Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific (V)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 



Night settled down over the ocean. The stars came out but the wind and wave continued as wild as ever. All night long I sat on the floor hanging on to the swaying tiller, baling the boat, and occasionally examining the compass with a pocket flashlight to make sure that I was still holding my course a degree or two north of west. Daylight came with nothing in sight but sea and seething billows. I ate another ship's biscuit, washed it down with the last drops of the now stone-cold coffee left in the vacuum flask. Finally the tropical sun was directly overhead, indicating noon, but still there was no land in sight, not a puff of smoke on the horizon to indicate a steamer, not a sail anywhere other than my own tiny jib. My hair, face, and body were encrusted with salt my lips were swollen, my eyes burned, and my back had burnt dreadfully my arm too, was almost paralysed from manipulation of the bailing scoop and blisters had begun to appear on both hands. I had lost all desire for food but my craving for water seemed insatiable. 

I may as well drink I mused for I reasoned that with two full containers of water I should probably never live to consume it all. With that I drew a full pint of water, drank it, and managed to find enough dry tobacco in the bottom of my pocket tin to load my pipe. Then I sat down weakly bailing water, puffing at my pipe, and meditating. The afternoon passed in much the same way. The wind continued to blow, and the sea remained as rough as ever I became sick, dizzy, and disconsolate I didn't much care whether the boat remained on the surface or sank Darkness came again. I remember sitting on the floor at the tiler-handle, still fumbling with the bailing-scoop, then everything went blank. 

The next thing I knew was the vision of walking through the white walled corridors of a hospital. You may go right into room number two said a white gowned nurse who was showing me the way. I turned the door handle carefully and tiptoed into the room. There nestled in pillows and white sheets was my wife. Never had I seen her more beautiful. Nestling in the bend of her arm was a tiny pink ball of humanity sound asleep. Oh daddy exclaimed my wife its a boy. I told them you would come, you always keep your word don't you they said you were shipwrecked and delayed but I knew you would come just as soon as you could get here. Yes sweetheart I had a hard time getting here I replied, but I'm here I am sorry that I could not get here sooner.

At that moment the plaster fell off the ceiling and came crashing down all over the floor. I reached for the phone. Hello hello Hospital I yelled. Turn the water off and call the plumbers quick. suddenly the imaginary flood became real. I opened my eyes and there I was lying in the bottom of the boat. Rolling from side to side in about eight inches of water.

The vision of my wife and new born baby floated off into space as I scrambled to, my knees and grabbed up the baling scoop. I'd been dreaming how long I do not know. I only know that it was dark when I began to dream and that the sun was well up when I came to my senses. As I hurled the water back into the sea I began to curse as I had never attempted to curse before. I was cursing myself however. "You fool!" I exclaimed aloud. you went to sleep like a coward! Exactly when you should have been baling water for your life. You were dreaming about what's happening at home, but if you don't want your wife to become a widow you'd better stop dreaming and bale the water out of this confounded boat. With that I swung the baler like a mad man and never once stopped until the last drop that could pick up with the scoop was out of the boat. 

Then every thing got whirly and black again and I sank down in the bottom once more. How long I lay there I don't know, but when I came to again it was night. I got out my watch  and flashlight only to find that the timepiece had stopped. I was soaked with sea water. I found, it had stopped at three o'clock  but search my befuddled brain as I could. I could not decide whether it was 3 am or 3 pm.  I was still puzzling over the problem when I became aware that my boat was scarcely moving. No water was coming aboard and the sail was flapping limply. Straining my half-blinded eyes into the dim starlight. I could make out faint, rays of light coming over the horizon to indicate sunrise, and observed that the sea was perfectly calm. There scarcely a wave or swell running I had ridden out the storm. 

Knowing that I was in no immediate danger of being capsized or swamped, I began to think about a meal. I drew water from one of the breakers took a long drink and then washed the salt out of my eyes. Next I broke into the provisions case got out a tin of corned beef and ate the whole of it, along with two, ships biscuits, some dried food and some cheese. All this revived me and for the next hour or so. I occupied my time in greasing the motor. Eventually I had the task completed and with a supreme effort in my weakened condition managed to lift it over the stern and clamp it in place. I give the little motor a spin and the gallant little motor responded almost instantly.

The installation of the motor was only a trial to make sure it was in working order in case I needed it. The wind had now gone and  my sail was useless.The motor offered the only hope left for putting me on land or near a ship in case one was sighted. When the sun came up there was nothing in sight but sky and water. a leaden-looking sky and a sizzling tropical sea. I had no idea, of my whereabouts, and  no means of reckoning other than by the wildest conjecture as to how far I might  have travelled while running out the storm. Whether I had missed Cape Male or whether I was adrift in the big Pacific, was a matter of speculation. I did not know if I was even in the ship lanes or completely out of them. Furthermore with no wind to fill my sail. Only enough fuel to operate my motor for a few   hours and no knowledge of what direction in which to travel. If I did attempt to move my plight seemed a little more encouraging than when I was attempting to ride the waves.

I found some relief from the torture my eyes were giving me. by wetting a hand kerchief in one of the water breakers. and then bandaging them. I would keep my eyes bandaged for about half an hour at a time. Only removing the bandage to look around occasionally. To see if there might be a ship in sight. About 10 o'clock that morning as best as I could tell. I removed the bandage and off to the north beheld what appeared to be a tiny smudge of smoke coming up over the horizon. Was it a ship or was it some sort of fire on land. I took another look through my binoculars, I was assured that what I saw was actually smoke and not an hallucination of my troubled brain. For the next half hour I watched it through the glasses, and was finally convinced that the tiny smudge was getting nearer and even increasing in volume. I must be a ship!" I exclaimed aloud, and then I shouted for sheer joy at the thought of being picked up.

Continued in part (VI)

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