In the 1950s, a man from Perth named Ben Carlin decided he wanted to circumnavigate the globe in an amphibious jeep, an optimistic-sounding land-and-water vehicle developed by the U.S. military and which Carlin first encountered while he was serving in the Indian Army. After he got his hands on one, christening it Half-Safe, Carlin set to work weatherizing the vehicle for a round-the-world journey with his wife Elinore, despite the fact that the jeep was embarrassingly slow on land and almost as slow on water. Well, that was part of the fun.
He made a sealed 5’ x 10’ cabin with room enough for a passenger seat (with the toilet conveniently — or maybe not — beneath the seat) and a cot. He coated the jeep with neoprene. After a few false starts, Carlin and Elinore set off from Halifax, making the unlikely journey to Morocco (with a pitstop in the Azores) in about twice the time they’d hoped it would take.
Selections from Elinore’s diary from the transatlantic portion of the trip, during which they encountered several summer storms:
1000: This is serious. Pitching very badly. Rain beats down. Hope it stops at 1100 when I go topside for a radio transmission…it’s rather cold in the jeep, getting colder all the time. Moreover, the bed-roll is so wet that the blanket is too—& my head—& it’s coming thru all my sweaters. Constant headaches.
1530: I’m freezing now so what shall I be tonight? We go up, up, up &—smack, down, down down.
1700: Used to think it was an exaggeration when people talked of seas 30, 40 & 50 ft high. I’ve now seen them—when I went topside for Ben’s 1600 transmission to Madeira. Bloody huge waves—& the wind she blew like hell.
Above: up through Morocco, across the strait of Gibraltar, and onward to France, Half-Safe rolls through Paris.
Half-Safe parked in London.
It took years, and numerous alterations and improvements to Half-Safe, mostly financed by publicity tours the couple made along the way, but Carlin eventually became the first (and possibly last?) man to circumnavigate the globe in an amphibious vehicle, looking more and more like Ernest Hemingway as the journey went on.
Though Elinore accompanied him for most of the journey, they parted ways in Australia (and not amicably) after many years and many legs of the journey together, and Carlin made the trip back to North America on his own.
James Nestor wrote about this insane story for The Atavist, traveling to Perth to research Carlin’s writings (Carlin wrote a now very hard-to-find book about the trip called Half-Safe: Across the Atlantic By Jeep), Elinore’s diaries, and a host of other materials that Carlin donated to his school, Guildford Grammar, in Perth. These photos all appear in Nestor’s story courtesy of the school.
Go read this story! It only costs $1.99. Best viewed on an iPad, but can be viewed just as easily in a browser. I am continually amazed by the work The Atavist is putting out.
The neighbors in the big house are moving to Germany, due to the husband’s work. In nearly one and a half years I have yet to speak a word to anyone in this family, I think because they have relegated us to “Cal students,” a class to which we do not even belong. But their move seems important somehow. I will justify my interest in their day-to-day activities as they are visible to me (not that many are), by saying that they seem like fellow audience members at a movie theater. We are all watching the movie that is our westward view, of the San Francisco Bay, but I am distracted by the people in front of me, talking, canoodling, taking a sip of soda, or in the case of these neighbors, dashing around the kitchen table, doing their homework at their desks (three of the residents are boys under 10), which face our building (the urge to innocently spy, at least in one of the boys, seems to be mutual), or, as of today, staying out of the way as a moving crew packs their entire house into a truck. All the windows are open. It’s in the 70s. All I can hear are birds and the sound of tape wrapping around boxes and furniture being swaddled in brown paper.
Our neighbors to the south are moving too, to Sonoma, where they are building a house. A close relative has moved back to New York City after a dozen years in Los Angeles. And my mom, technically moving westward, recently flew to New York City from Cyprus after ten years. She won’t be going back. Last night she relayed simple observations about her time in Manhattan thus far. It’s been more than thirty years since she’s lived there, and several more than that since she’s lived alone. She was excited to discover the Japan Society for the first time, and the brass reliefs of well-known buildings on the sidewalk at 42nd Street and Park Avenue (“I wonder how many people even notice those?”). She is crossing her fingers about an apartment in the 60s, on the East Side. It has an “alcove,” which by Manhattan standards may as well be an extra bedroom, and which she’ll use as a painting studio. What else is remarkable about this apartment? It doesn’t look out onto someone else’s living room, and “I can look out the window and see trees below, and the people coming and going,” a reminder that there are many different ways to live in New York, but those three amenities are a good place to start.