T.G.M.D. by Jack McCoy
Posted on 06 February 2019
When I was a little kid growing up in Hawaii I was exposed to the possibility of growing up to be a WATERMAN. It was something that I had experienced first hand, spending weekends at my Hawaiian friend Buddy Apana’s house in Waimanalo where his sister’s husband, Ed Woolsy was this larger than life honest to goodness Waterman. Eddie could do anything in the water and always let Buddy and I tag along when he went surfing, diving or fishing.
As I grew older I heard the word “waterman” a lot when people mentioned the names of my hero’s, George Downing, Wally Froiseth, and John Kelly. Of course, Buffalo was always called a Waterman and during my final years of high school and shortly thereafter, Buff would give me Master Classes while out visiting the Sunn Family at Makaha.
Being a Waterman was a badge of honor. One of my hero’s was Ricky Gregg. Although I didn’t know him, I knew he was a well-respected Waterman for his surfing and his diving exploits. During my high school years he was not only one of the best big wave riders in the world, he was selected as an Aquanaut for the early Sea Lab project and loved his 250 ft deep dives for black coral that made him a waterman of the highest level.
Severson took a photo of Ricky at Waimea with his arms in the air, sort of a before his time ‘Claim’ that I had on my bedroom wall when I was a little kid.
Fast forward a few years when I was living on the Southeast shore of Oahu, between Diamond Head and Koko Head, and my best pal is Randy Rarick who lives in front of Toes Reef. Toes is a good 15 min paddle out and just inside the reef. Many a night, just at dark Randy and I would paddle in and we’d have these races.
Randy was always a way faster paddler than I and he’d sort of drift behind until the last 50 yards and he’d start this narration… “It’s the last 50 yards of the Catalina to the Manhattan Beach Pier race and right now Ricky Gregg is in the lead with ‘The Great Mike Doyle’ hot on his heals. Gregg seems to be tiring and Doyle is closing quickly”…. RR would keep gaining and would get right next to me and start screaming…. “YES FOLKS, THE GREAT MIKE DOYLE IS JUST NOW OVERTAKING RICKY GREGG AND CROSSES THE LINE IN FIRRRRRRST…!!!!”
It happened every time, THE GREAT MIKE DOYLE would always win RR’s race because at the time Mike was winning everything in surfing and paddling. Because Mike was younger than Ricky deep down Mike was a hero to both of us, but Randy nabbed him first and so I played Ricky and always came in second.
I’ll never forget the day that I first saw TGMD in the flesh. Randy and I were out at the Makaha Contest and RR, who had been to Australia the year before, knew Midget and we were there talking to him when Mike walked up with a big smile and reached out to shake Midget’s hand. Here before me was a King Neptune, AQUAMAN, tanned, muscular, deep blue eyes and his trade mark nose. I too had a big nose and felt a brotherhood kinship immediately.
“Hey Midget, good to see you… How you going? Growing old gracefully?”
Wow that last line got me. Here I was at 18 and Mike who would have been 25, was asking Midget how he was going in old age. It just sort of confirmed what I was thinking at the time about a guy 25 years old… “how ya goin ol timer… still goin are ya.” But when you looked at these two perfect specimens, his age didn’t mean anything.
Midget and Mike laughed and I stood back in awe as two of the worlds best surfers at the time had a yak like the good friends they were. To Randy, who knew both of them, it was no big deal, but for me I admit it was a big deal to actually put my eyeballs on the REAL Doyle.
It was years later that I met Mike again thru my friend Garth Murphy. Garth had the old Encinitas Railway Hotel, the Derby House. Mike was making a rare visit up from his Baja home to visit his mom and Garth. It was hard not to take up a quick friendship with Mike. He as so cool, like Garth, and we both shared stories of our adventures and travels with mutual interest and stoke. One thing for sure, Mike was ALWAYS STOKED!
It was a few years later I was blessed living with Garth and Euva in LA while Mike Miller was building his dream cat. Two and a half years later once the boat was finished we were about to embark on the trip that would take us across the Pacific to travel as many islands as we could and I’d make a movie about our adventures for Quiksilver (I was an owner and employee of at the time).
