Thomas R. A. Davis came to Harvard the hard way.
Through storm and calm, for 10,000 miles, he sailed across two oceans. From Wellington, New Zealand to the Charles River, the Cook Islands' Chief Surgeon, his wife, two sons, and two crewmen lived for five months a cramped and uncomfortable life aboard a 48 foot ketch.
Davis arrived at the Harvard School of Public Health two months late. He should have been fined $10 for late registration, but wasn't. Instead the tardy student was greeted dockside by the dean of the Public Health School, Brig. Gen. James S. Simmons, and later was elected president of his class following a bibulous beer party for him in the School's staid lobby.
All honor was justified. Besides safely sailing 10,000 miles of ocean, Davis has accomplished these things: survived the worst gale to hit New Zealand waters in 30 years; become the first person ever to sail across the Pacific from New Zealand to Peru in mid-winter; and partly refuted or at least raised serious doubts of the validity of the Kon-Tiki theory, which at the time was called a major anthropoloical achievement.
But to Davis scientific achievement and adventure were secondary; the primary purpose of the trip was to get to Harvard--the cheapest way possible. Ever since he became a doctor, Davis has wanted to study at Harvard. His chance came when, at a medical meeting at Tahiti Island, Davis met Harold C. Coolidge '27, of the School of Public Health.
Invitation to Harvard
Coolidge said: "How would you like to come to Harvard?" Somewhat astounded, Davis replied: "You bet, but-I need money. If you get some, I'll sail to Boston." Coolidge thought Davis sincere, but didn't think anyone would actually sail to school.
After much frantic searching, Coolidge found Davis a fellowship--$3,000 from Burroughs Wellcome, a pharmactutical company.
But Davis left even before he knew he had the money. The New Zealand government gave him a non-too-generous $30 for the 10,000 mile journey; the rest of his life savings were invested in the boat. To get a crew, he placed an advertisement in New Zealand newspapers and the next day about 100 people offered to go, some even willing to pay as much at $2,000 for the opportunity. Davis finally selected Neil Arrow, a soldier-of-fortune who had spent much time at sea, and William Donovan, a ceramics student and friend of Arrow's.
Davis had bought his stubby, broad-beamed ketch a year before. Originally named the "Soubrette" (meaning "handmaiden"), it was rechristened by Davis the "Miru," who according to a Polynessian legend is the daughter of the Sun God. She had eight brothers, all of whom were commanded by the sun God to commit incest with her; other than her mother, Miru unfortunately was the only woman on the earth at the time. Miru produced the ancestors of the Polynessian race.
By May 31, Miru was ready to leave Wellington. That day things looked decidely ominous. Steady, sleeting rain sleeked the ship's deck, and the barometer tumbled to record low; by morning it read 28.40 inches. Despite the black, raining sky, Davis decided to set sail, and without salute or fanfare, the Miru put to sea in the middle of the South Pacific's winter. Never before had anyone ever sailed in mid-winter from New Zealand to America along the 40th latitude--the "roaring forties." It was something that just wasn't done.
Three days and 500 miles later the barometer steadied, clouds thickened, and the wind started cresting the sea. According to Arrow, winds were over 80 miles per hour, and that was a conservative estimate. Arrow, Donovan, and Davis managed to put out a sea anchor, but this parted after several hours. They poured over several gallons of oil to prevent the waves from breaking; the oil disappeared into the swirling ocean. The Miru sloshed around in the valleys of 35-foot waves; about every 20 minutes one would break, sending cascades of swirling water through the hatches, portholes, and into the cockpit. By nightfall, everything in the cabin was drenched, and water slopped above the cabin floor boards.
As wind and sea increased, work on deck became virtually impossible. Davis lashed down the tiller, and let the ketch stand alone. The crew and passengers spent the next four days in the Miru's cramped cabin. All the while, the Miru kicked and twisted, making sleep impossible; worse, the Davis' older son developed a bad case of measles.
After five days the storm abated; two days of calm and clear followed, and then came a new hurricane, wilder than the first. One breaker flooded the Miru's 17-year-old diesel engine, which operated the bilge pump. For two days, Arrow, Donovan, and Davis took turns in a bucket brigade, carting water from the cabin to the deck.