"Seafloat", The Navy's Remote Outpost in Vietnam.
The last thing you would expect to find on the Cua Lon River in the extreme southern tip of South Vietnam is a tiny Navy base. But, there it is, a unique 360-by-90 foot floating community of Vietnamese and American sailors riding at anchor just off the debris that was once Nam Can, South Vietnam's most southern city.
The Navy calls it "Sailfloat."
Almost 3,000 people were living in Nam Can when the VC launched their 1968 Tet offensive. The 193 miles separating the city from Saigon and the maze of rivers and canals that crisscross the surrounding Nam Can Forest, enabled the enemy to sever communications and supply lines.
With government support virtually cut off during the drawn-out Tet Campaign, the decision was made to relocate the people to a more secure area. By the end of April, 1968, Nam Can was a ghost town, its buildings reduced to rubble. For a time there were no Allied operations in the sparcely populated area.
Then on October 4, a single Navy "Swift" boat, commanded by Lt. Micheal T. Brown of Lawrenceville, IL, reconnoitered the entrance to the Cua Lon River on the Gulf of Thailand side of the Ca Mau Peninsula.
Once past the river's mouth, he discovered numerous enemy structures and fortifications. Brown ordered his crew to take the enemy positions under fire and signaled the beginning of U.S. Navy operations in the Cua Lon and Bo De River complex.
For the next eight months, as part of Operation Sea Lords, the Navy conducted a series of raids and sweeps in the area. At first the operations were costly. These rivers, dubbed "Brown's Run" by American Navymen, became the scene of fierce firefights between the Swifts and enemy soldiers well-entrenched in thick brush and bunkers along the river banks.
By this June, the Swift boat sailors had gained the upper hand enabling the U.S. and Vietnamese Navies to launch an unprecedented and daring campaign to re-establish a government presence in the area. Seafloat is the first stage of that effort.
Nine large pontoons were towed to their present position and joined together to form the base for Seafloat. Structures built on the floating platform include a helicopter landing pad, barracks, messing facilities, a small auditorium for interviewing and briefing visitors (housing them overnight if necessary), and a small market place.
A combined 120 man U.S. and Vietnamese Navy team is quartered aboard Seafloat. This team is conducting an effective "psyops" (psychological operations) program that, since its beginning on June 27, has attracted hundreds of woodcutters and fishermen and their families to visit the floating "city."
More than 100 families have already expressed a desire to move back to Nam Can and start the arduous task of rebuilding their homes.
At first they came slowly and in few numbers. After several days, word of the medical services and supplies aboard Seafloat brought visitors at a rate of more than 100 a day.
The yellow and red flag of the Republic of Vietnam is included in materials distributed; and now the Vietnamese junks and samoans plying local rivers fly these flags in an area once noted for blatant display of VC banners.
The enemy is still present and although not a shot has been fired at Seafloat, U.S. and Vietnamese Navy officals still refer to the lower Ca Mau as a contested area.
Frequently, the VC will send small wooden floats down the river with messages attached for Seafloat. These messages say, in effect --- "Get out!" This, the men of Seafloat have no intention of doing.
Seafloat itself is formidably armed, but the Navy has provided additional muscle to help insure the success of the mission. A detachment of Swift boats, heavily armed 50-foot aluminium gunboats, now operate every day from the base. They patrol the waterways that join the Cua Lon - Bo De Revier complex, playing the Seafloat message over loudspeakers and making known the new government presence in every corner of the Ca Mau Peninsula.
Other larger Vietnamese Navy and U.S. craft, as well as Allied air support, are available if the enemy attacks Seafloat. This muscle is the key ingredient to pacification efforts in the Nam Can Forest. The enemy knows it. Seafloat is prepared for the VC challenge.
Sooner or later, the first citizens will return to their city. And eventually Seafloat will no longer be needed.