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Voyage of Liki Tiki Too

By Bob Webb

Panama to Hawaii by dugout canoe

Bob on bow of Liki Tiki Too with his cat SaltyJune 1968 - In the Darien Jungle of Panama, on a deserted white sand beach, my two Indian guides and I were dashing to the ocean. Offshore, Indians in a dugout canoe, powered by an outboard motor, were rushing toward shore. The surf pounding hard, we all had one thought, can we save it? My dugout flipped upside down it the breakers that were pounding it and the outboard into the hard sand. Visions of having to spend weeks or months here in the jungle flashed through my mind. My only means of getting back to civilization looked hopeless. The motor could never run again with all that sand and salt water ground into it, or so I thought. The Indians quickly righted the dugout, pushed it out beyond the breakers and bailed it out. We all gathered the tools and equipment that littered the beach. Soon our rescuers towed us along the coast to the nearest Indian House.

I motored the 170 miles from Panama City in this 20 foot dugout canoe to inspect a much larger dugout canoe that these people were building for me, one that would cross the Pacific Ocean. After arriving in the Darien, I hired Pedro and Daniel, who were highly recommended as expert boatman in these waters. They also knew the location of my new boat. After going ashore through the surf, Pedro anchored the dugout in deeper water. I found out later he did not know how to swim, so he anchored far enough out so he could wade ashore. It then drifted into the breakers.

Along the desolate rocky coasts, cliffs climb out of the ocean into the mountains. Our tow, staying near shore, went between towering rocks that were piercing the water on one side and breakers slamming into the rocks on the other. Soon we came to an isolated cove with a small sand beach. Here the Indians dragged my canoe up the beach above the high tide level. Then they took the outboard motor back in the jungle a short ways. They do not talk much and not knowing what their plans were, I followed.

We passed the only house I could see. It only provided shelter from the rain with coconut leaf thatched roof, no sides. The floor was dirt with a section raised, with boards laid to provide a place to sleep. Then we came to another long low thatched shelter. Under it was the largest dugout canoe I have ever seen. They mounted the motor inside the hull and told me, I could work on it here.

 While taking the motor apart, I could not help admire the workmanship that went into its construction. The tree must have been mammoth, over 5 feet diameter. The hull, 36 feet long and decked over except the cargo hatch that is now my work station. The small cabin aft looked cramped but built to keep supplies dry. The deck holes for the mast and mast steps, still in place, revealed this canoe had a schooner rig. I became less interested in what I was doing and more interested in the boat. There were about nine people watching me. This was a show for them, so had to keep at it.

The point and coil assembly came off as a unit. I put the assembly into a cooking pot with a cover. Put the pot over a wood fire until the assembly inside became hot to the touch. This evaporated the water in the unit. Cleaned the sand and water out of the parts I could get to, put it back together and it started on the second pull of the starter cord. By this time the sun went down.

Fried eggs, rice and strong black coffee for dinner ended the day. I watched the embers of the cooking fire die out, then looking out to sea from the thatched house; I watched the waves roll gently in. I sense a call to me saying; "your dream of adventure is waiting, explore, discover, you have been chosen, don't let us down." The call is like a lover, so romantic, teasing, knowing there is trouble ahead, but who cares. The excitement of adventure is more appealing, like today, when she rolled my boat over and another lesson learned of the laws of the sea.

Respect must continue, wanting to challenge it's mighty winds and waves some more, the lessons must go on. While crossing the Pacific Ocean, snuggled in a small boat, which is at the whim of mighty roaring seas or ghostly calms, the glamour of adventure will vanish. In the past, the sea betrayed many men who slipped beneath the surface and never heard from again. Like many of those in the past, I must go to sea, hoping the call is honest and that I learned the lessons' well.

While laying on hard boards, which was my bed for the night, I ask myself, " Is the canoe behind the house the one I will sail across the Pacific?" I liked this one, but another is under construction. Tomorrow I should see it.

