Mutiny on the SS Amoeba

Am not sure if this was the SS Amoeba, but it is similar
Mission Location, Rio Acara

Mutiny on the SS Amoeba, March 22, 2023

In 1990 I was hired by David Jones, the famous stunt pilot, and aerial coordinator, to work on the film “At Play in the Fields of the Lords”. I was to be the aircraft mechanic for the Dehavilland Beaver used in the film.

For six months I worked on the film in the Amazon jungle outside of Belem, Brazil which was a city of 1 million, now 2 million people in the Amazon river delta.

The first location of the film was at Madre de Deus just a few miles upriver on the Rio Guama from Belem. There the Beaver was on wheels and David Jones and the aerial unit flew in and out of a tiny dirt strip on the movie set.

The second film location was the Mission. This was much further away from Belem. It was an hour’s boat ride from the city and a dangerous boat ride at that. The boat taking the crew back to Belem once ran into a sandbank at high speed and one of the film crew broke his arm.

So, David Jones, had me put the Dehavilland Beaver on floats. This would allow the actors and big shots, like producer Saul Zaentz, to fly each day to and from Belem to the Mission location on the Rio Acara in 15 minutes.

The rest of the film crew would stay on a riverboat cruise ship tied up to the shore on the Rio Acara at the mission location. The crew would only come back to Belem on Saturday night. We only had Sundays off of work.

The rivers of the Amazon estuary are heavily affected by the tides. The water level goes up and down 12-18 feet twice a day and the current in the Rio Acara is 7-10 knots going up and downstream with the tides.
The Beaver would be tied up to a buoy in the river near the shore at the Mission location. A small skiff would ferry the actors and big shots to shore.

One day the pilot came back from lunch and the Beaver and buoy were floating upstream on the tide. The pilot and the electrical engineer rescued the plane with a motorboat.

The crew called the river boat cruise ship the “SS Amoeba”. This was because the boat’s intake of water from the river was upstream or downstream of the river boat’s outflow of sewage depending on the tide.

Phil, the still cameraman, came down with Amoebic dysentery when he was staying on the boat. He had to be flown immediately back to the states.

Amoebic dysentery is the bad one. We all had bacterial dysentery several times a day ( I lost 30 pounds), but the amoebas will kill you. We all felt our skin was too thin to keep out the germs and insects in the Amazon. The jungle has a thousand ways to kill you.

Chris, the pilot, gave me a tour of the SS Amoeba one afternoon. It was the usual 118F or so with 90% humidity. The staterooms were tiny. The rooms were steamy and worse than any hotel room I’d ever seen.

One Saturday evening the boat back to Belem didn’t come. The film crew would have to stay on the SS Amoeba for the weekend.

The film crew mutinied. They said they’d commandeer the SS Amoeba from the captain and ship’s crew and sail it back to Belem themselves.

The captain quelled the mutiny by opening up his own private liquor and food stash to all. He also put on his Brazilian lambada music collection over the PA system.

They all ended up having a party that night.

And that’s how the mutiny on the SS Amoeba ended.


The Two Phils

4 thoughts on “Mutiny on the SS Amoeba

  1. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the minnow would be lost. :-0
    When I was younger I wanted to make movies. But then I saw how the industry works and decided to just stick with writing poetry. 🙂


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