Voyage of the Invader

by Louise Omwake Eckerson

Chapter 3

hen I woke on the morning of July 12, water was swishing around the porthole, and a glance up the companionway disclosed a gloomy sky with the threat of more rain.  It was cold and a sweater felt good.  Throughout most of the trip one or two sweaters was usually comfortable.  Some of the husky, tanned young lads made me wonder how they could avoid goose bumps with scarcely more than shorts for clothing.  However, scanty clothing was a sensible solution to the laundry problem.  Necessity required washing both our clothing and ourselves in cold salt water—difficult because our soap would not make suds in salt water.

By the second day the ship-shapers’ schedule was in full swing.  Everyone knew his hours of responsibility and planned their program accordingly.  There were committees to set tables and serve as waiters, to wash and dry dishes, and a one-man committee of 17-year-old George who swept the dining salon that doubled as a cabin for himself and Carl, a consumer education teacher.  Everyone was responsible for their own living quarters and no one scrubbed the deck.  I recalled summers on freighters when I was awakened each morning

At the helm
by the swish-swish of a mop on the deck as a seaman gave it a daily bath.  The Invader never received a formal rubdown.  Rain, never for long but often, took over that chore.

Although the Invader’s log did not record a favorable beginning on the first or second day, we believed that many tomorrows would come with fun and fine weather.  These would be the days we had anticipated.  All spring I repeated that trite but true statement that there was not a person in this whole world whom I envied.  I knew that this voyage to Hawaii under sail would be the epitome of all that was lovely, romantic, exotic, unique, and challenging.  Not even rumblings of war with Japan or tales of tossing sailboats could lessen my enthusiasm for the palm trees and coral coves, pineapples and avocados, blue water and white sands, sunshine over Hawaii, and moonlight on sails!  And to feel a sailing yacht move over the Pacific Ocean under my direct control at the helm!

Two days of seasickness did little to dampen my ardor.  I knew that I was among the privileged few of my generation—I was headed for Hawaii on a schooner!  Two days of discomfort due to cold, rainy weather and mal de mer were only temporary conditions.  In contrast, the sun and warm and fair sailing would heighten our enjoyment and appreciation of life on the Invader.  This was adventure, and one always takes the bitter with the sweet in adventures.  Each obstacle confronted, each problem solved, adds thrills of achievement to such undertakings.  Reversals of good fortune are to be expected.  The element of change is essential to excitement and we had booked for an exciting cruise.  We were getting what we had asked for.

I started a letter home.  I continued to write the facts and describe events as they happened for the rest of the voyage.  Four days out, and I wrote some sketchy notes in my little brown book: “To Hawaii—may the stay there be more pleasant than the way there.  Not a dull moment during the first four days—half of the crew with seasickness, double work done by the hardy night watches in the rain, change of tack at all hours of day and night, and Ed’s firecracker.  .  .  .”

“Bang”—a terrific explosion in the evening jerked me out of my bunk as a streak of light flashed down the dark hallway past my cabin door.  My only thought was: an explosion at sea.  Everything had gone wrong.  The motor had broken; the plumbing needed attention; the electric wiring caused trouble.  Again and again we heard, “If it isn’t one thing, it’s ten others.”  Here was the eleventh.  I expected to see the ship severed in the saloon area, the direction of the explosion, and water rushing in.  This was one of the times during the summer when I felt real fear.

After the loud report, there was a deadly silence, yet I knew that about eight of our crew were in the saloon.  Investigation was essential, but I dreaded to discover the truth.  Water had not rushed in, but what did it all mean?  At the door of the saloon I saw Bud, his six-foot length stretched out on the floor.  Someone was bending over him.  Everyone else stood like statues, staring.  I didn’t dare break the silence.  I was afraid to blurt out any questions.  There seemed to be reason for the intense stillness.  So I waited.  Finally Bud spoke.  What he said made no difference.  I don’t remember what it was.  He was alive.  At last I could draw a deep breath.

