Painting : Shakti, Auroville
Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea
In 1980, American-born Steven Callahan, age twenty-nine, sold everything he had to design and build a small cruising ship that would, he hoped, take him across the Atlantic Ocean to England. Steven had been sailing since the age of twelve. "I fell in love with sailing instantly," he writes, "everything about it felt right." Steven named his twenty-one foot long boat Napoleon Solo.
Not many boats this size had made the crossing, but there had been a few as small as 12 feet. "I was not interested in setting a record," he says. "For me the crossing was more of an inner voyage and a pilgrimage of sorts... It was my soul that called me to this pilgrimage... I figured that if I made it to England safely I'd have accomplished every major goal I'd ever set for myself." From England he planned to measure Solo's performance in a single-handed race called the Mini-transat that would carry him from England to Antigua in the Caribbean. Many of Steven's friends could not understand why he wanted to undertake such a voyage, why he couldn't test himself without crossing the Atlantic. Before setting out, he wrote:
I wish I could describe the feeling of being at sea, the anguish, frustration, and fear, the beauty that accompanies threatening spectacles, the spiritual communion with creatures in whose domain I sail. There is a magnificent intensity in life that comes when we are not in control but are only reacting, living, surviving. I am not a religious man per se... not in line with any particular church or philosophy. But for me, to go to sea is to get a glimpse of God. At sea I am reminded of my insignificance — of all men's insignificance. It is a wonderful feeling to be so humbled.
The Atlantic crossing, with one friend as the only crew, was exhilarating and successful. "Gales, fast runs, whales, dolphins. It was the stuff adventure is made of. And as we approached the coast of England, I felt I was ending the whole experience that had begun at my birth, and beginning a new one."
After a few days' rest, Steven says goodbye to his friend and sets „ out alone on the transatlantic race. But the winds soon blow into a gale, and three days out of England, Solo runs into some floating debris in high seas, and he is forced to drop out of the race and sail to Spain for repairs. It is now late December and he is tempted to spend the rest of the winter in warm Tenerife in the Canary Islands. "I am caught in the sailor's inevitable dilemma. .. You need ports and often can't wait to get to the next. Then when you are in port, you can't wait to get back to sea again. After a few nights in a dry bed, the ocean calls, and you follow her. You need mother earth, but you love the sea."
So, on the night of January 29, he sets out from Tenerife alone, for the Caribbean, a full ocean away. The first week is a sailor's dream, with gentle seas and a wind that speeds him towards Antigua. But on February 4 a gale sets in and grows fiercer...
What happens that night, and for the next seventy-six days, is the story of Adrift. The book was constructed by Steven Callahan from a log he kept during his ordeal. He dedicates Adrift "to people everywhere who know, have known, or will know suffering, desperation, or loneliness."
Disaster at sea can happen in a moment, without warning, or it can come after long days of anticipation and fear. It does not always come when the sea is fiercest but may spring when waters lie as flat and imperturbable as a sheet of iron. Sailors may be struck down at any time, in calm or in storm, but the sea does not do it for hate or spite. She has no wrath to vent. Nor does she have a hand of kindness to extend. She is merely there, immense, powerful and indifferent. I do not resent her indifference, or my comparative insignificance. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons I like to sail: the sea makes the insignificance of my own small self and of all humanity so poignant....
It is about 22:30 Greenwich Mean Time. The moon hangs full,
white and motionless, undisturbed by the tempest and the tumultuous sea. If conditions continue to worsen, I will have to head more southerly. For the time being, I can do nothing more, so I lie down to rest. At 23:00 I get up and undress. I lie down again clothed only in a T-shirt. A watch circles my wrist, and around my neck is a slab of whale tooth on a string. It is the most I will wear the next two and a half months.
My boat slews around the rushing peaks, her keel clinging to the slopes like a mountain goat, her port side pressed down against the black, rolling ocean. I lie on my bunk, slung upon the lee canvas, hanging as if in a hammock.
BANG! A deafening explosion blankets the subtler sounds of torn wood fibre and rush of sea. I jump up. Water thunders over me as if I've suddenly been thrown into the path of a rampaging river. Forward, aft — where does it come from? Is half of the side gone? No time. I fumble with the knife I have sheathed by the chart table. Already the water is waist deep. The nose of the boat is dipping down. Solo comes to a halt as she begins a sickening dive. She's going down, down! My mind barks orders. Free the emergency package. My soul screams. You've lost her! I hold my breath, submerge, slash at the tie downs that secure my emergency duffel. My heart is a pounding pile driver. The heavy work wrings the air from my lungs and my mind battles with my limbs for the opportunity to breathe. Terminal darkness and chaos surround me. Get out, she's going down! In one rhythmic movement I rocket upward, thrust the hatch forward, and catapult my shaking body onto the deck, leaving my package of hope behind.
