Sunday, April 11, 2010

Part 2-2 The Water Of Life

We thrust the first pickax into a pretty sand dune near the highest point on the island and scooped out the sand with shovels. However, digging a well is an unbelievably large task. We dug down, clanging into the hard coral ground, scooping out the sand. The large mens naked bodies were drenched in sweat like water had been poured over them. They were thirsty, their mouths were parched and they could not speak. They coveted water, water, water. Now, to get that water to flow, they dug. The well digging seemed cursed from the very beginning.
"Put your backs into it. This is the water of life for sixteen men. And before long, you'll have distilled water to drink."
I knew very well that in a situation like this, a single spoon of water is stronger than a hundred thousand words of encouragement. I wanted to let them slake their thirst as soon as possible, but a distiller can't be made so easily.

The fishing captain and the Ogasawarans made a harried run around the island and reported on their findings, "the area of the island is about four thousand square meters. In the north, there is a small island continuing off a sand beach about one hundred meters away. This island looks about three hundred square meters. On it were around thirty hair seal(1) laying out. We couldn't get close without surprising them.
There are two logs of driftwood. They look like the mast of a wrecked ship from about twenty years ago, made of American pine, with several vertical cracks from dryness. We saw four large Syogaku-Bo(2), which we turned upside down before coming back. We saw nothing else."
I told them, "well done men. Now, as fast as you can, begin making a water distiller. If we don't have drinking water, we can't dig a well."
The Ogasawarans took charge of constructing the distiller.

First, they built a fire pit out of the pieces of coral and sand from in the area.
In this pit, they would boil seawater, collecting the saltless steam in our water distillation apparatus; three stacked oil tins.
The bottom can had it's top cut off and had seawater inside.
The center can was empty with a hole in it.
The top can was filled with sea water.
We put the apparatus into the pit and heated it with a fire. The sea water in the bottom tin boiled off and the empty tin on the second level filled with steam. The steam was cooled by the sea water in the tin on top, turning into water and dripping down, collecting in the second tin.
The tin on the second level was slightly tilted, so that the collected water wouldn't fall into the hole that the steam was coming through. It flowed out through a tube made of a bamboo broom stick, and collecting the water was a bowl.

You cannot purify water without firewood. We hadn't carried that much chopped wood with us on the lighter, so we hauled the two logs of driftwood that had been found by the scouts, and decided to break it down into firewood.
We didn't have an axe to chop the firewood, so we whittled it down with the jackknife, cutting out several wedges which we jammed into the dried cracks in the wood. We did this and with a satisfying split, broke the American pine along the grain.
So prepared the firewood and the distilled water quickly dripped into the bowl. Still we could not wait for it to fill even half full. The well diggers sucked down the water almost immediately. The other men wouldn't drink so soon.
The well diggers drew courage from the water and continued digging, finishing a test well of about four meters deep.
However, the water that came out was white as milk and tasted like salt. It was completely undrinkable.
"It's no good."
I said it was no good, but we had chopped two logs of driftwood into firewood for the distiller. Still, we could not use it only for distilling water. We also had to cook our rice and make side dishes. It was just chopped planks, but they were a precious commodity.
Anyway, we did not know how many years we would live on this island. We needed a good well no matter what.
We would keep on digging wells until drinkable water sprang, opening a holes like honeycombs into the island. We were deadly serious. The sixteen men depended on this well with their lives.
"Let's do it."
With extreme determination we started a second well, sipping all the while on the distilled water dripping into the bowl.
This time, after a depth of two meters we had another well. But the water was undrinkable. It was white, and salty. The well digging team grew exhausted.
Then, the lighter returned safely with the raft in tow behind.
"Good work men," I said. "You must be tired, but change shifts with the well digging team at once."
The men who had come off the lighter immediately began digging a well. By the time the sun went down, they had dug another well two meters deep. The water that came out tasted less of salt than the previous two, but no matter how hard we tried, we could not bear to drink it.

