|Foxy Lady excerpts|
Foxy Lady – Truth, Western Yachtsmen in Memory & the Death of Democratic KampucheaImagine the handsome son of your next door neighbor, venturing off on the yachting voyage of a lifetime, dashing off postcards from across Southeast Asia, and then vanishing. In response to his family's frantic search, his government investigates, discovers the young man got sucked into the vortex of genocidal murder, and then drops the case. News outlets briefly report, and then abandon the story. History forgets. This is the tale of nine Western yachtsmen – four Americans, two Aussies, a Kiwi, a Brit and a Canadian – killed in 1978 by Cambodia's ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime. Canadian investigative journalist Dave Kattenburg tells the story for the first time in book form (The Key Publishing, Toronto, 2011). Here are some excerpts:
Precisely when and from whom Stuart Glass and Kerry Hamill bought Foxy Lady is unknown—at least to this author. They may have purchased her from an American named "Art," who had procured her in Malaysia, sailed her down to Bali, Dili, and Darwin, and then up to Dili again. Darwin yachtsman Rod Montgomery recalls encountering a "very tender yacht" called Foxy Lady, shortly after arriving in Benoa Harbour, in Bali, on Christmas Day 1974—the same day Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin. She was a twenty-five or twenty-six-foot "double-ender," painted dark green or black. Her skipper, a "Captain Thomas," had sailed her "extensively" around Borneo. Foxy Lady had a special keel that Captain Thomas would remove in order to venture up rivers. Montgomery recalls little else about "Captain Thomas." He had spent "lots of time" in Alaska, and may well have been an American.
Robin Davy, another long-time Darwin resident and yachtsman, recalls encountering a boat called Foxy Lady in Dili harbour in late January 1975, but her hull was painted white, with blue trim at this point. Davy had arrived in Dili on a seventy-foot schooner called Derwent Hunter, together with a group of friends who'd come to build a boat called Siola Tau. The little yacht Davy came across in Dili harbour had its anchor jammed in coral. Davy had diving gear and helped the man extricate it. He recalls the boat, alternatively, as a "proper little sailboat of ethnic origin," "a Malaysian-type boat," and "a bit native-looking."
"I know it was Foxy Lady alright," says Davy, "and I know the guy was American and I know I retrieved an anchor for him in Dili. It was definitely Foxy Lady. I rather liked the name." Henning Hintze—a crewmate of Robin Davy's on Derwent Hunter—also recalls seeing Foxy Lady in Dili harbour. Henning had spotted an advertisement for a converted Malaysian prau that was on sale in Dili, and decided to check her out, together with a friend named John Gilbert. Henning arrived in Dili on June 9, 1975. Foxy Lady's owner, a "short, speedy blond" American named Art, had bought the boat at a Malaysian yacht club, and had spent the next eighteen months, together with his Australian girlfriend Jan, sailing her down through Indonesia to Darwin, then back up to Dili again. Henning helped Art and Jan move Foxy Lady to the water from a cradle on the beach in front of the Hotel Turismo. At some point the boat fell to the ground, Art hurt his hand and the concrete or metal keel bolted to Foxy Lady's hull got bent. While Art went to the hospital to have his hand treated, Henning and Jan spent hours bailing water out of the boat. Like Robin Davy, Henning recalls that Foxy Lady was painted white, with blue trim.
A leaky hull and bent keel weren't Foxy Lady's only problems. Henning asked his friend John Gilbert to take the boat for a sail, which Gilbert did, north of Dili and around the island of Atauro. Gilbert recommended to Henning that he not buy the boat, and Henning returned to Darwin on June 23. Some time prior to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, Art and Jan sailed Foxy Lady back to Darwin (she obviously sailed fine). Over the following months, they likely took her around Darwin harbour, or up Sadgroves Creek from Frances Bay. Henning Hintze's partner, Jan, recalls visiting Foxy Lady in the mangroves on the west side of Frances Bay. She may have been moored at a marina owned by a Canadian named George, but George denies any knowledge of the boat. He wasn't in operation in Darwin at the time, he says—to the surprise of those who thought he was.