Soon the explanation came out.  We had been scheduled to leave California on the 4th of July and in preparation for the salute befitting our departure, Ed—a chemistry teacher—had brought along some homemade fireworks.  Since we spent the 4th in a Los Angeles hotel, the firecrackers had no appropriate use.  The past four days had been dreary, spirits were down, and life on board in general was at low ebb.  A sudden shock might startle us out of our lethargy, make us jump—and smile afterwards.  Such was Ed’s reasoning, so he set off a firecracker just above the saloon.  There the sound would have the greatest effect on the greatest number of people.  It did.  The miniature bomb hit the wire screen of the ventilator, pierced it and shot a piece of wire into Bud’s cheek, just below his left eye and another into his scalp.

A tense moment ensued while Bud was examined.  He was not knocked to the floor unconscious as I had thought.  He was there for a medical examination and the group was nervously awaiting the report.  All were relieved when they learned that the wire had not touched Bud’s eye and both pieces could be easily removed.  I cannot recall who played doctor—such highly emotional experiences leave gaps in memory.  My attention was focused on only one subject—Bud.  This incident readily brought to mind what I read of Villier’s voyage: “I thought, as we came down the rigging—what could we do if he were badly hurt?  We had no surgeon, no doctor.  We had scant medical supplies, no hospital.  We had no wireless to summon other vessels to our aid, in the remote possibility of any others being near us.  And probably there was none within a thousand miles.” All of this was true of the Invader.

I had glanced at the lifeboats while we were still tied up at Newport.  I wasn’t concerned because one doesn’t usually expect a lifeboat to be put to use, and it had never occurred to me to examine lifeboats on the Garcia-Diaz, Wilhelmsen, American Scantic, or the Italian Lines.  Others in our crew were more curious, more critical, more realistically aware of danger.  Perhaps they had less faith in Jack’s nautical knowledge and his assurance that the lifeboats were adequate.  As untoward events occurred around us, conversation focused on what we would do if we had to abandon ship.

The canvas-covered joke lifeboat
I drew by lot

One of the lifeboats on board was a motor launch that had been used at Newport.  It was in good condition.  Also on board were a sturdy flat-bottom dory, a flimsy stream-lined rowboat, and a life raft.  At least three of these pieces of emergency equipment would be called into use if we had to take to the water.  In a draw, I pulled the “flimsy” that had become the joke of the crew.  This delicately constructed barque gave ominous suggestion that it was not seaworthy.  Efforts were made to render it watertight by dressing it up in a glove-tight canvas covering, adorned with attractive little copper nails that later produced a green polka dot effect.  To this base, paint and a prayer were added.  As a vote of confidence, Jack volunteered to sink or float in this, “The Captain’s Boat.”

Subsequently, we had a farcical lifeboat drill—the one and only—complete with lifeboats.  No effort was made to lower the boats.  The fact that there was no food, fresh water, or flares in any of them did not seriously bother most of us.  Villiers had written in Around Cape Horn. “There wasn’t any food in the lifeboats and they wouldn’t float anyway.”  It was George, our one shipmate below college age, who wisely reminded us at a crew roundup, of our lack of preparedness as a crew.  No action was taken.  Other defects in our equipment were spotted and called to our attention by this anxious young seaman, and hence, he became our “Little Captain.”  George kept his lifebelt, ready to use, by his davenport in the saloon each night.  The rest of us traveled under the assumption that it couldn’t happen here.  But George was right.  Anything could have happened to our inexperienced crew navigating a run-down schooner on an angry ocean.

Time turtled on during the next few days.  The only life we saw beyond the Invader’s scuppers were albatrosses, but not the snowy variety described by Coleridge.  Ours were called “gooneys”—drab, brownish—poor relations of the Ancient Mariner’s luckless bird.  What had become of the entertainment committee that Alice was appointed to chair before we left Newport?  Alice, a physical education teacher back home, had gone on a SITA trip to Europe and had learned the ways of adventure via kayak, traveling on continental waterways.  She was an able organizer and had recreational plans for the Invader that would have met with enthusiasm aboard freighters I have known.  Shuffleboard blocks were made by the ship’s carpenters, but shuffleboard could not become popular on a deck that was forever rolling, moving the blocks out of their places while the players tried to keep their balance.  How about a Russian bank tournament, since a number of us claimed an interest in the game?  No, the saloon is no place for green-eyed sailors and the winds did not permit any card games on deck.  Bridge?  A roll call brought five bridge players to the fore, but bridge also had to have the saloon locale.  A song competition?  There were a couple of contributions, but in general the muse refused to create in a chaotic environment.  Jack tried valiantly to introduce song fests on deck with his guitar and accordion, ably taking the vocal lead himself.  He sang lustily many of the old songs including “Sonny Boy,” which he said he had sung in about fifty night clubs in Europe.  Under healthier conditions we could probably have brought Dinah out of the kitchen and summoned Bonnie from over the ocean.