On the other hand, we promptly readied a place to spend the night. We took apart the raft and used a small piece of wood for a pillar, then stretched a large sail over that. This would serve as our roof and keep out the wind. It was a splendid tent. We put the lighter, the food supplies that had been brought back and the other luggage into the tent.
After it became dark, we all gathered into the tent. The cook for the day made salt water soup and fried the meat of the Chelonia Mydas that had been on the island. We didn't have water, so we didn't cook rice. After not having breakfast or lunch and working the whole time on empty stomachs, we were now too exhausted to even say our thanks. After we each drank a third of a bowl of distilled water, we all suddenly became sleepy.
"There's no more light, and everyone is tired, so have a good nights sleep. We can discuss our plans in the morning tomorrow. Goodnight."
We all slept well in the tent. I had made living naked the law of the island, so we did not wear nightgowns or tuck ourselves into blankets. We laid down on the sand and everyone was soon snoring. Since we left Japan at the end of last year, it was the first time sleeping on solid dry land. Who would have thought that we would be so happy to sleep on the sands of a desert island, like a tiny mustard seed in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
In the darkness outside of the tent, I discussed the well with Helmsman Sakakibara, Fishing Captain Suzuki and Boatswain Inoue in quiet voices.
"Fresh water will not spring on this island. However, we must somehow to get a little bit of drinkable water. Sakakibara-Kun, do you have any ideas?" I said.
For a moment the helmsman thought, and then answered, "now, after the three wells, we know that we will not find good water no matter how deep we dig. In other words, the salt water from the ocean mixes in, so we will only dig to more salt water. Is there any way to dig a shallow well?"
The fishing captain answered as if he has just remembered, "A long time ago, when I was on an island that had no fresh water, I found that there was sometimes water if you dig near the roots of trees. If we dig near the roots of the grass, we would probably find comparatively good water. Boatswain, you led the well digging team, what do you think?"
The boatswain also had a face like he had just realized something, "I apologize that the three wells from today failures. If we dig some shallow wells tomorrow, I believe that we will find good water. The water will be white in the beginning, but if we wait, it will eventually become clean."
Here, I said, "I see. There is a definite relationship between a wells depth, the growth of the grass, and the quality of the water that comes out. The grass's roots are sucking up pure water, so a shallow well close to the roots should be better. Shallow wells would also be good in places where it looks like rain will flow and collect.
"So, because this is a coral island, there is a lot of lime in the water. In the beginning the water is white, but it will clear up if we wait. Boatwain, dig more wells tomorrow. I'm relieved that this conversation ended like this. Well, let's go to sleep."
The first night the sixteen naked men slept deeply on that lonely, desert island.

(1)(a) small earless seals
(2)(t) This is a nickname for the Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) which means something like "enightened monk," referring to the final stage of enlightenment in Buddhism.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Part 2-1 Everyone, Strip Down

We arrived and found the island overgrown with vibrant green grass, though there was not a single tree. It was a small coral island whose highest point was about four meters above the water, with an average of about two meters. The flock of seabirds was surprised by the sight of us coming on land and were cawed, flying wildly above our heads.
"It's a wonderful island."
"How about this soft green grass, it's a perfect carpet."
"It is, we can live here in luxury."
"The island isn't moving, ha ha ha."
Everyone was happy to be on solid ground after so long, and were speaking foolishly. However we had a mountain of work to do. Time was short.
"All men come together."
I stood before the gathered fifteen men.
"It's decided, we will live on this island. From this moment, all men will start to work.
"Helmsman Sakakibara, it will be difficult, but take the four best oarsmen on the lighter back to the boulder, pack all the goods onto the raft and tow it back.
"Boatswain Inoue, take the four strongest men and start digging a well.
"Fishing Captain Suzuki, take four men once around the island as fast as you can and find anything that will be useful. When that is finished, get to work building a water distiller.
"All men, before you begin work, strip down immediately. We will live naked here. Beside what we are now wearing, there is not a single change of clothes. We don't know how many years we will be living on this island, and clothes will be valuable. We must take winter into consideration as well. During the time that we can live naked, we will live naked. Everyone, before you start your jobs, spread out your clothes and hang them up. We will store them away carefully."
All the men immediately took of their clothes and became naked.
"My clothes are already half dry."
"Ahh, that's refreshing."
There were even men who moved their hands and legs around enthusiastically. After getting naked, the weight on our trunks was lifted, and we suddenly felt the pangs of our empty stomachs. It was no wonder, we had not eaten breakfast, and lunch had been one sip of canned fruit. Still, there was no way to prepare a meal. We had no tools, no rice and no water. First and foremost, time was short. We all began our work in high spirits but on empty stomachs.
The lighter crew gathered the oars and set out in good cheer.
"We'll be back soon with goods to set up living and food supplies. We're counting on you for the well."
The well-digging team gave them this answer, "we're counting on you too. We'll dig a good well and let you guzzle down nice, cold water."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Part 1-13 Oh Ryuusui-Maru! Goodbye

On that windless morning we slipped out of the sunken reefs onto the vast open sea, and were now riding up and down the mountainous waves, rowing onwards to the west.
When the lighter was carried up onto the peak of a high swell, we could see the shipwrecked Ryuusui-Maru. Her mast faltered, perhaps she was lamenting her lost crew. She was a pitiful sight, so far away with the waves beating against her mercilessly, her hull engulfed in white waves. Despite her wounds, she would fight bravely until the end. Our dear old Ryuusui-Maru.
"Ryuusui-Maru, for a long time you fought for your life through the wind and waves. We leave you behind because we sixteen must go on living for our country. You may think us callous, but please understand our hearts. This is a glorious end for you, your death will not have been in vain. Goodbye, we must part ways. This must be the last time we set eyes upon you--goodbye."
I, the captain, was not the only one to put his hand to his heart. There were tears in all our eyes.
"She was a good ship..."
"What a sad ending, she'll be crushed to pieces."
"Don't cry."
"But you're crying too..."
We looked back again and again, heading to the west. We rowed the lighter on.

