An Improbable Trip Around The World – Part 2

by Holly Dukeson

What started as a 4-month cruise to Mexico turned into a made-for-Hollywood, 13-year voyage around the world. As told to Daniel Harding Jr.


Fiji was an amazing, amazing place. To get a cruising permit in Fiji, you have to go through a class on how to respect the native Islanders there, because they own the water. So you have to go ask for permission to anchor. And the way you do that is you bring a gift of kava, which is a pepper plant root that they make a drink out of. And you present that to the chief of that village, and they give you permission to stay. That was a license to meet all kinds of cool people and to embrace their culture. I had a guest on the boat, who’s a good friend of mine. Who was our physician. And we go to this kava ceremony. So we go into this hut, grass hut. A lot of the villagers are circled around. The ladies are on the outside, the guys are in the middle and they’ve got this ceremonial kava bowl, which is a wooden carved bowl. And they take the pepper plant root, this kava, and they pound it into a powder, put it in a sock, literally a sock. And then they knead the sock in the water to get the kava to dissolve. And it looks like dirty dishwater. Now here are these socks that don’t look that clean. Then they take an old artillery shell with a steel rod to pulverize it. And then these guys, if you looked at their hands, they hadn’t been to the groomer, hadn’t had their nails done recently and they’re kneading this and I’m sitting next to this doctor. Who is like, “Roger? You are not going to drink this. You’re not going to drink this.” And I said, “I’ve got to.” I couldn’t insult them. So, the chief comes to me with this, and of course the bowl is half a coconut. So, he asks if I want “half tide or full tide?” Do I want a half a bowl or full bowl? So of course, I say, “full tide.” So anyway. So, John, the doctor, he’s cringing. He says, “You can’t do this.” And of course I did. And I had some reaction to it the next day. 

I had a feeling that if we could sit uninterrupted, he would have an unbelievable story to share, so I set an appointment to his corner office at his Ft. Lauderdale location (a converted BMW dealership on South Federal Highway). Over the next few hours Roger sat back and shared the story of his improbable trip around the world to me with a casualness that you and I would use when discussing the week’s weather. He explained how he and his late wife, Samantha, originally set out to cruise from California to Mexico over the span of a couple months aboard their 63-foot Cheoy Lee motorsailer. Spontaneity, love, an openness to adventure and a heaping dose of luck turned that coastal jaunt into a 13-year, around the world adventure that, if not for the photo evidence, you would think he was making up. What follows is but a taste of the once-in-a-hundred-lifetimes adventure he experienced. Let me warn you now, his story will likely inspire you to cruise beyond your own comfort zone.


In year two of the trip, we went to Bali and we stopped at almost every island. And we had to make arrangements to go see the Komodo dragons. They’ve got them in a park. It’s kind of an open park, but it’s a designated area. So, we decided we would buy a small goat because the dragons love goats. Eating them, that is. So, we’ve got a guy that’s taking us up there and he’s got the goat over his shoulders. We bought the goat, we went up there with three or four people. And as we’re going up, the guy’s got a stick and he’s controlling these 12- foot lizards. I mean, they look like alligators. But they’re lizards. And we get up to the pen, it’s maybe 18-inches tall. And we go inside the pen, and then he takes the goat and very delicately puts a palm leaf over its throat and cuts the throat of the goat and then gives it to the Komodo dragons. That goat didn’t last 20 seconds. It was amazing. These things are just plodding along. And then they went feverishly and everything bones, fur, everything gone. Ate the whole thing. So that was feeding the Komodo dragons. 

New friend from Djibouti

Djibouti is at the mouth of the Red Sea on the east side. Very small French territory and I went with Samantha into a little store and I see on the floor this little monkey that’s got a little belt around its waist and we’re looking around the store. I asked the guy, “How much is the monkey?” He says, “The monkey is mine, it’s not for sale.” I said, “Man, I really like that monkey. It’s really a cute little baby monkey.” It was a Vervet. Cutest little white face and whiskers. Really cute monkey. Fifty dollars later, I leave with the monkey. We had the monkey about four and a half years, but what a four and a half years. That monkey was a riot. It really was fun. We named her Djibouti where she came from.

