133 Days Stranded at Sea – The Story of Poon Lim


When told no one had ever survived longer on a raft at sea, Poon Lim replied, “I hope no one will ever have to break that record.” People have lived longer lost at sea, the current record being 10 months for 3 Mexican sailors in a disabled fishing boat. However, as of 2012, no one has broken Poon Lim’s record on a life raft.

Poon Lim or Lim Poon BEM (March 8, 1918 – January 4, 1991) was a Chinese sailor who survived 133 days alone in the South Atlantic.

Pool Lim when rescued

Pool Lim when rescued

On November 23, the German U-boat U-172 intercepted and struck the Ben Lomond with two torpedoes in position 00.30°N 38.45°W, some 750 miles east of the Amazon. As the ship was sinking, Poon Lim took a life jacket and jumped overboard before the ship’s boilers exploded. As the ship sunk in two minutes, 53 of the crew were lost including the master, 44 sailors and eight gunners, making Lim the sole survivor.

SS Ben Lomond in 1906

SS Ben Lomond in 1906

After approximately two hours in the water, he found an 8′ square wooden raft and climbed into it. The raft had several tins of biscuits, a forty litre jug of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and an electric torch.

Poon Lim initially kept himself alive by drinking the water and eating the food on the raft, but later resorted to catching rainwater in a canvas life jacket covering, and fishing. He could not swim very well and often tied a rope from the boat to his wrist, in case he fell into the ocean. He took a wire from the electric torch and made it into a fishhook, and used hemp rope as a fishing line. He also dug a nail out of the boards on the wooden raft and bent it into a hook for larger fish. When he captured a fish, he would cut it open with a knife he fashioned out of a biscuit tin and dry it on a hemp line over the raft. Once, a large storm hit and spoiled his fish and fouled his water. Poon, barely alive, caught a bird and drank its blood to survive.

Lim2

When he saw sharks, he did not swim. Instead he set out to catch one. He used the remnants of the next bird he caught as bait. The first shark to pick up the taste was only a few feet long. He gulped the bait and hit the line with full force, but in preparation Poon Lim had braided the line so it would have double thickness. He also had wrapped his hands in canvas to enable him to make the catch. But the shark attacked him after he brought it aboard the raft. He used the water jug half-filled with seawater as a weapon. After his victory, Poon Lim cut open the shark and sucked its blood from its liver. Since it hadn’t rained, he was out of water and this quenched his thirst. He sliced the fins and let them dry in the sun, a Hainan delicacy.

Lim's voyage

Lim’s voyage

On two occasions other vessels passed nearby: first a freighter, then a squad of United States Navy patrol planes. Poon contended that the freighter saw him but did not pick him up because he was Chinese, although it was common practice at the time for U-boats to use “dummy” survivors as bait and sink any ship that stopped to make the rescue. The Navy planes did see him, and one dropped a marker buoy in the water. Unfortunately for Poon, a large storm hit the area at the same time and he was lost again. He was also once spotted by a German U-boat, which had been doing gunnery drills by targeting seagulls.

At first, he counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but later decided that there was no point in counting the days and simply began counting full moons.

On April 5, 1943, after 133 days in the life raft, Poon Lim neared land and a river inlet. A few days earlier, he had known that he was close to the land because the color of the water had changed; it was no longer the oceanic deep blue. Three Brazilian fishermen rescued him and took him to Belém three days later.

During his ordeal, Poon Lim had lost 9 kg, but was able to walk unaided upon being rescued. He spent four weeks in a Brazilian hospital and the British Consul arranged for him to return to Britain via Miami and New York.

Sources:

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poon_Lim

 

Advertisements