Stuart and Kerry likely bought Foxy Lady in April or early May 1977, possibly from Art the American. Although Sue had far more sailing experience than Stuart (Stuart had none), he wouldn't allow her anywhere near the boat—a position of Stuart's, not Kerry's, Sue points out. Stuart was bitter at the way their reunion had evolved. He kept Sue's ginger kitten, and even suggested she hand over the motorbike he and Kerry had gotten her, but Kerry quashed the idea. The bike was Sue's, Kerry insisted.
In late May or June 1977, the Rapid Creek house finally disbanded. Susan "ran away to sea" for three weeks on a prawn trawler called Ocean Pearl. Back in Darwin, she moved into a ground floor apartment with a young man named Glenn, from New South Wales, and a slender, blonde-haired Australian woman named Gail Colley, who would become or already was Kerry Hamill's girlfriend. Gail was quiet and pleasant, Sue recalls, tending a few herbs and keeping to herself. Sue and Glenn found work selling beaten copper pictures door-to-door, and at a surfcat rental shop.
By this point, Stuart and Kerry were spending most of their time on Foxy Lady, together with Gail and a pair of cats. One day, while Foxy Lady was anchored in Frances Bay, on the sheltered east side of the Darwin peninsula, local yachtsmen Nick Burningham and Dan Dwyer hopped in a dinghy and went out to see them. Nick and Dan had been working on the hull of Dan's own Malay-built boat, Sri Jumbuk—up on "the hard" on Frances Bay's Dinah Beach—and were intrigued by Stu and Kerry's yacht. Dan discussed navigation with one of the two (it could only have been Kerry), and perhaps the use of a medium wavelength transistor radio for "back-bearing" on Darwin, described by Nick as a "sloppy but practical way of navigating from Darwin to Rote Strait to pass south of Timor."
Several weeks later, sometime in May, perhaps, Nick and Dan had a second look at Foxy Lady, this time on Fannie Bay beach. Fannie Bay—tucked into the western side of a headland dipping south from the tip of Darwin peninsula—is Darwin's safest and least mosquito-ravaged anchorage once the southeast trade winds start blowing in May. Stuart and Kerry had apparently pulled the little yacht up to be caulked and anti-fouled. Down the beach, Burningham was helping a New Zealander named David to refit an Indonesian perahu for a voyage to Bali and back. At some point, Burningham bicycled over to see what Foxy Lady looked like on dry land. "I distinctly remember going from Siola Tau in the late afternoon," says Burningham. Dan Dwyer was apparently with Nick at the time, and noticed that Foxy Lady had a concrete or steel keel. "I think the keel had a slight angle to the port of vertical," Dwyer recalls (as it might have, if the little yacht had fallen hard from its cradle onto a Dili beach a year earlier). It would have been "structurally suspect," Dwyer adds, because the hulls of traditional wooden double-enders are not designed to bear such weight. A concrete keel would also have complicated the task of navigating reefs and anchorages, and caused Foxy Lady to leak more than normal.
Burningham has yet another vague memory of seeing Kerry and Stuart on Fannie Bay beach. An acquaintance of his—accompanied by a pair of men known locally for selling pot—was speaking with the two. . "It was a minor drug dealers convention," says Burningham. Stu, Kerry and Gail were all there, he recalls. Gail was somewhat aloof, or shy, sitting on Foxy Lady's deck. "I remember someone lit a fire on the beach."
There's nothing vague about Nick Burningham's memories of Foxy Lady herself. Having sailed traditional boats on various oceans and published articles in peer-reviewed nautical journals, Burningham is an authority on traditional Southeast Asian watercraft. "She was Malay, rather than Indonesian built, as I remember her," Burningham says, in response to accounts of Foxy Lady as a traditional Indonesian prau or a junk. She was neither. "Foxy Lady is easily recognisable as a perahu bedar, a very small perahu bedar from Kuala Terengganu; a standard bedar that was altered, given a cabin, accommodation, and external ballast—a bit of steel added to the bottom of the keel, salvaged from some kind of earth-moving equipment; perhaps the blade of a dozer … It is possible that she was built somewhere other than Pulau Duyong, Kuala Terengganu, but the majority certainly were built there and bedar from other places generally had less sheer. Foxy Lady shows the strong sheer (curve upwards towards the ends) that I associate with Kuala Terengganu bedar."
