The name Spike Africa is fast becoming a part of the modern folklore of the sea. He is considered one of the last great “tall ship” schooner captains on the West Coast. The self-proclaimed “President of the Pacific Ocean”, Spike Africa sailed the waters from Alaska to Tahiti for most of the 20th century. An expert rigger, schooner captain, international boat racer, writer, actor, inventor, and surprisingly a master of macramé, everyone from roughneck sail boaters to members of high society found Spike to be a true “Renaissance Man”.
Born Philip Marion Africa in 1906 on a Newark, Ohio farm, he was drawn to the ships on the Great Lakes and ran from home as a teenager to follow his dreams. In his twenties he moved to the West Coast to work in the logging camps near Portland, Oregon. His sailing career began when he shipped out on the K.V. Kruse freighting lumber from Seattle to numerous World ports. It was on this ship that he mastered the art of sailing and eventually obtained his Mate’s papers for wooden sailing ships. Spike owned and captained the freight schooner “Ruby”, a true workhorse sailing between Seattle and Alaska.
Wander lust struck again as he watched the glamorous passenger ships sailing from the West Coast to Honolulu. The fantasy of Hawaii represented by exotic hula girls dancing in his mind moved him to board the nearby cruise ship and sign on. Despite his rough and poor appearance he was accepted as a deck hand.
In a short essay “Monkey Fist” in Wooden Boat Magazine, Spike wrote “… they sure set a nice table (referring to the Cruise Ship) so I went aboard, donned the whites, squeezed my leathery feet into cute sneakers, and headed for the pineapple country.” Upon arriving in Honolulu he took it upon himself to help the captain anchor the ship to the dock. Using old ship parts, he fashioned a loaded “Monkey Fist” knot to tie to the anchor line for casting onto the docks. Though his time as a knot inventor was short-lived, it was not forgotten. He wrote “… I made a fine pitch and got a US Navy four-striper right between the eyes. He went down like a polled ox. The Monkey Fist was never retrieved, and I got a citation from the Navy … the only one I ever got. The loaded Monkey Fist was banned from the docks.”
Never known to shy away from confrontation he joined the US Navy and became a “Seabee” Lieutenant in World War II. As a “Combat Seabee” he fought in the bloody battle of Peleliu Island, which was depicted in the HBO award-winning mini-series “Pacific”.
Before the War he fell in love with Barbara Jean Dunham, better known as “Red”, and later married her upon returning home. The daughter of a Seattle doctor and lawyer, her life of high society did not deter her from “tying the knot” with the rugged sailor. They had three children and remained married until his death.
In 1958 he worked as first mate on the schooner “Wanderer” owned and captained by famous actor Sterling Hayden. Hayden turned a short sailing trip into their legendary voyage to Tahiti when Hayden defied a divorce court order and took all four of his children out of the country. Hayden’s and Spike’s adventure was chronicled in Hayden’s classic sea novel, “The Wanderer”. In the 1960’s Africa was a regular of Sausalito’s famous “No Name Bar” where he mingled with artists, musicians, beatniks and movie stars.
In 1977, Africa’s friend Bob Sloan was inspired to design and build the last great coasting schooner “Spike Africa”. The graceful yet steady vessel has won awards and has been featured on several Hollywood films and TV shows.
After returning to the Great Northwest, Africa settled down as harbormaster at the Seattle Yacht Club. His reputation was well known as a great captain, as well as a gentleman with clients. He continued to share his adventures and his knowledge of knotting in literary works and publications in the 70’s and 80’s. There is even a knot named after him which can be found on many of macramé bottles.
We suspect that Africa got his name “Spike” from a rigging tool used on sail boats, and it fits him perfectly. He stood out among the crowd and he was a force to be reckoned with when a challenge arose. Even the portrait of him in is old age illustrates his character. His white beard and lines on the facial appearance marked his long tales of oceanic adventures. He loved uncharted waters in the oceans as well as in life. Africa passed away in 1985 at the age of 78. His legend lives on here at Spike Africa’s Fresh Fish Grill & Bar in San Diego, California.