Vietnamese Joyride

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Going Back to Vietnam, by Capt. Bill Pike, Photography by Jim Raycroft (continued)

Street food in Hoi An

Vietnamese Joyride

My brief but memorable encounter with PBRs in Vietnam occurred in early 1969, just a few weeks after I’d joined the first platoon, Charlie Company, 1/11th Infantry, 5th Mechanized Division, an outfit that was based in Quang Tri Province, just south of what was then called the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone. I wrote a story about the whole deal for Power & Motoryacht some 14 years ago, entitling it, with calculated irony, “Vietnamese Joyride,” mostly because my experiences onboard the boats had given me such ineffable joy, in large part because I was a naïve, somewhat oblivious youngster at the time who, unbeknownst to himself, was on track to soon see a great deal of eye-opening tragedy. (Read “Vietnamese Joyride” ▶).

Design-wise, PBRs had two personalities. On the one hand, they were warships, despite a 32-foot LOA, and participated in any number of riverine skirmishes, battles, and firefights. But then, they were also fiberglass boats that very much resembled recreational cruisers, especially to a kid who was very much in love with recreational cruisers. And, the way things turned out, it was the latter side of the PBR I got to see, almost exclusively.

And what fun it was! Every evening for an entire week, as part of one ambush team or another, I’d get to ride a boat up the Song Cua Viet or the Song Cam Lo, two tropical rivers just a few kilometers south of the DMZ, go ashore at some pre-designated spot with the team and set up an ambush site, lay in wait all night for a bunch of North Vietnamese regulars to fall by (which never happened, as luck would have it), and then, in the morning, catch another boat back downriver.

The downriver trips were the best, of course. There are few things a young combat medic with boaty hankerings appreciates more, I guess, than doing a 25-knot swoop down a flat, brown channel, with lush, variegated, green jungle on both sides, a set of 180-horsepower Detroit Diesel 6V-53 naturals thundering off into a broad sunshiny wake via Jacuzzi waterjets at the stern, and the prospect of a hot, bacon-and-egg breakfast at a Navy mess hall in the offing.

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