.Dear friends, I got this incredible historical record from the the Captain of the Athena and the Apollo, the first ships that LRH commanded back in the 60’s, you are going to love this story as it is the best one of them all, and I want to share it here in my blog. This is from a person that was there when it all happened.
Aida Thomas, October 2011
By Joe Van Staden who served as Captain of the Athena and the Apollo at various times.
Undoubtedly the story of how it all began has been told more than once – each time from a different perspective no doubt. In the following account of my personal involvement in the birth of the SO I hope to provide a perspective which may shed some light on later developments within and around that organization.
My first contact with Scientology was in Johannesburg (1960). There I met L Ron Hubbard for the first time when he came out to South Africa to run the first South African ACC. Toward the end of 1962 I went over to St Hill UK to do my SHSBC. In 1965 I did my class 7 course after which my wife Jill and I joined staff at St Hill. At some point LRH mysteriously disappeared from St Hill. As we found out later he had left for Las Palmas.
Most people on staff and on course at St Hill in the early and mid 60’s would agree; it was idyllic. It was a meeting place for likeminded people – people who could not find what they were looking for in life through conventional institutions and teachings. St Hill prospered. I believe that period has even been referred to as the golden age or something like that.
It was very easy to just BE and not be concerned as to how you were being. For instance, there was no ethics officer ready to pounce on my friend for doing his yoga exercises out on the lawn at St Hill. Nor was there any reason to think that that might happen. The typical molded org persona, with all its heaviness, which became so prominent in later years, just wasn’t there.
How did this seriousness come about? In the simplest of terms; when did the “spirit of play” go out of being on staff and was it necessary to stop having fun while in pursuit of greater awareness? Perhaps I can offer a feasible perspective on that.
One day several senior St Hill staff members were approached by Joan Thomas. At that point I was Qual sec and my wife Jill was either Dissem sec or HCO at the time. A bunch of us were recruited into the Sea Project and told to get our sailing skills in order. So, once a week off we went to the south coast and had our sailing lessons. It was fun and we also did learn to sail – somewhat.
Several weeks passed and came the day the group was bundled onto a bus and taken to Hull in the north on the Humber River. By this time we knew we were joining a ship but had no idea what to expect. As the bus entered this particular section of the harbor we saw her. Listing about 10 degrees, rusted and battered, there she was; the Avon River – a North Sea fishing trawler pushed to her limits by her previous owners. I looked at my fellow passengers. For a moment there was stunned silence. Then a kind of confused nervous laughter started spreading around the bus. Was it excitement, I don’t think so. I think at that instant it was more a case of; What the F….. is this?
For various reasons, at times I will refrain from using the full names of some of my old shipmates and instead just use initials.
Anyway we settled in. The temporary captain was FM; he and two others had been aboard prior to our arrival.
Without much delay the crew was put to work cleaning and getting the boat ready for sea. Keep in mind the Avon River was a fishing boat – her decks were covered in about 2 inches of solid petrified fish oil, all of which had to be scraped off. For several weeks we worked long hours but as far as I can remember, not a single crew member lacked in enthusiasm and commitment. In the evenings we worked on our seamanship check-sheets – it was a long day. And tired as we were when we hit our bunks late at night, nothing could dampen our spirits and anticipation of what lay ahead. Well, maybe at times the grey damp Hull weather got to us.
If my memory serves me right the Avon River had room for 140 tons of fish in her hold, which now was filled with all sorts of bits and pieces scavenged from other derelict boats. To this day I don’t know what LRH wanted to do with it. The stuff was later dumped in Las Palmas.
Initially we were to tow a barge filled with even more of this “junk”. Fortunately that Idea was dropped. Looking back and recalling some of the weather we had to contend with on our trip, I can’t imagine us managing to tow a barge all the way to Las Palmas.
While in Hull we did some real live docking and undocking drills. This picture should suffice to get across what most of it was like. Imagine the Key Stone cops as would be sailors, falling all over each other as the boat rammed up against the concrete dock, snapping mooring lines and breaking anchors. As they say; you had to be there.
Eventually the day of departure arrived. Originally the idea was that the trip be done without any non-scientologist help. In the end however, LRH thought better of it. He told us to hire a professional captain and a professional chief engineer for the trip, which we did By the way, the chief engineer arrived in a taxi motherless drunk minutes before our departure and had to be carried aboard.
Sailing down the East coast of England something broke in the engine room forcing us to pull into Harwich. It’s possible that this was simply a ploy by the chief engineer to go ashore – probably to buy booze. Anyway, repairs done we headed south. Up to then the weather had been kind, but shortly after leaving Harwich Neptune decided to introduce himself properly.
Most of the crew, myself included, had never seen anything like this – mountains and valleys of green sea. The propeller kept coming out of the water. Perhaps someone who was there will say that they were the exception, but as far as I know everyone including the hired captain was sea sick.
Gradually the wind eased and our trip along the south coast of England became quite pleasant. At Falmouth we had to pull in and refuel for the long stint to the Canary Islands. Something went wrong during fueling and the black bunker fuel began to spill all over the decks. Fortunately we prevented too much of the stuff spilling into the harbor. It was during this episode that the tension between the hired captain and the temporary Scientologist captain came to a head. FM packed his bags and left the boat.
By the time we got well into the Atlantic we had this wonderful gentle following swell and no wind. Most of us very soon got our sea legs and began feeling really at home on the bounding main.
The choice that can not be escaped
Perhaps this is a good point to deviate and express my admiration and respect for my fellow crew members as well as comment on a particular observation.
During all of those early years, no matter the conditions: be it taking on the most extreme weather or having to deal with some other dangerous situation, I never worried that we wouldn’t be able to see it threw. Some of the guys and gals may at times have been scared shitless, but I never saw it in the performance of their duties. Some skeptics will say we weren’t aware of the danger we were in, we were naïve – we were blinded by our faith in the “powers” of LRH or our belief in past lives gave us a false sense of immortality or, we thought with several clears aboard we were safe, or whatever. Be that as it may, I am grateful for having shared some crazy adventures with some extraordinary people.
