by Chris Robb
Jackman had to make a tough decision. And quickly.
It really needed time, pros and cons weighed, and a rational, carefully-judged outcome reached. Yet certain factors prevented that meticulous process from properly taking place.
And Jackman was used to making decisions: his decision to quit and start his own business; to expand when experienced, prudent competitors cut back; to sell the company. All carefully thought through with risks balanced against potential rewards.
Each major, life-changing decision correct, as were most minor ones that drove commercial success.
He didn’t usually dither. He was decisive; acted quickly. However, he had spent the previous night trying to make a decision, he was still uncertain, and it was really crucial the choice be made before dark. Annoyingly, for this decision, there seemed only two options, which should have made it easier.
He tried to review what had landed him in this mess. With difficulty, he recalled his decision to buy the yacht: brand new; direct from the manufacturers. He had no problem deciding on specifications, sometimes taking the builder’s advice, sometimes his own.
The decision to make a solo circumnavigation; a cherished private dream since learning to sail as a teenager.
Decisions made while crossing the Atlantic, navigating the Caribbean, avoiding hurricanes. All came easily to him, and all proved correct. And the decision to deviate from his original itinerary to the Galapagos Islands? Inspired!
Every decision made concerning stores, water, passage planning, and maintenance of a thousand and one items on his vessel? All well-made.
And now struggling with his life’s biggest decision because of two acts of carelessness, and one piece of bad luck. Any two of the three would have been fine. All three together however…
Despite a steady breeze which had been bowling the vessel along yesterday afternoon, the sea was as freakishly flat as he had ever seen an ocean. The reef was further away from the tiny coral island than usual and no waves were breaking to advertise its presence. Closer inshore, shallower reefs were just visible, lulling him into assuming he was passing well clear. He should have known the reef was there, but somehow… his first error.
The impact flung him across the cockpit, and the vessel began to founder. The decision to launch the life-raft was good, but then he discovered his second error: forgetting to remove the strong brass padlock used to secure the life-raft against theft at each port of call.
His decision to fetch the key from the chart table was good, but the timing was unlucky. He had stepped onto the top rung of the companionway as the water-filled hull lurched, and found himself at the foot of the ladder, leg twisted painfully under him at such an unusual angle that he knew it was broken.
Unable to raise himself – even by hauling at the rungs – due to the angle of the leg and the pain if he tried. As the water rose while the vessel filled, he assumed death was close. Another agonizing lurch rolled him over, and he was able to pull himself on deck using two good arms and one leg.
His only option was to swim for the island beyond the reef to starboard. He swam with difficulty, barely able to think through jagged pain: hazy thoughts of sharks, and the less frightening prospect of drowning. But despite trailing blood across the narrow lagoon from cuts and grazes inflicted by crawling across the shallow reef inshore, the feared sharks never appeared.
He crawled from gently lapping waves up a picture-perfect tropical beach, pulling his battered body through sugar-white sand into palm-shade, until halted by impenetrable thorny shrub and sharp coral-rock.
He dried out in the descending afternoon sun, dozing occasionally. Pain woke him at dusk, when the island’s denizens began emerging from their lairs.
He thanked God that stars and a rising moon provided light, and a dead branch a weapon to drive off his tormentors: land crabs, ranging in size from thumbnail, to wok-sized monsters with powerful-looking claws and disgusting, moving mouth-parts, constantly receiving scraps from tiny claws and limbs clustered around their maws.
The clatter they made scuttling over coral was terrifying, but so was the softer scraping as they moved closer through powdery sand.
They took a deep interest in Jackman, a huge potential food source, approaching constantly and driven off by yells and blows.
Delight – the first time he crippled one with a wild swing – faded, as others tore it apart to eat, as it glared reproachfully from hideous stalk-eyes. He shuddered, imagining the feeling of being torn slowly to pieces by the scavenging crustaceans.
Worse for him than it had been for the crab, he decided. Being smaller, it was quickly dismembered and eaten. His agony would be prolonged; he would be weak and unable to resist as claws sliced into flesh, eaten alive, tiny morsel by tiny morsel, as more scrambled to join the feast.
As he weakened, the crabs became bolder, and to his horror, began touching him. Every time he struck out at the beasts, spears of agony pierced his broken thigh, torturing him anew.
How he lasted the night, he never knew, but a blazing tropical sun rose, and drove the monsters back to holes and crevices, and he laughed and cried.
Different agonies came with the dawn. Thirst tormented him. He tried to stay in shade, pain-racked if he moved, sunburned if he didn’t.
He couldn’t crawl into the water for relief, as fins now sliced the surface, drawn by the bloody trail he’d laid through the lagoon yesterday, and in the shallows, crabs, scavenged titbits, safe from the sun’s heat under lapping wavelets. The thought of the pain-filled crawl, and the danger of passing out in the shallows to provide a giant, living feast, was too terrifying, so he stayed put.
He knew he was dying, and unless rescue arrived soon, it would be too late. The yacht’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon should have deployed automatically on sinking, transmitting its current position in a life-saving message via satellite to Falmouth coastguards. They would instruct local coastguards to conduct a search and rescue.
However, for all he knew, the EPIRB had failed to deploy, or failed to transmit, or had somehow transmitted an incorrect position, or had drifted off during the night, and searchers were looking in the wrong place. All manner of possible and improbable scenarios haunted him.
But then, rescue might come at any time.
Just another form of torture to endure.
In the safety of the life-raft, he could last weeks on emergency water and rations, certainly long enough for rescue to arrive. And he would have been safe from sharks and blasted crabs.
The day seemed unending; longer than the dreadful night, although snatches of sleep gave blessed oblivion for longer periods.
The only sounds were the waves out on the reef, the wavelets on the sand, the wind in the palms, and the mostly unseen birds. He would have given anything to hear a human sound; voices or an engine.
At last, the sun slid slowly down the sky, and with lengthening shadows, came different, nightmare sounds.
Clattering claws on coral.
And the decision he had been wrestling with became more pressing… while he still possessed the strength and will to carry out a choice.
Should he crawl into the lagoon to be torn apart by sharks? Hideous, but relatively quick.
Or, stay and fight, hoping rescue would arrive in time, but risk the revolting, slow death he most feared?
Wracked by pain, thirst, sunstroke and delirious fear, decision-making was next to impossible.
To stay in the slim hope of rescue, risking hideous, painful, humiliating death, or face a quicker but certain death?
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