Doug Robertson had just replaced the sextant in its box when he was knocked sideways by a massive crash that came from underneath the boat. ‘Sledgehammer blows of incredible force,’ is how he later described them, ‘hurling me against the bunk.’ It was June 15, 1972, a date that was to change the lives of the Robertson family forever.
Doug lifted the hatch of the family’s schooner to see what was wrong. He found himself gazing at a massive hole punched in the hull by a killer whale, ‘through which water was pouring in with torrential force’. Nothing could be done to save the boat. The Lucette, a forty-three-foot pleasure craft, was sinking. The Robertsons were about to find themselves adrift and alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
They had set sail on their round-the-world voyage in January 1971: Doug, his wife, Lyn, and their children, Douglas, Neil and Sandy. Also on board was Robin, a twenty- two-year-old graduate who had joined the family in Panama for the leg of the journey that would take them across the Pacific.
They were far from land, when the killer whale attacked. Doug managed to release the stricken schooner’s little dinghy, Ednamair, and salvage some food and supplies. It was just as well: within a few minutes the Lucette slipped beneath the surface of the Pacific. Thus began an ordeal of survival that was to last 38 days. The family faced an enormous challenge. They were adrift in the middle of the biggest ocean on earth.
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This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can order a copy of the book, which is now available, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-a-Million, and Apple. Check here for more on other books by Giles Milton.