Just after dawn on March 13, 1942, the harbor pilot in the western Australian port town of Geraldton noticed a small ship coming up over the horizon, sails billowing from her two tall masts. As the vessel got closer he saw she was a schooner of a type common in the South Seas, and that her hull and upper works were painted an odd shade of faded, splotchy green. A large American flag flew from the top of the ship’s forward mast, and a smaller Philippine ensign snapped in the breeze from her equally tall aft pole.
Intrigued by the mystery vessel’s unannounced appearance, the pilot boarded his motorboat and set out to meet the newcomer. As he approached the ship he saw men working to drop her well-worn sails, and was surprised to see that what he had taken to be a tramp cargo vessel was armed with at least two machine guns and what looked to be a small cannon. As he came alongside the pilot shouted through cupped hands, “What ship are you”? and was dumfounded when a bearded and deeply tanned man standing near the schooner’s wheel responded, “USS Lanikai, from Manila.” The pilot was equally surprised that the weather-beaten and somewhat dilapidated ship was apparently part of the U.S. Navy, and that she had safely navigated more than 3,000 miles of Japanese-dominated ocean.
With his motorboat tethered to the schooner’s stern, the pilot guided the American vessel toward a berth at Geralton’s main pier. As he did, the bearded man—Lieutenant Kemp Tolley, USN—recounted what would ultimately become known as one of the great sea adventures of World War II.