We Are Not Afraid To Die If We Can All Be Together Summary in English
‘We’re Not Afraid to Die… if We Can All Be Together’ is an exciting account of a family’s experience at sea. It not only underlines the difficulties that mariners often face at sea but also brings out, poignantly, the spirit of togetherness in a family, who are prepared to brave death together.
In July 1976, the author who is a thirty-seven-year-old businessman, along with his wife Mary, son Jonathan, six, daughter Suzanne, seven, set sail from Plymouth, England, for a trip around the world, taking the route that Captain Cook had taken 200 years earlier. They had longed to do this for the past sixteen years and had hence spent all their spare time improving their maritime skills in the British waters. Their boat, Wavewalker, was a 23-metre, 30-ton boat that had been efficiently built. It had various fixtures and was tested in the roughest weather they could find.
The first part of their three-year journey passed pleasurably as they sailed down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town. However, before moving to the east, they took two crewmen, American, Larry Vigil, and Swiss, Herb Seigler, to help them cross the southern Indian Ocean since this is known to be one of the world’s roughest seas.
It was just on the second day of their journey out of Cape Town that they began to face windstorms that continued for a few weeks. But worse than the ferocious winds were the waves that rose up as high as the main mast.
By 25 December they had travelled 3,500 kilometres east of Cape Town. The weather was terrible but they celebrated Christmas. By New Year’s Day, the weather became worse and on the morning of 2 January, the waves were extremely large.
They were sailing with only a small storm jib and were still making eight knots. The ship moved to the top of ‘ each wave but the gigantic waves and menacing winds continued to terrorise them. They dropped the storm jib to slow the boat and then lashed a heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stem. Then they fastened everything, went through their life-raft drill, attached lifelines and put on oilskins and life jackets.
At about 6 pm, there was a lull before the storm. The wind stopped and the sky became dark. Then a loud roaring sound was heard and a huge cloud seemed to tower over the ship. It was, in fact, the biggest wave that they had ever seen. It was perpendicular and almost twice as high as the other waves.
The roaring grew louder and the author attempted to ride the wave. But just then there was a great explosion that shook the floor of the ship. Water gushed into the ship. With the impact, the author’s head hit against the wheel and before he knew he was thrown into the sea. He accepted the fact that he was going to die but suddenly his head popped out of the water and he spotted Wavewalker a few metres away. It was on the verge of overturning. Its masts were almost horizontal. Then a strong wave tossed it to a straight position. The author took hold of the guardrails and reached the Wavewalker.
The waves were throwing him around and his left ribs cracked. His mouth filled with blood as he had broken his teeth. Somehow he found the wheel, lined up the stem for the next wave and hung on. The author felt the ship flooding with water. Just then, Mary came in a panic and informed him that the ship was sinking as water was filling in. Putting her at the wheel, the narrator clambered towards the hatch. He saw Larry and Herb pumping out water frantically. He also noticed that the whole starboard had caved inwards and clothes, crockery, charts, tins and toys were floating in deep water.
The author waded with difficulty into the children’s cabin. Sue had a big bump above her eyes but this was insignificant compared to the situation that they were in. He found a hammer, screws and canvas and struggled back on deck. Somehow he managed to stretch the canvas and secure waterproof hatch covers across the gaping holes. Some water continued to come in but most of it could be prevented from entering the ship.
This was not the end of their troubles. The hand pumps started clogging up with the trash floating around the cabins. Soon the electric pump short-circuited. The water level rose menacingly. He went to the deck and found two spare hand pumps and another electric pump under the chartroom floor.
The night was extremely cold. They struggled to pump out water, find direction and also work the radio. There was no response to their desperate calls for help because they were in a distant comer of the world.
Sue’s head had swollen a lot, she had two huge black eyes, and a deep cut on her arm but she did not worry him.
By morning, on 3 January, they had managed to pump out the water to a reasonable level and they could afford to take two hours’ rest, in turns. The author suspected a huge leak somewhere and found that nearly all the boat’s main rib frames were damaged down to the keel. There was nothing holding up a whole section of the starboard hull except a few cupboard partitions.
By now they knew that their ship, Wavewalker, was not sturdy enough to take them to Australia. The author checked the charts and assessed that there were two small islands a few hundred kilometres to the east; one of them was lie Amsterdam. They hoped to reach one of these safely and for better weather as their secondary engine was out of order.
On 4 January, they managed to throw out the water from the ship after thirty-six hours of non-stop pumping. Now, they had to only pump out the water that was still coming in. It was difficult to set any sail on the main mast as the pressure on the rigging would pull the broken section of the hull apart. So they hoisted the storm jib and moved towards the two islands.
