117 Days Adrift, Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, UK, 1974

117 Days Adrift, Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, UK, 1974

This is the Bailey’s daunting account of their survival at sea after their yacht was sunk by a whale. With a raft and a dinghy and the few bits and pieces they were able to hastily gather together before their beloved Auralyn sank below the waves, Maurice and Maralyn drifted from somewhere north-east of the Galapagos Islands to a point much further north-west where they were eventually rescued.

They had already sailed from England across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal and were headed for New Zealand when the whale put a sudden end to their plans. For the following 117 days, they survived by eating raw fish and turtles and trying to remain optimistic. They both held on to the belief that they would be rescued (in spite of the seven ships they saw but which failed to see them), Maralyn being slightly more optimistic than her husband.

Maurice and Maralyn Bailey (Derby Telegraph)

They had very little space on the raft; they both suffered greatly from sores caused by the salt water; and all their waking hours were spent catching (killing and butchering) fish and turtles, and bailing water. They were never dry; they were unable to stretch out fully; and, of course, most forms of exercise were impossible. To keep themselves relatively sane, they discussed plans (in detail) for a new boat, devised games and conversed about everything and anything, especially food. They both kept a diary, the entries later forming the structure of their book.

117 Days Adrift is an honest book. At the outset, both Baileys make the observation that being constantly so close to starvation, they were obsessed with the idea of food – at times it was all they could think of. This obsession comes through very strongly in the book: there are pages and pages devoted both to the different ways of catching and killing fish and turtles, as well as the process of eating what had been killed – flesh, blood, eyes, livers, hearts… As a vegetarian I found the whole thing quite repulsive; however, at the same time I understood that anyone in such a situation (vegetarian or not) would probably have no other alternative.

Map showing route taken by the raft (paradise.docastaway.com)

Eventually they were rescued (otherwise there would have been no book). Not a literary masterpiece but definitely a worthwhile documentation of an amazing feat of survival, both physical and psychological.

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