lies 382 nautical miles north of the equator. It is about 33 miles northwestward of
Palmyra Island and 925 miles south by west of Honolulu.
It is a
triangular, atoll-like reef and shoal about 9.1/2 miles east and west by 5 miles north and
south, of which all but the eastern end is now submerged. This leaves exposed a V-shaped
bit of reef, with shoals to the westward. Within the line of reef and shoals is a
triangular lagoon, about 7 by 4 miles, with depths up to 270 feet.
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Much of the reef
is awash at low tide, and there are places, especially toward the eastern end, where it
dries. The highest elevation is a low pile of bare brown coral, northwest of the eastern
point, which varies in size and height, as storms pile up or wash away material. At the
western end of the shoal is a patch with less than 25 feet of water over it, on which
waves break occasionally. Outside this submerged atoll the slopes drop steeply to 2,000
feet or more.
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supports a rich marine fauna, including large numbers of fish. There is no land flora.
Some coconut palms, planted in 1924, were still alive in 1926, but it is not known if they
under Palmyra, the first recorded discovery of Kingman Reef was made by Captain Edmund
Fanning, in the American ship Betsy, June 14, 1798. In his entertaining
"Voyages and Travels," Fanning relates how, after his discoveries of Fanning and
Washington Islands, during the night of June 13-14, he had a premonition of danger, and
going on deck, he had the ship heaveto. Daylight showed them close to a reef, upon which
undoubtedly they would have struck had he not stopped the ship.
He described it
as a "coral reef or shoal, in the form of a crescent, about six leagues in extent
from north to south; under its lee, and within the compass of the crescent, there appeared
to be white and shoal water. We did not discover a foot of ground, rock, or sand, above
water, where a boat might have been hauled up ..."
Kingman Reef was
named for Captain W. E. Kingman, who discovered it in the American ship Shooting Star, of
Boston, on November 29, 1853. He reported this discovery in The Friend (Honolulu) for
September, 1855, page 69. He said that it was near the spot assigned to "Danger
rock" on some charts, and added that it would be "very dangerous to approach in
the night, particularly with a light wind and smooth sea, as such there would be no
breakers visible until a ship was so near as to be in considerable danger."
Under the name
of "Danger" it was among the islands listed as claimed by Americans under the
Guano Act of 1856.
It was visited
in 1859 by the ship Alice Thorndike, and in some accounts is called by that name.
regarding the reef is given in The Friend for October 1872, by Commander Nathaniel Green
of theU.S.S. Resaca, which visited it August 31, 1872. He says,
"It is certainly a dangerous reef, the discoloured water being observed to extend
eight or nine miles, the sea combing over the ridge of the reef for a space of about three
miles in an E.N.E., and W.S.W. direction. Several patches of white sand and coral were
observed from the top, even with the water's edge."
June 22, 1874,
the British steamship Tarta, Captain J. S. Ferries, on the Australian-Americana
run, struck the reef. After two days she got off, and arrived at Honolulu June 28, 1874.
On April 16,
1888, the British iron barque Henry James, Captain Ralph Lattimore, was wrecked
on this reef. The eleven passengers and crew, thirty in all, were safely transported in
small boats to Palmyra Island. From here the first mate, Donald McDonald, the boatswain,
and three seamen made their way to Apia, Samoa, 1300 miles in 19 days, arriving in an
exhausted condition. Here they chartered the schooner Vindex to make the rescue.
Learning of the wreck, Captain H.M. Hayward took theS.S. Mariposa out
of her course and rescued passengers and crew on May 29. The Vindex arrived
thirteen days later. Despite their experiences, all enjoyed good health. Full
accounts of wreck and rescue are given in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser for June 2,
and the Gazette for June 5, 1888.
1893, the Hawaiian barque Lady Lampson struck the reef. A careful survey of this
region in 1897 by the British naval vessel Penguin showed that it must be the
same as Caldew Reef, and Maria or Crane Shoal, reported in 1863 by Captain Crane of the
schooner Maria. These names appeared on charts of this region, but have been
flag was hoisted over Kingman Reef, May 10, 1922, by the late Lorrin A. Thurston, at the
request of Leslie and Ellen Fullard-Leo. He took formal possession by reading a
proclamation of annexation, and leaving a record of the proceedings, a certificate of
possession the flag, and copies of the Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin of May 3,
1922, in a glass jar, deposited at the base of a cairn of coral slabs about four feet
high. The party consisted of Captain Herman Charles Lemmel, John L. Padgett, L.A.