Sea voyages usually offer ample opportunity for reading.  With instructions to limit our baggage to one suitcase and a canvas bag, almost all of us eliminated books.  There was scarcely a book on board.  One or two magazines constituted the ship’s library.

A further obstacle to social activities lay in our staggered hours of chores.  Those on the night watches had to grab sleep during the day.  Some of the group were always busy preparing meals, serving it, eating it, washing dishes, steering, or repairing the latest equipment that had broken.  Some were trying to forget the rolling motion of the schooner by courting Morpheus.  Because crewmen on Watch I and II never ate together, they remained almost strangers to each other throughout the voyage.

During the long gray days, I recalled the deck life on freighters on trans-Atlantic crossings.  One time the twelve passengers compiled a ship’s newspaper with contributions focused on events and jokes of which we were a part.  A section of snapshots taken on board accompanied it.  The paper was presented to the captain.  On another occasion, an Italian captain performed a mock wedding ceremony followed by a wedding dinner with drinks appropriate to each course.  Always on freighters, advance preparations were made for the Captain’s Dinner the night before reaching land.  This was an occasion for the muse to work in every corner of the ship, and for tale-telling verses and ludicrous gifts to be presented to appropriate persons.  Drinks flowed freely and spirits ran high.  The Captain’s Dinner was the one event that called for dresses, earrings, and cosmetics.  There was always a run on the showers and reservations had to be made in advance.  On one ship, the Sunbeam Club came into existence with enthusiastic spontaneity.  The cargo hatch had become the locale for sunbathing and soon the need arose for a schedule to prevent over exposure.  A procedure was devised with signals—at twenty-minute intervals—for starting, turning over, and quitting.  On only one freighter did I find bridge to be a favorite pastime.  This was due to the fact that a young man had a passion for bridge.  He invited all bridge players into the saloon and bridge clubs came into being—morning, afternoon, and evening clubs. 

A few minutes of sun

The difference between the Hawaiian voyage and my trans-Atlantic trips was inherent in nature herself.  Sunbathing is usually the essence of a summer cruise, but sunbathing was a rare, almost non-existent treat of our Pacific crossing because the sun failed to cooperate.  On the Atlantic, the morning and/or afternoon sun never failed us and seemed to shorten each day.  Time flew and waking hours became precious.  I recall my attempts to avoid naps and lengthen the days on each homeward stretch by drinking coffee at every meal.  Hours spent sleeping were hours lost.

Even the approach of foreign lands did not offer great inducements to leave the routine I loved on freighters.  After ten days on the ocean, the ship I was on became my ship with all of the loyalty attending rightful ownership.  I loved its scrubbed decks, its polished brass, the attentive foreign steward, the genial captain-host, and I never tired of watching cargo being loaded and unloaded following a different scenario in each country.  Life around me produced an inner contentment and just living was a joy from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

We were still struggling against the odds on our fifth day on the Invader.  Outwardly, we were still clinging to the optimism with which we had started.  My little brown book recorded a succession of gray events, and then a feeble effort to cheer myself with lines never intended for other eyes: “But the sails are lovely, the Invader’s crew is a select group of game folks, and I am glad that this experience can be mine.”  I had never heard of seasickness lasting more than four or five days.  The untoward events seemed unfortunate, but I was sure they couldn’t last.  One could expect machinery, once repaired, to remain whole, and only a certain number of breakages are likely to occur by the laws of chance.  Dull, dark, rainy days do not typify weather in the tropics.  The sun and stars must shine within the next twenty-four hours.

