SS Scapa Flow

Last Voyage of the Quien Sabe (Scapa Flow) Chapter 8


The lifeboat which the twenty-eight survivors decided to use in
preference to the rafts was twenty-seven feet long. It was a modern
steel craft equipped with buoyancy tanks which brought it to the surface
and kept it afloat, even though when it was found it was full of water.
We had not had time before the sinking to launch any boats; this one had
come to the surface on its own, having broken loose from its davits
after the Scapa Flow went under. During this break-loose, the lifeboat
had been twisted and dented. Two holes had been punctured in its bottom,
and its rudder had been smashed off. The holes were plugged by stuffing
life jackets into them. An oar was lashed to the stern to be used as a
tiller, but we immediately recognized that it would be a poor substitute
for the lost rudder. After the lifeboat was bailed out completely, we
found that it was equipped with one ten-gallon breaker of fresh water.
The saloon messman had spotted and rescued another of these ten-gallon
breakers of water which had floated free from one of the Scapa Flow's
lost lifeboats. A five-gallon tin of fresh water was, after great
effort, pried loose from one of the life rafts, but the other rafts
refused to surrender their tins to the ineffectual tools we possessed,
We did have a hatchet, with which we might have pried loose more tins of
water from the life rafts, but to do so would have been to risk breaking
the hatchet. After considerable debate we decided not to take this risk,
thinking that it would be even worse to break the hatchet, which would
be invaluable in the lifeboat, than to leave some water behind on the
rafts. Thus we had a total of twenty-five gallons of fresh water with
which to 

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begin our time adrift. The lifeboat contained a mast, which was stepped,
and two sails, a mainsail and a jib, which had been dyed bright red to
attract the attention of possible rescuers. The lifeboat also contained
a good supply of biscuits, a few chocolate bars, and about a dozen rolls
of malted milk tablets, each roll about the size of a life-saver packet.
Charts were found in a watertight tube, and the compass was in good
order. There was a little hand pump for the bilges, which would keep up
with the leaks and any normal amount of water breaking over the sides of
the boat.

There had been some debate, but we finally decided to put our trust in
this lifeboat, and to let the rafts go. It would be far more
uncomfortable crowded together in the small boat than spread out on the
four rafts, but we knew we might get somewhere in the boat, and
thereby increase our chances of surviving.

Our lifeboat already had an interesting history. It originally had been
part of the equipment of a Liberty ship which was sunk in the South
Atantic on its maiden voyage. Seven men were adrift in this lifeboat for
seven days before they were rescued by a Norwegian freighter. The frugal
Norwegian captain of the freighter decided to rescue the lifeboat too,
and took the seven survivors and their boat to Freetown. (One of these
seven men had been a naval gunner on the lost Liberty ship; he was in
Freetown when the Scapa Flow arrived there, and he was added to our gun
crew.) The steel lifeboat came into the hands of the Freetown
representative of our shipping company.

He suggested to our captain that we take it back to the United States.
The lifeboat was brought out to the Scapa Flow, and preparations were
made to lash it to the maindeck. However, using the most excellent
judgment, our Danish fourth mate persuaded the captain to allow this
steel boat to be mounted on one of the Scapa Flow's sets of davits. The
old wooden boat which had been on these davits was then lashed to the
main deck instead of the steel boat. (The shipping company had not re-
placed our old wooden boats with modern steel ones, or even sturdy
wooden ones.) All four of the old boats were lost with the ship. Parts,
mostly splinters, from them were floating all around the vicinity of the

One of the survivors of the Scapa Flow's sinking was Sal, the

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gunner who already had spent seven days in our steel lifeboat. He was
now to begin another session on the South Atlantic in the very same
lifeboat--possibly a unique experience in the history of the sea. When
all twenty-eight men were crowded into the boat we had only eight inches
of freeboard. We were terribly overcrowded. Men were seated in the bow,
in the stern sheets, along the sides, and on the thwarts, but still some
men had to take turns sitting or lying in the water of the bilges in the
bottom of the boat. Our problem was complicated by three of the men, who
lay down. Prince, one of the gunners, had been badly wounded in the arm;
the Egyptian second cook was seriously cut and bruised around the legs;
and the coxswain of gunners declared that, since he had just had
malaria, he should be allowed to lie down. Several men pointed out that
since he had been active enough to get off the Scapa Flow, when well men
had not, he could sit with the majority for a while, at least, but the
fourth mate overruled these objections. In order for three men to lie
full length along the sides of the boat, nine men would have to give up
their seats and sit or lie on the men in the bottom of the boat. It was
evident that when a good wind was in the sails, the lifeboat might heel
over so far that men would have to shift to hold the balance of the
boat. There would be times when men would have to lie three and four
deep along the bottom of one side of the boat. Such overcrowding was a
high price to pay for the mobility provided by the lifeboat, but not
once in the seventeen days that followed did anyone question the value
of our original decision. 


We had been torpedoed in the early afternoon, and it was about dusk when
we got the lifeboat ready for sailing. We spent the first night
scattered about on the life rafts, and transferred to the boat the next
morning at daybreak. The night had been cold. A light drizzle had
fallen, adding to our physical discomfort but providing some mental
satisfaction; we thought that this drizzle augured well for the
possibility of rainfall in the future to supplement our store of fresh
water. We weren't to 


get another rain, however, for ten days. All during the night the
prevailing gentle wind had been from the southwest. According to our
charts, this wind was blowing directly toward the Cape Verde Islands,
which the submarine megaphoner had advised us to try to make. The Dane
warned us of the dangers we would run if we tried to make these islands.
They were the closest land, being about four hundred miles away. But
they were islands, and we might miss them, as we had no sextant and had
to navigate with only compass and charts. If we missed the Cape Verde
Islands, We would then have little or no chance of making a landfall.
Moreover, there was little shipping around these islands--oceangoing
shipping, that is. The ships of the United Nations avoided them by as
wide a margin as feasible, for they were Portuguese territory and it was
suspected that they might be used by U-boats as bases. Finally the Dane
said: "I know these waters pretty well. I'Ve made two raps through here
on sailing ships. I know we've got a southwest wind right now, but I
don't think it's going to last. This time of year the northeast trade
winds should be blowing in these waters. We'd have a hard time bucking a
northeast trade wind all the way to the islands." The English A.B.
objected: "Yes, but four hundred miles is just four hundred miles. It's
a thousand miles east to Africa and eighteen hundred miles southwest to
South America. Why don't we use the southwest wind we've got now, and
tack if we get an opposing wind ? We should be able to make the Cape
Verde Islands in a week at the most." "For this trip we'll let all big
decisions be made by a majority of the men," said the Dane. "I'm simply
telling you what might happen if we try to make the Cape Verde Islands.
I've got no sure ideas on where to try to go. Let's get the opinions of
all the men before we make up our minds." We drifted in Our boat for a
couple of hours as we debated. We took our time talking it over, for the
decision might be vital. As the morning wore on the overnight drizzle
stopped. The clouds cleared and the sun came out. We saw at once We were
going to have a tough time from the sun. We had only a few degrees of
latitude: the sun would be dreadfully strong, and we had little
protection against it. As we debated, we made 

[ 197 ]

crude hats out of a piece of canvas dodger which had been found in the
boat. The Brazilian A.B. had a palm-and-needle, plus thread, in a kit
at his belt. He had worn this always during the voyage of the Scapa
Flow. We had often kidded him about this kit. We didn't kid him now as
we used his thread and palm-and-needle to make our hats. He had also
spotted our lifeboat. He was a pretty popular man. Even Alabama had a
good word for him. Alabama was the one who had favored the Brazilian's
Jim Crowing in Baltimore. Eventually a majority of the men decided that
we had better try to make the Cape Verde Islands. As soon as the
majority vote was in, we hoisted the two sails and set off, making a
couple of knots with a gentle following wind. Once we actually were
started toward the islands those who had been against this direction,
with the exception of the fourth mate, quickly fell into line by
rationalization. After all, it was only four hundred miles, We had the
right wind, The Portuguese had some ships and one of them might spot us
even as far out as we were now. Moreover, there were fleets of small
fishing boats which worked out of the Cape Verde Islands. They came out
a hundred miles or so and we might run across one of them which would
pick us up. In any case, these fishing boats would prevent us from
missing the islands entirely. We hadn't been on our way long before all
the men except the Dane agreed that the Cape Verde Islands were our only
possible goal, and that any other goals were and had been unthinkable.
The men who had proposed other directions, except the Dane, all claimed
that they hadn't really meant these alternate suggestions, but had only
brought them up so we could hear various views; the original dissenters
declared they had been in favor of the Cape Verde Islands ,all the time.
With a direct following wind of low velocity, we found we could keep the
lifeboat on a fairly steady course with the oar as a tiller. We had such
a following wind--from the southwest--of low velocity for a couple of
days after we started out. The Danish fourth mate came in for some
good-natured ribbing over his original statement about the prevalence of
northeast trade winds in this area at this time of year. The mate took
the ribbing as good-naturedly as it was given, but he stuck to his
reservations, saying that we were getting a lucky break from the wind

