The Fliers woke early the next morning after another miserable, shivering night, and trudged to the east end of the island. No storms had come to their island in the night, though several had passed all around them, so Jacobson’s shells were still empty, and there was no water.
Liddell and Russo, football players in their school days, pulled vines down from the jungle on the island and the rest tried to assemble a small raft from the tangle of driftwood. It couldn’t be too large, or the aerial patrols would see it, but too small, not everyone could hang on to it.
In the end, from the descriptions, it sounds like they created a long narrow “deck” of bamboo staves lashed together, with an outrigger frame. Two men could straddle the deck and paddle (and they created makeshift paddles and found two long poles too), while the other six could hang on to the frame and swim and push the raft along.
The plane flew over in the morning, and the men simply retreated to the shade of the trees both times, hoping that if the pilot saw anything, he just saw a bunch of driftwood on the beach. But it never so much as twitched from its normal path.
Liddell, once the raft was close to finished, likely borrowed Crowley’s watch and used it to look for slack tide. Slack tide, for those that missed the Lombok Strait entry, is the point at the height of high tide and the lowest point of low tide where the currents caused by a tide slow, stop (as tide reaches the greatest point) then reverse and eventually gain speed. If they started to swim just before slack, they would be swept away, but not far, and would be swept back when the tides reversed. Liddell threw small twigs and sticks into the fast flowing channel between them and the next island, timing how fast each twig was swept away.
When he figured the tides were slowing, they hauled the raft into the surf, and Crowley and Howell took the first shift rowing. The drop off was quick and the currents were still fast, and they were quickly swept south as they crossed the channel.
One third the way across, they heard the afternoon patrol plane overhead, and watched her approach, waiting until she was nearly on top of them to dive under the raft. This plane flew placidly away too, and they quickly started back for their new beach.
A storm swept over them, and the men opened their mouths to the sky, trying to catch the rain. Jacobson remembered that the big, heavy drops seemed to fall everywhere except his mouth. It passed as quickly as it came, hitting their new island. Jacobson thought longingly about the shells he spread out the night before and wished that someone else had been so considerate on the new island.
The tide changed, the current switched directions and soon they were being swept north of their island and had to pull hard to land on the rocky beach on the north west tip. They had been swimming for hours and landed after sunset, burrowing into the sand, trying to get some sleep.
It was day three.
For those that were at the Memorial Weekend and whom I had the pleasure and honor of meeting, I just want to say, I enjoyed meeting all of you and getting to hear all your stories, even though many were so sad. It really did feel like a family, and I hope that we do get together in a year or two, perhaps when the new exhibit opens!
I’ll be making changes to the site in the next few weeks. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the blog up, but I’m hoping to add some things that will help us keep in touch with each other.