A significant factor behind the creation of the SO was to develop effective cohesive teams committed to The Cause. Running ships provide an ideal environment for this purpose. However, traditionally crews of ships and teams involved in extraordinary ventures naturally bond and camaraderie becomes commonplace. Hence, the age old problem faced by leaders of religious, political, military and other similar type organizations throughout history: How to get the crew – the team – the followers, to first and foremost, above all else, be loyal to The Cause. No doubt this topic can turn into a lengthy discussion, but let’s cut a long story short.
Two schools of thought are particularly relevant here. There is the one that says when it really comes down to it – when all hell breaks loose – the troops are motivated to stand their ground and hold their position based on the bond they have with their comrades. In other words, in the trenches ordinary soldiers first and foremost fight for each other. Then there is the school of thought which claims that in the heat of battle the most effective outfit is one where the troops fear their own officers more than the enemy.
Where the bond between people is the telling factor the top brass is inclined to see total commitment to The Cause as being undermined by too close a connection between friends and family. Hence, throughout history instilling fear of those in command has been adopted more often than not. And as is clear to ex SO members, the latter is SOP in the SO. But this wasn’t always the case. Imagine refusing a direct order from LRH because of a bond with the crew. In the early days a captain of the Athena was ordered by the commodore to com-ev his entire crew. He refused and was gladly com-eved instead. It is undoubtedly incidents such as this which contributed to the development of the current SO modes operandi, which first and foremost demands total loyalty and commitment to The Cause.
Here is the thing; whatever the reason for choosing The Cause above friends and family the top brass will expect every SO member to have made the right choice. The point here is not that one choice is better than the other; the point is that there is no escape from having to choose. The best an SO member can hope for is to never be pushed into having to make a choice and then having to act on it. But as we know many have been forced to act on the choice between The Cause on the one hand and friends and family on the other.
Back to the original story
On arrival in Las Palmas the two hired professionals were immediately put on a plane back to the UK. Within a day or so of our arrival the boat was hauled up on the slips and local Spanish work teams began the refit. At the time L Ron Hubbard was living in a Villa outside Las Palmas accompanied by some household staff. We also opened an office in town with a couple of locals as staff.
As part of the refit the boat was sandblasted from top to bottom and stem to stern, during which time the crew remained living onboard. And it was also during this time that it became obvious that LRH was beginning to experiment with some new lower ethics conditions. For instance, Roger Buckeridge and I were the first two people ever to be put in the newly formulated condition of non-existence. There was no condition lower at that time. As part of our formula application we shoveled the mountain of sand left by the sandblasters off the ship. Still, in spite of these developments the general atmosphere was light and at times even festive.
At that time the day to day relationship between LRH and the crew was inclined to be determined more by nautical tradition and sailor behavior than by The Cause of clearing the planet. For instance; John O’Keefe, Jill and myself on a visit to the villa one evening were asked by LRH what we would like to drink. John said he would have a scotch, Jill a glass of wine and I said a brandy. The old man turned to Yvonne Gillham who was his personal steward at the time and said; get John a bottle of scotch, Jill a bottle of wine, Joe a bottle of brandy and me a bottle of rum. Yvonne dutifully complied. No, we didn’t finish our bottles, but we all did pretty well. And yes, the rum in LRH’s bottle was real.
The old man has been known to use this ploy to loosen people’s tongues and get them talking about stuff regarding the crew and boat.
It was in the early hours of the morning when the three of us got into the car to drive back to the ship. After several attempts the car just wouldn’t start, obviously it needed to be push started. Insisting that the three of us remain in the car LRH put his back to it and pushed us at least 20 meters before we got going. I can’t exactly recall what we talked about that evening but it certainly wasn’t about the evils of booze.
During the stay in Las Palmas there were many really funny and memorable episodes, some of which I am sure has already been told by people who where there. Many an evening a bunch of us would sit out under the stars sipping the best duty free cognac while discussing a wide range of topics. Speculation on what we would do once the refit was complete was rife. (Las Palmas was a duty free port, hence the duty free cognac)
A clue as to the direction the Sea Org was heading was provided one evening during a visit by LRH to the ship. He announced that it was time the Sea Org came out of non-existence – it was time to make an impact on the orgs out there beginning with St Hill. It was mission time. The first mission’s purpose was mainly to assert and affirm SO authority and presence. As it turned out the three members of this first SO mission was my wife Jill, Fred Payer and me.
. The first SO mission arrives at St Hill
Arriving from Las Palmas, before walking into St Hill, Jill, Fred and I changed into our SO uniforms and made our dramatic entrance as intended by LRH. The incident of me going into the manor monkey room and sticking the dagger into the ceiling is described by Bent Corydon in his book; Messiah or Madman.
To tell the truth, this dagger thing was a bit embarrassing for me, I didn’t share L Ron Hubbard’s leaning toward the theatrical.
During the mission Reg Sharpe was removed from post. Up to then he had been LRH’s right hand man. Reg left and with him his girlfriend, Jenny Edmonds. Where they SP’s? Of course not. It was the missions brief to get rid of anyone who in any way questioned the authority of the Sea Org – there was to be no doubt about the SO’s powers and position at the top of the ladder. And as has been confirmed since, the mission was a success.
A note on the concept of SP
At the time of the first SO mission I only suspected but later became convinced that SP declares were as much a political tool as anything else.
In the bigger scheme of things it had less relevance to an individual’s case.
Sure, there are anti-social characters running around, but let’s face it; by no stretch of the imagination did Reg Sharpe and Jenny Edmonds along with hundreds of other declared people fit the definition of SP as described in policy.
During my stint as director of review at St Hill, before the SO came into being, LRH was doing research on SP and PTS. At that time this data wasn’t seen as an ethics issue – it was a purely tech matter. With LRH wearing the hat of case supervisor and me an auditor several new procedures were tried out – such as S and D (search and discovery). I recall the blunted purpose factor being identified as a main contributing factor to SP behavior. From there procedures developed. Anyway as it turned out, attempts to handle “troublesome sources” in Scientology through tech weren’t working and ethics action was resorted to. What was originally a Qualifications Division function was replaced by ethics. In effect the review auditor was replaced by the ethics officer. Some would argue that ethics tech was a natural development born out of better understanding of human nature. I disagree.