With the lighter at full capacity, we could row the oars constantly. The Old Man of Ogasawara was grasping the bowl and bamboo broomstick which had made it to the boulder.
"Old Man, it that going to be your cane?" someone said.
The Ogasawaran replied, "Ha, ha, it's not a cane. You could say the bowl is more of a cane. But everyone must be thinking that. Things that you think are of no interest, may be useful when it comes to hard times. That is the way of the world. You young men wouldn't understand, the tides still have much to teach you." He spoke with the same tone of voice as always, and then began to sleep.
I wondered how much time had passed. We had no clock, so it wasn't clear, but I thought we had been rowing for quite a long time and we had not seen any islands. Though in reality it couldn't have been more than two hours, and we couldn't have come that far. It was only that I was exhausted from the troubles all through the night.
The men rowing and steering were thirsty and not as energetic as they usually were, but there was not a single drop of drinkable water on the lighter. When the Ryuusui-Maru had crashed onto the reef, the water tanks had burst.
"There must be islands somewhere out here," mumbled one of the fishermen.
The Ogasawaran encouraged him, "There are islands somewhere. Don't worry."
"Maybe there aren't any islands in the direction were going. If we get hungry part way through it'll be bad. We should turn back," said Hanta, one of the other naturalized Japanese, in a worried voice. But no one answered him.
Most of the men were veterans of the sea. Their drowsy heads nodded while they squatted in soaking wet clothes, packed like sardines onto the lighter, barely able to move their bodies.
No one paid any mind to being wet. If there is rain during a voyage, sailors are drenched while working on deck. During rough waters, the waves come down ceaselessly and sailors are soaked through. It makes no difference no matter how many raincoats they wear and if they change clothes, they'll have to change again soon, and there aren't many changes of clothes. After finishing a shift and retiring below decks, they go to sleep wet.
To cheer the men, I said, "put more spirit into it, everyone change shifts and row. Men with nothing to do should sleep and save their energy. We'll have plenty to do when we find an island."
The new shift of rowers, in quiet voices, chanted out, "yan-sa, ho-sa, horae, yo-sa..." getting into the mood, working the oars. This chant, like a old lullaby, soothed the sleeping crew.
The helmsman stood in the prow looking forward, shielding his eyes from the sun. Under that watchful gaze he found a spot of haze on the horizon.
"Is it smoke?"
"Is it an island?"
"We've got a hit, row harder!"
Everyone stood up and several men were shouting. The fishermen were saying "we've got a hit," which in the fisherman's language means that they've seen an island sail for, or that they've arrived at an island.
We had found a low, white sand island. Standing only about one meter above the water. There was not a single blade of grass and it might have been a hundred square meters. It was a very small island.
Search--the lighter struck the white sand beach and everyone dashed onto the island. By the position of the sun, it must have been noon.
After we came on land, the noon heat of the south sea sun quickly warmed our skin.
First, I said that to celebrate our arrival we would open one of our precious cans of fruit. One can for sixteen men. Only a sip for each thirsty, parched mouth. However it was a little sour, so somehow it quenched the dryness and everyone was satisfied. Starting now, for many years, we would live deserted island life. One sip of canned fruit was a feast.
We took a look around the island though it was small and bare. There was not a single blade of grass, and there was nothing washed up on shore. We couldn't live here. We had all come together again, when someone shouted, "I see an island!"
In the direction he was pointing on the horizon there was an island as much as three or four times bigger than the one we were standing on.
We could see grass growing green and seabirds in the air, though what we could see was still only a shred of cucumber skin stuck on the whitish horizon.
"It's perfect!"
"Yes, that island!"
The excited men clambered aboard the lighter, and we set out rowing quickly.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Part 1-12 The Tightrope Act Above The Waves