I woke in the morning with a sore back. Black coffee only, was served for breakfast. My guides decided to walk to the construction sight of the canoe. When starting, all the kids in the area followed us trudging through the jungle. Soon we started climbing a mountain, my lack of physical condition soon showed and I fell behind. The kids were falling behind then running ahead, not knowing about the steep mountain and the guides kept their pace. I was expecting to go over this mountain into the valley on the other side.

Liki Tiki Too being carved from tree When we neared the top, there lay the enormous tree, the canoe carved in the middle, branches still attached. Cutting the ends from the trunk would finish the carving. Easing the three tons of hull down the mountain looked impossible but they must have that problem solved too. The workmanship was the best I have ever seen. The lines were even with graceful curves. Taking its measurements, I found it to be smaller than the one I saw yesterday.

On the way down I thought, would they let me have the old canoe instead of the new one? I had already paid them for it with an outboard motor, the one used to rescue my canoe out of the breakers. Back at the house, the Indians agreed to let me have the older one. Back in Panama City, I arranged for a banana boat to tow the canoe to the Canal Zone.

With the arrival of the now named "Liki Tiki Too" in the Canal Zone, my dream of sailing the Pacific in a dugout canoe, became a reality. More work went into the boat to make it ready for the wild and vast ocean. Small decked over dugout canoes, one on each side, became outriggers. Also rudder, mast and sails were made. Over the cargo hatch, a second small cabin added for protected living space. The original aft cabin became storage of food and water.

Work slowed when criticism began to cut deep. My pride of the boat and dream of adventure; deflated by people who really meant no harm. To them, the whole idea was crazy and would mean my death. All those who saw the boat or heard about it, acted like experts. The outriggers, that are to keep the canoe stable and upright, will snap, letting it roll over and sink. Second, only someone off their rocker would want to try a stunt like this. This was the hardest to take. I often thought, am I really off, to do what no one else has done before. While people were telling me, "you will never make it," that voice from the sea was calling even louder to a life of adventure. The pull is so great, I must go.

Liki Tiki Too under full sail in Panama A boat like this should have a crew. I know there are other people with dreams like mine, but could not find anyone. Just before I left, a friend gave me a silver gray kitten that I named Salty. She jumped overboard the first time on board the Liki Tiki Too. Even the cat seemed to protest.

At 0900 on February 27, 1970, many friends came to wish me bon voyage and I was on my way to Hawaii. I motored along the Panama Canal, Passing a ship coming in, a pilot waved, wishing me good luck. Passing the Balboa Yacht Club, an yachtsman from his boat was waving with both hands and I waved back. Passing the last point of land, friends blew their car horns and waved. Leaving land behind, I was all alone except for my cat, Salty.

The wind from the north picked up. Wanting to go south, I set the square sail and adjusted the trim tab for self steering. The excitement of the voyage quickly died. The wind blowing hard and the seas were like riding a roller coaster. There I wash leaning over the sides seasick, wishing I were dead, asking myself, "Why would anyone want to cross the Pacific in a canoe?" The trim tab would not hold the boat on course. Every hour, I had to bring the boat back around so the sails would fill again. This meant staying near the tiller 24 hours a day. For three days and nights I slept in the aft hatch with only four feet of space to lay in. Sometimes wishing the boat would go under and end it all. Then the wind died.

For the next five days, conditions were the opposite. No wind, flat glassy sea, glade to be alive and at sea. Supplies were organized and adjustments to the self-steering were made. After two days of calm, the craft looked more like a log than a boat. The sun's hot rays beat on the decks, heating the interior like an oven. I washed the hot decks down so they would not burn my feet. The hot steamy air was almost more than I could take. The water looked so cool but there are sharks in theses waters. I wanted to cool off and felt I had as much right to swim in the sea as the fish did. Diving off the bow and just before hitting the waters I saw a dark object under me which may have been my shadow. Coming out almost faster than I went in, I left the swimming to the fish.

One evening I was sitting on deck, watching the red sun sink into the calm ocean. A light breeze began to blow from the south southwest. I quickly raised the sails. In a couple of hours, there was a good sailing wind. LIKI TIKI TOO headed west, steering herself. Being well south of Panama and the shipping lanes, I could now sail for Hawaii.