Bea and Carl

Bea and Carl

Haven and Marvin standing the 4:00 to 8:00 a.m. watch, literally waited for the sun to rise each morning.  Back in Newport we had teased Marvin, one of California’s native sons, about the morning and evening drizzle that he had called “liquid sunshine.”  The rain that washed the Invader’s deck could not masquerade under such a poetic label.  Every morning Marvin made a bet with Haven that they would see a sunrise.  Everyday for eighteen days he lost a quarter.  Not only were the odds against his bank account, but against the dispositions of all of us.  Every little glimpse of sun and stars for those 18 days brought momentary thrills of renewed hope—and then the rain came.  Almost hourly, day and night, a fresh squall would gather, pour itself over us, only to be followed by another that would repeat the performance.  Between showers, the deck would dry and one after another of the off-duty seamen would emerge from the companionway hidden by a large air mattress, always blown up for use.  Their owners would carefully place them in selected spots in anticipation of relaxation or sleep.  Success would be just around the corner when—little drops of water.  .  .  .

The advertised “sleeping on deck as the rule, not the exception” became a disappointing joke.  One night, it seemed to have at last become a reality.  The stars were shining and Jack had figured our position roughly by Arcturus.  Spirits were up and so were air mattresses.  By 10:00 p.m. bedtime was imminent.  One by one, the invaders had picked their spots, wrapped blankets around heavy pajamas, stretched out their rubber clouds, and said goodnight.  Only the helmsman and his companion on the watch were open-eyed.  The only noise was the whispering of the ocean as the schooner disturbed her tranquility. 

Sleeping under the stars had become a fact.  But only for about 20 minutes.  The men at the wheel saw the clouds gather, the stars disappear, and the rain begin to fall.  The sleepers were awakened and there followed a dash for the companionway, bulky mattresses impeding progress, blankets dragging.  That was the only mass attempt to sleep under the heavens.  I don’t believe that anyone succeeded in snatching a full night’s sleep on deck throughout the entire voyage.  On the return voyage, sleeping in bunks was the rule and the low temperature on deck discouraged even the most hardy.

Mess in the saloon was colorful.  No doubt the men around our table resembled sailors who have gone down to the sea in ships for hundreds of years—after time had permitted the growth of beards.  Costumes varied with the temperature, individual hardiness, and modesty, and what appeared above the table included everything from hairy masculine chests to heavy sweaters.  The saloon was not intended to accommodate more than eight people—eight low comfortable arm chairs.  The last arrivals had to perch on high stools like lonely outposts on each side of the table.  Wherever one sat it was advisable to extend a leg as a supporting prop for balance against the roll of the ship.

Dinner and supper were never dull.  The ship’s gyrations gave rise to physical activity, conversation about the latest mishaps and raucous laughter.  This highly select crew (references were required by Jack) never ascended in table conversation to the finer things in life.  We talked about what met the eye and that was sufficient.  With a sudden plunge of the schooner to the port side, glasses and plates raced down the oilcloth and the end-man became a goalie.  The spacious end seat was not a popular place to be when Mother Ocean was breathing deeply.  On one occasion a bottle of catsup bounded up from the table and hit the ceiling leaving evidence that it had been there.  When dishes began to dance around, eating stopped and everyone grabbed their plate and mug.  The serving dishes bumped into those that were anchored, or were rescued by someone with three hands.  The unexpected was always happening; somehow things never reached the stage of anticipation and always produced a started and noisy reaction.

Another place on the Invader had a peculiar charm all its own—the bathroom.  The tub, with colorful stains and rust, dated from the days when the water supply met the demand.  To us it was just a soiled white elephant.  We were not permitted to take baths, so nobody cleaned the tub.  Stand-up bathing in our cabins was the rule—difficult because of the cold salt water.  The toilet was more interesting in design.  It owed its unique character to the flushing device—a long-handled pump that was known to be temperamental.  Our bathroom was no white ivory tower.  No one was assigned to keep it clean and no one volunteered for the job.

