out to photograph some of the sights of Durban. I had my picture taken in a rickshaw pulled by a African native Zulu all decked out in feathers and colorful costume. This was New Year’s Eve and again we celebrated with some of Hallicrafter bourbon whiskey aboard the ship before leaving for the down town area. In one of the night spots we visited the thought came to one of us, I can’t remember who, that we blow the African Pilgrim’s fog horn at midnight beginning 1948. So at 11:30, we and our dates all taxied to down to the quay and boarded the Pilgrim. With an eye on the watch we quietly climbed up to the wheel house and waited for the magic hour of the New Year. We counted down to zero and I pulled the whistle cord. A great blast of the horn sounded and echoed throughout the harbor. Other vessels in the harbor joined in the cacophony of whistles that tooted in the New Year. At that point the Pilgrim’s master came out of his cabin clad in his pajamas and hollered at the top of his lungs, “Get the hell away from the bridge, you have no business up there!” The girls jumped down the stairway and we followed them, the mighty fog horn had been blown at midnight. The next morning the captain came into breakfast and never said a word about our mischief of the evening before. I was happy, and I never did find out if he knew who blew the whistle. I received a letter from my mother while we were in Durban. I roared with laughter when I read it because it contained a clipping from the Minneapolis Tribune about our departure from the United States. Gatti was up to his old tricks creating an image of something that wasn’t quite so. Here are some quotes from the piece, dated the day after we sailed from New York: “New York -- (INS) -- Famed Explorer Commander Attilio Gatti left Saturday on one of the most elaborate African expeditions of all time. It will be in constant radio contact with the United States, and gather scientific data including, possibly, information on a beast bigger than the largest gorilla. “The expedition, sponsored by the Hallicrafters Co. of Chicago, makers of electronic equipment, will make a six-month tour of the interior of British East Africa. Its goal is the fabled Mountains of the Moon region in Uganda. “Gatti has said that one of the expedition’s most important jobs will be to track down and if possible photograph a beast called “Mulahu” by the Mambuti pygmies. These pygmies are the only inhabitants of the jungles surrounding 16,798 foot Ruwenzori mountains. “The animal is said to be a “fifth anthropoid,” larger than a gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutan or gibbon, and is regarded with awe and terror by the pygmies. “Gatti is convinced that such an animal exists, from information he has received on previous African explorations. “No white man, however, has seen it.” The article went on to tell of the “diving eye” and the “floating island” bits of publicity. It also had a picture of Jim Powers wearing his cardboard topi with his jaw dropped as if in awe of something being photographed by Commander Gatti’s picture shooters. The paper had this to say: “Powers, who comes from St. Paul, is the only reporter making the trip. Cabling his first dispatch from the expedition ship, the S.S. African Pilgrim, he confessed that “I breathe heavily after walking up a flight of stairs. But I intend to trudge doggedly at the heels of my more rugged companions right to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a snow-capped peak of 19,400 feet.” “There’s no hair on my chest,” said Powers, “but nobody ever beat me out of a good story.” I showed the clipping to Powers, he laughed. Bob said, “Gee, I didn’t know we were looking for whatever Gatti called that animal that supposedly dwarfs a gorilla. I hope we find him, or her, or whatever.” The cocktail hour in our cabin had a new subject for discussion: “Mulahu, the fifth anthropoid.” At sailing time the next day, the Pilgrim headed out to sea for the continuation of our voyage. The next leg of the trip was to be to Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika. After that we were to stop at the clove island of Zanzibar, then proceed to Tanga back on the Tanganyika mainland, and finally arrive in Mombasa, Kenya Colony.We had been originally scheduled to stop in Beira or Lourenco Marques in Mozmbique, but those ports were bypassed due to some political unrest in the country. From Durban towards Mombasa, the Indian Ocean water temperature became warmer and the climate became hotter. Damn hot. Our next stop was Dar es Salaam, a port city in Tanganyika. We arrived in “Dar” on January 7th, 1948. Because we were now in a “soft money” country we had very little American cargo to discharge. A reporter from the “Tanganyika Standard” newspaper came aboard and interviewed Commander Gatti. The next day’s paper featured a huge front page story about Gatti and the expedition. Whenever Gatti gave an interview to the press, I learned something new about our trip. That was true when I read the story in the “Standard.” Jim Powers came back to the ship after a trip into town waving a handful of newspaper copies. “You have to see this,” he said, his face full of smiles as he distributed the papers. The headline proclaimed on the Standard read:


The sub-head added “RADIO AND PHOTOGRAPHIC RESEARCH BY SUMPTUOUS SAFARI. “It’s sumptuous all right,” said Jim, his face still echoing laughter. “Listen to this,” Jim continued, reading from the paper. “Wow,” said Bob Leo. Jim poured a tot of Old Forester into each cocktail hour glass. “Here’s something new,” said Bob as he read aloud: Jim picked up the reading, I stepped into the conversation: “We don’t have radio licenses for Ruanda, so wonder why he said that?” “He’s probably ad libbing,” said Jim. Bob then began to laugh. “Here’s something, Bill. Did you know we are going to conduct field experiments on short wave radio communications which will include noon and midnight noise measurements throughout the entire radio spectrum?” “That’s news to me,” I said. Bob continued with the news from the newspaper. “You guys going to do that?” asked Weldon. “News to me,” I said. “We don’t have any equipment to do noise measurements. At least I’ve never heard of it, it might be in all those boxes.” “Holy smoke!” Jim exclaimed, “hear this bit of news: ‘In about three months’ time, revealed Mr. Gatti, eight more people will come from America and join the expedition for a period in order to take a feature moving film of native and animal life.’” Jim continued reading from the paper: The newspaper story covered half the front page of the “Standard.” I read along when a bold paragraph caught my eye: “Here’s to all the new things we learned about our expedition to the Mountains of the Moon,” said Powers as he raised his glass in a toast. We all joined him in the salute and then headed down for dinner. The native stevedores were finishing up the unloading of cargo for Dar. Because of the money, there was not a very large load. Like Capetown and the other port cities, when the stevedores had to visit a toilet, they merely dropped their pants and did the job wherever they were over water. In the other cities the workers were a little more discrete, so it was a shock to see the toilet facilities in use. Our voyage north was taking place during the southbound monsoon season, so the harbor at Dar had a number of Arab Dhows in port. The Arab sailors from the Persian Gulf manned primitive sailing ships with only one triangular lateen sail as motive power. Each vessel makes only one round trip a year to Equatorial Africa. The fleet of dhows sails south with the wind from the Persian Gulf, discharges cargo from that area, then load up with ghee, wattle bark, and other exotic produce from Tanganyika and Kenya, and finally voyages back north when the winds of the monsoon start blowing north. The dhow is a picturesque vessel with its single sail and high poop deck on which the crew live. The toilet facilities on a dhow consist of two boards nailed to the gunwale of the ship. A user doffs his pants, or raises his toga, puts one foot on each board, hangs on to a rope railing, and lets it fly into the ocean; no complicated plumbing to get in trouble. In the African ports visited by the dhows, a person can see a lot of Arab sailors in the market areas of the towns. They wear turbans, long white robes, and most carry a dagger in the “J” shaped scabbard. Some, the captains of the dhows, have a jeweled scabbard holding the weapon. In most cities visited by dhows there are signs admonishing visitors to “Beware of Pickpockets.” Arabian coffee vendors patrol the streets in the Arabian part of the city offering coffee for sale by the cup. The vendors rattle metal coffee cups that have a slight cymbal ring as they musically jingle the cups along with a verbal call for “coffee” in their native language. The hucksters add a lot of color to the street scenes in the east African cities. As the Pilgrim plowed north, I spent a lot of time writing movie scripts for Commander Gatti to read. I recall one script that particularly pleased him. I’ll reproduce a bit of it here:



ANNOUNCER: (Voice over) The African Pilgrim is unloading the International Harvester trucks from its hold. Commander Gatti is up on the bridge supervising the operation.


ANNOUNCER: Veteran of ten African expeditions, Commander Gatti watches every move of his International trucks and his Schult trailers.


ANNOUNCER: The photo lab and ham shack trailer, made by Schult trailer company, is carefully lifted from the hold and placed on the dock.


ANNOUNCER: Everything is done under the watchful eye of Commander Gatti. When I showed the script to Gatti, he smiled broadly. “Very nice, very nice,” he said. I think he was pleased.

CHAPTER 6, The Indian Ocean

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
 Bill had no problems in finding a way of transport in Durban African Dhow