Confirmation of my views on SP data as a political tool came one evening while in conversation with LRH over dinner aboard the Athena. I can assure you, conversations with the old man were never boring. He told me that there were basically two types of people in organizations; the pioneering type and those who consolidate. For those in charge, there was a time and place to use the pioneers and a time and place to bring in the consolidators. As throughout the ages, when new territory needed to be opened up only the pioneers are effective, but once the land has been tamed it was necessary to bring in the consolidators. It was a case of bringing order – introducing laws and policy – setting parameters for behavior – curbing further pioneering activity within the established territory. That’s what consolidators do.
Here is an interesting thought; from the perspective of a typical pioneer; a consolidator is likely to appear suppressive and from the perspective of a dedicated consolidator the “uncontrollable” pioneer can easily be perceived as suppressive. It’s simply a matter of perspective. .
Some may prefer terms like innovative creative types and administrative management types rather than pioneers and consolidators.
Consolidation of territory gained, invariably presents a problem; what to do with the pioneers once they have done their thing. Retire them? Relocate them? Put them on ice until needed again? If you have been around Scientology organizations for some time you will have become aware of the favored method – use ethics to get those who have established the existing structure out the way. This also serves as a way of dampening their pioneering spirit until needed again – this idea doesn’t work so well in practice. There have been several occasions when, according to LRH, a particular organizational structure in Scientology passed its use by date. New structures had to be put in place, which meant the old had to be dismantled – personalities and all. More about this later.
Back to the story
Anyway as the first SO mission to St Hill came to an end Jill and Fred were recalled to Las Palmas and I was sent on another mission. My orders; go to Glasgow Scotland and buy another ship for the SO. On arrival at the ship brokers I met a Mr. Scott. Since a ship; the Royal Scotsman had already been identified as a possibility by Otto Roos, my task was reasonably straight forward. So, after having checked out the ship and a price agreed on, Mr. Scott and I shook hands and the deal was done. Or so I thought. On phoning our lawyer DT at St Hill, asking him to send the check, all I got from him a couple of days later were a 10 page document to be signed by the brokers. This inevitably resulted in lawyers on both sides getting involved and doing what lawyers do. I think it was close on two weeks after Mr. Scott and I shook hands and still the lawyers had not settled the matter. It was then that I called DT and told him, send the check or else! I receive the check and handed it to Mr. Scott. The 10 page document wound up in the trash can and I took possession of the ship for the SO.
Part of the deal was that a delivery crew was to take the ship to Southampton. My immediate dilemma was to familiarize myself with the ship as much as possible during the trip south. In size and complexity she was certainly a step or two up from the Athena. I needed help, so I got in touch with St Hill and recruited Ron Pook and an Australian. Quite frankly I can’t recall the details of how exactly I got hold of these two guys. Anyway between the three of us we would keep our eyes open to pick up any relevant information about the ship.
After several days at sea we arrived at Southampton. The gangplank had hardly hit the dock and the delivery crew was gone. Bemused and bewildered the three of us looked at each other – what now? Do we know enough to take care of this big bucket of bolts until who knows when? While still contemplating what the worst was that could possibly happen, it happened. From the dockside some official looking gentleman shouted that we can’t stay were we where, we had to move to the other side of the harbor.
Now, Southampton just happens to be one of the busiest ports in the world, with huge ships coming and going all the time Was the three of us expected to take the ship across all that traffic and safely moor her on the other side? To begin with, starting up the massive Burmeister and Wain diesel engines was out of the question. In the end it all worked out. We got a tugboat and hired some hands hanging about the docks looking for work.
The Royal Scotsman had birthing for a few hundred passengers, a massive main hold for cargo and in-between decks for cattle. As with the Athena she had been pushed hard by her previous owners – a lot of cleaning was required. Bright idea – go to St Hill and recruit sea org members. Not sure how many were recruited during that period but this I do know; the day LRH arrived with some of the crew from the Athena the Scotsman was spotless.
While I was on the boat buying mission in Scotland the Athena sailed from Las Palmas to Gibraltar, where she was left under the captaincy of John O’Keefe. It was from there that LRH and crew came to join the Scotsman in Southampton.
A few days after being joined by the crew from Gibraltar we were all set to leave, but the British authorities had other ideas. The British board of trade required all sorts of certificates and documentation from us before they would permit us to sail. I think this was the reason for us hiring a non-scientologist chief engineer, a certificated boson and carpenter. As for the certificates we required for the life rafts, life boats as well as some other stuff, it was left up to Jill to handle the authorities, which she did very well. We eventually got Clearance to sail for Brest in France, just across the channel. Once there we were supposed to get the work done as stipulated by the British board of trade, which of course we had no intention of doing. At that stage LRH was captain and I chief officer.
As we headed south, passing Brest on our portside, LRH called all senior officers into his cabin. Then he made a gesture as if falling off his chair. Did you feel that, he asked. Puzzled we looked at each other – feel what? What’s the matter with you guys, he said, can’t you tell when you are in a really bad storm. Then we got the message. We were supposed to have by-passed Brest because the bad weather made it impossible for us to enter.
Relax and enjoy the sun
What followed were several idyllic weeks, the likes of which was probably never experienced in the SO again. We were truly on an Ocean cruise which became a Mediterranean cruise once we sailed pass the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and entered the Med. After that cruise I never again saw an SO crew, including LRH, nearly as laidback for such a length of time. With so few of us onboard everyone could enjoy the luxury of lots of free space I loved my job and looked forward to being on watch late at night or early morning. Few things compare to being out at sea on a starry night in fair weather.
Pleasant as things were, eventually we had to face the problem of not being able to go into a port for supplies or anything else. We were still sailing under the British flag and since we were only cleared to sail to Brest from Southampton we had a problem. (The excuse that we couldn’t enter Brest because of bad weather was in retrospect a no brainier). Solution – register the ship under a different flag and escape any restrictions placed on us by the British board of trade.
We were a couple of miles off the coast of Majorca. Using lifeboat number 8 the two guys selected for the mission of changing the ships nationality was taken in the dead of night and dropped off on some deserted beach.