All night the wind blew and the seas picked up. The waves banging on the hull like a base drum and I inside. Then I worried about the boat coming apart. Went topside to take down the sails, but the seas were not bad, so left them up. It was noise inside and had to learn to live with it. In the morning it was calm again with a black cloud to the south. Leaving the sails up, I went below for breakfast. All was at peace until a 20 knot wind hit the sails like a cannon shot. My coffee and breakfast sliding across the deck below and I leaping out of the hatch, yanked the sails down. As soon as the sails were down, the wind stopped blowing and it started to rain. Not being able to do anything more topside, I went below to finish breakfast. An hour later, the squall blew over and left a nice sailing wind.

Bob on bow with 10-foot seas For the first two weeks. I could not get the navigation problems to agree. Sometimes I was in the middle of South America and some times in the Atlantic Ocean. Each problem but the boat in a different part of the ocean. At first, I was not using all the sight corrections. Taking sights on the sun, I was not allowing enough time between shots to get a good fix. Today I tried it different. Took three sights at 9 AM. All three problems came within five miles of each other. That was my longitude, 84o 15' West. At noon, I took three more sights, same success. That was my latitude, 40o 10' North. For the first time in the trip, I knew where I was.

The next morning, just before sunrise, I saw lights on the horizon. When the sun came up, I saw it was a trawler. They went south and disappeared. I was wishing I had a note ready to give them to let the folks back home know I was all right. Just before dark, I saw the trawler again. I quickly wrote a note, put it in a plastic bag alone with some nuts ant bolts so as to give it weight to throw on board the ship. Getting out a parachute flare, I turned cold, afraid to call them over. They may not like being called or we might have an accident that would end the trip. After a little bit, I felt it was more important that a message get through than my fear, so up went the flare. They came right over and I asked if they would send a radio message, which they answered "yes". I throw the plastic bag, it went over the ship into the water on the other side. Being very difficult to recover anything that goes into the sea, I told them the message. They asked if I needed food or water to which I said "no".

After dark, the wind died to a light breeze with rain. The boat was staying on course and heading west, so went to bed. During the night I woke up and could hear that the boat picked up speed. Turned on the light to check the cabin compass, we were going back east. The wind had shifted to the north taking the boat around too. Crawled out of a warm bunk, the rain still falling, I put on the wet suit. Bringing the boat back around, set the course to west and reset the sails. Sat at the helm for a while to see if the wind would change. It held, so back to the cabin, put the wet suit up and back in the warm bunk. No sooner had I pulled the blanket up, the sails were flopping. The wind died. A little later, we were moving again. Checking the cabin compass, we were headed east, the wind moved back around to the south. Same procedure, out of the warm bunk, on with the cold wet suit, came about to a west direction and reset the sails. The south wind held the rest of the night, and I slept good.

For five days, before entering the trade winds, there was one black squall after another. It seemed that all I was doing was taking down the sails and pulling them up again and not going any place, the wind always blowing from a different direction. With a over cast sky, I could not navigate, so did not know where I was. Then the trip almost ended.

To the south was another black cloud, the sight of, I have always disliked. I was sailing west in a light wind, then to the rear, a water spout came out of the sky. Not seeing a water spout before or knowing what it would do if it hit a boat; I put everything below and closed the hatches. The winds being light and sailing away from it, I left the sails up. The spout was rapidly coming towards me, sounding like a fright train, and I did not like it. Water being whipped into the air like an eggbeater. My only chance of dodging this spout was with the outboard motor. For the first time it would not start. I yanked on the starter cord until I thought the motor would come apart. Then I looked up, another water spout was coming down on me. The sails still up, the wind began to circle around the boat. I dropped the sails and lashed them to the deck before I really knew what was going on. I looked up again; the circling black cloud was going back up and blew out. Tried the outboard again, it started, so motored until I felt it was safe.