And so, we found we could not make it to dry land using the lighter.
We attached a life preserver to a long thin rope and let it be washed along in the current, the tide and waves quickly swept it to the boulder.
The two men on the boulder picked up the life preserver, and so the rope was spanning the distance between the boulder and the ship.
From the boat we tied a thicker rope made of Manila hemp to the thinner rope which was quickly reeled in to the boulder.
Like this the boat and the boulder were now connected by the stronger Manila rope. They secured the Manila rope to the boulder, and on the ship we heaved in the slack rope with an, "en-sa! en-sa!" pulling it tight, and then secured it to the boat.
We were making the Manila rope into a bridge---a ropeway. Now it was the rope that held our lives, opening a path to the boulder.
Next, we tied a strong rope to the ropeway, making a ring. We would hang from this. We tied a long rope to this ring, and sent one of it's ends to the boulder. Then we fixed the other end to the ship.
There were now two ropes spanning across the gap between the ship and the boulder. One line was the ropeway, with both ends solidly secured. The other followed along the ropeway, making an inhaul that could move the ring. If it was drawn in from the boulder and let out from the ship, the ring would move to the boulder. If it was drawn in from the ship and let out from the boulder, it would move to the boat.
We took turns pulling the inhaul attached to the rope to the boulder and then to the ship, this initial trial went well. We would all try to cross to the boulder in this way.
The youngest of us, Kunashiri the fisherman, sat in the ring first and we tied his torso securely to the ring. He grasped the ring with both hands and set off for the boulder.
On the boat everyone let out the inhaul, and on the boulder, the helmsman and the boatswain chanted, "yon-sa, yon-sa," and began to reel it in.
But the ropeway line was long. One end was fixed to a low point, the boulder. The other end should have been fixed to a high place, but the boat wasn't high enough. No matter how tight we pulled it, the middle of the ropeway drooped down under it's own weight and dipped into the water. We would be traveling down the ropeway tied to the ring, so under our weight it sagged down even more.
Kunashiri the fisherman left the ship, and was immediately submerged in the turbulent waters. But we waited resolutely; as long as he was secured to the ring, he would eventually be pulled out onto the boulder. If he was unlucky he would take several gulps of sea water and splash through the shallow parts being beaten several times against the boulder below. But it was safer than swimming. As long as the ropeway and the inhaul did not break, there was no danger to his life.
Kunashiri went in and out of the waves, and was slowly pulled further from the ship. Finally, by the strength of the helmsman and the boatswain pulling on the rope he was drawn onto the boulder. The men on the boulder untied Kunashiri from the ring and waved both hands high in the air to us. The crossing had gone surprisingly well.
On the boat we hauled the inhaul and pulled back the ring. This time we tied the oldest crew member, the Old Man of Ogasawara, to the ring. I gave them the signal to pull, and the three men on the boulder got to work, hastily reeling in the inhaul. Soon one more had made it the boulder.
Like this, one after another, my fifteen men gathered safely on the boulder.
There was no more need to worry about ropeway transport. Now we had to get the essential supplies onto solid ground. Alone on the ship, I waved for a few men to come back. First, the helmsman came up the rope, pulled only by me. Then the boatswain, the energetic Kawaguchi, and the naturalized Ogasawaran, Chichijima, who was an expert swimmer, came back to the ship. We threw in the supplies that would float into the sea, and they were quickly washed toward the boulder. I watched the men on the boulder as they waited ready for the supplies and then picked them up, quickly carrying them to the center of the boulder so that they wouldn't washed away by the waves. There was no need to transfer any supplies along the ropeway if they would float.
We thought to take out rations, but the food supply locker was near the bottom of the ship and already flooded, so we could not get inside. We found one bale of rice in the kitchen. The man who's turn it was to do the cooking had carried it up the evening before in preparation for breakfast, and it had been left there since. So I tried to think of a way of getting it to the boulder without it getting wet.
We wrapped the rice bale in two blankets, covered it with a rain coat, and then sealed it in a large wooden rice bin. Over that we spread oil, which would repel water, wrapped it again in a sailcloth, tied the sailcloth down with a rope, and threw it into the ocean. Like this it floated to the boulder easily and the rice did not get wet.
Next, we found a wet rice bale, but there were no boxes to float it in. To ensure that the bale did not break we wrapped it in a sailcloth and tied it with a rope, then tied two empty oil tins to it, stopping the spouts of the tins with shredded rags. The tins would serve as floats for the bale. We prayed for it to be delivered safely and threw it into the ocean. This too, was carried swiftly to the boulder. And so we learned that two oil tins had enough buoyancy to float a wet rice bale.
The five of us on the boat grew spirited.
"Well men, gather more oil tins!" I shouted, and we gathered tins from every corner of the ship. There were many onboard for storing turtle and shark oil.
We tied several things to the tins and threw them into the sea, sending them to the boulder. First were the pickax and shovel for digging wells. Then, the saw, rice kettle, binoculars, several blankets, the sails and sailcloth. Then a lot of rope and the food supplies that had been left out in the kitchen. The oil tins sent them all to the boulder.
Chichijima the swimmer dove into the water in the food supply locker, and brought up a wooden box of canned food. He loved sweet foods, so the very first box he took was labeled "Contents Milk." There were still twenty eight unused cans left in the box. On the second dive, he brought up a box of canned beef. Next was canned goat meat, and then canned fruit. He groped with all his might to pull out those heavy wooden boxes. All these precious cans made it to the boulder safely.
The fishing tools gathered at great pains by the fishing captain were swept away by the waves in the blink of an eye. This was a huge blow to everyone.