Thurston, D. D. Thaanum, Ted Dranga, Manuel Vasconcellos, and a crew of six. At the time of
annexation, the land was described as "a pancake of dead coral" about 90 feet
wide, 120 feet long, and 5 or 6 feet high at low water.
proclamation, which now is preserved in he Archives of Hawaii reads: "Be it known to
all people: That on the tenth of May, A.D. 1922, the undersigned agent of the Island of
Palmyra Copra Co., Ltd., landed from the motorship Palmyra doth, on this tenth day of May,
A.D. 1922, take formal possession of this island, called Kingman Reef, situated in
longitude 162 degrees 18' west and 6 degrees 23' north, on behalf of the United States of
America and claim the same for said company."
In June, 1926,
the U.S. Navy sent the U.S.S. Whippoorwill to visit Kingman Reef, with L.A.
Thurston, and W. G. Anderson, who visited the reef in 1924. They arrived June 25, and spent
ten days in making surveys.
1934, Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed Kingman Reef under the
control and jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy, in immediate charge of the 14th Naval District.
1935, William T. Miller, representing the U.S. Bureau of Air Commodore, visited the reef
on the U.S.C.G. cutter Itasca. He is reported as saying that Kingman Reef had an
important place on the Pacific aviation picture.
Early in 1937,
the schooner Trade Wind, chartered by Pan-American Airways, took up a position at
Kingman Reef. During March and April it served as a base for the trial flight of the
Sikorsky Clipper, piloted by Captain Edwin C. Musick, between Honolulu and Pago Pago. The
clipper touched on the way south, March 24, and on the return, April 8, 11 hours 46
minutes from Pago Pago.
Wind also was stationed at Kingman Reef for the trial flights of the ill-fated Samoan
Clipper, also under command of Captain Musick. It reached the reef December 23, 1937, on
the way south, and January 3, 1938, on the return. On its next flight, the clipper reached
Kingman Reef on January 9. It was lost near Tutuila when it took off for Auckland from
Pago Pango on the 11th.
occasionally pass the reef. The writer saw it, August 13, 1938, en route from Palmyra to
Honolulu, on the U.S.C.G. cutter Taney.
Kingman Reef has
been made a U.S. national defense area by Executive Order of President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, dated February 14, 1941, and foreign planes and surface craft are prohibited.
CONTEMPORARY IMAGES OF KINGMAN REEF
TAKEN FROM A HELICOPTER, MAY 12, 2001
The following photographs are
extremely rare and are possibly the only low altitude aerial photographs available of
Kingman Reef. At the time the photographs were taken, the reef was entirely under water
with the exception of two sandbars.
Breakers on Kingman Reef can be seen from a distance but
at night were a considerable
hazard particularly to the old ships
A distant aerial view of Kingman Reef
The breakers and the sandbars
The above two images show the rare
beauty of the underwater coral at
Different aerial views showing the breakers at Kingman Reef
The Man Who
Has Been Everywhere
By Michael McCarthy
“A more extreme form of psychological problem associated with traveling
is dromomania, also known as vagabond neurosis. In the accepted listing
of psychiatric problems in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders, the vagabond neurosis is classified with the impulse
control disorders. Sufferers have an abnormal impulse to travel; they
are prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers and
security in their lust for new experiences.”
- from the pages of the Travelers Century Club newsletter
Quick now, pick the right answer: Marco Polo, Captain Cook, Christopher
Columbus, Phineas Fogg. Who is the world’s greatest explorer? The
correct answer is (wait for it now)…. none of the above.
Even though you’ve never heard of him, the world’s greatest explorer is
officially Charles Veley, and if you could ever locate Charles he’d
easily prove it to you. Trouble is, Vanishing Veley is a very hard man
to find. Today he is off Antarctica aboard a South African polar
research ship, sailing to the South Orkneys for a bit of rest and
relaxation before returning to port in Cape Town and then flying home to
San Francisco. Tomorrow the South China seas? Micronesia again?
Charles Veley is, according to the fine folks at the Guinness Book of
World Records who keep track of such amazing feats, The World’s Most
Traveled Person. Marco Polo doesn’t hold a camel’s nose next to Sir
Charles. This is the man who has been everywhere.
Since Charles is such a damned difficult man to interview it took some
time for me to track him down. I finally met him on a park bench not far
from his home in Pacific Heights, an upscale hilltop neighborhood in San
Francisco. The park bench on the beach was a compromise; his lovely wife
Kimberly scuttled our first meeting in the lobby of their apartment
“Charles isn’t feeling too well,” she said.
“I guess not,” I replied. “If I’d been bouncing around Micronesia like a
ping pong ball in an open boat for the last several months I’d feel a
little seasick myself.”
“No, its not that,” she said. Kimberly had just given birth to her first
child a few days before and was not in top shape herself. “He’s come
down with a bad cold and doesn’t want to give it to you.”