[ 1981

at present, and he only hoped it would last. He said he wished he had
asked the U-boat megaphoner to tow us a ways toward the islands.
Inasmuch as we had been torpedoed in the daytime, such a tow would have
been unlikely, as the sub of necessity would have to spend a good deal
of time below the surface during the daylight hours. But had we been
torpedoed at night, the sub might have towed us many miles toward the
islands before casting us loose. Such acts by the enemy are not
uncommon. Sal told of a favor done for two of the occupants of this very
boat on his previous voyage in it. The Liberty ship, from which the boat
was launched, was torpedoed at night. Five men, including Sal, were in
the boat when it was approached by the submarine which sank the Liberty
ship. The sub's commander led two of Sal's shipmates out of the sub and
had them shift into the lifeboat. The sub had picked up these two men as
they were swimming in the water after the torpedoing; they had been
taken into the sub, and been given hot coffee and cigarettes. Our luck
didn't last in our journey toward the Cape Verde Islands. The third day
we were becalmed. Several men whistled for wind assiduously, but to no
avail. It wasn't until nightfall that the wind came up again, and it
came from the opposite direction; the new wind was a northeast trade
wind, as prophesied by the Dane. The wind freshened rapidly. As it was
coming from the direction we wanted to go, we had to tack--or rather, to
try to. We found that the oar we were using for a rudder wouldn't hold
the lifeboat on a good tack. We would slide badly. This sliding was
quite evident from the wake of the boat, but we kept up our attempts to
tack for two days against a wind which maintained its freshness and came
continuously from the northeast. By the end of the fifth day it was
evident to most of us that we weren't getting anywhere. We would slide
southeast or northwest too badly during our tacks against the wind. We
had tried the experiment of rowing the boat to help it along, but the
rowing had to be abandoned. The boat was far too Crowded to give oarsmen
room enough to make good strokes; and rowing takes terrific physical
toll of a man with little food and only a few ounces of water a day. The
trade wind from the northeast seemed to be a semipermanent thing. We had
to change our 

[ 199 ]

goal. For several hours a mood of deep dejection prevailed while we
listlessly tried to make up our minds, what our next goal was to be. The
steady northeast trade wind was blowing toward the Brazilian coast, but
this coast was a terrifying eighteen hundred miles away. Even if the
wind remained steady and fairly strong we could not hope to make such a
distance in less than a month, The men slowly picked up interest in the
debate as they realized the great need for choosing a new goal. A
majority finally agreed upon the coast of Brazil. As we put the lifeboat
about to retrace the little distance we had made in the past five days,
all the Egyptians--a stoker, an oiler, the second cook and the fourth
engineer--broke into tears, and so did the young Puerto Rican A.B. The
Egyptians moaned in broken English that we were all going to die now.
When asked angrily where they suggested going instead, they said they
wanted to continue to "go to Egypt." Many of us snorted angrily, but
they persisted, crying to Egypt" over and over. They would not
understand that unless we made land somewhere or were picked up they'd
never get to Egypt. The only thing important to the Egyptians seemed to
be our actual direction. So long as we had been going northeast we had
been sailing in the general direction of Egypt, and this provided them
with sustenance for their morale. We had to head toward Brazil without
the support of the Egyptians, although the young Puerto Rican A.B.
tearfully agreed that our decision probably was a good one. The Egyp-
tians promptly refused to take their turns at the tiller. These four men
clustered in the bow, whimpering at intervals. We discussed cutting
off their water and food rations, because of their refusal to work, but
could not bring ourselves to do this immediately. We settled the
matter temporarily by saying that we would let them have their regular
water rations until our first ten gallons were gone. Then they would
either stand their watches or go without water and food until they came
to terms, When informed of this decision, the Egyptians just wailed,
saying nothing coherent. The second cook was injured, and had never
been able to stand at the tiller, so we exempted him from the threat,
but it was held over the heads of the other three. The Egyptian oiler
had a knife. The mate told him to hand it over. 


The oiler started to squawk and the men closest to him hunched toward
him menacingly. He turned the knife over to the mate. We already had
several knives for repair use in the boat, so the one belonging to the
oiler was thrown.over the side. It required only a few minutes after we
started toward Brazil for the men--aside from the Egyptians--to
rationalize our decision on the new goal into the only intelligent one.
Any other direction or goal was senseless. We should have gone toward
Brazil in the first place. We couldn't miss the Brazilian coast, as it
is one of the longest in the world. We had two Brazilians among us--the
A.B. and the crew's messboy. They would know the coast, for it was home
to them, and their presence among us was taken as an omen of the
greatest possible beneficence. In traveling southwest we Would be
crossing some important trade lanes. We would cross the routes of many
ships running between Africa and Trinidad, and between Trinidad and the
ports of South America. It was known that long-range patrol planes went
up and down the South American coast. These were American planes,
Catalinas, the best in the world. After five days we already were
thinking strongly in terms of fruit drinks, and these were known to be
plentiful in Brazil. Before long all the men except the Egyptians were
as enthusiastic over trying to make the almost two thousand miles to
Brazil as they had been originally over the attempt to make the four
hundred miles to the Cape Verde Islands. In a majority vote we decided
to break out an extra ration of water as a toast to the brilliance of
our present decision. After a few hours had passed we saw we were going
to begin trouble because of the tiller. We had a good fresh wind, and
the boat bowled right along at what we estimated was between three and
four knots, probably twice the speed we had ever made so far, but the
lack of a genuine rudder caused us to weave seriously. Three men were
put at the oar-tiller at a time, to scull the boat and keep her steady
on her course. At times the three men had to scull violently to keep us
from overturning in one of the more serious of the waves. Even after
only five days, our strength had been reduced substantially, and as time
went on, and more and more men took their turns--three at a time--at


the tiller, it became manifest that keeping the boat on her present
course toward Brazil would be beyond our strength in a few days. If the
wind were to freshen any more, we might capsize any time during our
weaving as we ran with the wind. We had gone toward the Cape Verde
Islands for five days. We had gone toward Brazil for only about five
hours. We had to choose a new goal. There was only one goal left to
us--the coast of Africa, which was a thousand miles away. Provided the
prevailing northeast trade wind continued, we could sail, slowly, toward
the east with only one man at a time at the tiller to scull. Sculling
would have to be continuous, other wise our boat would simply turn her
nose into the wind, like any sailboat, and stop. By keeping her sails
filled with the north east 'wind we could make about a knot or two an
hour east toward the African coast. Even so, we might slide south a mile
for every mile gained toward the east. Thus, though our designated
course was toward the east, our actual course would be southeast, and we
would approach the African coast on a long tangent, making our voyage
perhaps half again as long as it would be if we could go straight east.
We would have to go nearer fifteen hundred miles than a thousand. After
a majority had decided to try for the African coast the Egyptians
joining in enthusiastically--the rationalization began once more. Africa
had obviously been the only wise choice from the first. We had just come
from there on the Scapa Flow. We were familiar with that coast, which
would be of great help to us. Just how, nobody bothered to explain.
There was fruit juice to be had in Africa. British patrol planes,
Sunderlands, flew up and down the coast at times, and they were the best
in the world. The melancholy truth that we might slip south a mile for
every mile gained to the east was rationalized into an outstanding
virtue, for this would ensure our being south of Dakar by the time we
hit the African coast, and we would thus not finish our voyage only to
find ourselves thrown into a Vichy concentration camp. In tribute to the
brilliance of our present decision we broke out an extra ration of water
as a toast. 



While we were on the first of our three courses we lost one man: on the
fourth day the coxswain of gunners died from a combination of weakness
due to previous bad conditions on shipboard, our common hardship, and
his malaria. He and I were just up after a bout with malaria on the day
the Scapa Flow was torpedoed. We were supposed to get ten grains of
quinine a day for a few more days, then five a day for a month. There
was no quinine in the lifeboat, so our chances for survival were
naturally even slimmer than those of the other men. The coxswain had
refused to stand his regular watch at the tiller from the beginning,
using malaria as an excuse. I stood my watch, not out of heroism but
because the two hours a day each man stood at the tiller was the only
chance to stand up and get relief from the intolerable cramping in the
boat. I resolved therefore to continue taking my turn at the tiller as
long as I could. The coxswain had been one of the three men to lie down
from the first, so he didn't have to worry about cramping. As the days
passed, I seemed to be losing weight a trifle more rapidly than most of
the men; the malaria fever made my head and joints ache somewhat, and I
had periods of dizziness, but I was able to continue standing my
watches. I have belief in the efficacy of fasting as a weapon against
some diseases, and now had an opportunity to make an involuntary test
of the fasting cure. We had only three crackers a day to eat, provided we
wanted to eat them; the chocolate and malted milk tablets were quickly
exhausted. The coxswain moaned steadily from the beginning of the second
day. We did our best to comfort him, but that was all that could be done
for him. He, too, had head and joint aches; they caused him to complain
a good deal. He was a bit older than the other surviving naval gunners,
being twenty-three. He was the man who, with a third mate's license in
the Merchant Marine, had tried to join the Coast Guard when war came,
thinking to get out of danger, but had got, through some error, into the
Naval Reserve, and thence into the very Merchant Marine he had tried so
hard to avoid. He had begged us steadily, from the very first, to be

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extra water because he had just got up from malaria. We did not give it
to him immediately, although his begging never ceased. On the evening of
the third day, however, his begging was so continuous that we relented
and filled a pint bottle of water for him. The botde previously had been
used to hold fishing lines. We took turns wetting his lips and giving
him a rare swallow. Invariably he pleaded for more. When it was refused
he would look from one of us to another, his face full of questioning.
He seemed to be wondering if we were questioning his guts, which we
were. He would beg us to rub one or another part of his body. The focal
point of his pain seemed to change location. Sometimes he would want an
arm rubbed, then his stomach, then perhaps one of his legs. We could
grant these requests for massage. He never became delirious; he always
talked clearly enough. But some of his requests were strange, though we
fulfilled them as a matter of course. He would want his hair combed,
claiming this gave him relief. Then he prevailed upon one of the men to
squeeze out the pimples on his face. Perhaps the most pathetic of all
his requests was to stroke the hair of some of the men. During the four
days that he survived he did not seem to lose too much weight, though
undeniably he lost more than a majority of us. He obviously was
suffering considerable distress, but did not appear to be critically
ill. His resistance was undoubtedly slightly lower than it might have
been, because of our long spell of bad food and poorly attended illness
on the Scapa Flow. During the fourth day he announced flatly that he
was tired of this, that he didn't think we would ever be saved anyhow,
and that he wanted to die. We tried to rally him with stories of the
rescue of other seamen who had been adrift far longer than four days.
Some of us had been torpedoed before, but only two had spent any
considerable time in a lifeboat--Sal and the chief engineer, the latter
having been out three or four days off the coast of Norway. These two
men tried to buoy up the coxswain by telling him that we had a good
chance; they knew because they'd been rescued. They were giving
firsthand information, but the coxswain said that he remembered as well
as any of us how many empty lifeboats we'd seen while we were on the
Scapa Flow. He said again that he wanted to die. We gave up 


the attempts to rally him, but he didn't stop telling us that he wanted
to die. He had on a wool robe, in which he had been torpedoed. He pulled
part of this garment over his face and repeated over and over again,
through the cloth, that he wanted to die. He was dead within an hour of
the time he first had said it. When the mate pronounced him dead, we
said nothing for perhaps ten minutes, avoiding each other's eyes. The
Estonian bosun spoke first, saying: "Well, that's one." Oddly, his
articulation of the thought which had been in each mind was plauded
tacitly, for we broke into a calm discussion as to how to dispose of the
body. Interspersed with comments on this practical subject were comments
to the effect that the poor guy was probably better off dead, that his
trouble was over, and the rest of us had no assurance that we would not
come to the same end in the boat. Because I also had malaria, the fever
which had been mainly responsible for the death of the coxswain, I must
have been asked twenty times within a few minutes, in serious concern:
"How're you feeling, Professor ?" From the first day, at least one shark
had been with us at all times; sometimes two or three at a time would
circle around the boat. Usually they were small--four or five feet--but
there was one big one, about twelve feet long, and he was around at the
time of the coxswain's death. We knew of course that the body would have
to be put over the side, although we hated to throw it right to the
shark. However, we could find nothing we could spare in the boat that
would cause the body to sink. So we stripped the coxswain of his robe,
as it would be of use to someone during the cold nights, and resolved to
put him overside without more delay. But there was more delay. Although
it was quite plain that the coxswain's body had to be put in the water,
it seemed heartless simply to pick him up and heave him. There was
little disposition among us to get religious about his death--at least
openly. Still, there existed a deep-seated urge toward ritualism in some
form. We talked for a considerable time, trying to devise some way to
get the body overside so that the word "bury" could justly be used to
describe the act instead of such a word as "dispose." The bosun
eventually proposed an acceptable solution. 

[ 205 ]

Two oars were lashed to the mast in such a way that they rested on the
side of the boat, in a narrow V, the ends of the oars, going into the
water. We therefore had a sort of chute. The Brazilian A.B. said a
prayer over the body, then dipped his hand in the water and made a wet
cross on the dead man's chest. The body was then placed on the oars and
slowly shoved down the oar-chute into the water. The distance from the
edge of the boat to the water was not more than eight inches, but the
procedure we followed seemed far more satisfactory than simply putting
the body overside. The body was purposely launched at a time when the
big shark was astern of the boat, and out of sight if the men kept their
heads turned forward. When the body was released it floated astern
immediately. We all kept our heads turned forward so that we would not
see the shark either get the body or start for it. The space where the
coxswain had lain was unoccupied for a while. We all gazed silently at
the stretch of space, paying particular attention to the still
half-filled bottle of water. The mate finally put an end to the mood by
taking the bottle and emptying the remaining contents back into the
breaker from which the water had been taken. The men who were nearest
the empty space then took first turn at sitting in it, sliding easily
and naturally into the welcome space. I was offered the dead man's robe,
as the cold and malaria made me shake pretty badly during the nights. I
put it on and kept it on for the rest of our time adrift. 


We had our worst single scare the sixth or seventh night. Our boat was
surrounded by a school of small whales--blackfish, they are called
sometimes. The whales came quite suddenly. The night was very dark and
we couldn't see anything of them except the whitecaps they would make
when they happened to surface near the boat to spout. But we could hear
them spouting all around us, at times within oar's length. There were so
many that the rapid succession of their spouting sounded like the
gasping of a man after a hard race. The Brazilian A.B. told me, and I
translated for the rest of 


the men, that these whales had no hostile intentions, but that if one of
them should accidentally or playfully run against the bottom of the boat
we probably would capsize. He said he was familiar with these blackfish
and had had dealings with them when he was a boy and had worked on a
fishing boat off the Brazilian coast. There was a gallon jug of kerosene
in the lifeboat, intended for use in lighting the binnacle at night. We
hadn't used it, because we had flashlights which the man at the tiller
could use for an occasional look at the compass, to check on the course
he was following by the stars. The Brazilian took some of this kerosene
in a drinking cup and tossed it in the direction of the nearest and most
recent spout. Then he guided the lifeboat in the direction he had thrown
the kerosene. When another close spout was heard he threw kerosene in
that direction and guided the lifeboat toward it. The Brazilian
explained that the whales would think the kerosene was a particularly
unpleasant discharge from a living sea creature, and guiding the boat in
the direction of individual whales would make it seem that the aforesaid
sea creature had aggressive designs. Within five minutes all the whales
had left, and they did not return. 


During the first six days of our time adrift, the men gave undue weight
to the optimistic utterances of Sal, the man who had spent seven days in
this very boat and then been rescued. Seven is often considered a lucky
number, and the men were well disposed to listen to him when he declared
decisively that he was persuaded we would be rescued by a passing ship
on the seventh day. Sal said that on his previous cruise in this
lifeboat he had had an equally strong hunch about the seventh day, and
that he had not been surprised when his hunch paid off. The men in our
lifeboat were not more superstitious than other seamen, and probably
under more pleasant circumstances we would have been disposed to smile,
at least slightly, at the 


vehemence of Sal's illogical persuasion about the seventh day. But in
our current position we did not smile, even slightly. We questioned him
closely on every detail of his former rescue, and on what his feelings
had been just before that rescue, There was only one man in the boat who
felt impelled to resist Sal's relentless optimism. This was the chief
engineer, This Norwegian was as firm a pessimist as Sal was an optimist,
although the chief had relented slightly during the last hours of the
coxswain, in an attempt to rally the dying man. He justified his
persistent pessimism on the principle that, if you work for the
probable, and do not depend on the improbable, you do not get your heart
broken. He said that the most optimism he would allow himself was the
belief that the lifeboat would eventually get to the African coast.
Being picked up by a passing ship, he said, was clearly improbable. The
chief had been well-liked on the Scapa Flow, but his popularity began to
wane steadily in the lifeboat. His attitude was a pretty hard one to
come to grips with verbally. His contention that we probably would reach
the African coast eventually could hardly be attacked. We had all
believed this, or made ourselves believe it, and it would be a poor
argument against the chief's pessimism to say that reaching Africa was
improbable. We had pretty well decided that by continuing our course
east, using a northeast wind, we would get to the African coast,
although we also agreed that it would take us at least forty days. It
was likewise difficult for us to find intelligent arguments against his
contention that we wouldn't be picked up. At every evidence of Sal's
uncompromising, specific optimism on this point, the chief would say,
and truly, that we had far more chance of drifting to death than of
rescue by a passing ship. The chief really clinched at least a temporary
grasp on the role of the most unpopular man in the boat when he
conceded, finally, that we might actually spot a passing ship, but that
the ship wouldn't pick us up. The stretch between Sal's popularity and
the chief's unpopularity was greatest by the morning of the seventh
day. Spirits were fairly high at dawn on this day. Shortly after day had
fully broken, the saloon messman 


shouted that he saw a ship. Involuntary cries of joy were numerous.
Sure enough, a ship was running dose to the horizon, far ahead of us. It
was traveling from north to south. We were heading east. Sal was pounded
jubilantly by all the men who could reach him. He was promised hundreds
of drinks and dozens of suits of clothes, watches and pairs of shoes. He
had called the turn with infallible accuracy. The seventh day, he had
said. This was the morning of the seventh day. The chief was the only
dissenter, as usual. He insisted, to rather bitter jeers from all sides,
that the lookouts on the ship would not see us, and that even if they
did, we would not be picked up. The passing ship was not too far away
for us to spot her two masts. She was a freighter, apparently of good
size--perhaps seven thousand gross tons. Her superstructure was painted
white, indicating that she was a neutral, probably either a Portuguese
or a Spaniard.

Although it was daytime, the mate fired a rocket from the rocket pistol
which was part of the standard equipment of the lifeboat. The rocket
descended slowly and burned brightly. A couple of minutes after it hit
the water the mate fired another. As we waited, our spirits oscillated
like those of a manic-depressive. The ship continued on her course until
finally she reached a position dead ahead of us. After that she passed
to starboard, and disappeared. The chief had been right and Sal wrong.
Sal made a valiant attempt to persuade us that he hadn't been wrong,
because the day wasn't over yet, but he was far deeper in the doghouse
at the moment than ever the chief had been. The chief didn't get out of
the door of the doghouse, however, for a small clique formed, never
becoming large, which expressed the view that his unrelenting pessimism
had hexed our chances with that particular passing ship, and perhaps
with all the ships that might be seen in the future. Even this clique,
however, was not unduly vicious in its statements, and the chief, though
still unpopular, was clearly less so than formerly. As we believed that
the ship which passed was either Portu-


guese or Spanish, we assailed these governments violently. The men said
bitterly that the ship was not only passing us up, but that it
undoubtedly would go on to tip off the Germans on convoys and lone
ships, and thereby help in the destruction of more Allied shipping.
There were no dissidents; the only possible ones would have been the
Portuguese stokers and the Spanish steward, and they were all lost With
the Scapa Flow. True, there was a Portuguese among us, the third
engineer, but he had long been a strenuous antifascist, in word at
least, and he was well enough liked for us to take his antifascism as
genuine, There probably will be some diminution of seamen's criticism of
the Portuguese government now that the British have taken over the
Azores as an antisubmarine base. But criticism of the Spanish government
probably will be even greater than before, for what hatred is spared
Portugal very likely will be added to that already concentrated on
Spain. The sight of that one ship provided a curious small sense of good
cheer, after the passage of a few days of relative depression, The net
result of its passing was to boost rather than depress our morale. There
seems to grow upon men adrift the understandable feeling that they are
alone in the world. You are only a few inches from the water, and even
the slightest swell of the sea cuts off the horizon momentarily. It
seems, as time passes, increasingly hard to believe that you are
actually yourself, with a history related to vast numbers of people and
material things. The passing of the ship on the seventh day was concrete
evidence that other things besides swells and whitecaps existed in the
world outside the lifeboat; more specifically, that ships actually did
pass through these waters. Having seen one we might see another, and,
the chief notwithstanding, the ship might pick us up. 


The effect of the passage of time in the crowded lifeboat was eased
appreciably during the first week by a find the bosun had made shortly
after the torpedoing, The first mate had prepared a survivor's bag for
himself sometime during the journey of the Scapa Flow. The bag was a
small zippered affair, similar to those carried by ambulance interns.


The first mate had put a flashlight in it, a bottle of iodine, matches,
and two cartons of cigarettes. After the torpedoing we didn't find the
first mate, but we did find his bag floating about. All its contents
were welcome, but particularly so were the cigarettes. The bag was
watertight, and the matches and cigarettes were dry. These were the only
cigarettes we had. Various of the men had had portions of packs in their
pockets at the time of the torpedoing, but all these packs had been
rendered useless by the wetting from sea water. The most patient
attempts to dry them out never produced a product resembling the
original cigarettes. The two cartons--twenty packs--from the first
mate's bag lasted us a week. This was an average of about three packs a
day to supply twenty-eight men, and, after the coxswain's death,
twenty-seven, all of whom smoked. The bosun had found the cigarettes,
but he never tried to take more than an equal share of them. This
probably was just as well for him, as I doubt if anyone would have been
allowed to smoke more than one cigarette if the others had to go
without. Because the bosun had found the cigarettes, we appointed him
their custodian, and never questioned his method of rationing them. The
bosun supplied each of us with one cigarette a day; we could smoke this
one when and how we pleased. In addition, the deck cadet, who possessed
the only watch which still ran after its immersion in sea water, called
out at the end of each passing hour, at which time the bosun lit a
cigarette, taking one good drag from it and then passing it to another
man. This cigarette was passed along through the entire roster of men,
each man taking just one drag. He could take as long a drag as he liked,
but only one. As soon as he paused in his intake of cigarette smoke and
air, his drag was over and he had to surrender the cigarette to the next
man. By and large, this hourly cigarette routine was maintained all
through the day and night. Occasionally, when the bosun' was asleep, or
when the deck cadet and his watch happened to be in the bilge bottom of
the lifeboat, we would pass up an hour's cigarette. And sometimes, by
majority vote, we would decide to pass up the issuance to stretch out
the dwindling supply a 


little further for our own good. Rarely was a man so soundly asleep,
however, that a shake on the shoulder didn't snap him willingly awake
for his one drag. I think the bosun's solution of the cigarette
rationing was most sagacious. He made the two cartons of cigarettes last
a week, and the steady drags on the cigarettes, one every hour, plus an
entire cigarette apiece once a day, were the greatest factors, by far
the greatest, in the maintenance of our morale, The cigarettes gave us
relief in themselves, of course, but they did more than that: they
supplied a material way for us to record our progress. Every drag on a
cigarette brought us an hour closer to a landing on the African beach or
to rescue by a passing ship. Every drag might be bringing us closer to
the hour of our deaths, too, but this was never mentioned and could not
have played a very prominent part in any man's thoughts, judging by
their behavior before and after their cigarette rations. The drop in our
collective morale was quite severe when the cigarettes finally were
exhausted. Morale was never again more than half so high, except on
three occasions: when we sighted the first .ship, when we had our one
rainfall, and when we were rescued. 


Our twenty-five gallons of water were distributed in two ten- gallon
wooden breakers and one five-gallon tin. On the first day we agreed upon
our water ration, and we maintained this ration throughout our seventeen
days adrift. Each man got three ounces at sunup, three at noon, and
three at sundown. No water was issued during the night. This was nine
ounces a day apiece, or about one cupful, We agreed that if we were not
rescued, or had not had a good rainfall, or made land, by the time we
were ready to begin on the last container, the five-gallon tin, we would
cut the water ration to one and a half ounces a day apiece, or about a
cupful apiece every six days. We did not have to make this cut. One
cupful a day near the equator is by no means enough for comfort. The
temperature was well over a hundred degrees for most of the daylight
hours. At night the temperature fell between thirty and forty degrees.
The daylight hours were, of 


course, much the toughest for thirst, and it was for this reason that
all of our water rations were issued during the twelve hours of
daylight. One cupful a day apiece was plenty to sustain life
indefinitely, even in these latitudes, without undue discomfort.
"Without undue discomfort" wants some semantic plumbing for a greater
degree of accuracy. Without undue discomfort for one man might be
torture for another, and a cinch for still another. Well, our lips
became chapped, cracked, and bled occasionally, but they did not swell.
Our tongues did not swell. We never lost the ability to communicate our
thoughts in clearly articulated words, granting of course that we
possessed this virtue in the first place. We never found it necessary to
curtail our speech because of thirst. Each of us was able to urinate,
although only on an average of once a day, and it was an extremely
painful process, causing some men to cry aloud. The product was small
and rusty-looking, and the perio.d of waiting for urination, the letting
go, sometimes took as long as ten minutes. None of the men had a bowel
movement during the seventeen days we spent in the lifeboat. It is my
estimate that a healthy man of thirty should be able to survive for two
months on a cupful of water a day, even in the latitudes of our lifeboat
cruise, on no food whatsoever. For this survival he probably would need
more freedom from crowding and cramping than we had. The most
thundering nonsense has long been written about the amounts of food and
water necessary to sustain life for specific periods. The item of food
is the one about which I believe the errors are greatest. I am convinced
that many men, shut off from food temporarily, have frightened
themselves to death. It is still possible to find educated people who
believe a man can starve to death in a week. Our chocolate and our
malted milk tablets (about the equivalent of one-fifth of a nickel candy
bar a day apiece and two tablets a day apiece) were exhausted in three
or four days. Our biscuits (crackers) lasted throughout the seventeen
days on a ration of three per day per man. I do not 'know of a single
one of us who managed to eat all three of his biscuits every day. They
Were almost impossible to swallow because of the paucity 

[213 ]

of saliva. I ate only one biscuit a day for several days, and then gave
them up entirely for the remainder of the seventeen days. I had nothing
but my one cupful of water, no food at all, for the last two weeks. In
addition, I had malaria for the entire seventeen days, and upon rescue
had a temperature of 103. Yet I was able to stand my watch at the tiller
for two hours a day throughout our time adrift, standing erect and
sculling gently but steadily to keep the wind in the sails. Prince, our
injured naval gunner, had a much worse time of it than I did. A great
chunk had been torn out of his forearm, exposing the bone. Every day for
seventeen days the mate cut away the green flesh with a dull pocket
knife, and, after a bottle of iodine was exhausted, bathed the arm every
day with sea water, afterwards bandaging it with the bandages given us
by the Germans. Prince was too weak to stand on his feet. He didn't eat
any more food than I did, nor have any more water, but he survived, as
did all of us except the coxswain, I have the utmost impatience with the
sea gull, or cannibalistic school of survivors, who believe that to
survive they must tear at the raw flesh of some corpse or other. Such
action, with its possibility of serious poisoning, can markedly shorten
or even end the life of a survivor. If a sea gull had landed in our
lifeboat, we would have had the great good sense to try to make a pet
of it by feeding it crackers, We caught one fish and, for a lark, passed
some of the flesh around so that each man could have a taste. No one
wanted more than a taste. We used the balance of the fish as bait to
attract the sharks. We hoped to get a shark close enough to hit it with
our hatchet, but we never were successful. We did not want to kill a
shark for food, but simply to kill it. The sight of sharks all about you
becomes quite distressing as the days pass. We came to hate the sharks
which stayed with us, waiting for another of our number to be thrown
into the water. Although we didn't talk about it, we knew that they
might eventually get us all. Perhaps the attempts to attack the sharks
were subconscious attempts to prove to them, and to ourselves, that we
were still masters of the situation. I hope it has been established that
I do not feel that we were involved in a genuine ordeal in our
lifeboat. Although we 


suffered considerable discomfort, which caused us to daydream of better
times, nobody's thirst was intolerable and nobody ever was really
hungry. Sometimes, as a relief from boredom, we would play the
children's handclapping game of "pease porridge hot," and say the words
without any sense of irony. 


Probably the most prevalent pastime during our entire time adrift was
daydreaming. Our cupful of water a day, while serving to keep us alive,
also served to whet our imaginations. We talked, or thought, about
drinks a great deal of the time. Seamen are not often thoroughgoing
teetotalers, so for a few days most of the men talked, and presumably
thought, about assaults on bars. With each passing day, however, there
was less alcohol in our postdated drinks, and more and more the drink
debates centered around the relative virtues of such beverages as
tomato, prune, orange, grapefruit, grape and pineapple juices. Milk and
beer, it is true, retained some champions to the last, but they were in
a decided minority. Hard liquors dropped out of the running completely
by the end of the first week. The fruit juices came into heavy
prominence during the third week, and, as nearly as I can remember,
pineapple juice was eventually the majority favorite. It was mine,
although during the second week I had plumped pretty strongly for orange
juice. A few of the men evaded the issue by calling for combination
drinks, such as mixtures of four or five juices. We played a continuous
game with each other which went like this: those of us who knew streets
on Manhattan Island to some degree, and this was most of us, would pick
out familiar soft-drink corners. Then we would take each of these
corners in turn and imagine ourselves ordering our drinks of fruit
juice, each man consuming one glass, or possibly two. Then we would move
in a bunch to another familiar corner where the ordering of drinks would
be repeated. We were careful not to have more than two drinks at any one
soft-drink stand, so that, we would not fill ourselves too quickly. We
wanted to savor each drink of the forty or fifty which we estimated we
would each be able 

[ 215 ]

to take during our peregrinations. We were always careful to go to
public rest rooms (we mentioned their actual locations) after we had had
a few of the soft drinks. This game was not played without humor; we
were capable of kidding ourselves. But it is significant that the game
was played by men of many races and backgrounds. Privately, we each had
a pet daydream which was repeated over and over without signal
amendment, repeated hundreds of times, Here was my dream, without
apology: I would daydream that, while in New York between ships, I would
wake up at four-thirty in the morning, go for a walk around the
reservoir in Central Park, stopping on the way to the park to have a
glass of tomato juice at 68th and Broadway. After walking once around
the reservoir, I would urinate on the grass in the vicinity of 86th
street on the east side. After one more turn around the reservoir I
would start home, stopping for a glass of pineapple juice at the Automat
at 72nd and Broadway. Upon reaching my room I would shave and dress,
having a glass of orange juice while dressing. After dressing I would
look for my mail, hoping for letters from my father, mother and sister
in Oakland, California. I would then read for an hour, what reading not
being specified in the daydream, and then would go for breakfast to a
little restaurant near 68th on Broadway. The contents of the breakfast
would not be listed, except that the meal would begin with a glass of
prune juice. I would then take the subway to Times Square, and walk over
to the Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, stopping between
Broadway and Sixth Avenue for a glass of grapefruit juice. I would go
and put in my slips for books at the third floor reading room of the
Library; the titles of the books I would fail to specify in my daydream,
not even designating their general subjects. During the short time
necessary to wait for the books to come up on the indicator I would go
out of the Library and get a glass of prune juice at the downstairs
Automat near Fifth Avenue on 42nd Street. I would then return to the
third floor of the Library, but before entering the reading room would
visit the men's room at the north end of the corridor on the third
floor. In the reading room I would read from ten o'clock to twelve,
going out at eleven for a glass of orange juice. At noon 


I would meet my girl (who became my wife upon my actual return to the
States) at 42nd and Broadway, at the entrance to the Newsweek Building
in which she works. We would have lunch at our favorite restaurant on
41st Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. At lunch there would be
a conversation, the subjects not being specified, except that I would
toast her with a glass of iced cocoa and tell her I love her. As to the
actual meal, again the items of food would not be enumerated in the
daydream. After taking my girl back to work, I would spend the afternoon
much as I had the morning, except that at five o'clock, after visiting
the men's room, I would leave the Library and walk up to Radio City to
see my friends and former fellow workers in the NBC newsroom and the
Associated Press, pausing in the walk between the RCA and AP buildings
to have a glass of pineapple juice on Sixth Avenue between 50th and
51st. At 6:3o, I would meet my girl at her office and then, after I had
suggested that we eat at our favorite French restaurant on 49th between
Sixth and Seventh, we would eat at the Automat on Sixth between 45th and
46th, sitting upstairs after we got our trays of food, the contents of
the trays being unspecified except that mine would have a glass of iced
cocoa. We would arrive at her apartment by eight o'clock, in time to
hear Symphony Hall on Station WQXR between eight and nine. Which
symphony or concert was featured for the evening I would fail to state
explicitly or care about, but I would be sure to have a glass of
pineapple juice before the program and to follow it with a trip to the
bathroom. Between nine and ten we would talk and make love, neither very
strenuously. Then, after a glass of orange juice, we would hear Raymond
Gram Swing. Just which reactionary he would adroitly goose, and what
humane editorial he would insinuate gently into his copy, I would fail
to specify. I would go to my own room at about eleven o'clock, would
have a nightcap of grape juice, and then would go to sleep. That was my
daydream in the lifeboat. I would go over it, half awake and half
asleep, hundreds of times. It is obvious that in the daydream the day is
launched, floated and docked on soft drinks. Such a daydream is at least
mildly insulting to the girl who is now my wife, particularly the part
about making love "not too strenuously." This is only in key with the


daydream, which emphasizes: first, the soft drinks; second, quiet and
spacious motion throughout much of the day; third, frequent urination;
and fourth, precision of plan for the day. The subjects normally of
greatest interest and emphasis merely fill in the dimly lighted
background behind these four spotlighted features of the daydream,
From what the other men told me of their daydreams, it was clear that
they, too, emphasized the same four features. These features were also
omnipresent in our conversations. Our races, nationalities, backgrounds,
educations and ages didn't make the smallest difference. On the matters
under discussion we twenty-seven men formed an almost perfect
intellectual commune. The fourth feature, precision of plan, may need
some explanation. We daydreamed about a time when we could make and
follow orderly programs, through the exercise of free will, because in
the lifeboat much immediate planning and willed destiny were out of the
question. We had no idea when we would make land or be rescued, nor
proof that either of these events would ever occur. Our future was far
more indefinite than when we had had a more normal existence, and we
therefore overcompensated for this by making our daydream planning
exceptionally definite.

Seamen are probably as sex conscious, under the seminormal conditions of
shipboard, as any other work-classification of men in the world. But
after the first few days in the lifeboat I cannot remember a single
verbal elaboration by any man on sex. Although private histories were
disclosed in great detail, sex was restricted to a bare mention if at
all. With seamen, in more normal conditions, the reverse of this is
true: sex is discussed in great detail, but personal revelations on
other matters are usually held to a minimum. Naturally many things were
mentioned in our conversations which were not dominant in the daydrea-
ms, but every one of us, either half asleep or fully awake, had
variations of our dreams prominently in mind. Soft cooling drinks,
gentle spacious movement, frequent urination, precision of plan--these
four things, in the order given, predominated in our daydreams and
conversations, for they were the things we were most oppressively



We knew that we had just about as slim a chance for rescue by a passing
ship as was possible on the wartime Atlantic. We were in a little
traveled part of the South Atlantic. Only a tiny fraction of the
shipping passes through this area that passes along the convoy routes of
the North Atlantic. Seamen adrift in the North Atlantic are usually
picked up within a few hours after torpedoing, by naval craft assigned
to the convoys for escort duty. And even if a ship in the North Atlantic
is torpedoed while lost from its convoy, or while, traveling alone for
another reason, the traffic in those waters is so heavy that there is a
good chance for rescue from a passing ship. The North Atlantic does have
one drawback for survivors, however, which those in the South Atlantic
do not suffer from so seriously as a rule, and that is the weather.
However uncomfortable it is to be burned by the sun, the sun is seldom
so dangerous as the freezing storms sometimes encountered in the North
Atlantic. In a case like ours, rescue from a passing ship is at best a
fifty-fifty chance. And rescue in the South Atlantic often comes after
a few, at least, of the survivors in one boat, or on one raft, have
died. In our case, we knew from the moment we started out in our
lifeboat that we should make every intelligent effort to get to land on
our own resources; moreover, the feeling of progress toward a goal,
however remote, would provide us with one sure factor in the maintenance
of our morale. An indication of the importance of our goal to our minds,
and of our collective will to live to reach it, was our reference to our
charts at least a dozen times a day, and our endless calculations on our
speed and on the distance we thought we had covered. We got so that
most of us knew the markings on the charts by heart. We knew, too, that
there was no use making these constant references to the charts, but
this didn't stop us from making them. We had no trustworthy way of
knowing what our progress was. Even the most careful calculations of our
speed, made every couple of hours, we knew might be subject to at least
fifty per cent error. We could make a fairly accurate estimate of our
apparent speed. This was done by using bits of cork torn from a life
jacket, and the sweep second hand


of our one running watch. We knew the length of the boat to be
twenty-seven feet. At a given signal, one man would drop a bit of cork
into the sea abreast of the forefoot of the lifeboat. The man with the
watch would make a note of the position of the second hand. The man at
the tiller would cry out when the bit of cork reached a point just
abreast of the farthest aft portion of the stern, and the elapsed time
would be recorded. We could then calculate the number of knots an hour
we were making, or our apparent speed in the direction of our goal. But
it still was impossible to make any but the roughest estimate of our net
speed, the speed that counted, because of the current and the sliding
drift caused by the use of a quartering wind. If the current were
against us and faster than our apparent speed, our progress, of course,
would be less than zero.

Some of the men--The Dane, the Brazilian A.B., the Estonian bosun, the
Latvian and English A.B.s because of their knowledge of sail and the
current markings on the charts, professed to be able to make a good
guess on the amount of drift caused by the quartering wind, and on the
speed and direction of the current. They tended to show a remarkable
unanimity in their guesses, but even they agreed that, although they
were unanimous in these guesses, it might be that they were being col-
lectively deceived. As it happened, during the seventeen days we
estimated that we had made three hundred miles east toward the African
coast, sliding meanwhile two hundred miles to the south. On the day we
were rescued we got our actual position from the rescue ship, which
showed that we had indeed made three hundred miles to the east. We had
been really remarkably lucky in our calculation, although it was not a
particularly impressive distance. We had slid south about a hundred
miles farther than we estimated, however. During all of our time in the
lifeboat we knew that we were only a few hours' flying time away from
land. This fact produced curiously contradictory effects upon our
morale. There was a faint possibility that we might be spotted by a
plane, and this naturally was pleasant to think about. On the other
hand, it was distinctly unpleasant to compare the progress possible to
our lifeboat with that possible to a modern plane. We thought it would
take us about forty days to make the nearly 

[ 220 ]

fifteen hundred miles we had to cover on our tangential approach to the
African coast. When we were making the comparatively good speed, for us,
of about three knots an hour, our tendency to be satisfied with this
speed was sometimes checked sharply when we reflected that a modern
plane could go a hundred times as fast. We lacked the incomparable
morale-sustainer of knowing that a rescue party would be on the lookout
for us. This, by the nature of things, was impossible. Our ship would
not be missed in Trinidad for at least three weeks after we were sunk,
and even then no steps would be taken to search for possible survivors.


As I have said, our one cupful of water apiece per day was plenty for
existence, though naturally not enough for comfort. Lacking devices
which would have allowed us to distill drinking water from sea water, we
had to wait for a rain to replenish our tin container and wooden
breakers. There were a dozen or so tin cups in the lifeboat. Three times
a day the mate supervised the job of issuing three ounces of water to
each man. The lifeboat was equipped with a measuring container. This was
a tube of metal, sealed at one end, with a chain attached. The container
was dropped through the bunghole of a water breaker and filled. Then it
was carefully withdrawn through the hole by the chain and dumped into a
tin cup. The measuring container held one and a half ounces of water, so
two of these supplied one ration of water. When the tin cups contained
three ounces apiece they were passed fore and aft to the men. No man got
more water than another in the rationing, and no one got less. This, of
course, is as it should be, and it is a fitting commentary on the war
risk bonus which is paid nowadays. It is taken for granted in a lifeboat
that A's life is worth as much to A as B's is to B, regardless of rank.
But on shipboard this is not the case. A man's war risk bonus is based,
not upon equality of risk, but upon inequality of pay. A captain is
usually worth more to a ship than an ordinary seaman, and the captain's
pay is consequently higher. But the captain's war 


risk bonus is also higher, about four times as great as that of an
ordinary seaman, a first mate's about three times as great, and so on.
No seaman would suggest that the captain and an ordinary seaman should
receive the same base pay, but it is sad that seamen do not try harder
to enforce the equality as regards risk on shipboard which they
inevitably enforce in a lifeboat. During the issuance of the water
ration, there was an odd disinclination among the men to be among the
first, to drink their water. There were not enough tin cups to go
around, so some had to drink first and pass their cups back to be used
by other men. Each man wanted to be among the last to drink his water.
The issuing of the water took about an hour each time, so it would seem
that the wish of the men to be among the last to drink was based mostly
on a desire to postpone for a few minutes, in order to increase when the
time came, the delight brought by the three ounces of water. There
was another curious feature about the issuing of the water. As a man's
tin cup was being passed back to him, going through many hands, he
watched it with great apprehension, not because it might be stolen by
another man but because it might be dropped. And yet we all knew that if
water from a cup were dropped or spilled through accident, the lost
water would immediately be replaced from the water supply. Water from
the tin cups was spilled a couple of times in transit. Even if only a
few drops were spilled, the cup would be returned to the mate, who
would pour the rest of the water back into a breaker, and then carefully
measure three ounces into the cup again. Yet no man ever lost his fear,
while waiting for his cup, that some of his water might be spilled. We
found that the best way to get the most out of three ounces of water was
to take a tiny sip at a time, keeping each sip in the mouth for half a
minute or so before allowing it to trickle down the throat. Objectively
it would seem that three ounces were three ounces, and that it made no
difference how fast these were sent into the system. But actually the
pain of thirst is concentrated in the mouth and throat, and it is
better to give it direct relief in this way than indirect relief by
swallowing the water quickly. 

[ 222 ]

We had one theft of water during the seventeen days, and it nearly cost
the offender his life. Because of our crowding, the men had to take
turns sitting or lying in the bilges in the bottom of the boat. This was
the worst position in the lifeboat, for not only were you forced to sit
or lie in sea water, but you had to support the weight of one man, and
sometimes more, on top of you. In addition, you had to bear the weight
of the feet of all the seated men in your vicinity. We took equal turns
in this bilge-bottom position, with the exception of the injured
men--the second cook and gunner. The men in the bilges were jammed
against the water containers. One night, during his turn in the
bilge-bottom, the Egyptian fourth engineer tried to steal Water from one
of the wooden breakers. Apparently he thought the men closest around him
all were asleep. He got the bung out, placed his mouth against the hole,
and rocked the breaker back and forth. He was caught by the Brazilian
A.B., who seemed to have infinite powers of espial. The Brazilian
sounded the alarm, and then got hold of the boat's hatchet. He offered
to cut off the offender's hands. Other men disagreed, saying that the
Egyptian's hands should not be amputated; that was too lenient: he
should be flung over the side. The case was discussed at great length,
the four Egyptians wailing all the while. It was resolved to let the
offender off this time with the warning that any more stealing would
bring instant execution to any offender. Although this thief had been
let off without immediate punishment, all of us except the other
Egyptians decided he must eventually be punished in some way. We decided
to put him in Coventry. This was not feasible in the lifeboat because he
had to be given orders, and his proximity made it necessary for an
occasional few words to be directed to him which related to some feature
of our present condition. But we agreed that, upon rescue or landfall,
none of us would have any truck with him ever again; we would not speak
to him about anything. We would pretend he didn't exist. And we did
follow the plan upon rescue. Nobody except the other Egyptians would so
much as recognize his presence. The survivors were together for about
two months after rescue, but during that entire time the ban imposed
upon him never was broken. By force of circumstance he had to eat 

[ 223]

at the same table with us at various times on the rescue ship and later
on land; but if he wanted the sugar passed, for instance, nobody would
hear him. Unless another Egyptian was present at the table to hand him
the sugar, the thief would have to get up from his seat and go get it
himself. The Egyptians had never been popular during the voyage of the
Scapa Flow, although some of them were liked better than others. Their
protest against sailing our lifeboat in any direction except toward
Egypt had not increased their popularity. The stealing of the water,
although only one Egyptian was guilty, made them all even more unpopular
than before, They made their unpopularity worse, if possible, by
malingering at intervals, claiming that various aches and pains in-
capacitated them for standing their watches at the tiller. The Egyptian
second cook seemed to have legitimate injuries, but the other three
men--the oiler, stoker and fourth engineer-- were not badly injured
originally; they had just bruises and scratches like most of the rest of
us, and they suffered no undue hardships in the lifeboat. It was obvious
to us all that these three were malingering, and so we sometimes drove
them to their watches at the tiller by threatening to stop their water
rations. When made, these threats always worked, but they were not
always made, because the Egyptians functioned so badly at the tiller
that it was sometimes considered better for the rest of us to take on
their work than to have the lifeboat lose distance because of handling--
which must often have been deliberately inept. The opinion was
resolved, and widely backed among us, that it was a pity that the
British Eighth Army had not given Rommel a chance to massacre the
Egyptian people before he was driven out of Egypt. The Egyptians in the
lifeboat were clever enough never to press their malingering beyond the
point of endurance. They knew, because none of us bothered to keep them
from overhearing, that we were planning to throw them to the sharks if
they gave us more trouble than a majority of us was willing to put up
with. They knew, too, that we would put up with a good deal rather than
take on the moral responsibility of killing men who had been shipmates.


They survived the seventeen days, but we had the satisfaction of seeing
them pay at least something for their malingering. Because they missed
so many watches they missed also a benefit of those watches which was
not evident to most of the men in the lifeboat during the period adrift.
By standing at the tiller for a couple of hours apiece a day, we managed
to keep our muscles, including the abdominal ones, in working order.
Upon rescue, the men who had stood watches could all walk, and the
Egyptians could only crawl. Moreover, although all of us had been
without bowel movements for seventeen days, the men who stood watches
had little trouble establishing regular elimination once food was
available. But the Egyptians were plagued with constipation for many
weeks after the rescue. In what seems almost too-fitting retribution,
the man who had stolen water was constipated so badly on the rescue ship
that his lower abdomen became inflamed. His condition was diagnosed as
appendicitis by himself, and his diagnosis was not overruled by
surgeons. He was operated upon in Freetown. After he was cut open it was
found there was nothing wrong with his appendix, and, in fact, nothing
wrong with him that abdominal exercise and cathartics wouldn't have
cured. Our Danish fourth mate knew a good deal about sail and saillng
conditions in these waters, which was of help to us. He was the second
best of all the men at handling the boat's two little sails, only the
Brazilian A.B. being his superior in this regard. But the Dane was
supreme in his knowledge of this part of the South Atlantic. He had made
trips through these waters on big sailing vessels in the grain trade, a
rather unusual record for a man only twenty-six years old. As time wore
on and we got no rain, he offered, what proved to be the right reason
for it. He said that, while rain was possible at all places and times of
the year in the South Atlantic, actually there were belts a few hundred
miles in width, running roughly east-and-west, which had much less
rainfall than other belts, and that these conditibns continued with
little change throughout the years. After a week had passed, he said he
had become convinced that we had been torpedoed in one of these
east-west dry belts. There might be good rains to the north and south of

[ 225 ]

Though we were traveling east or southeast, he did not advise us to run
toward the south deliberately, however. We had enough water for about a
month on our program of rationing. A rain would be wonderful, of course,
but it was more important, at least temporarily, for us to make all the
distance east we could, toward the African coast. We might, just
possibly, hit a rain any time even in what he was now persuaded was an
east-west dry belt. Moreover, by the nature of our course--east on a
northeast trade wind--we inevitably would slide to the south anyway,
and might thus expect rain when we got out of the alleged east-west dry
belt. Naturally, he couldn't make any accurate guesses on how long it
would take us to slide south far enough to hit a belt where rain might
be more likely, but he thought a month would be sufficient, We had a
good deal of confidence in this young Dane, and decided to follow his
advice to keep trying to get east without making delaying changes of
course to chase rain. By the tenth day we figured our slide to the south
was about a hundred miles, and on this day we got a perfect rain. All
the morning of the tenth day we were tantalized by rain clouds and
columns of rain moving downwind but missing the immediate vicinity of
our lifeboat. Sometimes a column of heavy tropical rain, looking like an
extra-tall weather-beaten silo, would pass within a quarter of a mile.
The sky, though not completely overcast, contained a dozen or so
well-defined rain clouds which were moving downwind, and our mate and
the Brazilian A.B. did their best to calculate where the columns of rain
from clouds still upwind would be in, say, an hour's time, so that we
might maneuver our lifeboat to intercept them. On this day there was a
unanimous desire to get rain even if we had to change course a few
times, if this would help. Consequently there was much heaving to,
running south, tacking northwest--once we even ran west for a few
minutes. We kept working from daybreak to noon, chasing rain columns,
without any luck whatsoever, At noon we resumed our course east during
the issue of our three-ounce water ration. About half the men had been
served their rations when it became apparent that we had a very good
chance to be in the path of a rain column which was coming downwind
toward us. The men still unserved were assured 


they would get theirs after the emergency was over; the issuance of the
rations was suspended, and we made ready for the rain. Our procedure in
the event of rain had long been worked out and often discussed. As the
days had passed, all without rain, we had determined that any rain we
got would go into our water breakers. There would be no picnic, no jag,
until all possible rain water had been stored against future use. We
could get along on a cupful apiece a day, and our first task was to
provide fo.r the future cupfuls. Such a resolution was a wise one, but
the virtue of it didn't keep us from being inordinately thirsty now that
rain seemed imminent. We told each other over and over that more than
anything in the world we now wanted to get a little rain water to drink,
and that if ever we were safe on land again we never, " never would
squawk if we happened to get caught in the rain. To capture rain from a
rain column, in any decent quantity, is not easy. The column is not apt
to be more than a couple of miles in diameter, and it constantly moves
downwind. The time for gathering water is bound to be limited, and you
must be as efficient as you can to get as much rain captured as
possible. We had agreed upon a plan whereby the jib was to be left up
and the man at the tiller instructed to keep the boat steady on her
course. Although the boat could have been heaved to for periods, during
these periods there would have been more danger of swamping, and more
sea water would have broken over our few inches of freeboard. It was
thought better for the boat to continue on her course through the use of
tiller and jib, though naturally even our low speed would be reduced
temporarily. The mainsail was to be taken down and spread over the boat
like a blanket. The Brazilian A.B. had long since cut a hole about the
size of a quarter in the center of the mainsail. With his
palm-and-needle, using fishing line for thread, he had reinforced the
canvas around the hole with a stitch which, upon my illustration of it,
my wife declares to be a buttonhole stitch. Thus the hole, which would
let a negligible amount of air through the sail, was in no danger of
enlarging and perhaps subsequently tearing the sail. The plan called for
the men under the blanket of the mainsail to keep as low as possible.
The men along the sides of the boat, and those at the mast and in the


stemsheets, were to hold up the edges of the mainsail, exactly as boys
do who are preparing to toss someone in a blanket, The rain would
therefore fall on the entire spread-out mainsail and then run toward the
center and go through the hole, the men underneath in the bilges
funneling the water into the breakers and other containers. In this way
we would catch as much rain water as possible, Although we had waited
ten days for it, the one rain we got in our seventeen days adrift
exceeded our most optimistic hopes, The rain column which we had thought
might touch us did so; it passed directly over us. The rain fell so
thickly that we could not see more than a hundred feet beyond us. Within
a few seconds rain started to pour through the hole in the center of the
fervently held-up mainsail. The water which first went through the hole
was salty, as the rain was washing the sail clean of salt gained in its
immersion in sea water during the torpedoing and in the following ten
days of exposure to salt spray. This salty water was not saved but
allowed to run into the bilges, to be pumped overside later. The sail
was clean, and the water going through the hole was completely fresh,
within two or three minutes. The men under the sail then began to funnel
the rain water into the breakers, I don't remember exactly how much
water was needed to refill our two ten-gallon breakers (the five-gallon
tin had not been touched). Ten or twelve gallons, perhaps, brought the
water in the breakers up to twenty gallons again. The downpour was so
heavy and sustained that the breakers were full in fifteen minutes. The
self-discipline of nearly all the men was admirable. There was no
scooping of water from the sail for immediate drinking, All the men who
were in the open, however, did keep their heads held back, like
expectant fledglings, and from time to time they would scream in
exultation over the raindrops which fell into their open mouths. The tin
cups were set out, too, and a little water was caught in them which
could be used for immediate consumption. As soon as one cupful of water
was gathered from the contents of all the cups, it was passed to our
injured gunner, Prince. His uncomplaining endurance of his mangled arm
and its daily laceration against gangrene had gained our full
admiration. I was given the second cup gained 


in this manner because of my continuing malaria, now in its tenth day
without treatment. The Egyptian second cook, though injured in the legs,
was passed up. His wailing had been-practically continuous for ten days;
he had to wait for water with the men who were well. As soon as our
water breakers were full, we filled the tin can given us by the Germans
(about a gallon in capacity), the remaining presses and bandages in it
being transferred to the bag which had once contained cigarettes. We
filled the several little bottles which had held fishing lines. Now we
had all the water we could possibly store against future rationing, so
the hole in the sail was plugged,' and water scooped directly from the
sail-with the tin cups. We got hilariously high on rain water. Drinking
two or three cupfuls at a time, after ten days of one cup a day, caused
a sensation not much different from drunkenness. We rubbed our
rain-wetted bodies with our hands, and passed water to the men
underneath the sail to use for this purpose. For once we got all the
caked salt off our bodies. The rain was still pouring down when we had
drunk all the water we could hold. In our daydreams we had dreamed of
endless glasses of fruit juice, but in reality our capacity for any
liquid had grown much less than even normal, owing to the sustained
shrinkage of our stomachs. Perhaps half a dozen cupfuls were all the
average man among us could hold. Stomachs began to rebel at this
relative overloading. A few men vomited up their water, and then
gleefully began to drink all over again. A couple of men stuck fingers
down their throats purposely to bring on vomiting, in order to be able
to relish again the sensation of liberal quantities of water pouring
down their gullets. The rainfall lasted thirty or forty minutes, and
ceased abruptly when the trailing edge of the rain column passed over
us. We had had a perfect rainfall for our purposes, and spirits remained
very high throughout that day. Men pointed out rainbows to each
other, some of which were of great brilliance and highly arched. Even
more beautiful than the arches of the rainbows were those made in the
afternoon's relatively easy urinations. The day after our magnificent
rainfall was the thirstiest of our 

[ 229 ]

entire seventeen. Two factors contributed to this paradox: we had become
somewhat spoiled by our rain-water drunk and tended to think our thirst
greater than it was; and we were suffering from a genuine hangover
thirst. A few men, notably the Egyptians, pleaded for an increase in the
water ration, but the majority voted no.


Our spirits almost invariably were higher during the hours of darkness
than they were during the daylight hours. And yet we knew we had almost
no chance of rescue at night. No merchant ship would be apt to stop at
night for us, even if we attracted attention with the one rocket we
fired each night. A merchant ship would, in all probability, get away
from our vicinity as quickly as possible, suspecting our rocket of being
a U-boat trap. However, a British naval vessel would investigate a
rocket, and it was against the faint possibility of the nearness of such
a vessel that we fired it. We fired only one a night, as originally
there were only about thirty rockets in the boat. At night, of course,
a ship would have to pass very close to us for us to see it, or for its
lookouts to see us, and there was not one chance in a thousand that a
merchant ship would accidentally pass this close, and not a chance in
ten thousand that it would stop for us even if its lookouts did see us.
Few merchant captains will take a chance and heave to at night, as their
ships then form high stationary silhouettes, perfect targets for
U-boats. Subs lie low in the water when surfaced, and at night usually
are almost impossible to see at any distance; it is even less possible
to see the periscope of a submerged submarine at night. The nights were
more uncomfortable, because of the wet cold, than even the burning
sunlit days, though the sunlight was more dangerous; and yet, as I say,
we were almost invariably in higher spirits during the nights. There
seems to me to be but one explanation for this. At night we had peace of
mind. As night fell we knew we wouldn't be rescued for another twelve
hours at least, and in some subtle way this seemed a good rest from the
anxiety of the day. All day we took turns scanning the horizon for
ships; and some feeling of anxiety was always present, an anxiety not

[ 230 ]

by the possibility that a ship spotted by us might not happen to see us,
or, seeing us, not pick us up. Moreover, our position in relation to the
enemy was different now. While we had been at sea on the Scapa Flow the
nights had been the most anxious time, because of torpedo nerves. Now we
had nothing to fear from torpedoes at night, and this release from a
former fear also contributed to our peace of mind. It was in the early
hours of darkness that the elan vital began to bubble most yeastily in
us, that conversation flourished most freely: we had had our sundown
ration of water and the full cold of the night had not yet set in.
Perhaps in these early hours of darkness we were feeling so well,
relatively, that we could afford to be morbid if we wanted to; at any
rate, it was during these hours that we often talked of our dead
shipmates of the Scapa Flow. A seaman, because of the changing
composition of the crews in which he works, tends rarely, to make
enduring friendships or enmities, but we had spent four months in close
confinement with the thirty-three men who were lost with the Scapa Flow,
and with the coxswain who died in our boat, and a discussion of them was
to be expected. We talked over each of the thirty-three exhaustively;
but, significantly, we rarely mentioned the thirty-fourth dead man, the
coxswain of gunners. After our rescue we did talk about him, and one of
the survivors told me that the reason he hadn't been mentioned much
during our latter days adrift was out of consideration for me, as I,
too, was suffering from the fever which had been greatly responsible for
his death. This deference for my feelings, I think, was only a small
part of the truth. A more important reason was that the coxswain,
whatever the cause of his death, had died in the lifeboat after
surviving the torpedoing, and thus talking of him would have been too
acute a reminder that we might all die in the boat, in spite of our
survival of the Scapa Flow's sinklng, malaria or no malaria. Conversely,
the fact that we had managed to get off the ship, and that thirty-three
others had not, tended to increase our desire to talk of them because
it was ground for self-satisfaction. This self-satisfaction, cruel
though it may seem, provided an important factor in the sustenance of
our morale. In addition, of course, we talked of the dead men 