Bob taking a bath on outrigger For the first part of the voyage, Salty and I did not get along to good. When squalls would be coming up, I would hurry about the deck, taking down the main sail and prepare for the storm. This is the time Salty would want to play. She would grab my legs with her claws and bite. I still have scars from her claws. She was wet most of the time and would sleep in my bunk. Not having anyone to talk to for several weeks, she became company and I didn't mind her rough playing or her habit of always getting in my way.

One evening, I was sitting below, looking up through the hatch; watching the moonlight shining on the main sail. The white sail looked majestic as it reached into the black sky. The stars were bright with an occasional silver lined cloud sailing by overhead. The night was peaceful until Salty put her head into the hatch and dropped something into my lap. It wiggled, I coming out of a half dream land, leaped, trying to move the cabin top with my head, which would not move. It set me back into the chair. Then I sat on it, it was still wiggling. Up I went again, the cabin top was still there. Salty had caught her first flying fish. She was so excited, she kept going in and out of the cabin purring loudly. I held her still for a while, hoping she would calm down and eat it. That did not work, so I cut it into small pieces, put the fish in her dish and went to bed.

I slept on an air mattress on the floor. In the morning, when I woke, there were squid and small flying fish all around and in my bunk. Salty caught many during the night, she ate all she could and was playing with the rest. This happened often during the voyage. At night, they would hit the sail and fall on deck. Flying fish were a common sight.

Note: The deck was only one foot above the waterline. This makes it easy for jumping sea life to land on deck. I have sailed in boats where the deck was only two feet above the waterline. With this small difference in height, the quantity of sea life, landing on deck, is drastically reduced.

When I lay in my bunk, I sometimes think of the two inches of wood between me and the deep Pacific Ocean. I put my ear next to the hull and listen to the sound of the water rushing by. A shot of fear goes through me. These two inches of wood is all that is keeping me from the bottom of the ocean, three miles down. It may point it's bow down and go under, leaving me on the surface or I may follow. Then I think, I will not let the sea steal this boat from me. It may not be much; its survival means my survival.

Bob at stern of Liki Tiki Too The northwest trades kept Liki Tiki Too in the doldrums for two weeks. When reaching the north east trades, the winds were steady and sailing was pleasant. No rain or black squalls, only light fluffy clouds drifting by. I spent most of theses pleasant days sitting aft by the tiller. It was a day like this I was playing with Salty, when suddenly; the sail fell from the top of the mast into the water. For a moment, I was stunned, what happened? Pulling the sail back aboard, I found the halyard broken. There was no way to raise the sail until a new rope was replaced. That meant having to climb to the top of the mast, which was whipping around, nigh above the deck.

To make the job as easy as possible, I made up a new line with new blocks on deck. All I would have to do was to undo the shackle, drop the old block and install the new one. After all was ready, I looked up at the whipping mast, I didn't want to make the trip, but it had to be done. The climb up the main part of the mast to the end of the stays took most of my energy. I had three more feet to go and I felt myself slipping. Pass the stays, there was nothing to hold to but the small part of the mast itself. My hands were wet with sweat; it was all I could do to keep from being whipped off. In shear fear I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I found myself rapped around the top the mast. To this day I do not know how I got there. Now I was wondering if this small piece of wood would snap off with the added weight and through me to the deck. It took several trays to find a way to stay rapped around the mast and use two hands required to change the block. Back on decks with the job done, I passed out. When I woke, sails were raised.

I spend most of my time reading, navigating, cooking and pumping the bilge." What I enjoyed doing the most was riding the outrigger. The roll of the boat would cause it to ride high, then take a dive through a wave. The cool water was refreshing as the wave rolled over me. Salty, always wanting to be where I am, was walking cautiously out to the outrigger. Then it was making another dive. Salty seeing the water coming made a dash back on deck. There she sat looking at me from the cabin top. So she could get in on the action, I gave her a bath, which she did not like.

For the first few weeks, the boat would cover only 20 to 50 miles a day. Now the trade winds were picking up, also I was adjusting the self steering, trying to get more efficiency out of the sails. The next day, when finding our position, the boat covered 100 miles, a record. The next few days, the boat covered 110, 120 miles a day. This was the beginning and last of the 110 mile day. The winds blew harder which forced me to reduce sail. The waves were building up which further slowed the craft.