The crew was going to be Miller and his girlfriend, myself, and a gal I’d met two weeks before in Perth. About a week out, Miller’s girlfriend decided not to go, which didn’t make him very happy.
Two days before leaving Garth and Doyle came down to the yacht club to check out the cat. After showing them around Doyle causally said, “I’ve always wanted to sail to Tahiti!” Miller immediately said, “why not come with us? My girlfriend just pulled out so we have plenty of room!” With 2 large double bed cabins in each hull there was plenty of deluxe accommodation for all.
Mike asked if he had time to go back to Cabo and get his boards and windsurfers (again plenty of room for toy’s in the hulls) and Miller said go for it.
The next day Doyle arrived back and after stashing all his gear we went off for an early dinner. We toasted our upcoming adventure and had an early night. We had already stocked the freezer, fridge, shelves with all the provisions for a month and there was little left to do the next am except to buy some extra ice for the coolers on deck.
We had a big breakfast at the San Diego Yacht Club restaurant knowing this was our last meal on land for who knew how long.
Soon we were casting off and making our way down the 12-mile San Diego Harbor to head out into the Pacific Ocean, turning left towards Tahiti.
The first day was spent going over everything about sailing the boat with Kelly and Doyle since Big Mike and I had a couple of months sailing up and down the California and Mexican coast. The boat was fitted out with everything possible to make sailing all 72 feet of this boat as easy as possible. It had an auto pilot, a self furling headsail, and all winches and main run on hydraulics. Push a button and up goes the main on the 90ft tall mast. Miller liked the autopilot a lot as it kept us on course and you didn’t have to feed it. He called it Otto.
The second day, half-way down the Baja Peninsula, the weather turned nasty. The further south we went, the wind got stronger and the seas got bigger. The ride was very rough over dinner.
Miller hadn’t taken the “Survival Suits” out of their packets since buying them, so he pulled them out after dinner so we could all see what they looked like and how to get in them.
They were not cheap and when Miller bought them there were only three of us going, Mike, his girlfriend, and me. Once out of their packaging you could see why they were so expensive. The blurb on the tags claimed a person could survive in the ocean for a week in one in just about any conditions. Bells, whistles, lights and totally dry once you were in one, they gave us all a little bit of confidence in the rough weather we were experiencing.
Then it hit us all at once. There were three suits and FOUR of us. Hummmmm. Since the weather was wild, we decided we’d leave the suits out in the main salon where if the boat was going down or Miller ordered us over the side it would have been a life and death game of ‘Musical Chairs’.
Miller set 2-hour watches and just after midnight he called out for “ALL hands on DECK”. Putting our foul weather gear on it was super windy, rough and wild on deck, and although Mike had the deck lit up with a couple of lights that were half way up the mast, it still felt very dark all around us with just a little bit of white water reflected in the wild sea that was going on close to the sides of the boat.
Miller needed us to climb up on top of the cabin and reef the main sail. To reef the sail means bringing the main sail down so it’s about half it’s size when fully extended up the 90ft mast.
First, we inched our way around the side of the cabin, with no safety harnesses, holding onto whatever we could, and climbed up and made our way to the boom. Although the boom was roped down, with the giant sail fully extended, it was hard to hang on because the boom was getting knocked around pretty good.
Doyle and I looked at each other and we both could tell what we were thinking the same time in true Laurel and Hardy fashion. “Well this is another fine mess you’ve gotton us into!”
Miller was yelling to us that he was letting the main sail down and we were to furl the sail onto the boom. Holding onto the boom with both hands in a life and death grip makes it pretty tough to reef and furl a GIANT main sail. One slip and you could be flung into the Pacific and never seen or heard from again, and we both knew it.
After a fair while we had done our chores for the Captain and were al huddled next to each other with Miller at the wheel surfing us thru the storm.
We’d go down these big swells and the breaking white water would chase us to the trough and at the bottom the waves wash would go over the back deck before we’d start up the swell to the top of what seemed like a tall mountain. And then we’d do the same thing all over again.