Less than thirty seconds have elapsed since impact. The bow points toward its grave at a hesitating low angle and the sea washes about my ankles. I cut the tie-downs that secure the raft canister. Thoughts flash about me like echoes in a cave. Perhaps I have waited too long. Perhaps it is time to die. Going down...die...lost without trace. I recall the life raft instructions: throw the bulky hundred pounds overboard before inflation. Who can manoeuvre such weight in the middle of a bucking circus ride? No time, quickly — she's going down! I yank. The first pull, then the second.— nothing, nothing! This is it, the end of my life. Soon, it will come soon. I scream at the stubborn canister. "Come on, you bastard!" The third pull comes up hard, and she blows with a bursting static shush. A wave sweeps over the entire deck, and I simply float the raft off. It thrashes about on the end of its painter. Solo
has been transformed from a proper little ship to a submerged wreck in about one minute. I dive into the raft with the knife clenched in my teeth, buccaneer style, noticing that the movie camera mounted on the aft pulpit has been turned on. Its red eye winks at me. Who is directing this film? He isn't much on lighting but his flair for the dramatic is impressive.
Unmoving and unconcerned, the moon looks down upon us. Its lunar face is eclipsed by wisps of cloud that waft across it, dimming the shadow of Solo's death. My instincts and training have carried me through the motions of survival, but now, as I have a moment to reflect, the full impact of the crash throbs in my head. Never have all of my senses seemed so sharp. My emotions are an incomprehensible mix. There is a wailing anguish that mourns the loss of my boat. There is a deep disappointment in myself for my failures. Overshadowing it all is the stark realization that what I think and feel will not matter much longer. My body shakes with cold. I am too far from civilization to have any hope of rescue.
The raft, which Steven nicknames "Rubber Duckey" still remains tied by a long rope to the floundering Solo. He hopes to be able to get back' inside for extra food and supplies.
February 5, Day 1
I do not think the Atlantic has emptier waters. I am about 450 miles ? north of the Cape Verde Islands, but they stand across the wind. I can drift only in the direction she blows. Downwind, 450 miles separate me from the nearest shipping lanes. Caribbean islands are the closest possible landfall, eighteen hundred nautical miles away. Do not think of it. Plan for daylight, instead. I have hope if the raft lasts. Will it last? The sea continues to attack. It does not always give warning. Often the curl develops just before it strikes. The roar accompanies the crash, beating the raft, ripping at it.
I hear a growl a long way off, toward the heart of the storm. It builds like a crescendo, growing louder and louder until it consumes all of the air around me. The fist of Neptune strikes, and with its blast the raft is shot to a staggering halt. It squawks and screams, and then there is peace, as though we have passed into the realm of the afterlife where we cannot be further tortured.
Quickly I yank open the observation port and stick my head out. Solo's jib is still snapping and her rudder clapping, but I am drifting away. Her electrics have fused together and the strobe light on the top of her mast blinks goodbye to me. I watch for a long time as the flashes of light become visible less often, knowing it is the last I will see of her, feeling as if I have lost a friend and a part of myself. An occasional flash appears, and then nothing. She is lost in the raging sea.
I pull up the line that had tied me to my friend, my hope for food and water and clothing....
I feel so vulnerable. There are no backup systems remaining, no place to bail out to, no more second chances. Mentally and physically, I feel as if all of the protection had been peeled away from my nerves and they lie completely exposed.
February 6, Day 2
I rip open a tin of peanuts and eat them slowly, savouring each nut. It is February 6, my birthday. This is not quite the meal I had planned. I have lived a nice, round thirty years. What have I to show for it? I write my own epitaph.
FEBRUARY 6, 1952 — FEBRUARY 6, 1982
All that I have accomplished in life seems very trite and offers as little comfort as the bare horizon outside.
For three days the gale howls. Waves glitter in the sun and the wind blows white beards of froth down their blue chests. During the day the sun brings a small spot of warmth to my frigid world. At night the wind and sea rear up more viciously. Even in these, subtropical conditions, the water temperature falls below sixty-five degrees, so I risk dying from hypothermia before the sun rises. Naked and sore, wrapped in clammy foil and a sodden sleeping bag, I shiver and can sleep only in snatches, as my whole world rumbles and shakes. Waves breaking nearby and on the raft actually sound like cannon shot.