After that commando style operation the Apollo sailed around aimlessly for awhile longer. Eventually we came within a mile or so off Monte Carlo and several of us went ashore in lifeboat number 8 to send telex’s and establish comm. with the outside world. Why do I keep referring to lifeboat number 8? It was the only one with an engine – a not too reliable an engine I might add. On this occasion as we approached the Monte Carlo harbor, lined with multi million dolor yachts, number 8’s engine packed up and we had to be rescued and towed in by a harbor launch. So, what’s the big deal? Here is the thing; I am convinced that our rescuers in there stylish jumpsuits, on their “perfect boat”, had never laid eyes on such a scruffy bunch of desperado’s. They must have thought for a moment that we were boat people escaping from some North African country.
Here is beautiful Monte Carlo one of the most elegant harbors in the world.
At some point after Monte Carlo we obviously got our new flag and new nationality (Sierra Leon). From there we called on several ports, sometimes staying in one place for long periods of time. The Royal Scotsman, I think, had by now become the Apollo, LRH promoted himself to commodore and I became captain of the Apollo.
I am not certain of the sequence of events and places around this time but I do recall certain places due to particular incidents. For instance, a memory of serene peace at dawn and the echo from minarets across the bay as the faithful were called to prayer places me in Tunis North Africa – as does the incident of the Apollo drifting helplessly into the channel without engines after someone had let go the last mooring line. The most memorable meal I have ever had puts me in Marseilles France where several of the Apollo crew where entertained by an official and his wife. Recalling the entire bow of the Apollo disappearing into one of the biggest straightest waves I ever saw locates me on the Atlantic side of Morocco as we left the port of Agadir. An incident of the Apollo getting ripped loose from her moorings by a gale-force wind reminds me of Cagliari Sardinia. The most physically exhausted I have ever been takes me to just before we entered Milatzo Sicily – I had been on the Athena’s bridge during a storm for two days and two nights. The sequence of events during this time of us cavorting around these exotic places may be a bit fuzzy but the experience is not. Take that other lifeboat number 8 incident for instance – it is worth expanding on.
Life boat number 8 ~ again
The Athena I believe was in Gibraltar at the time she was ordered to join the Apollo in Cagliari. On route she ran into one hell of a blow. I am not to sure how LRH got news of the Athena’s encounter with this storm, but he called me up to his office and told me to take some people and go meet the Athena several miles out. O’Keefe, the Athena’s captain, I think was to be replaced, some other changes were to be made and the Athena was to be sent back to Spain. Hanna (Whitfield) wore the HCO hat – she was to handle the ethics side of things. Anyway, my job was to get the “mission” to the Athena and back – in lifeboat number 8. There was a designated engineer for the trip and I remember Baron Berez being the communicator. Altogether we were about 8 or 9 people in the lifeboat.
It was already dark when we set out to rendezvous with the Athena. Since we picked her up on the Apollo’s radar before we left we had some idea of the course on which she was coming in. The further we went out the choppier the sea became. It was a dark night, windy and turbulent. Vision was poor. All shore lights had long since disappeared behind us and we were completely surrounded by blackness. Anyway, at some point we spotted the Athena’s navigation lights. They were probably told by radio to look out for us. She kindly presented us with a lee so that we could come along side without too much trouble.
It immediately became obvious that this ship had been through something really bad. Rust streaks were everywhere as if the waves had “sandblasted” the hull and superstructure. The two large bins meant to carry extra meat and which were fixed to the aft deck by several 12 millimeter bolts, were gone. The bolts had been completely sheered off by the force of the waves. I looked up my buddies who were part of Athena crew. I remember Graig Lipsitz, looking like he hadn’t slept for a week, so did Fred Payer. Yvonne Gilham looked tired but as usual she was smiling and quite expressive in her account of the event. There were actually several guys who didn’t seem too be hassled by their experience. I suppose what I saw to a large extent was the relief that it was over. Little Margarita, the non-scientologist Spanish staff member from Las Palmas, seemed unfazed, even exited while she told me what went down. So, while I was being entertained by Margarita, the serious ethics stuff was being implemented. I got the distinct impression that the Athena crew was not too happy about being sent back.
Our mission done, we got back into the lifeboat and hung about to see the Athena turn around and head back to Spain. It was now about 23.00 and the wind had picked up quite a bit – waves were much bigger. OK, I said to the engineer, start the engine and let’s get the hell out of here. An hour or so later we had still not managed to get the engine started. Here we were bobbing up and down, getting wet, being cold, in pitch darkness and no engine. Well it was inevitable; suddenly there was the crackle on the radio held by Berez. It was LRH. He wanted to know where we were and when we expect to get back. Berez gave the old man a brief rundown on what was happening. After some advice from LRH to the engineer he went off the air. But not for long. Soon the howling wind became blocked out by the sound of the old man’s voice over the radio as he yelled instructions.
The scene was something like this; At first, communication between LRH and us, via Berez, was about getting the engine started. When this didn’t work out it was about getting us to row the boat. Anyone who has ever tried to row a typical lifeboat in more than meter high waves will tell you, it’s a waste of time and energy. Anyway you can imagine how the volume of the old man’s voice steadily increased during these attempts to run the show from the Apollo via a radio.
Apart from us merely going through the motions of carrying out these impractical instructions another scenario was unfolding. After the initial communication and as the “heat” was turned up by the old man, Berez decided It was no longer wise to be at the receiving end of this erupting volcano. Next thing I know Berez chucks the radio to me. As it flies through the air there is this thundering voice emanating from it. I catch it and decide instantly; no way. I immediately chuck the radio to someone else, who clearly had also decided that they would rather skip this opportunity to converse with the commodore. Just as quickly the radio is passed to another who also figures they will give it a miss and chucks it to someone else. I know this went on for a few minutes until someone boldly reestablished comm. It seemed now that LRH finally realized the situation. Once the engine packed up we were left with two options. One; we make ourselves as comfortable as possible and wait till dawn, hoping the weather won’t get worse. Two; someone comes out as soon as possible and tows us back into port.
