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We are Not Afraid to Die – Gordon Cook and Alan East

The narrator’s family is a descendant of Captain James Cook whose round the earth voyages are popular in the history. After 200 years of Cook’s chain of journeys, the narrator and his little family – wife and two children – set sail in July, 1976 in their hulled boat Wavewalker from Plymouth.

Once in the atrocious Southern Indian Ocean, the boat was hit by a gigantic wave, breaking a section of the boat and the ribs broken. Through the hole water streamed in and the boat was nearly sinking. The rest is a war with water and waves for survival.

The children knew the end had come yet they said they were ready to die if the family could die all together. Hearing this, the narrator continued his struggles with added strength and finally closed the hole, got the water out of the ship but that was not all – the question of their location in sea was hard to answer.

With no access to a radio signal from the land, with no maps nor compass, the narrator made a rough calculation and the ship anchored near Ile Amsterdam, a tiny island.


  • The journey was planned for three years and a distance of 105,000 kilometres.
  • Route plan – Start point England, via South Africa, through Indian Ocean, then to Australia, the Americas and finally back in England.
  • The boat – Wavewalker – was a 23 meter long, 30 ton wooden hulled beauty.
  • Sailors – The narrator, his wife Mary, son Jonathan, 6 years and daughter Suzanne, 7 years, Larry Vigil and Herb Seigler.

July, 1976 – Voyage Begins

  • Voyage begins from Plymouth, England.
  • Good weather and cheerful days.
  • From England via west coast of Africa
  • Larry Vigil, American
  • Herb Seigler, Swis

In the Indian Ocean – December 25

  • Voyagers reaches 3,500 kilometres east of Cape Town.
  • The weather was still atrocious yet they had a wonderful holiday complete with a Christmas tree.
  • New Year’s Day saw no improvement in the weather.

Dawn, January 2 1977

  • Gigantic waves in the morning.
  • Sailing with only a small storm jib and were still making eight knots.
  • Ship rises to the top of each wave
  • Endless, enormous seas rolling towards the ship
  • The screaming of the wind and spray painful to ears

Fighting the Sea

  • The storm jib dropped,
  • A heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stern lashed
  • Double-lashed everything
  • Went through life-raft drill
  • Attached lifelines
  • Donned oilskins and life jackets

6:00 PM, January 2

  • Waves higher than the ship, chase the ship
  • The wave hits the back of the ship
  • The wave breaks the starboard (right side)
  • The ship was about to capsize (sink)
  • Mary (the narrator’s wife) took the steering wheel
  • Larry and Herb pumped the water from the deck
  • An immediate action required
  • Water level rose threateningly
  • Pumps stopped functioning
  • Electric pumps used
  • All radio signals blocked. No communication with base.
  • Sue’s (his daughter’s) eyes bumped against

January 3

  • Survived 48 hours
  • Auxiliary engine failed

January 4

  • Water level almost dipped
  • Still unable to hoist sail on the mast for fear of the ship’s possible wreckage.
  • Hoisted the storm jib
  • Headed to the direction of Ile Amsterdam (not very certain about it)
  • Ate a meal after 48 hours

January 5

  • Weather went on deteriorating (became worse)
  • Jonathan says “Daddy, if we are all dying, we are not afraid to die…”
  • More water flowed in.
  • Sue made a card with her family in the ship as a caricature.
  • Narrator went to sleep after predicting the ship’s reaching Ile Amsterdam
  • Before 6.00 pm the ship reached Ile Amsterdam

Questions & Answers

  1. How did the narrator and his wife prepare for the long voyage?
    Hints – 16 years – Mary and Gordon Cook – honing seafaring skills for 16 years – Wavewalker – 23 metre ship – 30 ton wooden hulled beauty – professionally built – spent months in the harsh weathers of British waters.
  2. Why did the narrator and family plan an adventurous voyage risking their lives?
    The narrator Gordon Cook was in line with the family of Captain James Cook. To commemorate Cook’s great adventurous voyages across the globe, the narrator and his family decided to imitate one of his voyages.
  3. “For the longest time, Mary and I – a 37 year old businessman – had dreamed of sailing in the wake of the famous explorer…”
    1. What does in the wake of mean?
      In the wake of means ‘following or imitating’ some past incidents.
    2. What did they do ‘in the wake of the famous explorer?
  4. Describe the first leg of the planned three years of the voyage.
    Hints – an expected distance of 105000 kilometers – pleasant journey – West coast of Africa – to Cape Town
  5. Who joined the voyage from Cape Town?
    American Larry Vigil and Swiss Herb Seigler joined the voyage from Cape Town, South Africa, to help the narrator’s family tackle one of the world’s roughest seas, the southern Indian Ocean.
  6. Describe the first signs of weather change that the voyagers experienced out of Cape Town?
    On the second day out of Cape Town, the voyagers began to encounter strong gales which blew continuously for next couple of days. The size of the waves was as high as 15 meters, the height of the main mast of the Wave-walker.
  7. The voyagers celebrated a Christmas and New Year differently from usual in the Indian Ocean. Explain.
    On December 25 the voyagers reached 3,500 kilometers east of Cape Town. The weather was still atrocious yet they had a wonderful holiday complete with a Christmas tree. Though New Year’s Day saw no improvement in the weather, yet they reasoned that it had to change soon. At the end of the celebrations, they entered a more turbulent Sea and their cheers faded.
  8. What did the crew do to slow the boat down before it was bashed open by the wave?
    Hints – Dropped the storm-jib – lashed a heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stern – double lashed everything – went through life raft-drill – attached lifelines – donned oil-skins and life jackets.
  9. What did the captain and crew do to overcome the disaster?