Continually drenched with salt water, my skin has broken out with hundreds of boils. They multiply quickly under my wet T-shirt and sleeping bag. Gouges and abrasions cover my lower spine, butt, and knees. They are foul, but I suppose they are clean. I'm often awakened with the searing pain of salt burning their putrid tenderness. The raft is too small for me to stretch out in, so I must rest curled up on my side. At least this helps to keep the cuts dry....
I begin to keep notes on my state of health, the raft's condition, and I the quantity of food and water. I also keep a navigational record and begin to write a log. 'I have lost all but my past, my friends, and of course the shirt off my back. Ho, ho. Will I make it? I don't know.' I write as steadily as I can on dime-store three-by-five-inch pads. Even this simple task takes great effort, as the raft continually lurches about. I take the notes out only when I'm sure that the raft will not be capsized or flooded. When I am done, I double-bag them in plastic, each bag carefully tied, combine them with my survival manual in another plastic bag, and put them in my equipment duffel.
Presuming that the raft stays intact, and I acquire no additional food or water, I can last at best until February 22, fourteen more days. I may just reach the shipping lanes, where I will have a remote chance of being spotted. Dehydration will take its toll by that time. My tongue will swell until it fills my mouth and then will blacken. My eyes will be sucked deeply into my head. Death will knock at the door to my delirious mind.
An eternity exist between the click of each second. I remind myself that time does not stand still. The seconds will stack up like poker chips. Seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days. Time will pass. In months I will look back on this hell from a comfortable seat in the future ... perhaps, if I am lucky.
Desperation shakes me. I want to cry but I scold myself. Hold it back. Choke it down. You cannot afford the luxury of water wept away. I bite my lips, close my eyes, and weep within. Survival, concentrate on survival. Clear sea stretches for two miles under me. No life is visible in the depths from which I might score a meal. It is too rough to use the solar stills in the water. For now I can hope only to be found.
February 17, Day 13
The raft is lifted and thrown to the side as if kicked by a giant's boot. A
shark's raking skin scrapes a squeak from it as I leap from slumber. 'Keep off the bottom!' I yell at myself as I pull the cushion and sleeping bag close to the opening. I perch as lightly as possible upon it. Peering into the night, I grasp the spear gun. He's on the other side. I must wait until he comes to the opening. A fin breaks the water in a quick swirl of phosphorescent fire and darts behind the raft, circling in to strike again. A flicker of light in the black sea shows me he is below, and I jab with a splash. Nothing. Damn! The splash may entice him to attack more viciously. Again the fin cuts the surface. The shark smashes into the raft with a rasping blow. I strike at the flicker. Hit! The water erupts, the dark fin shoots out and around and then is gone. Where is he? My heart's pounding breaks the silence. It beats across the still black waters to the stars. I wait....
In my thirteen days adrift, I have eaten only three pounds of food. My stomach is in knots, but starvation is more subtle than simply increasing pain. My movements are slower, more fatiguing. The fat is gone. Now my muscles feed on themselves. Visions of food snap at me like whips. I feel little else.
Several triggerfish swim up from astern as the breeze builds. They come up broadside. Once again I aim and fire. The spear strikes and drives through. I yank the impaled fish aboard. Its tight round mouth belches a clicking croak. Its eyes roll wildly. The stiff, rough body can only flap its fins in protest. Food! Lowering my head I chant, 'Food, I have food.' I try to strike it unconscious with my flare gun. It's like clubbing concrete. Powerful thrusts with my knife finally penetrate the trigger's armoured skin. Its eyes flash, its fins frantically wave about, its throat cracks, and finally it is dead. My eyes fill with tears. I weep for my fish, for me, for the state of my desperation. Then I feed on its bitter meat.
February 18, Day 14
I'm getting to love dreaming of food, rather than hating its tempting vision. Dreaming is the closest I can get to it, and being close to nourishment and drink is better than nothing.
I have become both the real and the dream. I now see many worlds surrounding me: the past, present, and future; the conscious and unconscious; the tangible and the imagined. I try to convince myself that it is only the present that is hellish, that all of the other worlds are
untouchable, securely unimprisonable. I want desperately to keep these other worlds safe from pain and depression so that I can escape to them whenever I wish. My own propaganda is intoxicating, but I know reality's sharp, penetrating, dominating qualities. Steven Callahan is not free to leave. Today things flow smoothly, but tomorrow waves may break, crush my spirit, and wash away my dreams.
