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A Cruising Kid Knows Beans About the Navy

by Jane Behr

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Steering through the Corinth Canal.


It was 1979 and we were stuck in Djibouti, at the southern edge of the Red Sea, without any cash.

During our almost-circumnavigation, as we traveled from Hong Kong back home to California, we more often than not had too little cash or too much of the wrong kind. No ATMs back in those days: in Djibouti we were relying, as usual, on a local commercial bank to coordinate with our hometown bank and execute a wire transfer. Our money was a world away, we were tapped out, and days passed with no visible progress. The bank manager shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and spoke French. Not today, we think he said. And the next day: maybe tomorrow.

Back from a provisioning expedition with Mom.

While appealing to the US Consulate, we ran into a couple of US Naval Officers in shiny white uniforms. My mom asked if the Navy still served Navy beans on Navy ships, because we were about to run out of food, and a few pounds of beans would go a fair way towards keeping her young daughter from going hungry. I was mortified, as any self-respecting 12-year-old girl would be, but the officers laughed and invited us over to the US frigate that was anchored in the bay.

We dinghied over to USS Talbot; they let us come right alongside the boarding platform, I remember now with amazement. We were expected: a nice man walked me around while someone else fetched the beans. In my journal, I described my tour guide as a "guy with two stripes and a beard" - now I know that he was a lieutenant. He was clearly proud of this ship, so big and so impressively "tickety-boo."

He treated me like a VIP; but even better, he recognized me as a fellow seafarer. We traded stories about the oceans we'd crossed and the adventures we'd had, and I felt a twinge of belonging. Everyone was busy and professional and friendly, and I sensed a mission around which crew members rallied. Honestly, I was enthralled.

USS TALBOT (Source www.navsource.org)


Back to m/v Andante with a generous bag of Navy beans, I compared our 50' Cheoy Lee motor trawler to USS Talbot and found her wanting: quite small and decidedly not squared-away. Team Andante was by far less impressive than Team Talbot.

M/V ANDANTE at the Cheoy Lee Shipyard in Hong Kong when she was launched in 1978.


That was the afternoon I decided "what I want to be when I grow up." I informed my bemused parents: my plan was to join the Navy.

We got out the World Almanac, which was one of our go-to reference books for random information, in this pre-internet age. There was little to go by, in the Almanac, but after consulting the pay scales for enlisted and officer ranks, I decided to be an admiral. My dad, although pleased with my ambition, gently informed me that I would have to start at the bottom, as an ensign, and work my way up.

It didn't occur to me, then or later, that I hadn't seen any women on USS Talbot. I had never even heard of the US Naval Academy, where that very spring the last all-male class of midshipmen received their diplomas and commissions. I was fuzzy on the details, but the over-arching goal would remain crystal clear.

First year at the Naval Academy:
Jane gets a shiny white uniform of her own.

Less than a decade later, as a member of the eighth US Naval Academy class to graduate women, I received my commission. It was the first year that women were permitted to serve on Combat Logistics Force vessels, and I jumped at the chance to return to the sea.

On USS Cimarron, I cruised the Pacific from Hawaii to the Persian Gulf, from Alaska to the southern hemisphere, back to California, and through the Panama Canal. Adding my tour of duty on USS Cimarron to my almost-circumnavigation on m/v Andante, I think I can claim to have circled the globe.

But alas, I never did get to be an admiral.

I often wonder what path I might have chosen instead, if it would have been faster and easier to pry some cash out of that Djibouti bank: if we hadn't needed the beans.

We spent eight days in Djibouti, including a weekend and after that a bank holiday, which was, finally, the last straw. The US Consulate Office didn't have any suggestions for expediting the wire transfer, but they did, at least, send over a guy with two bags of groceries.

My dad went again to the bank manager, and although my dad only spoke English and the bank manager only spoke French, they made a deal.

My dad asked (in English), instead of a wire transfer, will you please take this personal check? And the bank manager said (in French) that he truly wanted to help, but how could he be assured that the check would be honored? They decided (in both French and English) to call the bank manager of Crocker Bank in Lompoc, California, and since Crocker Bank was eleven time zones away and it was the middle of the night in California, they called him at home and woke him up. And it was a collect call.

As luck would have it, Crocker's bank manager, whose name was Joe Garcia and who happened to be an old golfing buddy of my dad's, accepted the charges. In either French, English, or Spanish, Joe reassured the bank manager in Djibouti that there was enough money in my parents' account in Lompoc to cover the check.

And so it was that m/v Andante got another big chunk of cash, which would see her all the way to Israel, as I recall. Problem solved: and as a bonus, my career plan was set.

As a bridge officer on USS CIMARRON, traversing the Panama Canal.


About Jane Behr

on a sunny winter day in the Abacos.

In 1978, Jane's parents had a 50' motor trawler built by the Cheoy Lee Shipyard.

They flew to Hong Kong to see the boat launched, and there began an "almost-circumnavigation" that would take them through the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea, through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific coast to their home state of California. (A map with their route is at http://goo.gl/maps/nLZEA )

As an adult, Jane was a naval officer, a teacher, and then an elementary school principal in an urban school district.

Then one day her husband said, "Let's buy a sailboat and sail around the world!" Now Ean and Jane are circling the globe on a 42' catamaran called More Joy Everywhere! In their first year of Joy, they cruised down the US East coast and to the Bahamas, Haiti, and Colombia.

You can learn more about their adventures at www.morejoyeverywhere.com.