As it turned out LRH informed us that the Diana (a 65 ft SO ketch) was coming out to tow us in. We figured it would take her close on two hours to get to us; all we can do now is cuddle up to each other and try to keep warm. By this time staying dry was out of the question. Then, out of the blue, someone says; who feels like a drink, holding up a bottle of vodka. Our hero, I can assure you. We passed the bottle around, each taking a gulp. The bottle made only one round and it was empty.
A wonderful sense of camaraderie settled over us as we relaxed and began to see the humor in it all. It seemed that we stopped resisting the considerable motion of the lifeboat. I recall me sitting back thinking; I wouldn’t change this for anything.
After about two hours there was the Diana with LRH looming large, bullhorn in hand. We took the tow line and got back in port just as dawn was breaking. And for whatever reason the old man told the cook to fix us all a very special breakfast.
Mission into Time
At some point Apollo wound up in Valencia Spain. Alongside was the Athena. We were preparing for Mission into Time. For this venture I was transferred to the Athena as captain with orders to ready the boat and crew. I was given carte blanche to pick my crew from all aboard the Apollo and Athena. There were a few exceptions; Mary Sue and a few others held key org posts and couldn’t be spared to go off “treasure hunting”. I think at this time my Wife Jill was CO of the AO in Alicante Spain. .
For my work done in getting the Athena and crew ready for the Mission into Time I became the first SO member to be put in a condition of power. I guess my head would have swollen a size or two had I not known the politics behind such awards.
And this brings me to one of the most profound magical moments in my SO career; the night we sailed out of Valencia on the good ship Athena. After we had left port and the initial excitement of the crew started subsiding and all had had a good meal, most began to seek out their bunks. Eventually, around midnight, everyone apart from the crew on watch was asleep, including LRH. Inside the wheelhouse (bridge) there was only the helmsman (wish I could remember who he was) and the quartermaster (I remember her well). Up top on the flying bridge was a lookout (can’t remember who he was either). Down below in the engine room was the engineer on watch. Apart from the occasional thump of a wave against the bow and the swoosh of spray against the bridge superstructure all was quite. Once in awhile the lookout would report something.
There was a stiff breeze, but to me it felt more like the caress of some mischievous sea nymph. There were sizable waves but all they did was gently rock the Athena like a mother would her child. Wind and sea played along beautifully. As I stood outside on the bridge wing peering out into the darkness feeling the occasional salty spray on my face, I thought to myself; it doesn’t get any better than this. And so Mission into Time began.
Mission into Time definitely had its moments, much of which was not covered in the book. For instance I don’t think it is mentioned that the terrain LRH wanted us to check out was surrounded by barbed wire and out of bounds to the public. The area was also guarded by armed Italian guards. What to do? Solution; get some hot SO chick (NF) and an Italian speaking SO member (NP), arm them with a couple of cartons of cigarettes and turn them loose on the guards. It didn’t take “Laura Croft” and “James Bond” long to lure the guards into the guard hut and distract them while a couple of us jumped the fence and carried out our mission.
A week or so before completion of Mission into Time I was sent on mission to St Hill to sort out some org business. Hanna took over from me as captain. By the time I had finished this particular St Hill mission the Athena had sailed for Marseilles. There I rejoined her and was again appointed captain. Within days of resuming captaincy the proverbial shit hit the fan.
But first; The balance is disturbed
By this time most ethics conditions had been formulated and were being implemented. But, it would be awhile yet before the mindless application of these conditions would become a dominant characteristic of many SO members. Consolidation at its worst.
Scientology (the SO in particular), being the kind of organization it was, attracted to it some strange characters with all kinds of flaws and qualities.
During the pioneering phase of the SO it was these unique personalities each with their peculiar characteristics who served as midwife and nurse to the SO. But as the child grew change became necessary – more consolidation was required.
In terms of pioneer and consolidator it is never a case of either or; in any enterprise there is always a bit of both. The real issue is one of balance. Creating a winning culture depends on the correct ratio between independent innovative and creative personnel (pioneer types) and those who keep proper records and maintain the infrastructure of an organization (consolidators).
It is my opinion that SO orientation began to tilt in favor of consolidation not long after Mission into Time and the shift really accelerated after the Corfu incident. From then on forward emphasis on total commitment to The Cause grew rapidly and individual innovation and creativity wasn’t merely discouraged it became a real no-no.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it were found that a growing imbalance in the Tech Admin ratio coincided with the rise of the consolidator (administrator).
Back to the story.
While in Marseilles LRH had moved ashore into a villa. Problem was he was never cleared through immigration or customs. As it happens, where the Athena was docked it was possible to go outside the harbor parameter without going through a check point. The point is, on arrival in Marseilles, whoever’s responsibility it was to see that all was legal for LRH to go ashore didn’t do so. Now the authorities wanted to lock the old man up for illegally entering France. It took days of delicate negotiation with French authorities to get the situation handled – delicate from our side and typically indelicate and expressive from the side of the French. It was a feather in the cap of our negotiating team to keep LRH completely out of the fracas. I must add I doubt if we would have pulled it off without the help of the local French rep from the company doing work on our engines.
During this particular stay in Marseilles some interesting organizational developments took place. Up until then the flagship captain and other ship captains were answerable to the commodore. At that point the Athena was the flagship. What LRH was now working on was the refinement of the commodore’s staff org. Vital to its establishment was to impose and affirm seniority of the CS’s over the ship captains. I don’t know the details of what LRH told his CS’s up in the villa, but I had a pretty good idea. I had been in that position myself when briefed by him to assert the SO’s authority during the first SO mission to St Hill.
For instance, this is how early efforts to establish the authority of the CS’s manifested. After the completion of work done on the Athena’s engine it was time for sea trials. LRH would be represented by CS 4, now in charge of all SO ships. As CS 4 walked onto the bridge I detected that he wasn’t very comfortable, in fact he was seriously uptight. Out at sea I gave the helmsman the course to steer. And then it happened. CS 4 stepped up and said we should set a different course. For a moment I thought he was just trying to be helpful; then I realized he was dead serious and in the process of asserting his seniority. What followed lasted probably only 10 seconds. The verbal abuse I hurled at CS4 in that short time would have made any sailor proud. I can’t recall him saying another word after that.