Steven learns to spear the large dorado fish that follow his raft. He cuts them into strips and hangs them from a rope to dry. Although they do not supply all of the nourishment a body needs, the dorados keep him from starvation. But a constant worry is that the heavy fish will push the spear into the rubber raft.
February 21, Day 17
Ship ho! I glance up and there she is, close by, a sweetly lined red hulled freighter with white whale strake and shapely bow slicing her way right for me. It's incredible that I haven't seen her sooner. They must have spotted the raft and are headed over to check it out. I load the flare pistol to satisfy their curiosity. As it shoots skyward and pops, the vessel cuts the distance between us at twelve to fourteen knots. The flare isn't as bright as it would be at night, but the crew can't miss its smoke and flame hanging in the air. If anyone is looking, it is impossible for him not to see me. The raft isn't disappearing into any troughs, and I have the full ship continually in view. I light an orange smoke flare that hisses and wafts a tawny genie down-wind, close to the water. My eyes search the bridge and deck for signs of life. The ship is now so close that if a deckhand scurries into view I will be able to tell what he is wearing. But the only thing moving is the ship itself. I pull in the man-overboard pole, extend it high over my head, and wave frantically. I shriek above the soft murmur of the raft gliding over the water, the shush of the ship's bow wave, and the beat of her engine. 'Yeoh! Here! Here! Bloody hell can't you see!' I yell as loud as I can until my throat cracks. I know that my voice must be drowned out by shipboard clamour. Still, it is a relief to break the silence. She steams on. Such a lovely ship...too bad. Within twenty minutes she has disappeared over the horizon.
How many others can possibly pass so close? Most likely none. How many will pass that I will not see? How many won't see me?...
The freedom of the sea lures men, yet freedom does not come free.
Its cost is the loss of the security of life on land. When a storm is brewing, the sailor cannot simply park his ship and walk away from it. He cannot hide within stone walls until the whole thing blows over. There is no freedom from nature, the power that binds even the dead together. Sailors are exposed to nature's beauty and her ugliness more intensely than most men ashore. I have chosen the sailor's life to escape society's restrictions and I have sacrificed its protection. I have chosen freedom and have paid the price.
February 26, Day 22
My life has become a composition of multilayered realities — day dreams, night dreams, and the seemingly endless physical struggle.
I keep trying to believe that all of these realities are equal. Perhaps they are, in some ultimate, sense, but it becomes increasingly obvious that in the survival world my physical self and my instincts are the ringmasters that whip all of my realities into place and control their motions. My dreams and daydreams are filled with images of what my body requires and of how to escape from this physical hell. Since I have gotten the still to work and have learned how to fish more efficiently, there has been little to do but save energy, wait, and dream. Slowly, though, I find I am becoming more starved and desperate. My equipment is deteriorating.
I must work harder and longer each day to weave a world in which I can live. The script sounds simple enough: hang on, ration food and water, fish, and tend the still. But each little nuance of my role takes on profound significance. If I keep watch too closely, I will tire and be no good for fishing, tending the still, or other essential tasks. Yet every moment that I don't have my eyes on the horizon is a moment when a ship may pass me. If I use both stills now, I may be able to quench my thirst and keep myself in better shape for keeping watch and doing jobs, but if they both wear out I will die of thirst. My mind applauds some of my performances while my body boos, and vice versa. It is a constant struggle to keep control, self-discipline, ,to maintain a course of action that will best ensure survival, because I can't be sure what that course is. Is my command making the right decisions? More often that not, all I can tell myself is 'You're doing the best you can.'
March 3, Day 27
I save the bulk of my water ration for dessert. Since I have rebuilt my stock, I can afford to drink a half pint during the day and three-quarters of a pint at dinner, and still have a couple of ounces for the night. I slowly roll a mouthful around on my tongue until the water is absorbed rather than swallowed. When I return, ice-cream will be no more pleasurable.
In these moments of peace, deprivation seems a strange sort of gift. I find food in a couple hours of fishing each day, and I seek shelter in a rubber tent. How unnecessarily complicated my past life seems. For the first time, I clearly see a vast difference between human needs and human wants. Before this voyage, I always had what I needed — food, shelter, clothing, and companionship — yet I was often dissatisfied when I didn't get everything I wanted, when people didn't meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted, or when I couldn't acquire some material goody. My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness. Even here, there is richness all around me. As I look out of the raft, I see God's face in the smooth waves, His grace in the dorado's swim, feel His breath against my cheek as it sweeps down from the sky. I see that all of creation is made in His image. Yet despite His constant company, I need more. I need more than food and drink. I need to feel the company of other human spirits. I need to find more than a moment of tranquillity, faith, and love. A ship. Yes, I still need a ship.
