Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Man Who Refused to Die: Teehu Makimare's 2000 Mile Drift in an Open Boat Across the South Seas by Barry Wynne

Winslow Homer : The Gulf stream 1899, Metroplolitan Museum of Art
What or who directed me towards this book, I cannot recall. Fact is that I finished the 158 pages of this read in only a few hours during a long weekend.

The story recounts the terrible ordeal of seven inhabitants of the Cook archipelago who get lost at sea during a crossing between two neighbouring islands. Their boat, a tiny sloop, not longer than 16 foot, with a huge sail, is barely seaworthy on the open Ocean. That they, or at least some of them, manage to survive a drift of 2000 miles shows that the Ocean has kept its clement side, It is the lack of food and especially drinking water that kills the sailors slowly.

Written in 1966, I suspect the writer, Barry Wynne, to be a misionary or a preacher man of some kind. Much emphasis is laid upon the religiousness of the poor wretches. They are Seven Day Adventists who keep their sanity by praying continuously, give grace and implore God at each moment they find themselves in a dire situation. That is to say all the time.

At certain moments, their luck seems to be directed by Jehovah himself; like when a whole colony of squids wash aboard with a rogue wave. I wondered for a moment if it was a Polynesian version of Saint Brendan, I was reading.

While the survival is truely  miraculous, the book has obviously been written as a religious pamphlet or a Sunday School morality play.

Awkwardly enough the writer regrets that these fishermen have become too civilised and have lost the navigating skills of their forefathers. Lost, during the "civilizing" work of the different Christian factions, I would think.

Still, the few pages describing the capsizing of their craft in the middle of the ocean and their herculean effort to right it again are of a nail-biting intensity and a disturbing realism.

When the poor blokes finally wash upon a desert beach, genuine living dead crawling towards the shade of the first palmtrees, you must be heartless if you won't get a lump in your throat.