I was never censured for this outburst by the powers that be up at the villa, but I knew it was noted. Then there was the time when 2 CS’s reported to LRH that the crew was unfriendly to them – they weren’t shown the respect due to them. That was when I got a phone call from the commodore ordering me to comev the entire crew, which I refused.
During the following weeks several attempts were made to “legally” get me out the way to make way for LRH’s intended consolidation. I was comeved a couple of times on the most transparent trumped up charges, none of which could be made to stick. (Diana Hubbard was chairperson on one of those comeves that didn’t get the desired result). Now you may ask; since when was false evidence an obstacle to finding the accused guilty? Suffice it to say that prevailing circumstances were in my favor.
Exactly when this next incident took place is unclear. But, in a face to face conversation with LRH, he pointed out that he needed to introduce the next step in organizational development – not in those words exactly, but the message was clear. In order for him to do so certain changes had to be made. For instance, captain Joe’s authority had to be curtailed. And since the methods employed up to then had failed to do so – what do I suggest? My suggestion was that I go to the AO in Alicante and join my wife, the CO, whom I hadn’t seen in months. Also since I haven’t been active in Tech for sometime it would be nice to get behind an e-meter for a change. This was ok’d by LRH.
Now I won’t blame any ex SO members or those still in, to question or simply dismiss the validity of this story. Imagine LRH casually admitting to what amounts to the manipulation of ethics policy to get his way and what’s more, admitting to having failed at it. The best I can do to corroborate my story is to refer to the records. If copies of comeves and orders of the day of that time are still around it shouldn’t be difficult to line up the sequence of events leading up to my eventual transfer to the AO in Alicante.
My stint at Alicante was mainly uneventful. The flamenco dancing to which Fred Payer introduced me was of course amazing.
He and I and some others from the org were regular patrons at the castle up the hill where the shows took place. We were fortunate enough to become very well acquainted with the dancers and musicians in the troop. The catalyst for this was a girl from the AO for whom the lead guitarist in the flamenco troop had the hots. The result was that the troop would often join us after their show, dancers and all. What I learnt first hand from these people about flamenco tradition and passion was fascinating.
Magic, coincidence, the procedure or simply the power of mind?
There was another incident at Alicante which has relevance to my views on the overall approach of Scientology to the human mind and soul. In this regard I will outline the conclusions of my journey through Scientology and a wide range of metaphysical, scientific and other teachings dealing with body, mind and soul at a later stage. So for now I am simply stating an observation with no bias as to the actual cause – magic, coincidence, the procedure or simply the power of mind.
In the course of my journey before, during and after scientology I have witnessed and experienced things which seemed, at the time, to be beyond explanation within the context of generally accepted frames of reference. This particular incident occurred during an auditing session with me as the auditor. Joan Thomas, who was the director of review at Alicante, handed me the folder of a pc in trouble. After I had gone over it and seen the pc I told Joan that this pc needed a doctor and a large doze of antibiotics. Half the pc’s face was swollen and looked like a soccer ball. One eye was completely shut and the other closed up about 70%.
The pc was in terrible agony. Joan wasn’t falling for any of my attempts to get out of taking on this pc. So EFF and I went into session. About an hour into the session during an assessment with three items left on the list I suddenly saw the TA blow down from 5 to 2. The pc gave out a loud scream, yelling out one of the remaining items. At that instant the apses in her ear burst with puss streaming out. Within seconds of the pc identifying the item the swelling began to subside and the pain was gone. By the time we arrived at the examiner EF’s face was almost back to normal. I must add, memorable as this session was, it wasn’t the only time I witnessed such dramatic phenomena as an auditor.
No doubt many auditors throughout their auditing careers have seen some strange things happen and there is certainly something to be learnt from it all. As inferred earlier, I will outline my views and conclusions on such matters later.
At some point Alicante AO was closed down and Jill and I were ordered to rejoin the Apollo in Corfu Greece. Not having had a break for some time, we applied for leave, which began at Victoria station in London. From there we traveled by train right through Europe down the boot of Italy to Brindisi. During the trip we stayed over at places like Paris and Rome to do some sightseeing. From Brindizi we crossed over to Corfu by ferry and were back on the Apollo.
Corfu; A turning point
Within days of being back on board I was assigned captain. At first we had excellent relations with the locals. We were wined and dined by the local governor as well as two brothers who represented the most prominent family on the Island. In the case of the two brothers I suspect that their interest in us had more to do with the many very attractive women aboard the Apollo than anything else.
Our stay in Corfu was a lengthy one. At first we were anchored out in the bay, during which period we had to come in once or twice to dock and take on fuel and water. While LRH and his staff were busy running orgs world wide my job was pretty straight forward, hence I was always on the look out for challenges. Like the time I took up a challenge from LRH a day before we had to go into dock. Here is the thing; as I said the Apollo initially anchored out in the bay.
We had both, port and starboard, anchors out. So what happened is that with each incoming and outgoing tide the boat swung 360 degrees around her anchors. Imagine how entangled the two anchor chains became after awhile. The view of LRH on the day before we were to go in was that it would be impossible to untangle the anchor chains from each other without the help of a tugboat. I was to get a tug early the next morning to do the necessary.
Instead I got up very early the next day, woke up the engineers and told them to start up the engines. Once we had power I started playing with the port and starboard propellers, working them to get the boat swinging counter to the twist in the anchor chains. It worked and we went in without any assistance from a tugboat.
At various times while serving as captain of the Athena and Apollo I got fired by the commodore only to be reinstated not long afterwards. I think the least time between being fired and reinstatement was one day. This happened while on Mission into Time. I had just been fired the day before, don’t ask me for what.
The next day as the Diana came alongside the Athena her mainstay got caught up in the Athena’s cargo boom. There was enough of a swell to put serious strain on the Diana’s mast – it could break. This was certainly the view of LRH as he screamed at the people standing round to do something. I flipped off my shoes and virtually ran up the boom. At the top I struggled a bit to undo the mainstay from the boom and eventually succeeded. As I slid down the boom and reached the bottom LRH said, well done captain – instant reinstatement.
The time I got fired in Corfu went something like this. One of the commodore’s messengers came up to me and informed me that the commodore wanted to see me. At that point I had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong, but as I approached his office and noticed some of his aides including Mary Sue avoiding eye contact with me and making haste to vacate the area I knew – here it comes.
