Back in the late 1970s, when I first felt the need to sail, I read everything our local library had on sailing and the adventure of the sea. One book I remember particularly well was Survive the Savage Sea, the story of Dougal Robertson and his family’s 38 days afloat in the South Pacific after their yacht, Lucette, had been sunk by a pod of killer whales. Now Dougal’s son Douglas, who survived the ordeal at the age of 18, has compiled a larger edition entitled The Last Voyage of the Lucette. While the original gives an account of how the family survived after they were sunk, this larger version, which includes the full text of Survive the Savage Sea, explores the challenges the family faced in the months and years leading up to their sinking.
The Last Voyage of the Lucette begins with Dougal’s autobiographical account of his experiences during World War II as a young officer aboard a freighter that was sunk by the Japanese, killing his wife and son. After the war he remarried and eventually gave up a life at sea for that of a dairy farmer in England with his new family. We learn about their hardships while trying to survive on the meager profits that life on the farm afforded them, their decision to sail around the world, and their cruise up to the time they were sunk off the Galapagos Islands. In addition to the full text of Survive the Savage Sea, there is some follow-up information on where the family is today, as well as 16 color photographs, several line drawings, and maps of their route.
Pop psychology says that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Many of the struggles the Robertsons faced are common to any family, but they play a more crucial role on a small boat in a hostile environment where there is little, if any, room for error or privacy. When one realizes the difficulties they faced on the farm and in the early days of their cruise, one can see how the family bonds were created and how each individual acquired the deep reserves of personal strength that carried him or her through their ordeal. Sir Robin Knox-Johnson writes in the foreward that both books “should be compulsory reading for anyone planning a world cruise.” While it is true that both books contain a lot of useful information, we can learn more from them than survival skills for the open sea.