- McIntosh, Ian, Sub-Lieutenant, RN
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
These prepared and with the boat lying dead in the water, I was able to lean over the gunwhale, upside-down with my head and chest under water, and, with Dave Purdy holding my ankles, I could feel the shrapnel holes. In this manner the first of the prepared ‘tingles’ was passed down to me and secured in place. As can be imagined, this required several immersions to position the tingle and hammer in all the nails with the back of the hatchet, surfacing for breath and to vomit up the salt water I had swallowed. This was repeated to secure the second of the tingles to the remaining hole aft and then, pausing again to gather breath, I went forward to tackle the two holes there. Only one could be reached and plugged in this manner. The fourth hole, near the forepeak, being too deep and impossible to reach in this way, was successfully repaired from inboard. All, including this one, seemed to last well and thereafter the need to bale, whilst always with us, was much reduced.
Heading for Brazil
With the boat squared off a bit, the main and foresail set, I tried sailing her in a generally easterly direction towards West Africa, some 500 to 600 miles distant. The lifeboat would have been an ungainly sailing vessel even unladen and undamaged. In its overloaded and semi-waterlogged state it was impossible to sail her at anything approaching close hauled. After trying, it was decided that the prevailing wind would make any attempt to reach Africa a prolonged and hazardous undertaking. It was quite clear that, making full use of the Trade Winds and currents, South America, though some 1600 miles away at the closest, would be the safer and quicker course to follow. Discussing this with the Third Mate, Bill MacVicar, Frank West and Lyons, we agreed that Brazil was the proper goal.
Bill knew the noon position from the day before the sinking and from this, using dead reckoning, we were able to estimate the position in which we were sunk. We thus had a starting point in latitude and longitude. Lyons, a retired sea Captain who had spent many years in South American waters, recalled, with what proved to be astonishing accuracy, the latitude and longitude of a number of the ports on the north-east coast of Brazil. This provided us with something to aim for. (Sadly Lyons died, in sight of land, the day before we landed).
With this invaluable information and having carried out checks of the speed through the water of the boat in varying wind conditions, I reckoned that we ought to make land by the 24th day. We decided, therefore, that it would be prudent to ration our supplies for 28 days. After mustering the supplies this resulted in a ration for each man each day of 1 ship’s biscuit, a wipe of condensed milk on the hand, using 2 tins per day and about an egg-cup full of water.
The boat was supplied with a boat’s compass whose use was limited to daytime as it had no illumination. Better was a small prismatic compass with illuminated needle and points, provided by one of the passengers. The error in each – combined deviation and deviation – was checked by observation of Polaris. In practice, they were little used – the regular NE trade wind allowed one to steer a reasonable course and on clear nights, this was backed by the Pole Star. If the wind eased to light airs on a clouded night, the prismatic compass came into its own, but this was rare.
Knowing the general pattern of the wind and currents, with the Doldrums narrowing further west, and recalling reading in a journal of a windjammer crossing that this narrowing area of calms and light airs occurred in about 33 degrees west, it was agreed that we should follow a westerly course until that longitude then alter to the SW for the SE Trades and the coast.
As we were 7 degrees north of the Equator and aimed to make the coast a few degrees south of it, one could work perfectly well without tables using very simple mental arithmetic to convert one’s noon dead reckoning position into a difference in longitude and later into a difference in latitude as well. It was only very rarely that our estimated run for the day reached 100 miles (i.e. averaging just over 4 knots) and in spite of the elementary nature of our equipment and resources, the navigational errors must have cancelled each other out with the rather gratifying result that we sighted land on the 22nd day and landed on the 23rd – a day early on our forecast and remarkably close to our aiming point in terms of latitude and longitude.