I had been trying to set up this interview for months, but it turns out
that - global village or not - it can be difficult to have a
conversation with someone on an atoll in Micronesia. But we rescheduled
and finally got together.
Charles seemed a normal looking person, soft-spoken and composed
although he did have something of a faraway look in his eyes. He’d just
returned home to celebrate the greatest adventure of all, the birth of
his daughter, but it was clear his mind was elsewhere. Two weeks later I
found out why, but in the meantime he told me his story.
Charles started his journeys early; at two his parents would often find
their kitchen door open and their toddler missing. At six he would prop
himself behind the wheel of the family car with a map in his hand and
dreams of the open road.
At 22 he explored Europe for three months. Then at the height of the
dot-com boom in San Francisco in 2000, Charles cashed in his job and
shares as an executive of a booming software company and made millions.
As millionaires do, it was off to the continent. One day aboard an
airplane in the skies over Paris he heard about TCC, the Travelers
Century Club, and the rest is history.
The Century Club is to “extreme travel” what a Maserati is to a Ford
Pinto. Rich, famous, talented, good-looking, well connected? Sorry, you
can’t just buy or bribe your way in. No, the only way to get into the
TCC is to have visited at least 100 countries. This would take most of
us up to 50 years, even if you spent every vacation in your whole life
doing nothing but travel to strange countries. That’s why most TCC
members are rather elderly. (The current Guinness World record Holder is
Mr. John Clouse of Evansville Indiana, who has held the title for the
last 15 years but is nearly 80.)
At age 34 Charles immediately threw himself into the challenge of
nailing 100 countries with the same determination to “complete the task”
that made him a millionaire. After all, travel is like designing
software; it’s just a matter of logistics. Switzerland, Swaziland,
Sarawak, St. Helena … poof! In no time Charles had bagged his 100
countries. That’s when he heard about ultimate goal hidden within the
club’s rarified upper echelons, to become “the World’s Most Traveled
The first step is to complete the TCC list of 317 places. Why 317, when
the United Nations lists only 192 countries in the world? Aah, you’re
forgetting all those territories and protectorates and far-flung atolls,
aren’t you? French Polynesia, for example, is a huge territory ruled by
France. Greenland is administered by Denmark, and Antarctica doesn’t
really belong to anybody but several countries have in the past claimed
sovereign right to certain sections. And so it goes.
“There are some people - not many, just a few - who have
visited all 317 places on the list, but they are all over 60 years old.
I completed the list this past April, after nearly 4 years, at age 37,”
Charles explains. But wait, the journey has only begun.
“The second step,” says Charles, “is to complete the Guinness 14, or
the 14 other items which happen to be on Guinness's Secret Internal
List. Of course, I didn't even find out about this secret list until
October of last year, which made for all kinds of consternation and
inefficiencies in trying to pursue it.”
Nobody has ever completed the Secret Guinness 14. The current world
record holder is the inestimable Mr. John Clouse, who has nailed twelve.
But Charles has given it a fierce run and already has knocked off 12,
including such impossible-to-get-to places such as the Coral Sea Island
Territory; Heard and McDonald Islands; and Kingman Reef. The Kingman
Reef escapade actually put him off travel for a while.
“Have you ever dreamed that you were falling? Most people have,” says
Charles. “Perhaps you are pushed, against your will, out of a perfectly
good airplane. As the ground approaches, you say to yourself: ‘Wow.
There's no way out of this. I'm really going to die. I wonder what it's
going to feel like?’ I have recently had that very sensation. Thousands
of times, in fact, and continuously.”
“Imagine, if you will, a 37-foot boat, capable of making only 7 knots,
crossing vast stretches of choppy ocean, directly into the current and
wind over 1000 miles in a 10-day period,” he continues. “I was able to
enjoy it all, face first. As I attempted to cling to my bed, the boat
would repeatedly drop away a good 5 to 10 feet, leaving me to free fall.
The negative G's at the crest of each wave left me temporarily
suspended, before falling to meet the mattress. And that went on for
Kingman Reef is nothing more than a tiny pile of coral about 1000 miles
southwest of Hawaii near the Equator. It rises a few feet out of the
water in two spots about a quarter-mile long, varying in width from zero
to about 50 feet. The reef is covered with bleached coral and plastic
ocean detritus, but nevertheless it’s on the list and therefore Charles
had to set foot on it. But, as it turns out, Kingman Reef was just an
intermission for an adventure that may have no end.