Pulau Duyong is a small island of mud and silt in the mouth of the Terengganu River, beside the town of Kuala Terengganu, in eastern Malaysia. Its reputation as a seat of religious learning centers around the great scholar Tok Syeikh Duyong, who studied, taught and translated Arabic texts into Malay there, passing away on the little island in 1889. Pulau Duyong is also known for its traditional boatbuilders, whose curvaceous, doubleended bedars were traditionally used to haul ballast, salt, and other commodities back and forth between Malaysia, Vietnam, and the northern Gulf of Thailand. Pulau Duyong boatbuilders drew upon Arab and European techniques, building hulls and decks from a local hardwood named chengal. A single chengal tree served as a mast. Chengal planks would be seasoned for a year prior to hull construction, and then bent and fitted with the aid of small fires, after sealing them with paper bark that tightened as water-exposed planks swelled. A Pulau Duyong bedar drew little water, enabling it to squeeze over Kuala Terengganu's protective sand bar.
If Stuart and Kerry had spent more time with Darwin yachtsmen like Nick Burningham and Dan Dwyer, they might have learned more about Foxy Lady's origin and design. There were two other Terengganu boats floating in Darwin waters or sitting on beaches in late 1976/early 1977, plus a couple of other Southeast Asian-style vessels. Ted Whittaker's Singa Betina was undergoing cyclone damage repair off Dinah Beach at the time. Penelope, owned by a guy named "Cabbage" and his partner, sat upstream of Dinah Beach, in front of a now vanished prawn factory. Jamie Munro was repairing his own Indonesian boat, several hundred meters downstream of Dinah Beach. Given the proximity of all these kindred yachts and the affability of their crew, it's not clear why Stuart and Kerry didn't strike up connections, if for no other reason than to exchange rig and materials in the course of fixing up Foxy Lady.
Burningham thinks the little bedar was refitted with Western-style Bermudan rig before Stuart and Kerry bought her (from Art?) – and with that external ballast keel of cement or steel, in order to compensate for the height of the new mast. The photo of Foxy Lady on the cover of this book shows her shrouds and lower forestay lengthened with chain, suggesting to Burningham that the new mast had originally been mounted on a deck. When stepped on the roof of Foxy Lady's deckhouse, standing rigging wasn't quite long enough. "I feel that we ought to have been well aware of the refitting if it were happening there," Burningham muses. "If Stu and Kerry had removed an original bedar battened lugsail rig, elements of that rig, including sails and mast, would have been bought, or otherwise acquired, by someone engaged in some project restoring some other vessel. A spare mast would have been well known and might have ended up on Sri Jumbuk. Any unwanted sails might have been re-cut for Siola Tau."
And yet, with the exception of Burningham and Dwyer, none of Darwin's surviving yachtsmen from that period have any clear recollection of Stuart, Kerry or their little bedar Foxy Lady. Clearly, Stu and Kerry were keeping to themselves.
Christine Rohani-Longuet was the last friend of Stuart Glass, Kerry Hamill, and John Dewhirst to see them alive. She was the only person who knew that Foxy Lady was heading towards Bangkok. Everyone else—family, friends, and authorities alike—had been told a different story. In April, Kerry had applied to Indonesian authorities to sail, sometime between April and October 1978, from Singapore to the Solomon Islands, in the western Pacific. Kerry had told Neil, in Penang, that Foxy Lady would be heading to Singapore and from there back to Australia. Stuart had written to Vera that Foxy Lady would be embarking in a completely opposition direction—toward Sri Lanka. John Dewhirst had written the same thing to his sister Hilary. No wonder everyone thought—and many continue to write—that Foxy Lady was blown off course in a storm!
