A nice break from everything

Always look on the bright side. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Well, this could have ended badly.

Last month, two men set off from the Solomon Islands in a 23-foot boat with an outboard motor, planning to head to a town about 140 miles south, navigating by watching the islands they passed off their port side.

“We have done the trip before and it should have been OK,” one of the men said later.

But they ran into heavy weather. Their GPS stopped working. And when they were no longer sure what direction they were heading, they shut the engine off to conserve fuel.

Then, they began to drift—in nearly the opposite direction from what they’d intended.

They survived for 29 days, at first eating oranges that they’d brought along, and when those ran out, scavenging coconuts from the sea.

I had no idea that there are coconuts floating in the Pacific Ocean, but I suppose it makes sense. This was the only time they’d turn the engine on: navigating towards coconuts when they spotted them.

They drank rainwater, and “prayed, day and night.”

“God gave us this thought of constructing a device to sail,” one of them said afterward. “So we constructed a mast-like structure using paddles and canvas and set sail following the direction of the wind.”

They still had no means of navigation, but on Day 27, they spotted an island. They tried for two full days to reach it, but their makeshift sail and what little fuel remained were not enough. They were left adrift.

Finally, on what seems to have been the brink of death, they spotted a fisherman in a tiny wooden canoe.

He was off in the distance, paddling alone, well away from the sight of any shore.

They turned on their motor for one last gasp, racing to reach him before their fuel ran out entirely. It did sputter and shut off, but they soon saw the man turn and begin paddling toward them.

Salvation! The fisherman led them to shore—which turned out to be the island of New Britain in Papau New Guinea, nearly 200 miles away from their intended destination.

The men, Livae Nanjikana and Junior Qoloni, spent a bit of time in a medical facility, and have since been staying in the home of a local man while the Papua New Guinean and Solomon Islands governments figure out how to get them back home.

“We are now well kept and fed with the people here; they are nice people,” Nanjikana told the state-run Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

Now, I love me a good human-against-the-sea story. (I recommended two others, both book-length true stories about escapes after the fall of the Philippines, in a newsletter back in April.)

But two things drew me to this one, especially.

First is the fact that I learned about the story in the comments section of Understandably on Monday, after reader (and radio host) Bobby Rich shared it and our own Kate Sullivan commented on it.

Second, there’s the attitude that Nanjikana and Qoloni displayed after their ordeal (which is why Bobby Rich shared it to begin with).

As Nanjikana said in an account of this whole thing that ran in The Guardian: “I look forward to going back home, but I guess it was a nice break from everything.”

A nice break from everything. I love it.

Even if he doesn’t feel this way all the time (and whose feelings don’t change?), I admire a man who can get lost at sea, survive by scavenging, float without control for a month, pray constantly for a solution, get a lot closer to death than most of us would like to experience for a very long time, and then, when asked about the experience, come up with a nice little, “but on the other hand…” way of looking at it.

It also makes me want to ask Helen Russell, whose book about world definitions of happiness I quoted the other day, if she wouldn’t mind doing a short sequel with a chapter on the southwestern Pacific.

If Nanjikana and Qoloni are any indications, we might have a thing or two to learn from them.

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Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.