The boulder that we were sending the goods to was much bigger than the boat. On the side of the boulder facing the boat, the waves crashed and the bubbling white water tried to scale its edges, raving and sending up spray. However, on the opposite side was a cavity, and the ocean was calm because the boulder served as a breaker. The difference between the sea in the front and back of the boulder was truly shocking. As far as the sixteen of us were concerned, the quiet surface of the water behind the boulder was a peaceful harbor.
The lighter had been turn right side up, its water baled out, its steering oar and paddles collected, and was tied to the harbor in the shelter of the boulder. The goods that had been washed to the boulder were all piled atop the boulder.
If sixteen men rode on the lighter it would be full, and nothing further could be loaded on board. So I had also decided to make a long, thin, triangular raft to carry our goods. We took the materials for the raft from wherever we could on the ship, tearing it away and sending it to the boulder. The mast, spars, timber, large boards, the doors to rooms and other wood we threw into the sea, and they were all whisked to the boulder by the waves. The men on the boulder picked them up, and quickly assembled a triangular raft in the harbor in back.

As the time passed, the ship was gradually being destroyed by the waves. If we were too greedy and stayed onboard forever, our lives would soon be in danger. We had to bring it to an end. Also, we still we had to find and island that we could live on for several years.
The five of us, at length, left our hearts behind of the Ryuusui-Maru, and took turns riding down the ropeway to the boulder.
"All men assemble," I called, and had the men stand in a line on the boulder. I took a role call checking, everyone one by one. All men were there and not a single one injured.
I said, "well, what do you think? We've made it through these giant waves and there is not a single man with a scratch on him. It is absolutely by the grace of God. It is an auspicious sign that one day, without a doubt, all of us together will return to Japan. There is no mistake about it. Now we will find an island, and live there pleasantly. We should all study there as much as we can. I have no doubt that one day it will all be a nice memory. Everyone should be enthusiastic, and do more than just your part. Exactly as I said before, always be looking forward to your hopes ahead. The sailors of Japan do not lose their hope.
"Tie the raft here, and place the baggage on top of the boulder. After we set out from here on the lighter we will find an island, decide a the best place to set up and then come back for the raft.
"On the lighter you will put the tools for digging wells, six oil tins, matches, one box of canned food, chopped planks for firewood and in case the wind begins to blow, a sailcloth for a sail and a log for a mast. As soon as we are ready, we will set out."
Enlivened by my speech, the men acknowledged vigorously and got to work on the preparations for setting out.
The preparations were finished quickly.
"The lighter is ready," reported the helmsman in a loud voice.
"Set sail!"
With that one command, we sixteen men boarded the lighter and pushed away from the boulder.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Part 1-11 The Lighter and The Men in The Waves

Our prayers to God were rewarded, and finally the the night began to end. In the first rays of light shining over the horizon we could see that we were in the heart of the sunken reefs. Boulders were scattered far across the sea. The raging breakers sprayed through the air.
About one hundred meters from the ship there was a quite large, flat boulder breaking up through the surface of the sea. Between that boulder and the ship was a gulf of boiling and seething waves.
"We may be able to see an island, climb up the mast and have a look," I ordered, and two men climbed up the still tottering mast. The morning mist was obscuring their sight and no islands were visible.
I spoke to the crew from my memory of the sea maps and navigation charts. "There are no visible islands. First, we must move to that nearby boulder. From there we will go in search of an island. The captain is always the last to go on land, so if I cannot make it, you must all continue on to the north. There will be islands there. If there is no water on those islands, cross over to the next island in the north-west. That should be Midway island.
"Well, we're going ashore, make preparations. Don't forget to unpack any supplies. Everyone, bring as many clothes as you can. Wear you winter clothes and your summer clothes. Put on your socks and your shoes. Put on your hats, and tie towels and hand cloths firmly around your heads. Tie as much as you can around your waist, the more layers the better, so tie them tight. Be careful not to drop your jack-knives."
Everyone bundled up like eskimos. It was because from now on we would need these clothes, and they would also prevent injury if someone was knocked from the boat by the waves that pummeled over the reefs.
"Let down the lighter."
At last, when the crew heard the order they had been steeling themselves for, they grew tense. We were entrusting our lives to this one lighter, so we could under no circumstances allow ourselves to relax. Every man knew that if the lighter was taken by the waves, not a single one of the sixteen could expect to survive. The lowering of the lighter was a utterly sobering operation that meant life or death.
While carefully watching the intervals of the unending waves I would shout, "there," at the right moment, and we would drop the boat onto the sea. If we were unlucky and the timing was bad, the vicious waves would lift the lighter and hurl it against the side of the ship, smashing it to pieces. Or again, it could swallow the boat in a single gulp, sucking it to the bottom of the sea and that would be the end.

