The enemy could be out there in the undergrowth - well concealed but often only yards away.
The enemy could be out there in the undergrowth - well concealed but often only yards away. The carbines and machine guns of the junk fleet have to cover the jungle constantly.
This is South Vietnam, where men of the United States navy go to sea in one of the strangest flotillas of any 20th century maritime force. Vietnam's battles aren't only battles of the air and land.
The Americans sail as advisers to the junk fleet - scores of motor-driven sampans and converted assault craft - a motley fleet operating out of Vung Tau, about fifty-miles from Saigon. For Lieutenant Robert Connell it's a long haul from New York, and international yacht racing. He's one of America's leading 12-metre sailors.
Off the coast, the target for the armed sampans is the huge fishing fleet scattered over the sea for twenty-miles to the north of Vung Tau. The men of the Vietnamese navy check every boat they encounter. The fishermen could well be Viet Cong infiltrators or gun-runners.
The check is thorough - identification must be positive. And the junk crew works under the tension of a ready trigger.
The searchers step warily. It could be just the day's catch. It might also hide a big cache of arms on its way to the Vietcong.
Often, though, it's a fruitless search.
The junk fleet also patrols the streams and canals of the Mekong Delta. While he's on patrol, Lieutenant Connell wears the pyjama-like black cotton dress of the Vietnamese peasant. Last year, as a member of the crew of the Constellation, Lieutenant Connell helped in the successful defence of the America's Cup against the English yacht, Sovereign. He volunteered for service in South Vietnam and has another eight months to serve.
In fine weather, the patrol of the fishing grounds begins at dawn and goes on until nightfall. An A.B.C. camera crew was on this sweep by Lieutenant Connell's sampan.
The crews of the junk fleet are prime targets for Viet Cong terrorists. Many of them - travelling by bus on leave have been executed by Viet Cong hold-up gangs in front of the other passengers. The sampan sailors acknowledge the value of this sort of work, but they told an A.B.C. staff reporter that their fondest wish was to meet the Vietcong in hand-to-hand combat.
Like the fishermen and their families, the men of the junk fleet eat the endless Vietnamese fare of boiled rice and fish. The American advisers share this diet.
Stretches of the coast north of Vung Tau are so tightly controlled by the Vietcong that the junk fleet has permission to fire at will at any movement. Lieutenant Connell's boat did just that and sparked off a gun battle with a Communist sniper.
There were no casualties aboard the sampan, although it was hit at least twice. One bullet struck a wooden stanchion a few inches from Lieutenant Connell.
Next morning, the sampan was joined by others from Vung Tasu. They brought intelligence reports that the previous night several Viet Cong junks had put guerrillas ashore in the patrol area. So, while the sampans stood by a sweep ashore was organised.
But, like many a search in the Vietnam campaign, the shore patrol failed to produce an encounter with the Vietcong, and the sampan hunt resumed.
It's a continuing war.