    • Captain : Gordon Cook, the captain, had amazing vitality and strong hope. Having asked his wife to take the wheel, he rushed into the underground cabin to see the children. Rather than being an emotional father, he directed his concentration to the damaged side of the ship. With canvas, nails and a hammer, he closed the broken side of the ship.
    • Mary : Mary, the captain’s wife stayed behind the steering wheel for two long days without rest.
    • Larry and Herb – Working as hard as others
    • Jonathan and Suzanne – Trying to encourage the adults – laughing and making others laugh – making a card
  10. Besides the disastrous crack in the starboard side, the crew and captain had to face further adversities. Explain.

    • Introduction – No radio signals – Hand pumps failed due to debris (duh-bree) – Three other hand pumps were wrenched overboard – Electric pumps short circuited – Could not hoist sail on the main mast – Compass needed magnetic correction – Sue’s injury was posing another threat.
  11. Why do you feel like agreeing with Jonathan who said that his father was the best captain?
    Godron Cook, the narrator, deserves to be hailed the best captain for the wonderful prediction that he made about Wavewalker’s reaching Ile Amsterdam. A prediction that he made without an accurate compass, without any external guidance over a radio call, without anything but experience and common sense, his prediction took the ship and six adventurous lives to safety.
  12. Why does the narrators call Ile Amsterdam the most beautiful island in the world?
    Ile Amsterdam is a tiny island full of rocks and hardly any vegetation yet the narrators are all praise for this barren pinprick in the Indian ocean for its being refuge to Wavewalker that was about to capsize in the wild ocean.

Textbook Questions

  1. What difference did you notice between the reaction of the adults and the children when faced with adverse weather?
    Both adults and children in the narrative exhibit different traits of behaviour on the face of near death. The captain faced the gales and the gigantic waves as one faces death. When he was thrown out of the ship, when he saw the ship almost riding over the crest or when he saw the underground cabin full of water, he took it for a near drowning. When Mary was asked to take the steering wheel, she felt like steering a doomed vessel without much hope of steering it to safety. The two other crewmen, Larry and Herb, they were pumping water like madmen. It is not very easy to say what amount of hope they had at that time but all one can assert is that they too had hopes to survive for. On the other hand, the two children exhibited more optimism than their elders. Jonathan saying that he and his sister were not afraid to die if they were to die together is an expression of love and unity even in death. For Suzanne, confronting with death with her dear ones was like being funny.
  2. How does the narrative suggest that optimism helps to endure the direst stress?
    The narrative presents a group of voyagers who shared something remarkably common – optimism. Their ship was capsizing or going into pieces, in front of them the sea was as high as the sky, every next second another gush of water was pouring in through the ship’s bashed side yet they smiled, yet they consoled each other and yet they thought of reaching ashore safely. Sue’s making a card with a caption was heroism. Jonathan’s title words that he was not afraid of death if they could all die together was not a call to embark death but a call to fight it. Larry and Herb were pumping like madmen and that suggests they were least affected by the thought of giving in. Mary’s staying behind the steering wheel for forty four long hours and the narrator’s untiring efforts to repair the ship were both ignited by hope and strong will power.
  3. What lessons do we learn from such hazardous experiences as facing death in close angle?
    It has been said that people often fail to choose one of the endless possibilities between danger and death. Between an accident and death, between an illness and death, between struggle and death, there are numerous ways out – death is not the first. Faced with adversities in life, one should not think that the end is near and days are counted. It is struggle that is needed. One should fight back till the last moment because victory is met in the last moment. People who are not optimistic take the first bus to death because they are too lazy to fight back.
  4. Why do people embark to adventurous expeditions that can almost kill them en-masse?
    Adventure is the life-style of people who are not done with defeat. Fear and the joy of defeating the fear are part of human civilizations across the planet but jumping headlong into risky situation is a level ahead. Adventure begins where fear vanishes. Like people who enjoy solitude, people who enjoy society, people who enjoy creative works, an adventurer loves risks and the satisfaction of overcoming them. It is possible that the greatest fear of the adventurer is the fear of not having risks and dangers to overcome.

Marine Glossary, Captain Cook


  • Captain James Cook
  • Born in Yorkshire, England in 1728
  • First Voyage 1768-71
  • Second Voyage 1772-75
  • Third Voyage 1776-79
  • Died in Hawaii in 1779
  • Narrator’s forefather


  • Captain James Cook was a great explorer. His voyages around the world made him popular during his time.
  • Duplicate – Copy
  • Seafaring skills – Skills required to handle a ship/boat
  • Plymouth is a place in England. It was from here the journey began.
  • Wavewalker – The name of the ship/boat. It was bigger than a bus that ply in your city.
  • Gales – very strong winds
  • Knots – Nautical miles
  • Impending disaster – Approaching disaster
  • Crest of a wave is its highest part.
  • Hatch is an opening to the ship’s safe underground cabin.
  • Storm Jib is one of the two sails. Sail is usually made of thick canvas.
  • Storm Jib – A small sail in the front of the ship
  • Mooring rope is a coiled rope
  • Stern – The side of the ship
  • Starboard side – Right side of the ship
  • Bashed open – Broken
  • Aft of the ship is the backside of the ship
  • Gigantic
  • Sail (v)
  • Knot – Nautical mile
  • Double lash
  • Done
  • Impending
  • Ominous
  • Aft
  • Crest
  • Torrent
  • Wheel

What do you think?

3.8 Mineral and Power Resources

The Wandering Singers – Sarojini Naidu