They ate their meagre meal of some corned beef and cracker biscuits after almost two days. However, their relief was short-lived and came to an end at 4 pm. Dark clouds gathered again, the wind started blowing fiercely, and the sea rose afresh. The situation worsened and when the narrator tried comforting the children on 5 January, Jon said that they were not afraid of dying if the family could be together.
But the author was determined to fight the sea. To protect the weakened starboard he decided to heave-to—with the undamaged port hull facing the oncoming waves, using a makeshift sea anchor of heavy nylon rope and two 22 litre plastic barrels of paraffin.
Later in the evening, as more water came into the ship they felt defeated again.
But by the morning of 6 January, the speed of the wind decreased. The author tried to calculate their position. All they could find out was that they were somewhere in 150,000 kilometres of ocean looking for a 65 kilometre wide island. Sue, who was injured, moved up to him and gave him a card she had made. It was a message to hope for the best.
The author tried to calculate their position using a spare compass and by estimating the influence of the westerly currents. About 2 pm, he asked Larry to steer a course of 185 degrees. He said that they could expect to see the island at about 5 pm, although inwardly he was doubtful.
Dejected, he went down to his bunk and before he knew, he fell asleep. He woke up at 6 pm, and it was growing dark. Just then, the two children came up to him. Jon told him that he was the best father and the best captain. Sue announced that the island was just in front of them. The author rushed out to the deck and stared with relief at lie Amsterdam. It was a piece of volcanic rock, with little vegetation.
They stayed offshore for the night, and the next morning all twenty-eight inhabitants of the island helped them to the island. When at the island, he admired Larry and Herb’s happy and positive attitude, Mary for being at the wheel for all the critical hours but most of all, Sue who did not want them to worry about a head injury and Jon who was not afraid to die.
We Are Not Afraid To Die If We Can All Be Together Summary Questions and Answers
Who was the narrator? What adventurous task did he take on?
The narrator was a thirty-seven-year-old businessman, who along with his family, set from Plymouth, England, on a round-the-world voyage like Captain James Cook had done 200 years earlier in a 30-ton wooden-hulled boat.
How did they prepare for this onerous task?
For sixteen years, they spent all their leisure time improving their seafaring skills in British waters. They bought a boat, Wavewalker, a 23-metre, 30-ton wooden-hulled vessel that had been professionally built.
They spent months fitting it out and testing it in the roughest weather that they could find.
How many people were there in the boat?
The four of them—the narrator, his wife Mary, son Jonathan, and daughter Suzanne—sailed for 105,000 kilometres to the west coast of Africa to Cape Town. They took on two crewmen with them—an American, Larry Vigil, and a Swiss, Herb Seigler, before settling sail on the southern Indian Ocean.
What was the first indicator of rough weather?
On their second day out of Cape Town, they encountered strong winds. For the next few weeks, the gales blew continuously. The gales did not worry the narrator but the sizes of the waves were disturbing.
What ordeal awaited them on 2 January?
After they celebrated Christmas, the weather changed for the worse. On the early morning of 2 January, the waves became huge. As the ship rose to the top of each wave, they could see the vast sea rolling towards them. The wind seemed to be howling.
What measures did they take to counter this ordeal?
They dropped the storm jib and lashed a heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stem to slow the boat, and then double-lashed everything, went through their life-raft drill, attached lifelines, put on oilskins and life jackets.
What happened on the evening of 2 January?
On the evening of 2 January there was a lull before the storm. As the sky grew dark, they heard a growing roar, and saw a massive cloud rising at the rear of the ship. To their dismay, it was a huge wave, almost twice the height of other waves, with a fearsome breaking top.
What happened when they tried to ride over the wave?
When they tried to ride over the wave, there was a loud blast that shook the deck. Water gushed over the ship, the narrator’s head hit the wheel and he was thrown overboard into the water. He accepted his impending death, and while he was losing consciousness, he felt peaceful.
How did the narrator get back to the ship after having been thrown into the sea?
After the narrator felt he was losing consciousness, his head suddenly popped out of the water. A few metres away, he saw Wavewalker, nearly overturned. Then, a wave threw it upright. He grabbed the guardrails and sailed through the air into Wavewalker’s main boom. The waves tossed him onto the deck like a rag doll.
How did they manage to throw out water from the ship?
With the narrator’s wife, Mary, at the wheel, the narrator half-swam, half-crawled into the children’s cabin, where he found a hammer, screws and canvas, and struggled back on deck. He secured waterproof hatch covers across the wide-open holes. With Herb and Larry’s assistance, he managed to throw out the water.