Before I even entered his office there he was in my face screaming at me for making a dog’s breakfast of the ship. Then he took a swing at me, I ducked and felt the swoosh of air over my head as he missed the target. For a second there I thought he was going to go down as he lost his balance. Next he screamed at me telling me to go fix up my mess. I only found out what he was talking about once I got out on deck and one of the messengers informed me.
Here is the thing; the Apollo spent most of her life up north in very damp conditions. Since she entered the Mediterranean Sea, the timber deck above the commodore’s office began to dry out. As a consequence it resulted in some leaking into LRH’s office leaving visible rust streaks down the bulkheads. The short of it is I was fired as captain, once again, and put on the deck force to fix up “my mess”.
It was during our stay in Corfu that the class 8 auditor’s course was launched. The first batch of students to attend the course came from outer orgs. There introduction to the SO environment was a baptism of fire as evidenced on the introductory class 8 tapes. During the course over-boards became SOP. And I must admit I had a pretty callous attitude regarding this practice until a particular incident influenced my views. In other words, I saw nothing wrong in people being chucked off the aft deck until a friend of mine who couldn’t swim was over-boarded. The terror and humiliation this guy had to endure was a sad day for me.
Once the first batch of class 8 graduates went back to their respective orgs, a bunch of SO auditors were put on the course of which I was one. Now I have no doubt that for some being thrown overboard was not a pleasant experience. However, there were quite a few to whom it really was no big deal. To good swimmers and people used to diving off high places, it was no problem. But as I said, I came to realize that to people who couldn’t swim it must have been a most harrowing experience.
Not too long after the class 8 course for crew Jill was assigned CO of the new “University of Scientology” which was to be established on the island. .
It is a matter of record that we picked up some problems in Corfu. To whatever extent the CIA or Interpol was blamed for the ships being kicked out of Corfu there were some shenanigans by certain crew members going on ashore which probably contributed to our PR taking a dip.
It is also general knowledge that we were given 24 hours to get out of Greece. LRH called Jill to his office and asked her what she was going to do with “her org”, which was already fully staffed and ready to open for business. I suggested that we set up in Copenhagen. Why? I had been there at some point earlier on another ship buying mission during which time I checked out the place and liked it. So we loaded the org materials aboard the Athena and sailed out of Corfu. Our next port was Naples in Italy where the future AODK crew and materials were offloaded to find their way across Europe to Denmark. As for the Apollo, we where informed that she was about to disappear off the radar and will be out of comm. for some time. It was a case of don’t call us we will call you.
The trip by train to Copenhagen was another Keystone cops episode. Imagine changing trains several times with around 30 staff members along with huge trunks filled with AO materials. A couple of places we only had a few minutes to change from one train to another. When we got to Germany, we discovered some trunks filled with OT materials and course tapes including the class 8 tapes were missing – we had left it on the train in Milan. Don’t ask. If you have been around in the SO for awhile words aren’t necessary here.
Mike Stainsforth and one other were immediately sent back to find the stuff. Imagine our relief when they caught up with us having successfully retrieved the material. The coach with our stuff still aboard was found amongst hundreds of others awaiting cleaning and possible maintenance.
Having found the perfect building for an AO on a farm outside Copenhagen we set up shop. Soon however we realized we had a problem.
Simple fact was we had no established lower level feeder orgs – we had no established field. Yet it was up to us to make things go right. With very limited set-up funds, a crew to feed, rent to pay and no established field from which to cultivate an AO public, things looked kinda grim. Keep in mind there was only one org in Europe at that time. Paris was it with not much else going on. We were supposed to get our public from SA, AUS and NZ, but that would take time.
In spite of this grim picture what follows next turned out to be another memorable period in my SO career. Knowing that the org was in the hands of some very competent people I could get out there and do my thing. Jill was without a doubt one of the best org CO’s I have ever known and I bet few equaled her since. Ask anyone who knew her.
First I spent some time putting a team together. I personally hand picked and recruited the people I wanted to work with. The team consisted of about 8 really special people.
Using a list of book buyers, a couple of us regularly set out making contact and setting up groups all over Europe. And we made it fun. On occasion we would “raid” St Hill UK for European, South African and Anzac pc’s and students – people who had signed up for services there before AODK was set up. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well with the St Hill guys. Eventually every time they saw us coming all they could say was; here come the Vikings.
Of course the Guardians office freaked at our blatant Viking behavior and later tried to clip my wings via Mary Sue. They never succeeded. .
Anyway, true to form, at some point a mission arrived from Flag to replace Jill and me at AODK. It was obvious to me that after such a long absence Flag had to reaffirm an ethics presence across the planet. In the case of AODK the mission immediately realized that they couldn’t simply fire us in typical SO fashion due to our involvement in the expansion of Europe. Jill and I suggested that we write our own mission orders so as to complete what we started. This was ok’d. That’s when the two of us left for Germany and set up the Munich org from were we continued expansion to other parts of Europe. Now I know much later after Jill and I had gone back to South Africa Bill Robertson came along setting himself up as the “founder” of Scientology in Europe. Gerrrrrrrrrr.
Time to move on
I returned to the Apollo in the early 70’s without Jill, not sure exactly when. My last job on Flag was an LRH project to compile all the internships up to class 12 auditor, which I completed. At the time it wasn’t general knowledge that LRH intended to get back into the USA at some stage. When I got wind of it I began pushing to be allowed to return to SA to my family; my wife and son who was born in Munich. It wasn’t entirely true that the reason I wanted to get back to SA was to be with my family. My enthusiasm for the SO was beginning to wane. I felt increasingly uncomfortable in what I perceived to be a changing atmosphere – the organizational climate was becoming a bit too chilly for me. This on its own would probably not have been reason enough for me to distance myself from Scientology. The thing is I was beginning to have my own ideas about thetans, spirits and the overall nature of consciousness. .
In the end I managed to get back to SA before the Apollo went across to the States.
