Ship’s log, Jan. 15, 1975 Schooner Janeen Anchored in 6 fathoms off Petit St. Vincent Wind: Easterly, 20 knots
We worked our way south during the Goldwater family cruise, our 138-foot Herreshoff schooner Janeen reveling in the brisk trade winds. Toward the end of our itinerary, we sailed to the small island of Petit St. Vincent for a day of reef snorkeling and a beach picnic of lobster salad, served with white wine.
Sitting at the southern end of the Grenadines, PSV was famous for its pink-sand beach, which I have never seen anywhere else. We were surprised to find five other charter yachts there; in those days, we often had PSV all to ourselves.
Back aboard Janeen that evening, Barry Goldwater Jr. took out the 6-foot-long box kite he had brought along and passed it to me to rig for him. At cocktail hour, I carried it to the stern, where Goldwater and his guests were beginning their evening drinks.
At the time, I owned a vom Hofe fishing reel spooled with about 300 yards of heavy line. The reel had been aboard the schooner when she came from California, and it had the initials Z.G. and Catalina Island Big Game Fishing Club inscribed on it. I often wondered if it had belonged to author Zane Grey, an ardent big-game fisherman and a member of the Catalina fishing club. No matter — that night with the Goldwaters, I fastened the reel to one of the heavy aft stanchions, attached the kite and sent it aloft. There was a brisk breeze, and it rocketed upward.
After a gourmet dinner in the wardroom, our guests adjourned to the aft deck for liqueurs. They were in good spirits, and although the kite was still aloft, we could no longer see it. Only the steady pressure on the line was proof that it was still sailing high above our schooner.
Goldwater went to the rail and looked up. “I can’t see the kite, Lou,” he said to me. “Is it still up there?”
“Yes, it is,” I said. “Just feel the line.”
Leaning over, he felt the slight but steady vibration.
“You need a light in that thing,” one of Barry’s friends commented.
Goldwater looked at me, and I said, “Why not?”
We reeled in the kite, took a life jacket strobe from the locker and taped it into the center of the kite. The strobe was about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and it gave off a bright flash so searchers could locate a man overboard at night.
There was still a nice breeze as we sent the kite aloft a second time. When it had attained the same altitude as before, we went to the stern to have a look. Drifting erratically back and forth over the anchorage, the flashing strobe light produced an eerie effect. At every flash, the kite’s red, blue and yellow panels could be clearly seen against the night sky.
It wasn’t long before the flashing drew the attention of other yachts. Dinghies and launches began running between the boats. We could see the guests and crews of other vessels standing on deck, looking to the sky.
“UFO! UFO!” people shouted all around the anchorage.
A Zodiac driven by a breathless crewman from the big ketch anchored nearest to us came skidding alongside. “Have you seen it? Look, up there! It’s a UFO!” he blurted between gasps.
We offered some oohs and aahs, playing along. “Yes, it’s a UFO,” he said. “And the captain of the Panda, anchored over there, has been in contact with it on the radio. It’s going to send down a landing craft soon, so I just came over to warn you. We’re alerting everyone in the anchorage.”
As he sped off to alert the next yacht, everyone aboard Janeen burst into laughter. Twenty minutes later, a squall with gusty winds came down on the anchorage, and the line holding our kite parted at the reel before we could bring it down. Our flashing kite took off to the west, disappearing behind the island of Carriacou, never to be seen again.
Goldwater took the loss in good form. It was a pity, though, that we missed the frantic confusion that surely would have ensued had the spacecraft landed on our stern.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.