Knowing Stuart, Kerry, and John were heading up to Bangkok, the question is why they ended up in Cambodian waters. Perhaps— with John's photo-scoop idea in mind—they set off across the Gulf of Thailand in an easygoing, we'll-see-where-we-end-up sort of way, thinking … What the heck, why not just slip briefly into Kampuchean waters for a quick look and a bunch of quick shots? Democratic Kampuchea's fierce declaration of sovereignty over waters two hundred miles from shore, seven months earlier, was something the three young adventurers likely knew nothing about. The perils of peaceful navigation south of Koh Chang and Koh Kut, in Thai waters—not to mention south of Koh Tang, due south of the Khmer Rouge heartland—would surely have been beyond their awareness, unless they had consulted with consular or maritime authorities, which they certainly didn't.
The consensus among those familiar with smuggling strategies—those who argue that there would have been no reason to enter the Gulf of Thailand to begin with, if not to pick up a load of Thai sticks—is that Kerry and Stuart were intentionally keeping their route secret. Head straight north into the Gulf, the strategy goes, avoiding the coast of peninsular Malaysia and Thailand, where patrol vessels hang out. Whether or not Stuart and Kerry were on a smuggling mission, Foxy Lady clearly headed out to sea, rather than through protected, near-shore waters. At this point, sloppy navigation may have taken over. Rob Hamill recalls his brother Kerry writing in a letter that he and Stuart only had "general road maps." To make matters more complex, Kerry was navigating by dead reckoning—the process of establishing a position at sea based on a previously determined position, and on estimations of speed and elapsed time, with the aid of a sextant. Dan Dwyer, in Darwin, recalls talking with Kerry about "backbearing"—the use of shore radio signals to determine location. Neither this nor dead reckoning are precise enough to confidently avoid hazardous locations. A variety of situations could have easily confounded navigation—cloudy skies; currents; dozing off at the wheel for five minutes.
Perhaps Foxy Lady got caught in a storm and was blown off course, as Kerry's brother suggests. Nick Burningham is skeptical. Monsoon winds in the Gulf of Thailand are past their peak in August, Burningham says, and currents are virtually non-existent. "The southwest monsoon can be blustery and squally, but real storms are unlikely other than squalls which don't last very long." Still, Burningham adds, if heading straight to Bangkok was what Stuart and Kerry had in mind, "The prudent thing would be to stay to windward of the course." (i.e. steering in the direction of Bangkok, rather than Cambodia). Burningham suspects that imprecise navigation and ignorance of the perils of entering Kampuchean waters were the reasons why Foxy Lady ended up where she did. "It does look like sloppy planning and innocent stupidity," he says.
Nick's friend Dan Dwyer agrees. "Navigation was not often a strong suit among the young and restless who took to small boats in Southeast Asia in the seventies, from my recollection," says Dwyer. "A bit of local knowledge, misinterpreted, might have added to the problem … I would not be surprised if they ended up in Kampuchea and Koh Tang through nothing more complicated than a little poor planning and a lot of bad luck."
For whatever reason, six days after departing Kuala Terengganu, on the evening of August 13, 1978, a green scimitar of land known as Koh Tang came into view from the deck of Foxy Lady. Thirty kilometers beyond, perfectly invisible to Stuart, Kerry and John, the regional capital of Kompong Som and Ream Naval Base bristled with military activity. With the aid of eight Chinese-supplied escort vessels, a dozen fast torpedo boats, and a host of other jerry-rigged fishing vessels, Democratic Kampuchea's fierce little navy was now patrolling waters two hundred miles out, staking claim to Poulo Wai and other disputed islands. Warfare with Vietnam had reached fever pitch. Radar surveillance was as thick as the humidity hanging over the northern Gulf of Thailand. Kerry, Stuart and John knew nothing of these things. As Koh Tang came into view, John described hearing the intermittent sound of engines, but seeing nothing. He may have taken a few photos, and then went below to make some soup or porridge. In just a few moments, Foxy Lady would follow Mary into the vortex of the great Cambodian genocide.
David Kattenburg is the author of Foxy Lady: Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yachtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea. Print and e-copies can be ordered at www.foxyladyachtsmen.com.