Friday, August 10, 2007

Two Adventurers Cross Pacific in Amphibious Jeep Called “Half-Safe”

Journalist-Author Celebrates 50th Anniversary
Of Crossing Pacific Ocean & Bering Sea
in Amphibious Jeep Called “Half-Safe”

Margaret Warren De Mente

PARADISE VALLEY, AZ—In the winter of 1956/57 Boyé Lafayette De Mente, my soon-to-be husband, was a Tokyo-based journalist working for The Japan Times.

The newspaper carried a brief article about the landing of an amphibious jeep called “Half-Safe” (after a popular deodorant of the day!) at Kagoshima, on the southern tip of Japan’s Kyushu Island.

A few weeks later the jeep, owned and driven by Ben Carlin, its Australian “captain,” arrived in Tokyo. Being of a sporting if not adventurous nature my husband-to-be contacted Carlin and made arrangements to interview him.

During the interview, Carlin invited Boyé to accompany him on the last leg of his around-the-world trip on the jeep—a journey that had started in 1948 from New York with his then American wife Elinore, but which had ended abruptly some 500 miles off the eastern seaboard of the U.S. when the engine of the jeep conked out.

Carlin, his wife and Half-Safe were picked up by a Swedish freighter and deposited in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Carlin rebuilt the engine and once again the two set off across the Atlantic Ocean. After a stop in the Azores, they made the coast of Africa, and from there finally reached London by land and water.

Elinore went to work as a secretary while Carlin, over a period of several years (he was a notoriously slow worker), virtually rebuilt the jeep from scratch and they set off again, heading for the Near East, the Mid-East and Asia. Somewhere in India Elinore jumped jeep, left Carlin, and later divorced him.

Carlin recruited another “mate” (a young man from Australia) because the jeep required a two-man crew when at sea. This young man hung in with Carlin until they reached Kagoshima, Japan, and there he too decamped from the adventure, so Carlin was on his own when he arrived in Tokyo in the late fall of 1956.

For reasons Boyé has never fully explained, apparently to anyone, he accepted Carlin’s invitation to join him on the last, longest and most dangerous leg of the around-the-world journey, scheduled to begin in late April, by which time the storm-tossed North Pacific and Bering Sea would have quieted down.

A few days before the departure date a number of startling incidents involving Carlin and the jeep resulted in several of Boyé’s co-workers and friends urging him to quit the enterprise before it started. But despite a calm and basically un-aggressive nature Boyé refused to back out.

On the morning of May 1, 1957, Half-Safe departed from Tokyo amidst great media fanfare, first from the front of the Mainichi Newspaper Building, and then from the front of the nearby Yomiuri Newspaper Building.

For the first few hours of the journey, several cars filled with reporters followed the Half-Safe as it made its way out of Tokyo and headed north. One man had been assigned by his company to go all the way to Wakkanai on the northern tip of Hokkaido with the jeep. But a series of incidents involving Carlin resulted in him disappearing after three days and nights, never to be seen or heard from again.

Each day and night brought new incidents—not all of them involving Carlin’s irascible character—including a number that threatened to end the adventure before it really got started. This included the jeep springing a leak when they were crossing the straits separating Honshu Island and Hokkaido, collisions with submerged rocks as they neared the port of Muroran, and finally, on what was to be the big day of their departure from Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Carlin jumped from the dock onto the jeep for the benefit of cameramen, cracking a section of the cabin that he had constructed to enclose the jeep from the outside elements. This caused another one-day delay for repairs.

Getting underway the next day turned out to have another set of dangers that threatened the jeep before it got away from the dock. From that point on, the adventure and the dangers really began. The two adventurers encountered Russians, Japanese fishing nets, sea lions, technical problems, the frigid waters of the North Pacific and Bering Sea—and each other!

After enough incidents and adventures to fill several lifetimes, the Half-Safe arrived in Anchorage, Alaska on September 1, exactly four months from the day it left Tokyo. The safe arrival of the two in Alaska made news worldwide, and was listed in The Guinness Book of World Records, as well as Car and Driver’s Amazing Stories.

By agreement with Carlin, Boyé did not write his account of the crossing until five years had elapsed, to give Carlin time to get his own book published.

Boyé’s account of the crossing, which he chronicled in a book entitled ONCE A FOOL – From Tokyo to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep, reveals in precise detail the unexpected threats the two wayfarers encountered, including exact—but rare—conversations between them.

In his words, once they set off into the North Pacific the confines and noises of the jeep induced a kind of semi-coma that they came out of only when the daily 24-hour routine of “four on four off” was broken by some emergency.

Their two encounters with Japanese fishing nets and Carlin’s behavior following the last incident is high drama of the most absurd kind.

On another memorable occasion, Boyé stands on the tiny prow of the jeep for several hours in a cold rain and high seas pumping air into a torpedo-shaped yellow tank holding 660 gallons of gasoline to force gas into inboard tanks, with the tank jumping and rearing like a wild animal.

What is perhaps the most remarkable of all, Boyé hung in with Carlin until they reached Anchorage, where he also “jumped jeep,” parting company with his strange companion and flying to Phoenix, Arizona to see his family and recuperate.

And in yet another believe-it-or-not episode, 10 years after Boyé left the jeep in Anchorage, had spent another six years as a trade journalist in Tokyo (where we were married) and moved back to Phoenix, one of our friends spotted Carlin driving Half-Safe down Van Buren Avenue in the center of the city.

Carlin had eventually made it back to Halifax, Nova Scotia then continued for several years touring the U.S. in Half-Safe, lecturing and showing films of the Pacific and Bering Sea crossing, ending up in his hometown of Perth, Australia where he died in the 1980s, and where Half-Safe is on permanent display at his old school.

Boyé went on to have an extraordinary career as the author of more than 40 books on the business cultures and languages of Japan, Korea, and China. We now make our home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, from which he has crossed the Pacific over 100 times—by air!

His book, ONCE A FOOL, became a bestseller in Alaska, and is still available from, other online booksellers, and through major retail chains. To see a full list, with descriptions, of Boyé’s 70-plus books (on Japan, Korea, China, Mexico, Arizona and Hawaii), go to his personal website:

Margaret Warren De Mente
Paradise Valley, Az 85253