The first step of the operation was to pour oil into the waves to calm them.
Oil is commonly poured from boats in times of rough waters, because when oil spreads over the surface of water it will calm even the fury of waves enraged to the point of madness.
Raging waves are like several thousands of stampeding stallions, their wild stark white manes streaming on forever. Pour in oil and the white manes are hidden, becoming simple waves moving up and down. We knew very well that since long ago, sailors of all the worlds countries have used oil to cool the fury of the waves.
It was when whalers on a ship being toyed with recklessly by the sea thought 'this is enough,' and were ready to give up, when suddenly the motion of the boat slowed and the waves stopped battering them. They saw an area of the sea that appeared strange with a dead whale floating nearby, and they understood that the waves were being quieted by the oil seeping from the whale. They learned that oil was effective in silencing the waves. And furthermore, only a little oil is enough. Just a single drop will quiet two square meters of the sea. For the lowering of a lighter, dripping about half a liter into the sea is enough to quiet the water on all sides of a ship for one hour. In the terms of an academian, the oil spreads out to the unimaginable thinness of one micrometer, a millionth of a millimeter, and coats the sea, calming the waves.

So in this fashion, the crew of the Ryuusui-Maru set about calming the raging waves.
We put sea-turtle and shark oil into oil tins, and after opening several small holes threw two and then three into the ocean. However they had no effect on the waves frothing and curling up the stone of the boulders.
At last, the helmsman and the boatswain climbed into the lighter, and everyone slowly lowered them with the pulley they were hanging from.
Watching for a break in the waves, I finally chose a moment and we lowered them onto the water.
A crest like a mountain crashed toward them. Just one gulp. Before we could blink, the boat and the men were gone.
After, only white waves bubbled fiercely across the surface.
The faces of all the dependable men changed color. The lighter which was the rope that held our lives had been swallowed by the waves. The two leaders that we depended on, the helmsman and the boatswain, had been swept away. We would no longer be saved.
I, the captain, gave up. Of course there is no mistake that the other crew did as well. No one said a word. We were pale faced and soaking wet.
Would the Ryuusui-Maru, just like this, suffer the same fate as the lighter? We all stared in silence at the mad white dancing waves.
One second, two seconds, three seconds.
Suddenly, two or three of the men raised surprised voices. Other men were pointing towards the boulder, chewing their words. I looked, and at the base of the flat boulder rising a few meters above the waves, the bottom of the capsized lighter had come to the surface.
'Ah.' Two black heads were floating up in the white waves.
'They made it,' the two men were climbing onto the boulder.
No matter how loud a shout, with the roaring of the waves and across hundred meters, it would not be heard. Waving hands and jumping, they let us know that the two of them were safe, the lighter too was fine.
"Banzai!" Without thinking, the shout came surging out with pleasure.
"Ah, fantastic!"
Everyone looked at each other, relieved.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Part 1-10 The Long Time Coming Dawn

Our Ryuusui-Maru was washed onto a sunken reef. Still, the boulder had bitten deep into the bottom of the ship and the prow was pointed in the direction of the waves, so that the hull did not immediately break apart and sink. A ship is designed to push through the waves as it sails, so the prow is made especially strong for this purpose.
First of all, I predicted that we could make it through the night. Though if the waves began to come from the side the ship would immediately be destroyed.
I gathered the crew on the deck and addressed them in the darkness.
"We have been sufficiently prepared for a situation like this for a long time. Swimming to land in this black night, through the waves crashing madly against the boulders, would be a waste of our lives. When the sun rises we will go ashore. We will persevere for three more hours. Each of you will gather the goods that you think will be essential from this moment to the end, be it five years or ten years, for survival on a desert island." I spoke those short words while we stood fast on the deck, the waves raining down on our heads. Then in a loud voice I gave orders.
"The four fishermen will protect the fishing boat. Tie it tight. It must not be lost to the waves.
"The four sailors will protect the lighter. Our lives depend on that lighter more than anything else. Boatswain, you too, protect the lighter.
"Fishing captain. In these waves, even if we can make it to shore safely, we will not be able to transport enough food supplies. Fishing gear is precious. Gather as much as you can and prepare it to be loaded.
"Helmsman Sakagibara, you will assemble the tools for digging a well; a shovel and a pick. These are necessary no matter what. Also, don't forget matches, binoculars, a saw and a hatchet.
"Cadets. Spending several years living on a deserted island and then simply returning home safely would be a disgrace the country of Japan. The study you have been hoping for for so long, you will carry out fully. Gather as many textbooks as you can, and get them ready to be moved out. Bring out all the books in the captains quarters. The sextant and the chronometer too.
"Alright everyone, get to work."
The boat squealed and ground up the boulder, and at the same time, all of the lamps inside the boat blew out. We were being rammed violently against the boulder so that the books flew from the bookshelves and the cutlery rolled and fell from the cupboards, being strewn across the floors and decks.
No matter how many times we relit the lamps, they immediately went out again. There was no wind, it was the unending spray from the waves that put them out. Everyone groped in the darkness, gathering their things while being showered with sea water.
The hull made strange creaking and screeching sounds as it was battered by the waves. Every time the waves crashed, there was some place that was destroyed, and something stolen away.
The fishing boat that was tied so firmly to prevent it from being swept away was assaulted by a single gigantic wave and smashed to pieces, not even a splinter remained behind. But the four men protecting the ship, like the brave sailors they were, fought through the raging waves of the storm. They all survived and not a single man was injured.
I gave orders to everyone and immediately ran into the captains quarters. I gathered the essential texts into a pile, tied them firmly in a wrapping cloth and put them on the bed. After that, while I was out on the deck giving instructions, a large wave came smashing in over the starboard side, tore away the door to the captains quarters and swept it over the port side. Everything inside the room was literally washed clean away. The maps, the navigation charts and the compass were all stolen away by the waves.
The only thing still not taken was the lighter. It was the one thing our lives truly depended on. Only this, we must not loose. The crew put all their strength into protecting the lighter.
Even in these trying times all sixteen crew worked calmly, especially the Old Man of Ogasawara, who urged on the young men and laid the preparations for our going ashore.
On this one night time truly passed slowly, the morning was a long time coming. We prayed to God--while being rained upon by waves--for the day to quickly come.
Hanta, of Ogasawaran birth, asked me, "will there be drinkable water on the island?"
I was shocked. No coral reefs have fresh water. However, what kind of disappointment would it cause among the crew, if I said that after all of this the island would not have precious life giving water?
After thinking everything over and while knowing it was a lie, I answered only after a great long pause, "there will be water."
For all that, we still had to endure one or two more hours before the day finally broke. I questioned the chances of our hull withstanding the waves until then.
Every time the great waves came crashing in the boat trembled. The planks of the deck warped and bent one by one out of their seams, and even walking became dangerous. The mast began to totter as if it might fall.
The helmsman shouted, "keep watch on the mast!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 1-9 Keep Your Eyes on The Sunken Reef!

There was not a single star in the night sky. The indigo swells that rose and fell, rocking the ship in the daytime, were all the larger in the black sea of the night. Heaving up and down, we wondered where this current would take us.
As if bound by the unseen rope of Nature, we crew and our boat were helpless at the mercy of the tides. The swelling waves battered the ship like they were laughing in the face of our human frailty.
No matter how many times it's explained, someone who hasn't been there could never understand a captain's distress in a time like this.
On board the clock's bell rang, clanging out eight times in the dark of the night. When the ringing finished it was midnight of the twentieth.
About one hour later, I left my room to talk with the helmsman in the stern of the ship.
"We're in quite a bit of trouble here, aren't we?" I said, "It doesn't look like the wind will come out any time soon, but no matter, keep them measuring the ocean's depth."
As soon as I had spoken, the sailor measuring the depth beside us reported in a surprised voice, "the sounding line has struck bottom at one-hundred-and-ten fathoms."
Immediately, I shouted, "every man on deck!" and forced every sleeping crew member awake and put them on emergency alert.
I had the sailor measure the depth again right away, this time he reported, "sixty fathoms." (one-hundred-and-nine meters)
One-hundred-twenty fathoms, and then suddenly sixty fathoms. It was evidence that the boat was close to Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Pearl and Hermes reef's perpendicular boulders jut out from the depths like a folding screen, the tips barely breaking the surface. Surrounding each boulder is an area of about half a nautical mile, where the water is sixty fathoms deep.
It was now too late to prevent our being washed into the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes. Since we had come to shallow waters, I didn't care whether the sea floor was sand or mud or boulder. We had to throw in the anchor, "prepare the anchor!" I ordered.
The shouting of the sailor measuring the depth went on, "forty fathoms!" "thirty fathoms!" It was getting shallow quickly. We were being carried closer to the sunken reefs by the second.
"Twenty fathoms!" (thirty-six meters)
Now we were in danger.
I made the order, "throw in the starboard anchor!"
There was a crash, and the rattle of the chain as the starboard anchor fell from the prow into the sea. It sounded differently than usual. It was the sound of imminent danger.
The anchor's hooks did not catch on the boulders at the sea floor. The boat was still being washed along, dragging the anchor.
The waves washing in towards the reef and those coming back out to sea we were raging mad in the ocean in the dead of the night, crashing against the boulders in the shallow waters.
"Throw in the port side anchor!" I ordered, and it was thrown into the sea.
The two anchors finally took a firm hold on the boulders of the sea floor and the chain pulled tight.

