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.
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