“I have discovered and decided to pursue yet a third list, which I have
determined to be an even more difficult list to accomplish,” explains
Charles with nonchalance, as we watch two joggers bounce by our bench on
their own little journey. “In fact, none of the world’s top extreme travelers has even attempted to complete this list. It is virgin
territory. This list is compiled by the leading ham radio operator
organization in the world, the ARRL. It contains 53 items that are so
obscure as to be outside of both the TCC and Guinness lists. So, in my
spare time, I have been pursuing these additional items in case of a
Guinness tie. It serves as an excellent tiebreaker, and if someone else
is crazy enough to pursue the Guinness record they'll have to chase me
down this extra list too. So far, of the Obscure 53, I have managed to
It was starting to get a little chilly on the beach, and Charles had a
newborn baby and wife he was eager to see again, so we parted ways
promising to keep in touch. Two weeks later I received an email message,
apparently from the captain’s cabin of the SA Agulhas sailing out of
Cape Town, South Africa.
“At the 11th hour, the South African National Antarctic Program,
as well as the Norwegian Polar Institute, have agreed to let me land on
Bouvet Island with a small group of technicians. Such permission is not
normally given. In fact, it is nearly unheard of. If I do successfully
land on Bouvet, I should gain the Guinness World Record for Most
Traveled Man. John Clouse has twice gone to Bouvet, but was unable to
land either time due to the terrible weather conditions. The sailing
will last for 72 days, with no possibility of earlier transfer. So while
this is a unique and exciting opportunity, it means leaving Kimberly and
the baby for over 2 months. I am renting a satellite phone and data link
for the trip, so I think that I will be able to write to you from the
Bouvet, as we all know, is located in the sub-Antarctic, a mere
1500 miles southwest of the Cape of Good Hope and about 1000 miles north
of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica.
It is the most remote place on earth, according to the Guinness Book of
Records, and weather-wise is a very nasty place indeed, nothing more 23
square miles of black lava surrounded by several miles of frozen sea.
Thick clouds usually obscure the island, snowfalls are frequent and the
temperature rarely rises above freezing.
Given that Charles would be sailing the Antarctica seas for 72 days, I
set aside my world atlas and went about my own business, only to be
surprised a few days later by yet another email.
“I am pleased to announce that, at roughly 0515 Greenwich Mean
Time the morning of December 16 a group of 9 people landed on Bouvet
Island. Bouvet was incredibly stark and foreboding, but the seas were
relatively calm and visibility was good. Even so, I was very cold and
windblown after 2 hours on the island. The entire beach and rocky
upslope was covered with penguins and seals. With this landing on Bouvet,
I have now visited all but 2 items on the Guinness list, a record
matched only by John Clouse. I have also now visited 300 of the 335
items on the Ham Radio list, which is several more than anyone has ever
done. Therefore, I will be claiming the title of Most Traveled Man from
What’s left for the World’s Most Traveled Man? Apparently
Charles still has a few rocky islets and inaccessible atolls left to
visit. A few have the added charm of being defended by large weapons.
“Well, there’s the Paracel Islands. This tropical island group is about
as far from Antarctica as you can get, but strangely enough has the same
seasonality issue. Last year I spent several days in Sanya, the nearest
Chinese city, having a look around. A salty old fishing boat captain
told me that the winds and current are most suitable to approach these
islands in December and January, and that he couldn't even consider
stowing me away and taking me there until then. Of course, the bigger
issue with the Paracels is that they are occupied by the Chinese navy,
which firmly prohibits all foreigners from landing.”
The question that begs to be answered, however, is not so much the
logistical where next as the more mysterious why? As in, why are you
doing this strange and crazy thing, spending over a million of your
hard-earned dollars when you have a lovely wife and newborn baby at
"Well," said Charles, "first you have to realize that Kimberly and I
have been traveling together for most of the last four years. She enjoys
it, and has been to over 200 countries and territories in her own right.
And one of the reasons I have been running around so intensely of late
has been to try to earn the record before the baby arrived, so that I
could in fact feel 'done' and stay home for a while. The timing of this
Bouvet trip could not have been worse, but what can you do? It was a
'never-before, never-again' opportunity for the record. Now I can
address the remaining 36 places in a more relaxed fashion.
Believe it or not, I have been craving domesticity for a while now."
“But as to your question why I do this? My motivation is a classic
overachiever’s response to a quota: You want me to do 100? I’ll do
better than that; I’ll do 200. But by the time I got to 200 I knew I
wasn’t going to be able to stop until I had completed the whole thing.
The world is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. Every new encounter, every new
interaction is a tiny piece. Joined together, they give me a privileged
glimpse of the common face of humanity. Can you imagine? A total global
perspective built entirely by first-hand information. And that grows
just by the act of trying to get from one place to another. Sometimes,
especially because of it.”
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