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The water seemed to be all colours of the rainbow when coming on in its mad and crested cumulus. I never thought till then that seas could run so high. They looked like huge icebergs that had suddenly been liquefied and driven by some demon of the sea to rush on and crush us to death. They would gush into the forecastle, ignoring doors and barriers and, not satisfied with flooding the floor knee-deep and drenching the crew, would rush on as if seeking our lady passenger.

I could see the look of anguish that covered Mrs. No doubt she thought that it would be her last moment of life. Humphries, nothing can sink this vessel. Barbour Living Heritage Village.

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It grew, darkened, billowed over the rafts, and lidded the sun. Down came rain. The men threw back their heads, spilled their bodies back, spread their arms, and opened their mouths. The rain fell on their chests, lips, faces, tongues. It soothed their skin, washed the salt and sweat and fuel from their pores, slid down their throats, fed their bodies. It was a sensory explosion. They had to find a way to save the water. The narrow water tins, opened to the downpour, caught virtually nothing. Keeping his head tipped up and his mouth open, Louie felt around for something better and found one of the air pumps.

It was sheathed in a canvas case about 14 inches long, stitched down one side. He tore the seam open, spread the fabric to form a triangular bowl, and watched happily as the rain pooled on the fabric. He had collected some two pints of water when a whitecap cracked into the raft, crested over, and slopped into the canvas, spoiling the water.

Louie tried a new technique.


Instead of allowing large pools of water to gather, he began continuously sucking the captured water into his mouth, then spitting it in the cans. Once the cans were full, he kept harvesting the rain, giving one man a drink every 30 seconds or so.

  • After 9 Months Adrift at Sea, Survivors Tell Their Stories - The New York Times.
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They tore open the second pump case to form another rain catcher. When the sun emerged, they found that the canvas cases made excellent hats. They began rotations with them, two men in, one man out. More days passed. The men were ravenous. Louie resented Mac, and Mac seemed to know it. Though Mac never spoke of it, Louie sensed that he was consumed with guilt over what he had done. As hunger bleated inside them, the men found themselves unable to direct their thoughts away from food.

Occasionally, a bird passed, always out of reach. The men studied their shoes and wondered if they could eat the leather. One day, 9 or 10 days into their odyssey, Louie felt something alight on his canvas hat, and saw its shadow fall before him. It was an albatross. Slowly, slowly, Louie raised his hand toward the bird, his motion so gradual that it was little more noticeable than the turning of a minute hand on a clock.

The bird rested calmly. He grabbed its head and broke its neck. Louie used the pliers to tear the bird open. A gust of fetid odor rose from the body, and everyone recoiled. Louie handed a bit of meat to Phil and Mac and took some for himself. The stench hung before them, spurring waves of nausea. Eventually, they gave up. Louie took out the fishing gear, tied a small hook to a line, baited it, and fed it into the water. In a moment, a shark cruised by, bit down on the hook, and severed the line.

Louie tried with another hook, and again a shark took it. A third try produced the same result. Finally, the sharks let a hook hang unmolested. Louie felt a tug and pulled up the line. On its end hung a slender pilot fish, about 10 inches long. As Louie pulled it apart, everyone felt apprehensive.

Adrift at Sea

None of them had eaten raw fish before. They each put a bit of meat into their mouths and found it flavorless.

They ate it down to the bones. It was the first food to cross their lips in more than a week. Louie had demonstrated that if they were persistent and resourceful they could catch food, and both he and Phil felt inspired. Only Mac remained unchanged. Phil felt uneasy about the bird, and reminded Louie that killing an albatross was said to bring bad luck. After a plane crash, Louie replied, what more bad luck could they have? Several more days passed. The men floated in a sensory vacuum. In calm weather, the ocean was silent. There was nothing to touch but water, skin, hair, and canvas.

Other than the charred smell of the raft, there were no odors, and there was nothing to look at but sky and sea. At some point, Louie stuck his finger in his ear and felt wax there.

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He smelled his finger, and by virtue of being new, the scent of the wax was curiously refreshing. He developed a habit of twisting his finger in his ear and sniffing it. Phil and Mac began doing it, too. Louie and Phil, like all other airmen, had heard unsettling stories about men lost at sea without provisions. Under the stresses of dehydration, starvation, and exposure, many castaways went insane, hallucinating, arguing with imaginary foes, exhibiting bizarre behavior, sometimes even flinging themselves overboard and drowning in an effort to reach illusory rescue ships.

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Thinking about these stories, Louie was concerned more about sanity than he was about sustenance. He was determined that, no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under control. A few days after the crash, Louie began peppering the other two with questions on every conceivable subject.

Phil took up the challenge, and he and Louie turned the raft into a nonstop quiz show. They shared their histories, from first memories onward, recounted in minute detail. Every answer was followed with a question. For Louie and Phil, the conversations did more than keep their minds sharp. As they imagined themselves back in the world, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation.