The Banca Boat

Marc Liebman is a retired Navy pilot and is a decorated veteran who has served his country well in Viet Nam and in the Middle East conflicts. He retired with the rank of Captain and today is an accomplished author, writing historical fiction books concerning the military. I will introduce you to his work, but first a delightful story from his tour in the Philippines, at Subic Bay.

Marc and his best friend Charles were toward the end of their tour in the Philippines. Charles had his heart set on bringing an original banca boat home with him to the states. This, of course, would be a very interesting undertaking because a banca boat is not something you can simply put in your suitcase and throw under your bunk.

It is basically a hollowed-out log with an outrigger. The Filipinos make these boats out of very hard wood, sometimes teak wood. They burn the log and use an adze to begin the hollowing out process. Then, they place burning coals in it and burn it again. It will take a banca boat builder about a month to complete one.

On one of their ship’s in-port periods at Cubi Point Naval Air Station at Subic Bay, Charles found a boat builder was on the eastern side of the Bataan Peninsula. As the boat work progressed, Charles would need to make payments to the boat builder. So, Marc would ferry him over on a helicopter, drop him off and wait for the signal to pick him up and fly back to the base.

The day came that the prized banca was finished and ready to test drive. So, Marc flies Charles over, drops him off and he and the builder paddle around the bay and Charles is delighted. Now comes the hard part – How to get a banca boat back to Cubi Point first, then on to the United States, via Navy ship, and then to its destination point, Charles’ home in New Jersey – a challenge, indeed!

The carrier, U.S.S. America was headed for Norfolk, VA so Charles developed a plan to get the banca boat onto the carrier, but first, he had to get it onto Subic Bay Naval Base..

There were three choices for getting the boat to the Naval Air Station: Truck it across the peninsula, paddle it around the bottom of the peninsula (which would take weeks), or use a helicopter and sling it underneath. Marc says, “We couldn’t fly it back and land at the Naval Air Station, slung below a helicopter, because someone would ask a lot of really crazy questions.”

The plan for the transfer of the banca was to sling it underneath a helicopter, with the paddles and outrigger inside the chopper, and fly it approximately 30-40 miles to the town of Olangapo, north of the base. A Filipino truck driver was commissioned to transport it from there to the gate of the Cubi Point Naval Air Station. The day before, Charles, being a lieutenant, made sure his name was in the gate log book, with a note saying the delivery of the banca boat the following day was approved and could be brought on base.

This stage happened according to plan. Charles and the driver were let through the gate without hesitation. The next question would be – how to get the 700 – 800-pound banca boat onto the U.S.S. America and stored for the trip to Norfolk.

There were only two choices – hoist it aboard by helicopter or use the ship’s crane to lift it aboard. The ship being docked ruled out the option to use a helicopter. So, they had to use the ship’s crane. There were only a few trusted guys, their tip a bottle of booze, who knew what was going on here. The ship’s captain would certainly not have approved of this scheme.

The banca was lifted onto one of the elevators on the aft end of the ship. A couple of hefty guys lifted it to a spot where external fuel tanks had been hanging and that had been unloaded and hoisted up onto one of the racks. It was covered in protective plastic and canvas was draped over it. The banca now was unseen and ready to sail.

The trip back to Norfolk took thirty days. They made a detour to Sydney, Australia, then sailed across the Pacific Ocean, through the Straits of Magellan, then to Rio De Janeiro and on the Norfolk. All the while, the banca boat rode perfectly and proudly, incognito and ready for its new home.

Upon docking, they now had to transport the infamous banca to Charles’ home in New Jersey.  The answer was to put it on the truck carrying the detachment’s tools, records and goodies bought by the officers and enlisted men . After it was unloaded at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, it was loaded on a trailer and towed by Marc’s Volvo to Charles’ house on Barnegat Bay, New Jersey.

It stayed there until, years later, it was swamped by a hurricane and washed away from Charles’ dock and he was unable to find it. Charles moved to California, so the banca boat is probably still at the bottom of Barnegat Bay today. This has to be a great story of American ingenuity and determinism!


As I said, Marc Liebman is a great writer. He captures the essence of what it means to be in combat situations along with intriguing plots of betrayal, espionage and daring adventure.

His books, Big Mother 40, Cherubs 2, Forgotten, Inner Look and Render Harmless can be found on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or directly from Deeds Publishing.

Thank you Marc Liebman for your service to our great country and for sharing your banca boat adventure with us.