Title: Caterpillar Seas
Author: Robert Fridjhon
Publisher: Zebra Press
A young South African adventurer, hitch hiking his way across the United States in the early 1970s, hooks up with a colourful character, whom he misguidedly takes to be a friend.
With his moral compass wavering a little, Robert Fridjhon becomes involved in some rather nefarious schemes with the Romanian immigrant Mihai in Hollywood … starting out with an ambitious insurance fraud scheme and rapidly descending towards the unsavoury world of narcotics. While Fridjhon is never himself involved in drugs transactions, he soon lands up in the wrong place at the wrong time … and in the wrong company.
Realising that he’s fast losing control of his life, he makes plans to get out of Dodge, and lose his new set of friends for good.
Hatching a hare-brained scheme to steal a boat and sail her around the world (leaving the unwitting owner to make an insurance claim), Fridjhon makes his preparations and, contracted to sail a boat from Hawaii to California, instead heads in the other direction and sails across the Pacific for Australia. Long story short, he makes it all the way to Fiji before he is reported, the boat seized and he ends up whiling away some tough months in a pretty basic Fijian jail.
Eventually released after a few months, with the intervention of his father and a kindly official, Fridjhon miraculously escapes prosecution in the US and is allowed to come home to SA.
The first part of the book covering Fridjhon’s adventures in the US and Hawaii were, for me, rather poorly put together, as there was very little reflection on the rather astounding criminal actions the author became involved in. He doesn’t admit much responsibility or reflect much on the moral implications of some of the decisions made. The author comes across as one of those characters that trouble sticks to – who doesn’t seem capable of standing up and making a tough decision that’s right for him when the situation demands. Oh well, the folly of youth and all that.
Once the beautiful Recluse is at sea heading for Australia, however, the story seems to come alive, and Fridjhon excels in his accounts of the many trials he faces out on the open sea, including epic spells fighting off storms, fatigue, injury and hunger, and having to hide away from approaching hurricanes. He survives injury, scurvy, navigational blunders, being stranded on a coral reef, a brief love affair and many other stern tests, only to be captured in a Fijian port.
An entertaining, indeed astonishing adventure story, Robert Fridjhon’s Caterpillar Seas left me wanting more … and keenly eyeing the horizon for a beautiful little boat floating off Durban’s shore. Skippers beware!