Saudi Arabia 

We arrive and ask to seek refuge. They’ve got a brand new, 50-million-dollar control tower that looks out the Red Sea and we’re at the base of this thing, beautiful facility, not a yacht facility, no other boats. We’re there about five minutes and a forklift comes out and deposits a guard shack about 50 feet from the boat and there’s a military guy there with a machine gun. About 20 minutes later, up pulls this big Oldsmobile and two guys get out with the whole Saudi get up. I find out this is the secret police watching the military watch us. This is crazy. This is really, really crazy, but again, no intimidation, no nothing. They ask, “What do you need? Why are you here?” I told them, “We’re running a little low on fuel and water. We hit some bad weather on the way up here.” They deliver fuel to us. It looked like champagne. No charge. They fill up the boat. I asked if I could get a couple of drums and I got a couple of extra 55-gallon plastic drums. They filled those up for me. It was so nice of them to do that. Meantime, I’m up there sitting down, eating with the guards, with your hands out of the common bowl and all that sort of thing. The captain of the port police says, “Hey, Commander Byers of the U.S. military is here.” This was just after Desert Storm. He said, “He saw your American flag and would like to know if he could come down and visit?” We said, “Absolutely. Come on down.” Commander Jamie Byers comes down to visit us and he says, “Let me see if I can get permission for you to come up and use our host phone.” I said, “What’s a host phone?” He says, “The Saudis give us a phone line and a phone so that we can call home anytime we want. I’m sure you haven’t been able to get to a phone for a long time.” Of course, we’ve been doing ham radio the whole time, so Samantha and I get permission and go up there and we call all our friends and family and all this and say, “Hey, we’re in Saudi Arabia.”

We’ve been there for four or five days now and our hosts were winking at me saying, “Samantha, don’t you need to go visit; she had a little eye problem. Don’t you need to get your eye taken care of? Maybe we can get you into Jeddah into the clinic to take a look at that eye.” They got a medical reason for us to go in and we toured around Jeddah on the way to the clinic and then back to the boat and we decided, “We’ve imposed on these people enough.” They were really nice people so I said, “We’re going to depart.” They said, “No, no, give us another day” They send the secret police out to interview us and the guy comes up to the boat. The monkey’s tied on the back deck. They’ve got the thobe and ghutra and the monkey pulls up his skirt, the thobe, and starts pulling the hair on his legs and he’s dancing on the back deck, laughing and having fun with this monkey. He comes in the boat and I figure, well, that just shot all our chances, but they were in love with the monkey.

We start talking and he’s asking us, “What are you doing here, why, where have you been, where are you going?” Nicely, respectfully asking these questions and they said, “We’ve got good news for you. When will you be ready?” I said, “Ready for what?” “Prince Nayfe has made a reservation for you at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. You’re guests of the Saudi government.” I said, “What? We can’t accept.” They reply, “It would be very rude of you not to accept.” Samantha interrupts and she says, “Whenever you want, we’ll be ready.” They posted guards to take care of the pets and they take us to the Hyatt Regency Hotel. A suite, as guests of the Saudi government, the two secret police guys are now our tour guides. “What do you want to see? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?” They said, “Tomorrow morning, we’re going to take you to a tailor, if it’s all right with you, Mr. Moore. We’re going to take you to tailor and we’re going to have a thobe and ghutra made for you and an abaya for Samantha. You don’t have to wear them, but we’re going to take you to some places where you’d be less conspicuous if you didn’t. It’s up to you.” I said, “Let’s go.”

