Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Last Voyage of the Lucette

The Last Voyage of the Lucette
By Douglas and Dougal Robertson

Belle likes to frequent charity shops, which is good news for me. Part of her routine is to peruse the books section looking out for publications with a watery theme which will appeal to me.

One of her recent finds was the Last Voyage of the Lucette, an interesting account of ocean voyaging and ultimate salvation of a family from the jaws of disaster. It's hard to say who wrote this book:The original version was written by Dougal Robertson, the father, and published as Survive the Savage Sea in 1973 - later becoming a film in 1992. Dougal died in 1991 (64) and his son Dougal revisited the work in response to a deathbed request from his father and added his own take on the tale, weaving in the more emotional aspect of their ordeal, drawing on the memories of the rest of the survivors for this 2005 version.

It is quite literally a book of two halves. The first half follows the Robinson family from their unprofitable upland farm in Staffordshire to the purchase of the 50 year old Lucette and its voyage as far as the Galapagos Islands, and the second tracks their even more remarkable 38 days adrift after their boat was sunk by a whale.

From the off the voyage seemed described destined for disaster. No sooner has they set off from Falmouth than they were overrun by a monster storm which pushed the inexperienced crew far out into the Atlantic over a period of seven days. I'm surprised the five of them didn't give up then and there. Things improved for a while as they crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean but then they encountered a waterspout which missed them by a mere 150 yards and tore the adjacent trimaran to pieces. If that wasn't enough the caught a tropical storm which drove them onto a lee shore only to creep out from a rock field by the searchlight of a heaven sent ship.

The family seemed remarkably unprepared for disaster, with a dingy paid for by two aunts and an old life raft donated by the benevolent crew of a motor launch they met along the way. In the end they owed their lives to the two bits of kit.

Given the name of the original book I don't think I am giving anything away by telling you that they made it in the end. After the sinking, which saw the Lucette settle beneath the waves in less than one minute, they took to the life raft with the small fibreglass dingy in tow. With no one knowing they were missing they set about using the dingy and a jury rigged sail to move themselves initially to the Doldrums where fresh water could be found, then onto the main shipping lanes with a view to reaching the Mexican coast beyond.

Within two weeks the raft had reached the end of the road, leaking and generally falling down around their ears. They were faced with two options - die of take to the cockleshell Dingy with a freeboard of under six inches. Amazingly, not only did they manage to stay the right way up, they also learned to work in harmony with the sea, catching rain water, dorado and turtles - even one rather surprised shark! To achieve this they had to utilise every bit of equipment at their disposal and draw on mental and physical resources they didn't know they possessed.

At some point they stopped expecting rescue and made plans to reach the coast under their own steam. In the end they travelled over 750 miles with a further 290 miles to go. I don't know if the would have reached the shore, but they would have had a good crack at it has they not been spotted by a passing Japanese trawler.

I find this kind of watery tale very absorbing. I know I would never have the courage to tackle such a trip, but you cant do anything but admire the attempt. I would like to think I would have the mental fortitude to keep on going, but hopefully I will never have to find out!

For me the Tidal Trent is about the limit of my salt water aspirations.

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