At 1,500 miles from Hawaii, speed was down to 90 miles a day. One day the wind was blowing hard and I was trying to force the boat into another 120 mile day. The boat being under full sail, the waves were beating hard on the bow. To listen to it, one would think the hull would split open. To escape the pounding, I sat in the aft hatch where it was quite and the ride smother. While reading, I heard a sharp crack on deck. Coming out of the hatch, I found the main mast pulled over backwards. The boat had jibed, whipping the sail from the port side over to the starboard side. The boom hitting the backstay snapped the mast at the base.

I thought the main mast was wiped out. After taking in the sail, I found the main mast would rise and stay put on its broken base. A fore stay added kept it in place. I raised the sail again, the rigging held, but the wind was too strong, so took it down. It proved that it could be used in light winds. For the rest of the trip, the winds were 15 to 20 knots, sometimes blowing to 30 knots. The boat covered 80 miles a day using only the two fore sails. I should have reduced sail sooner. Under reduced sail, there was less banging, which made sailing more pleasant.

The wind built up the waves to the height of a house. The boat was fighting, what I called, "a sea of white capped mountains". When the boat was caught in a breaking wave, it would submerge for a moment, the white water going over the cabin and meeting with the wave again on the other side, only the mast were above water. Liki Tiki Too was not built for submarine duty. Inside the cabin was like a sieve, suddenly pushed under water. Water shooting through holes sprays the inside of the cabin, getting everything wet. This seems to happen more at night when I am asleep. One night an unusually large wave came. It rolled the boat on its side, the bilge water rushed onto the bulkhead. I fell off the air mattress into the bilge water, then the breaker hit, spraying the inside. That ended my sleeping for that night. 'The next day I stretched a hammock inside the cabin which kept me dryer than in the past.

Three days before Hawaii, I was eating breakfast and telling Salty that friends back home said you will never make it. You are going to fool them; you are going to make it. She went out that morning as usual, searching for flying fish on deck. She never returned and I never saw her again. This was the saddest day of the trip. I had called "Salty" all that day, hoping she would answer. I searched the boat again and again, but no Salty. She was only a cat, but the only companion I had for the last 65 days. The boat seemed to become empty, nothing around that would try to play or jump into my bunk before I could get in. I had the empty boat to myself and did not like it. To fill the vacuum, I turned the radio on and was able to pick up local stations playing Hawaiian music.

I was less than hundred miles from the islands and sailing parallel to them. Anxious to see land again, I changed tacks just before dark. If my navigation and speed were right, I should be 20 miles off Maui, Hawaii in the morning. Then I could sail to Honolulu with the islands in sight. All night, the waves bang the boat unusually hard. I got up several times, trying to adjust the sails or rudder so it would stop the banging. Nothing would work. Had to let the boat bang and slept till morning.

Liki Tiki Too anchored in Kahului, Maui My first job on topside each morning is to pump the water out of the bilge While pumping this morning, my eyes almost popped out. I could not believe what I saw. The starboard outrigger was missing. Then I looked to see if was floating near by. It was not around, but land was less than five miles away. If I slept another hour, the boat would have been on the beach. I took down the sails and ate breakfast to think about the new situation and decide what to do.

Kahului, Maui was only 30 miles away. Honolulu was yet two days sailing away. The boat no longer stable and was afraid to raise sail again, I motored. While motoring along the coast, I kept saying over and over again out loud, I'm in Hawaii, I made it. I'm in Hawaii, I made it. Being so happy, tears would come to my eyes or I would choke up. Then I would think of Salty, She almost made it but didn't. I can thank God I did.

May 4, 1970 in Kahului Harbor, Maui, Hawaii the bow of LIKI LIKI TOO was tied to a Coconut tree, the stern being held with an anchor. After 5,000 miles and 68 days at sea, I was once more on solid ground.

Someone sitting on the beach, asked me, "Did you just come from Honolulu by yourself?"

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