At that time, the helmsman and the boatswain were manning the anchor in the bow. I, as captain, was issuing commands from the poop deck. A sailboat has no bridge, so it is standard for the captain to watch the state of the wind in the sails and to give orders from the stern.
So, when an anchor firmly catches hold of the sea floor, stops and pulls the chain tight, the prow too is pulled to a stop and it is no longer washed with the current. Next, the stern begins to quickly rotate in one direction. Before long the entire ship is pointing in the direction of the anchor, taking a fixed position. However, the waves that were assailing the prow when it stopped in this fashion were striking with the same strength as a head-on crash into an immovable boulder, they were truly enormous.
"The chain has pulled tight!" reported the helmsman, shouting.
"Right!" I answered. First I thought it was a good thing, but that same moment there was another thundering crash.
A giant wave had hit the prow. Like a tsunami, the sea water had risen into a huge mass and shattered against the prow. The boat lurched.
In the pit of my stomach. The vibration permeated through the hull of the ship.
I thought, "damn it all, the chain just broke," and as if to realize this thought, I heard the brave but tragic cry, "we've lost the starboard anchor!"
And when I was about to call out an answer, again...
In my stomach, the reply was a low tearing sound. And when I thought, ah, we've lost both anchors, a shout heaving like the swells of the tide came from the prow, "we've lost port side anchor as well!" It was too late.
I shouted the order, "all hands, prepare the emergency anchor!" This was our last resort.
A thunderous roar came. In this pitch black night I could not see around the ship, but it was the roar of waves battling boulders. The sunken reef was close.
With the broken anchor caught at the bottom of the sea, the boat was carried rapidly toward the rocks. Danger was quickly approaching. It was bad.
At his rate the hull would be smashed to pieces against the rocks and go under...
The fate of the ship now depended solely on the emergency reserve anchor we had stowed on board. Every member of the crew set to work desperately preparing this anchor.
You young cadets with your little experience cannot imagine what it was like on that tiny ship rocking in the waves.
It was pitch black, and we couldn't see anything.
It was past one o'clock in the morning, getting close to two.
Out of the deep ocean the swelling tide came hard, throwing itself recklessly against the sunken reef whose head was visible just above the waves. That tide would come rebounding back and would smash into the waves coming again and again at regular intervals, and whip into chaos, frothing and raging. Then, again, the waves would heave high all at once. All of these things came together and assaulted the boat. If I tried to put it all into a short phrase, I would say:
"The crazy dancing waves rocked the ship in their fury," or, "The raging billows swarmed upon the ship."
Well, it's close, but that isn't how it really was.
To put away any of your doubts, these waves were not a simple storm or rough water. The weather was calm, and there was no wind. Only the waves came heaving up and down, colliding violently into the sunken reef.
Every man urgently set upon preparing the reserve anchor. With the deck's angle changing wildly from front to back and left to right we had to take hold of something just to be able to stand.
Moreover, the starboard and port side anchors which had been thrown in already, were prepared to be used at any moment. But the spare anchor was firmly secured on the fore deck. It was tied so that however big the waves that crashed in, it wouldn't be washed away; however much the ship rocked, it wouldn't budge at all. If it did move, the anchor would tear a massive hole in the deck.
We were trying to untie the small chain and cord that held down reserve anchor, attach the thick anchor cord, and throw it into the sea. We could not afford even a little carelessness in this task. If the reserve anchor slipped because of the ships violent motion, someone could break a leg or arm.
The seasoned boatswain, the helmsman who would never flinch in the face of danger and four sailors with honed skills, were preparing the reserve anchor. In the lamp light, their faces were the color of pure intensity. The rest of the crew were unloading the anchor's cord.
The roar of the waves crashing into the boulders grew louder and louder.
"Ho, the waves are pure white here!"
"We're near the rocks!"
It must have already been too late. The ship was dragging a long chain on the sea floor so that the prow was pointed in the direction of the waves coming against us. We were being washed backwards.
A large wave lifted the prow up with ease and passed on towards the stern, heaving it up and plunging the prow down and forward.
There were two loud cracks and then a deafening snap from the bottom of the ship, the men on deck were struck dumb.
"We've been done in!"
A boulder had pierced the bottom of the ship.
The stone that had broken through was pushing up the bottom of the ship, lifting the deck with incredible power. Next, the pipes running from the pumps to the tanks burst through the deck. At the same time, the now immobile ship took it's first direct hit from the waves.
There was a boom and a splash as a mountain of sea water crashed onto the deck. It let it's great power run free, destroying whatever it touched and then flowed off the deck like a waterfall. Without leaving anything behind, it carried off all that it had destroyed. The savage waves came crashing in ceaselessly.
Even preparing the reserve anchor would be pointless now. After all we had gone through, we had been washed up onto the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The fate of the ship had been decided. It was two AM, and dawn was still far away.
Creative Commons License
The Sixteen Desert Islanders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.