Life raft gear: what if you were not rescued, how long could you survive?

Coffee enemas. Really? Is that actually a thing? Peering over my glasses, my cell phone is inches from my face. My eyes pan the screen. It just looks like a blue bag to me. The coffee grounds are an accessory item. I shift focus.

“Tools needed to carve turtle meat”
Oh geez. I quickly regret googling that. (Fortunately, most websites are focused on sea turtle conservation. But, a handful of people seem to be raising pets for food.)

“Shark deterrents and magnets” reveals a $500 item. This falls outside my vision of time spent afloat, and exceeds the budget for what I’m willing to spend on gear that seems frivolous for our life raft.

Oh hello. It’s me. I’m back. Our family spent the summer in Canada. We were away from the boat, and away from boaty thoughts.

While we were in Canada we drove a lot. We went to the Calgary Stampede. We saw snow, we walked on a glacier in the Rockies, we hit a moose with our vehicle, the house we planned to renovate burned. It was arson. A tent trailer became our temporary home. One night Henry rolled in bed and fell out of the tent trailer. One morning, we saw a black bear in our campsite. We spent time with our friends and family. We made some new friends, and confirmed our friendships with Facebook. I knitted a very large blanket.

Here is a photo montage of our summer.

Now that I’ve brought you up to speed on the Escher summer of 2018, suffice it to say we are back on our boat, and returning to our lives aboard.

We have wasted no time.

Just a few days ago, Rick (he’s my husband) removed our water maker, and took some safety gear for servicing.


Rick met with some people, including Pat Reischmann who oversaw our refit in 2015. At least I gather that’s what he did. He would call from hotels called things like “Peas in a Pod”, and bitch about hidden costs not referenced on the Expedia website.

Meanwhile, I was alone on our boat for two days with our four kids. That’s 72 hours of meal preparation, task delegation, homeschooling, tracking puzzle pieces, doing laundry and negotiating petty disputes.

Managing four kids at a marina is no small feat. Our kids like to run off and pet dogs, and talk to a local fishing guide who is out on the water with clients most days. I enjoy talking to him too. He charges $400 for a few hours of his time and seems to be busy almost every day.

Life is good for the fishing guide. When he is not fishing he is hunting. He cleans fish and as he cleans, he tells our kids about trapping alligators. “Some of them are mean, and slap the boat with their tails.” He laments that there are no big alligators left, and says that even though he is a hunting guide and it’s a business, he wishes that there was a moratorium on hunting the alligators to give them time to grow.

For the past few weeks our fishing guide neighbour has been wearing camo gear from head to toe. “It’s deer hunting season,” he says. He marches briskly across the dock as though there is a deer to be caught behind every bush in Georgia.  He caught a boar last week, and offered us meat from his smoker. Six months ago he went hunting in Africa. He tells us that he “Ate zebra. But, couldn’t eat the orangutan. Looked too much like people.”

Rick is back now. Preparation for crossing the Pacific in 2019 gives us have lots of things to think about. We have plans, we have any access to Amazon and we have a budget.

One of my short-term goals is to revamp the gear for our life raft. Sailors call this gear a ‘ditch bag’. A ditch bag includes supplies you might need to leave your boat on short notice. We keep our ditch bag in a locker in the cockpit of our boat. Like our life raft, the ditch bag is easily accessible.

Three years ago, I put together a ditch bag. The bag itself was bright yellow. It was an expensive and authoritative-looking, manufactured by a survivalist company. I researched items considered to be essential and put them in the bag.

But, the trouble with our old ditch bag is that the items that I included were geared for rescue at sea, not long-term survival. I included food rations and bags of water. I also packed two weeks of medicine and added a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Then I read the book “Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan. (And, by the way, this book is a completely different story to the 2018 movie with the same name.) After reading the book, I realized that we needed different gear for a Pacific Crossing.

I spent yesterday reading “Sea Survival,” by Douglas Robertson. in 1971, Robertson spent 38 days aboard a life raft, with his family and a student hitchhiker. I made notes as to how to build a better gear list. Then, I realized that Robertson had already compiled a list at the back of his book. Robertson’s son wrote his account in the book, “The Last Voyae of the Lucette.”

Both Callahan and Robertson lived through desperate situations. Callahan was a consultant for the 2012 movie Life of Pi. Their books are gritty and well removed from the flashy marketing materials you see from survivalist companies.

Instead, of telling you to bring flashing beacons, these men provide an unsanitized view of what works for real-world survival in a life raft.

Body temperature, infected boils, morale, and shark attacks are front-and-center material. Both men (Callahan and Robertson senior) describe drinking warm turtle blood, sucking on the eyes of fish, or drinking the liquid between the spiny back bones of their fish.

I struggle to imagine this sort of survivalist savagery. I will be purchasing a hand-operated, desalination pump.

For Robertson’s family this tool would have changed life considerably. When oral hydration methods failed, their family used makeshift gear (a funnel, tubes from a ladder, etc.) to replenish fluids. I understand that Robertson describes this situation in his book, “Survive the Savage Sea.”

My research is far from complete. I wouldn’t have thought a six-foot gaff hook would have a place on a life raft. Robertson says it’s important for catching fish.

As I read Robertson’s gear list I wonder if it is actually possible to pre-pack a fish trap fluorescent sea dye, magnifying glass, rain water collection system, sunglasses, a tarp and not feel like I’m packing like a celebrity diva rushing with the help of aides through Heathrow.

In my darkest imaginings, I feel the swell rising and hands flailing as my husband grabs the ditch bag and says from behind a spray of sea and foam, “What the hell do you have in here?” And I yell, “Multivitamins, they are so important for the prevention of scurvy. Our kids can’t take the adult dosage.”

And, a wave would hit, and the ditch bag would hover between us. Then, with a gut-wrenching step my husband would leap into our life raft and cut the painter.

Drifting away from our boat, we would activate our EPIRBs (emergency beacons). The waves would punch and froth again. And, above all the turmoil, I might hear Poseidon shout, “Life raft gear: perhaps you’re overthinking this..”


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