Adrift at sea, intrepid columnist prepares to meet her Maker


This is the last part in a four-part series on a trans-Pacific crossing to Australia.

The captain of the KM Trader stopped the propellers and Louise slid up under the cargo ship’s stern, the great ship bobbing up and down on top of us.

But the violent waves that had lodged Louise under the stern, also released her from it, and the crew on the KM Trader, unable to hold on to us any longer, let the lines go. As our boat rose up and down with the swells, the broken mast that had been lying over the starboard deck, lifted itself up out of the boat and slid off into the Pacific Ocean, 4 km down to the bottom of the sea.

We could die trying to live if we risked another rescue attempt. At least we had the hull of the boat, and although there was a crack in it and she was letting in water, we were able to pump the water out faster than it was coming in.

Now near 9 p.m. and exhausted from our first rescue attempt, we closed ourselves up in the cabin and waited. No one spoke as we took turns at the bilge, pumping water out. There was a large hole in the roof where the mast had been and the conditions inside the boat were worsening. We had been in rain for four days, the same amount of time it takes, I found out, for mold to start growing on the cabin walls. Condensation was in full force. Drops of water dripped on me in my bunk. There were no more clean changes of clothes, nor even dirty clothes that were dry.

The meat that had bolted out of the refrigerator and across the cabin during the roll had started rotting — somewhere. Odd food scraps were here and there and it was becoming more and more like living inside a compost. The inside of the boat was a mess, but with the boat still rocking, it was impossible to clean it up.

We all had queasy stomachs from all the motion and didn’t feel like eating. This was lucky, however, because the toilet was unusable anyway. We used the pee bottle inside the cabin and went out on deck only long enough to toss over the contents. If it was number two, you had to find a container, then toss the entire container over board when you were finished. It had been five days since I had had a shower and my hair was beginning to mat into one giant dreadlock. The wet, mildewy smell of the boat permeated us.

We waited in silence, lying in our bunks listening to the boat get continually slammed by large waves that caused the boat to shudder and vibrate. Exhausted, and tired of fighting, we had succumbed to the storm. I didn’t think we were going to die, but I didn’t think we were going to live either. Lying there, I thought about the scene in the Titanic where the great ship is sinking. Some passengers attempted to escape in the life boats, while others chose to crawl into bed with a loved one and go down with the ship. Exhausted from everything we had been through, I knew I would not struggle further to hang on to life. I would be ready to go when my turn came.

Sleep was impossible, but lying down was the only way to keep from being knocked around by the waves. My bunk was wide and my body still rolled from side to side with the waves. Paul crawled into my bunk, lay down next to me, and put his arms around me to hold me from rolling. Braced between the cabin wall on one side and Paul on the other, I managed to drift off to sleep for a few seconds.

Shortly, the KM Trader came over the radio, “We have contacted the Coast Guard. But unfortunately,” the captain paused a long while, “they will not be able to rescue you. The sea is too rough.”

It would be another two days before the Coast Guard reached us.