Over the side go the erring Scientologists

(Sunday Times, 17 Nov 1968)

By Alexander Mitchell
Corfu, Saturday

Homer records that when the Greek warrior Ulysses was shipwrecked on the island of Corfu, his ship turned to stone. He struggled ashore naked and met Princess Nausicaa. She took him to the court of her father, King Alcinous, who lavished hospitality upon the adventurer before he sailed for his homeland, Ithaca.

The was in mythological days. Now in 1968 a new Odyssey is being played out in the waters of Corfu.

The latter-day Ulysses is Lafayette Ron Hubbard, one-time science fiction writer, now full-time saviour of the world and head of his own religion, the Church of Scientology.

AT TEN O'CLOCK yesterday morning 24 Scientologists left the good ship Royal Scotman in Corfu harbour, marched half-a-mile along the quayside and then returned to quarters.

Although it was pouring with rain the Zombie-like marchers, who were in military step, did not wear raincoats. A dockworker shook his head and waved his armed to convey with great clarity what he thought of the faithful: "They are crazy."

And this is how most of the citizens view the Scientologists who dropped anchor here five months ago. But though he Greeks laugh privately at the eccentricity of the Scientologists, they are happy with the fat wads of dollars abeing injected into the island's economy. (Ron's PR man in Britain, David Gaiman, was fond of saying: "Our critics have never done one thing and that's accused Ron of poverty.")

To be blunt, the length of the Scientologists' Greek honeymoon will depend on the power of the almighty dollar, not the almighty Ron.

Those who have reservations about the Scientologists include the local police. Two weeks ago, a woman with two children ran screaming down the gangway. Before she could reach the roadway fellow-Scientologists caught her and returned her to the ship.

Action by shore police was prevented by the Harbourmaster, Mr. Marius Kalogeras, a firm friend of Scientology, who said he saw no reason for an investigation.

The Government authorities are concerned about another aspect of Mr. Hubbard's presence in Corfu. The 4,000-ton Royal Scotman arrived in the harbour wearing Sierra Leone colours. This week, however, the foremer Scottish cattle boat was renamed Apollo (a nationalistic sop to the colonels?) and the flag of Panama was hoisted aloft.

The ship and its legal status has also aroused the suspicions of the British consul, Major John Forte, who recently refused to legalise a bill of sale which indicated the sale took place in Libya in September 1967.

The major has had other problems too. In September the Home Office asked him to deliver to Ron Hubbard an order to the effect that he would not be permitted to return to England.

After being greeted at the gangway by someone called "Supercargo," Major Forte handed over his letter and left. Four weeks later the document was returned with a note stating that Hubbard could not be found. According to the locals, however, Hubbard is aboard the ship - but never shows himself.

Ron's routine is curious. He sleeps during the day and rises at six p.m. to being his meditation and writing. Tradesmen on the ship are asked to work quietly so they do not disturb him.

The incredible security arrangements surrounding the ship have led to conflicting stories about its purpose. Some say it is an American spy ship watching nearby Albania; others believe it is a hell-ship full of religious fanatics.

One impromptu ceremony upsets the local people. Scientologists who break ship's regulations are thrown overboard as punishment. Sometimes the victims are children of eight and nine.

Discipline on the ship - and throughout the scientology movement - is severe. Members of the crew can be officers one day and swabbing decks the next. Status is conferred by Boy Scout-like decoration: a white neck-tie is for students, brown for petty officers, yellow for officers, and blue for Hubbard's personal staff.

A Corfu businessman told me the sad humiliation of a wealthy Californian who was sporting an immaculate officer's uniform when he first arrived on Corfu. For being late back from shore leave he was given smelly blue overalls and confined to navvy work in the galley.

What is Ron up to in Corfu? First of all in his own inimitable way he has become a figure of total mystery. No one in the town can prove he is really on the boat. The 250-odd Scientologists on the floating college rarely make trips ashore and never discuss their affairs.

("Code of Scientology, commandment number one: to hear or speak no word od disparagement to the Press or public concerning any fellow Scientologists, the professional organisation or those whose names are closely connected to this science.")

Their passion for secrecy often causes bizarre events. Recently the crew decided to paint the inside of the water tanks. Unwilling to give the job to local contractors the Scientologists did it themselves - only to find that when they next used their taps the water was polluted with paint.

Although many of the crew are engaged in menial duties, the real work and the real importance of the ship is informing the international movement of the thoughts of Ron. And despite reports to the contrary, Hubbard is clearly running the organisation.

A direct Telex link with St. Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Los Angeles, Malta and Tunis keeps the Church expanding, and the local post office has never had such a boom. About 500 letters and parcels go from the ship to the post office each day.

But Hubbard has bigger plans for Corfu. He is at present negotiating with local businessmen to buy the Delphinia Hotel in the remote south of this island to give him a land base to control the church.

On the face of it the prospects of this deal are good. He has money which is an all important factor in a country suffering from the effects of economic blockade. Anxious for dollars the colonels may ignore Ron's social blemishes.

None of the island's traders complain about the 50,000 drachma (about 700) which the Scientologists spend daily for provisions and repairs to their giant yacht.

But the dealings are all carried out in a clandestine way; all goods are purchased by a local agent who is given a daily shopping list by the ship's quartermaster.

Barrow traders have also found a lucrative trade by wheeling their wars from the quayside where Scientologists dart furtively away from the gangway to buy trinkets, ice creams or sweets.

Although he has been kicked out of two States of Australia, Britain, and his name is black in the United States and Rhodesia, Hubbard like Ulysses may have found a haven to regain his strength.

Last updated 13 January 1997
Chris Owen (co@nvg.unit.no)