It didn’t take long for Invader creativity to initiate a ritual relative to bathroom protocol.  Not even Emily Post could devise a simpler and more appropriate code of etiquette to meet Invader’s needs.  Respect was built up for a lone piece of paper bearing the message “Occupied” and hung on the outside of the door.  This was our assurance of privacy on the premises.  One little word had to pinch hit for a metal lock, but it had the strength of an iron bolt.  One’s sole protection lay in his own memory, and he who forgot to post the sign paid dearly for his absentmindedness.  Seldom did anyone upon entering fail to turn the sign to “Occupied,” but quite often one forgot to turn the paper over when leaving.

My cabin was directly opposite the bathroom that was used by most of the Invader’s crew.  Often I was thankful that its door was so near when I lay on my bunk and wished fervently for a calm ocean.  I would observe with special interest whether “Occupied” adorned the door and whether it meant business.  More than once I bounced out of my bunk and into the bathroom with no ceremony of sign-posting.  There was no time for etiquette.

It was a red-letter day when the entertainment committee (or the sanitary squad?) organized a swimming party in the middle of the Pacific.  It was so calm that the ship moved along at a speed easily equaled by a fairly good swimmer.  “All overboard for a bath,” ordered Ed.  No urging was necessary.  A pail of fresh water and soap were provided on deck.  A rubdown to work up lather on exposed parts preceded the plunge, and then every man for himself.  It was up to each crew member to judge whether he was a sufficiently strong swimmer to dive off the bow, keep up with the moving ship, and eventually grasp the rope ladder and pull himself on board.  Even a snail’s pace for a schooner can be too fast for some swimmers.  If there were any sharks in the ocean, the dismal thought of them was submerged.

I recalled the story told to me by a man who took a similar schooner trip the previous summer.  A timid, philosophical sort of male who was not adapted to the rigors of seafaring adventure, or any other, followed the crowd in their mid-ocean dive.  As on the Invader, no one was his brother’s keeper, and more than once the man sank below the surface and struggled up for air.  Finally, his predicament was noticed and he was pulled to safety.  Asked how the near tragedy had come about, he replied, “I don’t know how to swim.”

Ben and Florence

Fortunately, our sailors were aware of their abilities.  They had discovered earlier in life that swimming requires a learning process that one doesn’t seek for the first time in mid-ocean off the side of a moving ship.  We had among us a couple who were daring even by Invader standards.  Ben, the cook, and Florence, the physical education teacher, chose to play in the ocean at the bow of the schooner.  They climbed down on ropes that served as a sort of hammock to catch a sailor if he missed his footing while adjusting the gib.  Holding on to the end of a rope, each was carried along in front of the prow, being buried in strong currents as the ship plowed through the water.  It was a feat of strength to hold on and to come up for air, fighting one’s way against the billowy forces of water set in motion by the ship.  Had one of our courageous swimmers lost their grip on the rope, the suction of the Invader could have spelled disaster.  Perhaps that was a chance worth taking, for it contributed to mutual admiration of the pair.  Several months later, Florence and Ben gave legal testimony to their courage.  Back in the United States, they took the final plunge into marriage.

“Come and watch Dottie wash dishes.”  Word spread around the deck, and one by one, curious faces filled the galley entrance.  The chores of South Carolina’s Dottie involved helping to set the dinner table, serve both watches, and do the dishes.  This was her first experience on the washing end, and all witnesses averred that it was probably the first dishwashing in her whole life.  Her method was unique: rub the dishrag on the soap, pick up one knife and rub it, rinse the soap off the rag, wipe the soap off the knife, and pass same to one of the two assistants standing by with a tea towel.  At that rate the dinner dishes for 20 people would be an evening’s occupation.  Ed, Van, and I helped prolong the process to test Dottie’s powers of endurance and to entertain ourselves.  We found that we could place a pile of clean dishes under

Dottie daydreaming
a dirty one and Dottie would wash all of them.  The fact that we had to wipe them again did not detract from our wicked fun.  The crew aided and abetted us in our uncharitable play and the show continued for several hours.  Dottie worked steadily, finally becoming good-naturedly weary.  Later she sensed a plot and bargained her way out of dishwashing for the rest of the trip.