...and water. There are two solar stills aboard Ducky, but neither works properly. The pure water is contaminated with salty sea water. Finally Steven decides to sacrifice one still and dismantles it in order to discover how it should work. He is then able to repair the remaining still, which starts producing a few hundred millilitres of water per day. Until the end of the voyage, his physical endurance and mental ingenuity will be severely and constantly tested by the need for pure water
March 19, Day 43
The day before, Steven had speared and killed a dorado which then slipped overboard and sank into the sea...
I cannot stop mourning the big dorado that I futilely slew last evening. I try to convince myself that my depression comes only from the fact that I am in desperate need of meat, but my sense of loss is not solely pragmatic. Ineffectual attempts to catch fish are nothing new, and I think little of them. I feel emotionally devastated. The dorados have become much more than food to me. They are even more than pets. I look upon them as equals — in many ways as my superiors. Their flesh keeps me alive. Their spirits keep me company. Their attacks and their resistance to the hunt make them worthy opponents, as well as friends. I am thankful for their meat and companionship and fearful of their power. I wonder if my deep respect for them is related to my Indian ancestors' respect for all natural forces. It is strange how killing animals can sometimes inspire such worship of them. I can justify killing the dorados in order to save my own life, but even that is getting more difficult. Last night's killing was to no one's advantage. I have robbed the fish of life and myself of the fish's spirit. I feel as if I have gravely sinned, that this is a very bad omen. Such waste. How I hate waste. Still, I realize that if I am to survive I must continue to fish. I must pre pare myself to kill again this morning.
Soon Steven has speared a very large dorado. But as if proving his forebodings true, the fish drives the spear tip into the raft. Air hisses from a gaping hole ten centimetres long. The next eight days are a sleepless nightmare as Steven devises one patch after another and desperately pumps air into Ducky to keep it above water. None of the patches holds for very long.
March 27, Day 51
At 9.00 A.M. the patch blows again. The stock of dorados droops against the wet floor of the raft, turning rancid. Hundreds of sores now fester and eat into my nerves, more breaking and oozing each hour. I've slept for only four hours or less each night of the past week, eaten
less than two pounds of food a day, and worked almost non-stop. I'm beginning to panic.
Got to stop it! I've got to get it sealed! Can't. Arms too tired to move. Shut up! Got to. No choice. Move, arms, move! I try to order my beaten and bedraggled body back into action. I crawl forward, relash the patch. She blows. I lash it again. She blows! Time and again the sea throws the raft down. Water smashes against me, flinging me into the torrent that sloshes in and out. Stabbing spasms, twinging, throbbing, convulsive cramping, piercing pain. I cannot take it, I won't ; make it. Stop it! Harder, got to pull the strings tighter. Got to try. World is reeling. Words echoing. Forgotten memories. Hands trembling, skin breaking. Pull harder, harder! Groaning, gasping. Pump. How many? Don't know, can't count. Three hundred maybe. Top tube, too, another ninety. My arms are being torn from their sockets, and I am being flayed alive. A wave crashes in. My world jumps and shakes. She blows. Tie her up again, harder. Get it to stick. The still hangs lifeless over the bow. Pump up the tube. So long, now, ever so long. Two hundred eighty. Rest. O.K., squeeze. Two eighty-one...She blows!
Collapse, can't move. My left arm is searing. With my right, I drag it up onto my chest. Night is here. So very cold, but I do not shiver. I'm lifeless, floating like a wet rag along the top of the sea. Can't move any more. Numb. The end is come. ;,
Breathing hard. Gasping! Yes, I guess I am. Eight days I've been s trying to patch the leak. No more, please, no more. The ocean rolls me about, sloshes over me, beats me, but I do not resist, hardly feel it. Tired, so very tired. Heaven, Nirvana, Moksa...where are they? Can't see them, don't feel them. Only the dark. Is this illusion or real? Aah, word games of the religious and philosophical. Words aren't real. Hours? Yes. Fifty-one days gone and some hours left. I've stumbled, fallen, lost. Why, why, why? Eternity? Yes, the ocean rolls on. I roll on. No. Not I. Carbon, water, energy, love. They go on. Skin and bones of the universe, of God, flexing, always moving. I am lost, lost without trace.