Back in SA I joined Folo-Af, but from day one I had problems with my seniors, or rather, they had problems with me. To cut a long story short; during my stay at Folo-Af I was expelled a couple of times by Flag and reinstated a couple of times. Some effort was made by Flag to get me back to Flag. On one occasion Delwyn Sanderson, with whom I had a very close relationship way back on the Apollo, was sent to find out what was up with me and try and bring me back.
Eventually I left Folo-Af and started doing my own thing. If I had to put a time on when I finally broke with Scientology I guess it would be around 1980. Since then I have continued on a journey of exploring the nature of consciousness.
Just recently I finished a book – CHANGE YOUR MIND – CHANGE YOUR WORLD, which I am now in the process of trying to get published. But that is another story.
What a waste!
I have gone down the list of declared SP’s, the vast majority of whom I don’t know. But of the names I do recognize most of them were at one stage dedicated, experienced, well trained Scientologists. They all added value to the organization and most of them would probably still have been active had it not been for the seriously flawed benchmarks (policy) in accordance with which the value of a staff member is measured.
In simple terms, these people were measured not by what they gave to the organization but by the extent of their submission to “source”. The individual contribution by many was considerable; in some cases vital to the survival of the organization. Some such stories have been told but many more remain unacknowledged.
The matter of self-praise and ego aside, I did my bit to “keep the SO afloat” so to speak.
While in Cagliari the Apollo was moored stern to with several other ships moored similarly on either side. In other words, there was this row of ships, side by side, with their sterns all facing the dock while their bows were held facing away from the dock by their anchors laid out in front of them. Each ship was secured to the dock by at least 4 stern lines. The distance between stern and dock was around 6 to 8 meters and the distance between ships approximately 40 meters.
On this particular day the wind was howling and exerting extreme pressure broadside on the large surface area of the Apollo’s side. This put serious strain on the two port stern lines holding us to the dock. I noticed this and had the crew put out our “insurance line” to support the other two port side lines. This was a wire cable twice the thickness of the other lines.
Anyway Norman Starkey, who I think was the 2nd mate at the time, and I were in the aft lounge having coffee when it happened. We heard a loud crack like sound. I immediately knew what had happened; a line had snapped. We ran up onto the aft deck and watched as the second line began to unravel under the strain. Within seconds it too snapped followed by the next. The Apollo was visibly beginning to pick up sideways momentum.
Obvious unfolding scenario: The remaining starboard stern lines would not be able to stop the increasing sideways momentum of the Apollo. Within less than a minute all remaining lines where going to break. This would mean that within about two minutes or so we where going to be smashed up against the boat lying next to us. The possibility of her stern lines holding against the impact of the Apollo crashing into her was unlikely. We where looking at a high probability of a domino effect – each ship in turn being ripped from its stern moorings by the others being blown onto it. But what about the bow anchors out front – wouldn’t they eventually prevent all these ships from being blown across the bay onto the rocks on the other side? Fortunately this possibility was never to be put to the test.
Anyway, there we were; disaster staring us in the face but, as it turned out, it wasn’t inevitable. Unlike most ships the Apollo had a stern anchor. Since we had no use for it we consequently never used it and that presented a problem once I realized that our only hope of averting disaster was to let go the stern anchor. The thing is that unless deck equipment like winches, anchors and stuff like that are regularly used or inspected the mechanisms become corroded and unusable. So, to my horror I discovered that the devils claw holding the chain and the anchor brake were jammed solid. To this day I don’t know where I got a crowbar from, but I used it to apply leverage to the brake wheel and bashed away with it to dislodge the devils claw. Keep in mind every second was priceless.
Eventually the devils claw came loose and I got the brake wheel to turn. But still the chain wouldn’t run. It required several hefty kicks to loosen up the chain and down the anchor went with a splash. This was not the end of it, there was no guarantee that the anchor would hold.
To increase the chances of the anchor holding I had to allow some chain to run out. But how much chain will do the trick? All stern lines had broken by now and the ship toward which we where moving looked like it was within spitting distance. I recall seeing, out of the corner of my eye, her crew scrambling around the decks panic stricken. I picked my moment and applied the anchor brake. The Apollo kept moving as she took up the slack in the chain – now we were within actual spitting distance of the other ship. Suddenly the Apollo lurched and rolled over slightly as the anchor bit into the ground. I couldn’t believe it – the anchor held. Imagine the dire consequences to the SO had things not worked out the way they did.
In the final analysis, what I am trying to say is that the organizational mindset of Scientology is inclined to waste its most valuable resource; highly trained, experienced and creative people. Looking at most of the people I know on the list of Scientology enemies I see “what could have been” had different benchmarks been used to measure the value of people.
Was it worth it?
Do I think my time spent in Scientology was worth it? Without a doubt. Where else would I have come in contact with so many likeminded amazing people, many of whom became close friends of mine. Not to mention the interesting adventures and exotic places I experienced. As for the philosophy and technology of Scientology, for me it definitely served as a doorway to the exploration of consciousness.
I believe the real value of Scientology lies in its capability to get a shift in mindset – to get people to change their minds – to enable the individual to see things differently – to get people stepping outside conventional frames of reference. And that is one hell of an achievement in this modern era.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
What I do not go along with is when the technology prescribes what the individual should see, as reflected in the OT levels and OT 3 in particular. In other words, the OT levels dictate the case the pc is to create. And this messes with the core of consciousness, which is creation. If a pc came up with OT 3 phenomena on his own accord that would be an entirely different matter, but to prescribe it is bypassing his fundamental creative nature.
Whether the story behind OT 3 is true or not is immaterial. Some pc’s may be inclined to run incidents of Alice in Wonderland instead, but if that’s the reality which holds the pc’s attention then that’s where to go. Anyway, that is my personal opinion.
L Ron Hubbard has come under some severe criticism over the years, some of which I know from personal experience is unfounded.
This I know for sure, he had an amazing knack for getting people to achieve beyond what they believed was possible. His expectation that people can jump higher than they thought they could somehow inspired them to do so. And no, fear was not the catalyst in the instances I have in mind.
As far as his work in terms of the mind is concerned there can be no doubt that new ground was broken. It is highly probable that once the controversy surrounding Scientology organizations die down he will be acknowledged for his contribution.
But there are “truths” beyond the “truths” of Scientology.