'And madness risen from hell'

Half sitting, half lying back to back, supporting each other merely by our inability to move very much, we rode the waves, a little higher now owing to the lesser load we carried but nevertheless the waves still broke against us and the higher waves still drove into our faces and momentarily blinded our eyes. There was a silence upon us; we waited, for death or rescue and rescue seemed so remote.

The heaving, rolling, salt stained hours passed, it was the Lt who first voiced our innermost thought, "We have no chance now, they'll never find us." We were too tired to protest, we had no strength for argument, our brains and will had been washed away in the sea's surge.

The Lt spoke again, "I'm packing in." We resented the dwindling of our numbers and we attempted to dissuade him. He sat with us for a little longer, or it may have been for hours, then, "It's no use chaps," he half leaned over and then slid over the side. The three of us that were left could make no effort to save him, we were too weak and the strength to live was leaving us fast. I now sat with my back against Ginger and Mynott, they supported me and I supported them. We sat in silence, our hands clutched the sides of the raft, they were alternatively soaked in salt water and burned by the sun. Swollen and raw they epitomised to us our slow decay, and time dragged on, and the sun and the sea and the thirst. The great all blinding, overwhelming thirst, and the sea and the sun.

The next decision was made by Ginger, he said something to Mynott and then he placed a hand upon my shoulder, "So long Brummie, I'm giving in." There could be no argument, only some small gesture against acknowledged defeat. I said, "Hang on Ginger, we'll all pack in at nightfall." Mynott agreed with me, there was no purpose beyond the hours of darkness, but Ginger was adamant, "No, it isn't worth it, so long mate." I half turned and touched his hand, "Goodbye Ginger." He cried out, "Mind my hand," our hands were raw and parboiled by the sun, yet this incident stayed with me for all my days, for all the years to come, that a man going to his death resented in his last hour the pettiness of pain.

Ginger half stood, half rolled and went to the sea, we two who were left envied his hour of decision. He stayed for a moment in the sea's embrace and then was gone, there were but two of us, each facing his small sight of the watery world, back to back, as men in dire need must always be.

Up and down, round and round, wet and salty dry, and surely pitiful in the eyes of God and man. Would man ever set eyes on us again?

There were small oblivions, a moment's sleep within the pressure of the need to live. I think that there were times when Mynott and I withdrew from the world that loved us no longer. We lived other days in dreams, days that loved us and that we loved, and there was a sleep and a small forgetting. In this sleep we saw the things we longed for, the loveliness of other days and other times. We were fast coming near to madness and madness bade us welcome.

We dozed and woke, each I believe in his turn, unconsciously, unwittingly, unknowingly. Nightfall was approaching and as we had told Ginger, "Wait 'til night and we will all go." Night was now coming to claim the promise of the day.

I awoke and it being one of my more lucid moments I scanned the horizon and suddenly I saw smoke. All the days and all the nights there had been smoke or drifting clouds or figmented hopes, we had shouted and waved and looked with dry eyes to see them fade away, they had not waved back nor signalled, these vague half-formed dreams.

This time it really was smoke, there was a ship, she was heading away along the far horizon, I watched, fascinated, knowing she was too far away for me to bother to signal. I was at this moment that I first experienced the full depths of despair.

Then suddenly the ship came about, she came around in another tack and I knew she was looking for us. I shook Mynott, "A ship, look!" Mynott awoke and looked about him. Owing to the raft having no control we spun haphazardly in the waves and I feared for a moment that I had once again been seeing things, but no, it was Mynott who now spotted her, "She's coming towards us." "Hold me up and I'll wave," I said. With great difficulty Mynott held me by the legs, I leaned one hand on his shoulder and waved my topee with the free hand as the raft spun in crazy circles.

I slid down on the raft again and Mynott got up, I held his knees and in a short time he too sat down. We had very little strength but to let the ship go past without any effort on our part was too much to demand.

"Let's try and paddle towards her," I suggested. I took off my topee and, slipping my legs over the edge of the raft began to use it as a paddle.

I had paddled for but a few moments when all of a sudden it happened. As I looked down I saw rising from the depth a dark and menacing hulk, I realised that a shark, seeing my legs over the side, had come in to the attack. Even before he struck I yelled, "He's got me!!" and within seconds he had. I snatched my legs out of the water; the shark rose after the bait, his head came up, large, dark and omnipotent. His teeth closed on my right leg, he would have sheared it off at one snap but as he rose I beat repeatedly on his nose with my topee. It was a confused and fast blur of action, the shark dragged the leg down and I felt his teeth saw at the bone but at long last I managed to snatch my legs back on to the raft. During the momentary struggle Mynott had attempted to use his knife which had been stuck in the raft hilt uppermost, it was fortunate he did not manage to retrieve it. Had he joined me on the one side of the raft our combined weight and the drag of the shark would have certainly tipped us both in the water. We would never have managed to get back on the raft and with the scent of my blood in the water the sharks would have made a very quick kill.

I sat on the raft and looked at my leg, I could not see how badly it was torn, the tattered leg of my uniform obscured my view. A thin trickle of blood was running off the raft and I was amazed to realise that I still had my foot. At any moment I expected sharks to attack us again and drag us under.

I was in complete despair and for the first time was ready to give in. Mynott supported me as best he could but my strength was leaving me in a thin red trickle. I told Mynott, "I'm done for." He said, "Hang on, the ship is coming." I waited for a moment, then said, "Where is she?" Mynott lifted my head, "There she is," and sure enough there she was.

Looming large out of the water was a liner, the Cabo de Hornos out from Rio de Janeiro, she looked like the Grand Hotel afloat. I gazed at this wonderful sight, the rails were lined with passengers and crew. I heard long after that they lowered a rope ladder for us to climb but one of the crew shouted, "Tiburen, la Tiburen," this being the Spanish for shark. They then lowered a boat; I remember being swiftly lifted into it and then being slid up the ship's side in a sling. There was a confused blur of faces and long drawn-out Spanish "Aiee-es" as they saw the torn leg, then I was carried to a cabin and put into snow-white linen sheets on a bed. This seemed but a dream, this cool comfort and kindness; I would soon wake and find myself back on the raft. I tried to keep my eyes open, to take in all this wonder, all this comfort and the eager well-wishers.

Cabo de Hornos

The Cabo de Hornos

The ship's Doctor came in and with him an English speaking steward, who asked me when I had been bitten and how long it had been since I had had a drink. When they learned that it had been five days, the Doctor refused to let anyone give me a drink. Gaspar the steward was told to wet a pad of cotton wool and moisten my lips and then to squeeze a little moisture between my lips. I tried to grab the pad but being extremely weak I was easily restrained. I knew the Doctor was too wise to give me a big drink and that it was all for my good, but dear God what would I not have given for one good swig.