A Shark Inside a Wave

A Shark Inside a Wave

William Willis's raft voyage from Peru to Samoa in 1954:

In the patterns of light around the raft, he once thought he saw an octopus extending enormous tentacles toward him, and he ran for his ax. Lying one afternoon asleep on the deck, he suddenly woke and in a wave looming above him saw a shark that looked ready to attack him. He jumped up to defend himself. The shark fell, and the raft rose on the wave that had contained it. Occasionally at night, the sparks of phosphorescence thrown up by the bow would seem to merge with the sky, and he would feel as if he were sailing among the stars.

Even though he wore sunglasses, the sun eventually blinded him, and he had to remain for hours at a time in the cabin, bathing his eyes with salt water for the pain. The first island where he might have landed was surrounded by reefs and had no shore. No one answered his radio call for help, so he had to sail past it. During a squall he heard a crash in the cabin but was too busy to address it. The cat had toppled the parrot's cage and killed the parrot. Willis sewed its remains in a piece of sail, put them in the cage, and lowered them overboard. After finding finding no way to enter a harbor on a second island, he saw an American ship headed toward him, and they towed him to land. He had been at sea for 112 days.

-- Alec Wilkinson, The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Papa Neutrino (New York: Random House, 2007), 68.

A Small Whale Inside a Wave

Small Whales

I enjoyed the Atlantic crossing an indecent amount. Even when the wind wasn't blowing I liked being there -- I didn't want any noise so I just drifted about until the wind came back. I read books, wrote little computer programs, enjoyed the sea. I didn't want it to be over. I wanted to move slowly across the water and never get anywhere.

One windy day I saw a small whale inside a wave. The waves were steep that day and I saw a grayish object in the blue -- it was a whale swimming along, inside the top of the wave, looking me over. The whale would ride to the top of each new wave and eye my boat, as if in a passing railroad car of water.