They take us to the tailor. They fit us out with lovely thobe and ghutra and abaya and the black thing for that. We can’t pay for anything. We go into the store. We want to pick up a couple of things. Can’t pay. We are Saudi hospitality. I never understood the term. We’re doing all these things with them. We’ve been there for four or five days and they said, “Is there anything else you’d like?” I said, “I understand that the Kuwaiti’s ruled from Taif up in the mountains. Could we see that?” We go up to Taif and they show us all around, up in the mountains there. They said, “What else would you like to do?” I said, “I’d love to ride camels in the desert.” Next day, they rent a Jeep, they pick us up and we’re driving, driving, driving, and here’s this Bedouin tent. They drive up near the tent. They get out and they said, “You wait here, Roger”, and they go over and they’re talking to the Bedouins because there’s a bunch of camels there. I’m in the thobe and ghutra. I’m tan. I had a black mustache and I looked Saudi. I should have been Roger Moore. I should have been a spy because I can be Mexican, I can be Saudi. I can blend in and all of those different things and they want to know what tribe I was with and why was I out there? Bottom line is, we get to go for a ride on the camels. We get to drink camel milk and do all this stuff. It was really a hoot and by now we’d been there a couple of weeks and starting to feel really embarrassed that we’re consuming all this time, but it was fun. I said, “We’re going to leave. We appreciate all of you and we would like to invite you all to dinner.” We had all of these people that helped us as our guest at a restaurant and still I couldn’t pay.”

Winter in Israel 

We’re about 20 or 30 miles from Tel Aviv and a patrol boat comes out. They radio us and say, “Everybody on deck, let’s see your hands.” They circled the boat and there’s a guy with a 50 caliber machine gun in the front. It’s serious. So they said, “Where are you going? Where are you from? What are you doing?” We said, “Well, we’re going to Tel Aviv.” “Okay. Follow us in.” So we follow them in. And again, the Cheoy Lee was pretty big for the port of Tel Aviv. So, we’re at the police dock. They’re obviously on high alert at all times. So I’m on the back of the boat. There you get customs, immigration, health, police and the bomb squad. So all of these guys are descending on the boat. So here we are. I’m on the back deck filling out all these forms. Do you have any weapons? No. Do you have any ammunition? No. Do you have pets? Yes. Dog and monkey. And we’re filling all this out and the other guy says, “Can I look inside the boat?” I said, “Absolutely. Samantha take them through the boat.” So they’re going into the boat. And they go down to the master cabin, open a cabinet and they take out a briefcase that I had there. And the briefcase had 12 gauge shotgun ammo in it because I had a SPAS semiautomatic shotgun. I had a couple of weapons very well hidden on the boat that we never declared because it’s really a problem to declare them. If you declare them in one place and you leaving from another, you have to go back and get them. So, the guys opens up the case and it’s full of ammo and I’m on the back deck just signed I don’t have any ammo. And Samantha says, “Rog, come on down.” She didn’t even have her glasses on. So she didn’t know what was in there. So I walked down and here’s this guy with a case open with a couple hundred rounds of shotgun ammo in it. He asks, “What is this?” I said, “Shotgun ammo.” He says, “You just signed that you didn’t have any. Why?” I said, “Because I lied. I’m sorry. We’ve never declared them. We have them for self-defense.” And he says, “Go back upstairs.” So I go up, they all leave. They say, “Do not get off the boat.” And they had a 40-foot ocean container there that was an office right on the dock. And I’m sitting there with Sam and I know they can confiscate the boat. They can arrest me. This is really serious stuff. So I’m waiting 10 or 15 minutes. Seemed like an eternity. I got off the boat. I walked up, opened the door to the police thing. I fell to my knees literally. And I said, “I can’t stand it any longer. What are you going to do to me?” Then they all started laughing. So they said, “You really shouldn’t have done that. Bring the guns up here, take the ammo back. We don’t have room for it.” And oh, the thing I missed is they said, “Where’s the gun? I’m trying to think of “where is the gun that isn’t next to another gun?” So, I go to the place where there’s a nice Remington pump 12 gauge. I pull that out and one handgun and give it to him. I had an Uzi with a silencer and all this other stuff. 


That’s the end, that scary part. And we spent the next five months, six months on the police dock, not under arrest and we absolutely loved Israel. The monkey, everybody loved the monkey. The monkey ended up starring in a movie there.

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