An immense energy pulls at my mind, as if I am imploding within my body. A dark pit widens, surrounding me. I'm frightened, so frightened. My eyes well with tears, pulling me away from the emptiness. Sobbing with rage, pity, and self-pity, clawing at the slope, struggling to crawl out, losing grip, slipping deeper. Hysterical wailing, laments,
lost hope. I scrape to catch hold of something, but nothing is there. Darkness widening, closing in. How many eyes have seen like mine? I feel them, all around me, millions of faces, whispering, crowding in, calling, 'Come, it is time.'
March 28, Day 52
The ghosts reach from the darkness and pull me down. I'm falling. It's come.
'No!' I yell out. 'Can't! Won't!' Can't let go. Tears stream down my face and mix with the sea swilling around my body. Will die, and soon... Find the answer. Want to...yes! That's it, want to live. Despite agony and horror. Despite what lies ahead. I convulse, sobbing, 'I want to LIVE, to LIVE to LIVE!'
Must! Damn it, open your eyes. They blink, heavy with fatigue. Try to focus.
Not good enough.
Quit your bitching! Do it! Grab ahold, arms. PUSH! Now again, PUSH! Good. Up a bit. Won't drown now. Breath is heavy. O.K., steady, boy. Head sways, eyes blur. A wave comes in. Cool. Keep your own cool, too. Stop that whining! Get that bag over you. Do it! All right. Rest now. You're out of it, for now. You're O.K. You hear me?
Now what? Next time it won't be so easy.
Shut up! You've got to come up with something. Got to get warm, got to rest, got to think. Maybe one chance left. Maybe not even that. It's got to work first time. If it doesn't, you WILL DIE! Will Die, Will Die, will die. Yes. I must make this one good.
Go back. Identify the problem. Use what you've learned.
Steven forces his wandering mind to concentrate. He runs over in his head all the equipment he still has available...
First aid kit, bandages, scissors, twine, line. And all the stuff I've already used — spoon, fork, radar refl... The fork! Of course! Why you stupid bloody idiot! 'It's the fork!'
Adrenalin begins to surge through my veins. Like magic, I get the
strength to bundle up and try to regain my lost body heat. I eat whatever fish is in sight, wait, and plan. I lie awake all night planning.
On the edge of death, he has received the inspiration that will save his life. Within a few hours he has constructed a new patch, using the fork to hold it in place. It works!
The grey sky and tormented sea continue to cast a pall over my surroundings. My body hungers, thirsts, and is in constant pain. But I feel great! I have finally succeeded!
April 8, Day 63
I continually wonder how much more a body can take. I don't consider suicide— not now, after all I have come through — but I can under stand how others might see it as a reasonable option in these circum stances. For me it is always easier to struggle on. To give myself courage, I tell myself that my hell could be worse, that it might get worse and I must prepare for that. My body is certain to deteriorate further. I tell myself that I can handle it. Compared to what others have been through, I'm fortunate. I tell myself these things over and over, building up fortitude, but parts of my body feel as if they are in flames, The fire from the sores on my back, butt, and legs shrieks upward and the flames burst forth into my skull. In a moment my spirit is in ashes and tears well in my eyes. They are not enough to even dampen the conflagration....
How easy it would be to let go and die, to undergo the transformation into other bits of the universe, to be eaten by fish, to become fish. A dorado slips out and I graze the feathery flip of her tail. The little flirt immediately returns. But I can't let go. People are my tribe. It should be easy to surrender to the dorados or the sea, but it is not.
I measure my latitude with my [makeshift] sextant. About eighteen degrees. How accurate is it? I know now I will never last another twenty days. If I am too far north, I am done for. If I could manage the wind, I would make it take me south.
April 12, Day 67
Often when I have gone offshore, I have found myself to be somewhat schizophrenic, though not dysfunctional. I see myself divide into three
basic parts: physical, emotional, and rational....
I instinctively rely on my rational self to take command over the fear and pain. This tendency is increasing as my voyage lengthens. The lines that stretch between my commanding rational self and my frightened emotional and vulnerable physical selves is getting tighter and tighter. My rational commander relies on hope, dreams, and cynical jokes to relieve the tension in the rest of me....
Maintaining discipline becomes more difficult each day. My fear some and fearful crew mutter mutinous misgivings within the fo'c's'le of my head. Their spokesman yells at me.
'Water, Captain! We need more water. Would you have us die here, so close to port? What is a pint or two? We'll soon be in port. We can surely spare a pint.'
'Shut up!' I order. 'We don't know how close we are. Might have to last to the Bahamas. Now, get back to work.'