[231 ]

of the Scapa Flow for other reasons, and some of the reasons had
elements of genuine pity and humanity. In our discussion of the dead men
we tended to outline their characteristics in much rougher strokes than
we would have if they were alive and yet not with us; and we tended to
depict their characters more in terms of all-black or all-white, Thus
one of the dead men, who might have been thought only fairly decent if
he were alive, was described, now that he was dead, almost as if he had
been a saint. On the other hand, one of the men who might have been
thought a middling sort of heel if alive, was described as an
unregenerate scoundrel now that he was dead. No grief was expended at
all upon the dead captain; even those who were not glad he was dead
were, nevertheless, not sorry. He was described, at one time or another,
as the worst man a majority of us had ever encountered. It was very much
the same with the dead Navy lieutenant. Great Lakes, one of the three
representatives of the crew who had gone overland to visit the United
States minister to Liberia, was the man whose death was most regretted,
and who was the most sainted by us. A man such as the fat Spanish
steward, who had been only mildly disliked on shipboard, was execrated
now with few reservations. Here is an example of how cruelly bitter our
comments on one of our dead shipmates could be: Alabama said that the
fat steward was so slow-moving that he undoubtedly had not had an
opportunity to get out of his cabin after the torpedoing. In all
probability, the ship had gone to the bottom with him trapped in his
cabin. Alabama drew a macabre picture of the fat steward floating
against the top of his cabin. Admittedly, such an attitude was
extreme. But it is significant that, while Alabama's comments were the
cruelest, he was not denounced for his cruelty by the men who heard
him. The dead Yugoslav stoker had been liked lukewarmly, though laughed
at as punchy because of his Gestapo fixation, while we were on the Scapa
Flow. Now he was promoted greatly in our estimation. And so it went.
There were two general areas upon each man's body which suffered most
from our cramped positions in the lifeboat: our 

[ 232 ]

posteriors and the lower parts of our backs. Abrasions and boils tended
to develop in these areas on the posteriors because we sat on them
almost continually, and on our backs because of one construction mistake
in our lifeboat. This construction error was not particularly serious,
except from the standpoint of comfort, and was the only one which we
detected during our stay in the modern steel boat. The edge of the boat
was turned inward instead of outward. This meant that about two inches
of sharp steel cut into each man's back when it was his turn to sit in
the most favored, spots, along the sides. There were not enough soft
objects in the boat to prop behind all the men seated along the sides,
so by the end of the seventeen days most of us had considerable trouble
with lacerations on our backs from the cutting steel edge. There were
curses aplenty for the makers of the lifeboat, who obviously never had
been forced to spend any considerable time in their, creation, or they
would have turned the edge outward, not inward. After rescue, however,
we developed more balance in our judgment, and agreed that, barring
this one feature, the lifeboat had been excellent and had fully lived up
to its name. It was agreed that the boat should have been supplied with
devices for the distillation of fresh water from the sea, and with an
automatic SOS sender. And a good suggestion arose for one more item
which might be supplied in lifeboats: a net of steel mesh. This would
not weigh more than a few pounds and would take up little space when
stowed. But at night it could be stretched across the lifeboat to give
many of the men an opportunity to lie on it and get some relief from
the constant cramping. Many of the men used oil from a gallon jug of it
that was in the lifeboat to rub on their posteriors and backs, and by
the time we were rescued these men were in better shape than the others.
One of the objects which had been taken from a life raft, in our
transfer to the lifeboat, was a mysterious gallon can. There was no
label or other marking on the can to give us a clue as to its contents.
The Dane said that he was sure it contained tomato juice, as he
remembered seeing tomato juice on some list of life raft provisions
during his paper work on the Scapa Flow. We thought a good deal of the
opinions of our fourth mate, and 

[ 233 ]

his opinion on the contents of the gallon can was not questioned. We
were torpedoed on the fourteenth of November, and during our first
couple of days in the lifeboat the Americans set forth a plan which was
adopted by the majority in the boat. This plan was to delay the opening
of the can of alleged tomato juice until Thanksgiving Day. The tomato
juice would provide us with what we could call a Thanksgiving dinner,
and would give us something to look forward to during our first weeks in
the boat. We never really succeeded in explaining our choice of the day
to all of the non-English--speaking survivors. I did my best to explain
the significance of the day to those who understood Spanish, but
unfortunately my Spanish was not quite equal to the task. I simply
couldn't think of a word that would signify "Pilgrim" in Spanish. When I
begged the question by saying that Thanksgiving was a day "de mucho
reclamo"--of much sound, or protest, or confusion--the Spanish-speaking
survivors objected, saying that they knew about "el quatro de
julio"--the Fourth of July. However, all the non-English-speaking
survivors were quite willing to wait until the last Thursday in
November, provided they got their share of the gallon of tomato juice
when it was opened. At least a dozen times a day the can would be
mentioned--almost invariably it was tough-tenderly referred to as "that
goddam can"--and we would enlarge upon the delights we expected to
experience as we drank our rations of tomato juice. As each night fell,
someone would almost surely say: "Well, anyway, we're one day closer to
opening that goddam can." Thanksgiving Day arrived, and we opened the
can. It wasn't tomato juice. It was a gallon of powdered milk. Although
no one sobbed openly, there were tears of disappointment in many eyes.
After a few minutes' silence, we tried to persuade each other that the
find was of some value--that the powdered milk could be mixed with our
individual rations of water to provide a beverage that was both
thirst-quenching and of value as food. We tried the experiment, but the
idea was abandoned because we found that the resulting milk product
tended to increase our thirst rather than to decrease it. Bathing
provided us with refreshment during the worst heat of the day. At first
the men were strong enough to enjoy going 


over the side and dousing themselves in the cool water, and then
hoisting themselves back into the boat. But as time wore on, the effort
of hoisting back into the boat became too great to justify the bath. No
baths were taken for several days. Then the Brazillan A.B. had an idea
which permitted baths again. He made a sort of stirrup out of a piece of
rope and hung it over the side. With this device, a man could go
overside, putting one foot in the stirrup as he did so, and douse
himself under the water completely. When he wanted to get back into the
boat, he simply stood up on the stirrup and then stepped inside. When a
man was taking a bath over one side of the boat, the men on the other
side acted as lookouts. Sharks were around at all times. Of course, a
man would not go into the water while a shark was on his side of the
boat. As soon as the sharks on the other side started toward him, the
lookouts would give the alarm and he would come back inside. This was
not nearly so dangerous as it sounds, and anyway, what danger existed
was outweighed by the pleasure of the cool bath. My wife is nevertheless
appalled by these performances, and says over and over again: "None of
that? I have had to promise that if I take another lifeboat cruise I
will do no more of this kind of bathing. With twenty-seven men confined
in such a small area, there were bound to be occasional arguments and
quarrels. We had not chosen our company in this lifeboat: we were forced
to struggle together for survival. The worst of our arguments were over
malingering, but only Flathead, the four Egyptians, and one of the
gunners were suspected of malingering, and they may not all have been
guilty. Sometimes angry words would fly over undue pessimism, such as
the chief engineer's, or exploded optimism, such as Sal's. In the first
few days, there were some angry words because of a face or stomach
stepped on in changing places, but we got used to that particular
unpleasantness. Slowly, as time wore on, our involuntary grouping in a
struggle for survival tended to cause us to dislike each other. One of
the most sentimental lies in fiction and biography is that men who have
suffered together invariably grow fond of each 

[ 235 ]

other; that shared travail inevitably makes buddies for life. When men
choose their comrades in a difficult struggle they often gain a sense of
enduring fraternity. This frequently happens to the voluntary members
of a labor union and may even occur in a union whose members have been
forced to organize by business oppression, but who nevertheless have the
illusion that their union is voluntary. But things are altogether
different when men are forced to struggle together involuntarily, as was
the case with us in our lifeboat. Resentment against the oppression of
circumstance tends to be transferred to actual denounceable objects:
the other men in the boat. Fortunately, the same judgment which made us
work together, in the main, for common survival also kept our growing
dislike for each other from too often breaking out into arguments. In
our boat, fists were never used in the disagreements, but they were
raised a few times, and there were numerous threats to settle quarrels
with fists "when this is over." There was less feeling of fraternity
among us when we were rescued than before we were torpedoed. However, a
temporary reaction set in on the rescue ship. As a survivor would
struggle weakly along the deck, he would often silently squeeze the hand
of one of his fellow survivors. At table, we were always solicitously
asking if the others--with the exception of the Egyptian thief had
enough sugar, or cream, or whatnot. But upon our landing in West Africa,
we survivors became fairly cool toward each other. Almost invariably, if
one of us wanted to go for a walk to get a drink, he would choose some
new-found friend, perhaps a survivor from another crew, rather than one
of his own group. A majority of us would not even speak to the Egyptians
in our crew; none of us except the Egyptians would speak at all to the
Egyptian fourth engineer.

Even where we had nothing tangible against each other, we tended to
choose the company of strangers. Undoubtedly a subconscious desire to
escape a reminder of our recent experience was part of the reason we
preferred new faces to those of our own group, though our seventeen days
in the lifeboat were easy compared with the experiences of many men who
have been adrift. But more important, I think, than our preference for
new faces was a subconscious desire to escape from the men with


whom we had been forced to struggle in close confinement. It seems to me
that the effects of the men upon each other in the lifeboat, on the
rescue ship, and then on land have a wider significance than simply as
the reactions of one surviving. group of seamen. We men of the United
Nations were forced together involuntarily in the lifeboat in a fight
for survival, just as most of the United Nations themselves are
involuntarily united in a fight for survival. Inasmuch as most of the
United Nations were forced, and did not choose, to fight together, their
dislike for each other will grow as time passes, and this dislike will
not be dispelled for many years after victory, particularly if victory
is long delayed. Constructive criticism of each other is always
justified, but more and more effort will be dispersed in unjustified
carping. Probably there will be less friction between the United States
and Britain, principally because of common traditions but also because
of lend-lease before Pearl Harbor. But already there is heavy criticism
of our Chinese ally for her one-party government and internal
corruption, criticism which was not prevalent before we were forced into
the war at her side. Far heavier criticism has been directed at
the Stalinists in the Soviet Union since we have been forced to fight at
their side than in the months between Hitler's attack on Russia and
Pearl Harbor. The fact that the United Nations are, for the most part,
involuntary allies is the greatest single argument for a quick hard
struggle to victory rather than a longer soft war. The longer the United
Nations work together because they must, the harder will be the task of
bringing about postwar friendship and voluntary associations among even
the nations which together have won the war. 


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