Dottie’s domesticity revealed only one aspect of her many sided personality.  She possessed a variegated bouquet of traits.  Her youthful dignity commanded respect.  One weighed one’s words in conversation with Dottie.  She had graduated, quite young, from the University of South Carolina and taught English for one year, then determined never to do it again.  As a product of the South, her accent and deliberate movements rang true, but she seemed to spurn many of the feminine qualities of a southern-bred young lady.  Her below-the-shoulders straight hair remained unfettered by ribbons, bobby pins, or combs.  Not even a selected site for a part was in evidence.  A mere brushing, and Dottie was ready for dinner on the Invader, in town, or even at a Hawaiian nightclub.  Framed by this uncontrolled mane was a strong, handsome face, reflecting the power and poetry of her person.  A mature and high intelligence was evidenced in her discussions of music and literature—her real friends.

In a trade to get out of dish washing, Dottie gave Helen, the French horn player, a small book that had influenced Dottie’s philosophy—The Prophet, by the Syrian, Kahlil Gibran.  It was probably such gems of literature that held her thoughts for hours at a stretch as she sat far out on the bowsprit, her favorite nook where few dared to join her and interrupt her reveries.  As she gazed at the water and distant horizons, her thoughts must have been long, long thoughts.  I doubt that they concerned broken motors, bad weather, the charted course, or the drudgery of the ship’s chores.  I assume that they were far-away, impersonal reflections on the art and life of dead geniuses.  I believe that she saw only beauty in the dull, gray water around her, and that the dirt of the Invader’s deck escaped her notice.  She possessed a serenity that was seldom ruffled by events on board.

Fiftyish, graying Van became Dottie’s best friend, a kindred spirit who shared her silences, her music, and her authors because he too knew and loved them.  He also needed a friend who could respect his own privacy of thought, but who could lean on the rail for hours and discuss Russian literature.  Dottie and Van, silhouetted against the sky in quiet exchange on subjects of mutual interest, became a familiar sight on Invader.  It was a platonic relationship seemingly satisfying to both parties.  The rest of us never felt quite at home on their lofty plane.  Later, on the islands, Carl and I joined them on several jaunts, including one memorable picnic on the beach in Kauai.  When liquor was consumed—Van always saw to it that there were drinks—the atmosphere that prevailed did not deteriorate.  When we remembered her age—only 19—there was an undeclared consensus to protect her from some of life’s realities and crude jokes.  It was easy to forget her extreme youth as we did one evening at a restaurant when, with assumed sophistication, she ordered in quick succession, port wine, tequila, sherry, and vodka.

Van, a New Yorker, was fond of harmless horseplay.  His wide interests prepared him to face new situations with a sense of knowing the right thing to do, while inwardly, a sensitivity and timidity made him appear ill at ease.  With a deep breath and seeming confidence, he would plunge into a remark, but invariably his breath would peter out; the sentence would taper off into an unintelligible mumble and end with the Van trademark, “I don’t know.”  But he did know.  He had his well-founded opinions but infrequent attacks of self-consciousness: his sound ideas suffered from the familiar qualification “I don’t know.”

Van fishing

With a reserve born more, I believe, of shyness than of secrecy, Van became our “mystery man.”  Why did a man with his gray hairs seek such a trip?  Why did he not disclose his identity?  Was he a man of wealth to match that of some of his friends?  He contemplated buying our schooner from Jack.  Would such an investment represent merely a token purchase?  He dickered with the idea of chartering a smaller sailing yacht for an additional trip to Tahiti.  Did his circumstances permit a vacation of extended length and considerable amounts of money?  Who was Van?

He had studied seven years at Juilliard Music Conservatory in New York, played the piano, and composed music.  His love of the artistic strongly motivated him.  He saw the Hitchcock-directed movie The Long Voyage Home ten times because he enjoyed the splendid photography and excellent portrayal of old sea hands.  The association of the oldest man and the youngest girl in our crew was not surprising when their traits and interests were compared.  The difference in years was offset by a mutual agreement as to what was important.

“Tenth day at sea,” my on-the-spot reporting continued.  “The sun has hidden itself for practically the whole ten days.  An accurate ‘shooting of the sun’ requires its appearance at sunrise, noon, or sunset, and for days that has been impossible.  Consequently, we don’t know just where we are—somewhere between four to six days off Honolulu.” That was by dead reckoning gauged by the taffrail spinning the water. 