We all stood around for an hour or so before going below to get warm and dry. Before going below I popped off a shot of Kelly in her wet weather gear to remind us of the night from hell. We doubled up with two of us on watches that whole night and half the next day.
By the next afternoon the ocean settled down and we could relax a bit. Whew, what a wild 36 hours that I don’t think any of us will forget!
The rest of the trip was nothing but clean sailing. We were flying towards our destination. I remember a couple of nights on watch I’d take the auto pilot off, grab the wheel and feel like I was driving this giant chariot like a big board surfing the swells and flying like the wind.
There was a night when on watch and again taking the Otto pilot off I looked at the wind speed and it was 20 knots. I then looked at the boat speed and it was 23. We were traveling faster than the wind. That really impressed me.
Another great experience that stoked me out was one night doing about 15 knots I could see out to the right a blue streak with a long tail flying toward the boat. If I didn’t know better it almost looked like a blue torpedo trail heading straight for the boat. Soon there were a couple more trails…
Turns out that they were dolphins heading to the front of the Huma Huma to bow surf leaving a trail in the phosphorus field we were obviously going thru. I put the Otto pilot back on and ran to the front of the boat and watched the show for as long as it lasted, about 10 minutes and then watched as the 72ft cat left it’s own phosphorus trail in the sea behind us. Quite an experience.
The rest of the trip was fantastic as we ate up the miles with good winds. One day we had light winds so Miller got us to pull out the spinnaker. When we finally got it up, it was a MASSIVE piece of sail that got our speed back up again in a lighter wind.
Many days Doyle would throw a line off the back hoping to catch a fresh seafood dinner. Miller had spared no expense in setting the boat up with only the very best rods and reels for all conditions.
For his first fishing expedition, Doyle chose a giant heavy tackle reel with a very expensive lure and threw it over the back and we all waited. A short time later the reel would start singing and everyone would run to the back of the boat, but before Doyle could get many winds in, the line would snap.
This happened a couple of times before we figured out that the boat was going too fast and we needed to try and slow the boat down when we got a hit. We practiced the exercise necessary to get this fast cat’s speed down as quick as possible.
Doyle’s job was to go directly to the rod and reel. Miller was to go to the wheel, take off the Otto pilot and turn the boat into the wind to stop it. Kelly and I were to be standing by to take in any sail line necessary. We got pretty good at it after a couple of fire drills, however with all the strikes we got, we never were able to catch a fish.
I do remember one night at dinner; just before the sun hit the horizon we got a strike as we were inside having dinner. The salon settee had the seats facing to the stern of the boat where we were all sitting. As soon as the reel started screaming we all leaned over to look out the back door to see this giant Marlin, all lit up with the sun shining directly on it, doing a wild tail dance with this bright pink lure hanging out the side of his mouth.
I’ll never forget that sight. It was a HUGE fish and to see it out of the water dancing on his tail was a trip. It didn’t last long as we were all in awe of what we saw and no one moved for a few seconds watching the show before once again the line snapped and another $200 lure was lost to the deep.
We woke on the 14th day and could see the outline of the Island we’d been aiming for the whole journey. Nuku Hiva in the Marquees. Half a day later we were pulling into the harbor. We had traveled 3382 nautical miles in 13 and a half days. Flying.
While Miller stayed on the boat doing customs paperwork, Doyle, Kelly, and I hit the beach and headed into town as it was Kelly’s birthday. We had a bottle of Moet and after walking around the village for about ½ an hour we found Paul Gauguin’s grave. We sat there on it and drank to Kelly’s birthday, our wild trip, our new friendship and LIFE.
This trip was the trip of a lifetime. They say you can experience things and you can try and tell others who were not there about the journey like I’ve just tried to do with this story. However it’s Miller, Doyle, Kelly, and I who lived it in real time that have a magical connection to the experience.
Thanks Big Mike Miller for taking us….
And a very special thanks to you Mike Doyle, one of the worlds great watermen, for sharing with Kelly and I the start of our life together when we also conceived our son Cooper somewhere out there in the middle of the Pacific. It was such an honor to share the ride with you, your stoke, your humor and we are forever grateful for your aloha.
Kelly and Jack McCoy
Sydney Australia January 2019