The story of the Fahnestock expeditions reads like some fantastic work of fiction -- full of action, danger and intrigue -- but it's all true. Bruce Fahnestock (1911-1942) and his brother Sheridan (1912-1965) shared a passion for sailing and distant places, which they indulged to the fullest in a three-year expedition across the South Pacific aboard the schooner Director, which commenced in 1934. The brothers collected a wide variety of flora, fauna and artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History, but were most captivated by the music of Indonesia. They resolved to mount a second expedition for the purpose of documenting this music.
The second expedition (the first in which sound recordings were made) began in February 1940 when the Fahnestock brothers and a 17-member crew left New York Harbor in their three-masted, 137- foot schooner Director II, a gift from John Hubbard's widow, Helen Fahnestock Hubbard. During a nine-month period, they travelled to American Samoa, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Australia, recording music and collecting Pacific bird specimens for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
When the 137-foot Director II sailed from New York in February 1940, included among its cargo were two Presto disc-cutters, the state-of-the-art recording devices of the day. Given the cumbersome nature of the machines, with their sixteen-inch discs of aluminum coated with cellulose acetate, the Fahnestocks (joined this time by Sheridan's wife, Margaret) brought along two miles of insulated microphone cable, enabling them to record on shore while the equipment remained safely aboard the boat, with two skilled radio technicians at the controls. This method enabled the Fahnestocks to record in the least obtrusive manner possible, while obtaining the highest quality results.
After eight months, during which the Fahnestocks gathered musical treasures from the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia, the voyage of Director II came to an abrupt end. Exploring the coast along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Fahnestocks were forced to rely on obsolete navigational charts, as the British Navy, seeking to protect ten thousand miles of coastline from the feared Japanese invasion, would not make current charts available. On 18 October, Director II struck a shoal near Gladstone, Australia and began to sink. Rescue boats rushed the fifteen miles from shore when they learned the news of the sinking. They stood by for ten hours as the crew worked unsuccessfully to repair the damaged hull. Finally the command "abandon ship," was given, and the radio operator wired a cable that reached the office of one of the New York newspapers: "Schooner Director sinking on Great Barrier Reef." Virtually everything on board was lost, and the expedition was forced to return to the United States eight months sooner than planned. The damages totaled more than one hundred thousand dollars. Miraculously, Bruce Fahnestock had returned to the United States just two weeks earlier with the precious recordings.
Offshore radio station: The ship was expected to be in the vicinity of the islands of Fiji in July 1940. It was also planned that this ship would make a series of 20 radio broadcasts back to the United States for re-broadcast by the NBC network. The transmitter was a 1kW unit using six different frequencies in the international communication bands.
Location: International waters in the South Pacific