'You heard me. You've got to stay on ration.'
They gather together, mumbling among themselves, greedily eyeing the bags of water dangling from Ducky's bulwarks. We are shabby, almost done for. Legs already collapsed. Torso barely holds head up. Empty as a tin drum. Only arms have any strength left. It is indeed pitiful. Perhaps the loss of a pint would not hurt. No, I must maintain order. 'Back to work,' I say. 'You can make it.'
Yet I feel swayed more and more by my body's demands, feel stretched so tight between my body, mind, and spirit that I might snap at any moment. The solar still has another hole in it, and the distillate is more often polluted with salt water. I can detect less and less often when it is reasonably unsalty. I may go mad at any time. Mutiny will mean the end. I know I am close to land. I must be. I must convince us all.
We've been over the continental shelf for four days. One of my small charts shows the shelf about 120 miles to the east of the West Indies. I should see the tall, green slopes of an-island, if my sextant is correct. I should hit Antigua — ironically, my original destination. But who knows? I could be hundreds of miles off. This triangle of pencils may be a foolish bit of junk. The chart could be grossly inaccurate. I spend endless hours scanning the horizon for a cloud shape that does not move, searching the sky for a long wisp of cloud that might suggest
human flight. Nothing.... I'm assuming that I'm within two hundred miles of my calculated position, but if I've been off by as little as five miles a day, I could be four hundred miles away from where I hope I am — another eight or even fifteen days. 'Water, Captain. Please? Water.'
April 20, Day 75
I arise to survey the black waters, which occasionally flash with phosphorescent lines from a breaking wave or the flight of a fish. A soft glow looms just to the south of dead ahead. And there, just to the north, is another. A fishing fleet? They do not move. My God, these are no ships! It is the night-time halo of land that I detect! Standing, I glimpse a flip of light from the side. A lighthouse beam just over the horizon, sweeps a wide bar of light like a club beating out a rhythm — flash, pause , flash-flash, rest; flash, pause, flash-flash. It is land. 'Land!' I shout. 'Land ho!' I'm dancing up and down, flinging my arms about, as , if hugging an invisible companion. I can't believe it!
This calls for a real celebration! Break out the drinks! In big, healthy I swallows, I down two pints. I swagger and feel as light-headed as if it ; were pure alcohol. I look out time and again to confirm that this is no illusion. I pinch myself. Ouch! Yes, and I have gotten the water to my lips and down my throat, which I've never been able to do in a dream. No, it isn't any dream. Oh real, how real! I bounce about like an idiot. I'm having quite a time.
April 21, Day 76
Dawn of the seventy-sixth day arrives. I can't believe the rich panorama that meets my eyes. It is full of green. After months of little other than blue sky, blue fish, and blue sea, the brilliant, verdant green is overwhelming. It is not just the rim of one island that is ahead, as I had expected. To the south a mountainous island as lush as Eden juts out of the sea and reaches up toward the clouds. To the north is another island with a high peak. Directly ahead is a flat-topped isle — no vague out line but in full living colour. I'm five to ten miles out and headed right for the centre....
As each wave passes, I hear something new. RRrrr... RRrr... It grows louder. An engine! I leap to my knees. Coming from the island, a couple of hundred yards away, a sharp white bow, flared out at the rail,
pitches forward against a wave and then crashes down with a splash. The boat climbs and falls, getting closer and closer. It's small, maybe twenty feet, and is made of rough-hewn wood painted white, with a green stripe around the gunwale. Three incredulous dark faces peer toward me. Jumping to my feet, I wave to them and yell, 'Hello!' They wave back. This time I have definitely been seen. I am saved! I can't believe it, just can't believe... Nearly over. No reef crossing, no anxious awaiting of an airplane. Two of the men are golden mahogany in colour, and the third is black. The one at the helm wears a floppy straw hat with a wide brim that flaps up and down. His T-shirt flags out behind him as he rounds his boat ahead of me and slides to a halt. The three of them are about my age and seem perplexed as they loudly babble to one another in a strange tongue. It's been almost three months since I've heard another human voice.
'Hablar espanol?' I yell.
'No, no!' What is it that they say? 'Parlez-vous français?' I can't make out their reply. They all talk at the same time. I motion to the islands. 'What islands?'
'Aaah.' They seem to get it. 'Guadeloupe, Guadeloupe.'
We sit in our tiny boats, rising and falling on the waves, only yards apart. For several moments we stop talking and stare at one another, not knowing quite what to say. Finally they ask me, 'Whatch you doing, man? Whatch you want?'