My log continued, “Today the main water supply, holding 3,000 gallons, became exhausted and when the reserve tank of 600 gallons was investigated, it was found that all but thirty had drained into the main tank.  So, from now until ‘when’ we shall use water only for drinking.  An emergency conclave was called, and a committee was appointed to ration all fruits, cans containing juices, and water.  Accordingly, we should each have one pint of water a day for 12 days.  A homemade condenser is under construction.  Ed is the man of the hour and all eyes turn to him for advice.”

News of the water shortage made other inconveniences at sea seem inconsequential.  What we had for conversation before—lifeboats, radio, weather, seasickness, repairs, galley work—all of those things were dwarfed by a real cause for alarm such as one reads about in adventure stories but never expects to meet.  Here we were in the flesh, not in fiction.  Our predicament called for cooperation to survive.

Our plotted course on the map looked like feather stitching as one day’s record failed to connect with the next one.  We had no way to signal for help.  We expected the sun to shine soon which would give us our position on the ocean. But along with the sun would come a thirst that damp weather would not decrease.  If we didn’t see the sun, we might easily sail past the islands (the Orient was far away).  We were in a grave situation: short on water and lost.

It seemed unreal to me.  Actually faced with the possibility, however remote, of personal extinction.  There was something within me that denied such a possibility.  Well aware that no one knew our location on the Pacific, that no navigator, however skilled, could gauge distance and direction accurately by the taffrail turning in the water at our stern, that sun and stars must appear before Jack could estimate the miles between us and Hawaii—still, there was nothing suggestive of the mild terror or fear among us.  The situation was serious, we all agreed, and no one disputed the necessity of rationing our limited liquids.  The need was recognized and concerted action was taken.  There was discussion, of course, and probably everyone harbored an inner anxiety, but fear did not seem to be in proportion to the facts.

The days passed.  Four days, then six days, and still there was no sign of land.  Jack would cheer us by predicting that in five days we would arrive at Honolulu.  The next day he would make it six, and the next prediction would be five again.  We lost faith in all estimates.  But somehow it seemed easy to joke about it.  Flags were run up the halyards to tell passing ships that we were in distress.  We knew that no ships would come within sight on our route.  Not because of the war but because we traveled in an arc, following the trade winds, while steamships took a direct route.  The flags were nice to photograph, and the whole performance was carried out more in fun than in fear.

Had we been uncomfortably thirsty, two mugs of liquid a day would not have seemed adequate, but here the rain proved benevolent.  The blue and white oilcloth used on the table in the saloon was commandeered to catch rain water and our supply was doubled.  The taste of oilcloth was vile, but Ben disguised it in strong coffee and soup.  Lemonade was another way of taking the oilcloth out of the water.  I can recall only one occasion when quenching thirst topped all desires within me.  Ben had cooked jacketed potatoes in salt water, but unfortunately he used the same method for baking beans.  They were salty but palatable, and we ate them in quantities.  A wholesale drought followed.  About three hours later, I was behind the wheel when thirst, felt earlier, required superlatives to describe it.  I needed a word comparable to “starved,” but more than semantics I wanted water.  About two swallows of oilcloth-in-solution were all that could be spared to alleviate the suffering of the wheel girl who unwisely had eaten too many beans.

Even half cups of liquid were measured out and tabulated on the water chart, and no drops of soup or fruit juice ever went back to the galley.  Four o’clock tea that had been a come-and-help-yourself affair without frills disappeared from the schedule, but as long as they lasted, each of us had a daily orange in the afternoon.  Never has an orange tasted and felt so good!  That four o’clock orange, drawn out segment by segment, was a joy to be lengthened to a half hour.  It overcame seasickness, boredom, and anxiety.  It was a luscious ball of California sunshine, treasured as true gold.  It was a fragment of home, enjoyed still intact, a thousand miles away.  It was unaffected by the weather, the disappointing events of the day, or the smell of the galley.

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Voyage of the Invader Chapter Index

Introduction  Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8

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