'I'm on the sea for seventy-six days.' They turn to each other, chattering away loudly. Perhaps they think I embarked from Europe in Rubber Ducky III as a stunt. 'Do you have any fruit?' I ask.
'No, we have nothing like that with us.' As if confused and not knowing what they should do, the ebony one asks instead, 'You want to go to the island now?'
Yes, oh, definitely yes, I think, but I say nothing immediately. Their boat rolls toward me and then away, empty of fish. The present, the past, and the immediate future suddenly seem to fit together in some inexplicable way. I know that my struggle is ever. The door to my escape has been fortuitously flung open by these fishermen. They are offering me the greatest gift possible: life itself. I feel as if I have struggled with a most demanding puzzle, and after fumbling for the key piece for a long time, it has fallen into my fingers. For the first time in two and a half months, my feelings, body, and mind are of one piece.
The frigates hover high above, drawn to me by my dorados and the flying fish on which they both feed. These fishermen saw the birds, knew there were fish here, and came to find them. They found me; but not me instead of their fish, me and their fish. Dorados. They have sustained me and have been my friends. They nearly killed me, too, and now they are my salvation. I'm delivered to the hands of fishermen, my brothers of the sea. They rely on her just as I have. Their hooks, barbs, and bludgeons are similar to my own. Their clothing is as simple. Perhaps their lives are as poor. The puzzle is nearly finished. It is time to fit the last piece.
'No, I'm O.K. I have plenty of water. I can wait. You fish. Fish!' I yell as if reaching a revelation. 'Plenty of fish, big fish, best fish in the sea!' They look at each other, talking. I urge them. 'Plenty of fish here, you must fish!'
One bends over the engine and gives the lines a yank. The boat leaps forward. They bait six-inch hooks with silvery fish that look like flyers without big wings. Several lines are tossed overboard, and in a moment, amidst tangled Creole yells and flailing arms, the engine is cut. One of them gives a heave, and a huge dorado jumps through the air in a wide arc and lands with a thud in the bottom of the boat. They roar off again, and before they've gone two hundred yards they stop and yank two more fat fish aboard. Their yelling never stops. Their cacophonous Creole becomes more jumbled and wild, as if short-circuiting from the overload of energy in the fishing frenzy. Repeatedly they open the throttle and the boat leaps forward. They bait frantically, cast out hooks, give their lines a jerk, and stop. The stem wave rushes up, lifts and pats the boat's rear. More fish are hauled from the sea.
I calmly open my water tins. Five pints of my hoarded wealth flow down my throat. I watch the dorados below me, calmly swimming about. Yes, we part here, my friends. You do not seem betrayed. Perhaps you do not mind enriching these poor men. They will never again see a catch the likes of you. What secrets do you know that I can not even guess?
I wonder why I chanced to pack my spear gun in my emergency bag, why Solo stayed afloat just long enough for me to get my equipment. Why, when I had trouble hunting, did the dorado come closer? Why did they make it increasingly easier for me as I and my weapon became more broken and weak until in the end they lay on their sides
right under my point? Why have they provided me just enough food to hang on for eighteen hundred nautical miles? I know that they are only fish, and I am only a man. We do what we must and only what Nature allows us to do in this life. Yet sometimes the fabric of life is woven into such a fantastic pattern. I needed a miracle and my fish gave it to me. That and more. They've shown me that miracles swim and fly and walk, rain down and roll away all around me. I look around at life's magnificent arena. The dorados seem almost to be leaping into the fishermen arms. I have never felt so humble, nor so peaceful, free, and at ease.
It took Steven about six weeks to recover to the point of being physically functional, and another six to gain strength and for his weight to return to normal. So far, no long-term, internal damage has shown up. However, his metabolism was altered and he can now eat a maximum of two meals a day, and often eats only one.
One of the most frequent questions he is asked is, "Do you still sail after all that?"
My reply is simply, "What else would I do?" The sea is my work place, my playground, and my home. It has offered me a pathway to more disciplines than I can ever master. Oceanography, aerodynamics, astronomy, and common-sense problem solving are essential parts of sailing; hydrodynamics, physics, engineering, and intuitive extrapolation are essential to boat design; craftsmanship, metallurgy, forestry, and plastics technology are ingredients of boatbuilding. I am a jack-of-all-trades who has a passion for exploration. Where else can I find a place where knowing very little about a lot of things is so useful? Where else can I find such a great frontier within such easy reach?
From Steven Callahan, Adrift,
Houghton, Mifflin Company, New York