The Third Mate's Report
I beg to submit my report on the loss of the "Rhexenor" due to enemy action, and the subsequent events in the boats.
We were struck on the port side between No.1 and No.2 hatch, the time being 6.45 a.m. I was below and did not witness the effect of the explosion. I dressed and on coming on deck I found the crew clearing the boats ready for lowering.
I then went up on the boat deck and gave the order to start lowering the boat, as the other boats were already being lowered away. I was joined by the Chief Officer, whose boat had been blown away by blast. The ship had taken a list to port, and was down by the head. I observed as we passed round the stern that a considerable portion of the screw was exposed. The submarine then surfaced and commenced shelling. I observed about 20 rounds, of which about 50% were hits. The shooting was very poor indeed. The submarine came over and the Commander asked for the Master and Chief Engineer. He was told that they had gone down with the ship. He ordered No.5 boat alongside and took the Chief Steward for questioning. He later released him and took Mr.Allen, 4th Officer, prisoner. The submarine then dived and made off in an Easterly direction.
No.5 boat then came alongside and I transferred to it.
Our position at the time of the torpedoing was 25-00 N 43-37 W. After consultation with the other officers, I set course for Antigua in B.W.I., taking my departure from the above position. In the afternoon the Chief Officer and myself were a long way ahead of the other two boats so we decided to try and keep together.
I got my crew settled down as quickly as possible, and organised regular watches.
We agreed with the other boats to make signals every hour with flashing light during dark hours. These signals were observed up till 4 a.m. the last being seen to the South of us, and astern. When daylight came there was no trace of the other boats.
Feb 4th The day dawned fine with a light breeze from S.E. On taking my sight I found that we had made good 100 miles in a S.W'ly direction. I had previously set my watch to G.M.T. from the chronometer in the Chief Officer's boat, but there being some doubt as to the error on it I could not rely on my longitude being correct.
Feb 5th Fresh wind from S.E. ,with heavy sea and swell which made sailing rather unpleasant. At 6p.m. I decided to heave to and the boat rode easily with a jib up and sea anchor streamed on the quarter. I should point out here the necessity of a larger sea anchor, the usual size being inadequate to keep the boat's head up.
Feb 6th Hove to all day. Heavy sea running and high squally wind. The crew at this stage were very wet due to repeated rain squalls and spray. We managed to collect a considerable amount of rain water. The water caught from the sail was tainted by the dye from the sail, but it was drinkable.
At this stage Corby A.B. complained of not feeling well. I think he caught a chill, in fact all hands were shivering due to exposure to the elements.
Feb 7th Today dawned fine and clear, with light airs. Mr.Ward, 5th Engineer, flipped a fish out with his hand and we cooked it in the boat. It was a welcome change, and I think that fishing lines put in the boats would be a great asset. Fresh water can be obtained from the flesh of the fish also.
During the afternoon a strong wind came from the S.W. and we made good way till 8 p.m. when storm clouds gathered. I decided to shorten canvas, which was just as well. Rarely have I seen such strong squalls and torrential rain. These conditions prevailed all night. A fair quantity of rain water was caught.
Feb 8th This morning was dull and wet, but a breeze came from the S.W. again and off we went once more, with breaks showing in the clouds, which gave us poor drowned creatures some hope of the sun. Everyone was shivering intensely, due to exposure, and not being able to have dry gear. I am very doubtful if Corby will pull through.
Feb 9th I tried a new experiment this morning. Having several surplus cans of rainwater, I heated this by means of old wood burnt in the bailing bucket, which had fallen to pieces and was of no further use in the capacity of a bucket. I added some cooking chocolate and condensed milk and the resulting mixture was very palatable and sustaining. This, and the use of massage oil, did much to improve our condition. A small stove would be very useful.
Feb 10th The weather cleared around 9 a.m. and the long overdue N.E.'ly trade wind came away. The spirits of the crew rose with the wind, and I estimate the speed to be four knots.
Feb 11th Corby seems to be sinking fast, and I do not think he will pull through.
The crew seems to have settled down now and are more at home in the boat. Their lack of knowledge of small boat sailing was very noticeable and I have had a full time job teaching them. The help rendered to me by the 5th Engineer was invaluable, he being very quick to pick up the fundamental rules of boat sailing.
Feb 12th Still carrying along with a fair wind. Cannot take Longitude now as I am unable to ascertain correct G.M.T., but I can still observe Latitude. Reckon to make land about 21st February.
Still getting along to a fair NE'ly wind. If this holds, it will not be long
before we are consuming the iced drinks which continually float before our eyes
and form the big part of our conversation.
At 4.15p.m. Corby A.B. passed away. His death was witnessed by myself and Rogers (Carpenter). The Carpenter said a last prayer for the dead and he was committed to the deep. It cast quite a gloom over our little band, but we have to look ahead, let there be no looking back.
Feb 14th Still perfect weather, but the wind is rather light. The Milk Tablets seem to go down well. They are good to chew during the night, and keep the thirst quenched a certain amount.
Feb 15th Wind fell right away today and the boat is just making way through the water.
We find that our Vitamin C tablets are great thirst quenchers and this gave me the idea that acid drops would have the same effect.
We have just finished our evening meal and are now lying back prior to going to sleep. The only men moving about are the watch keepers.
The water ration is 6 ozs per day and 10 ozs on Sunday, four biscuits per man with pemican spread on it. I served prunes or raisins in the morning. This fruit when chewed did to some extent alleviate the thirst between meals.
The health of the crew is fairly good, except for the usual weakness around the legs, and tempers are inclined to be short, but the conduct is of the crew is excellent.
Feb 16th The wind improved today and we are making about three knots.
Feb 17th The breeze is still holding. I increased the water ration by 2 ozs today as I reckon to make the land in six or seven days.
Feb 18th The day dawned with light wind, fine and clear with a slight sea. The boat was making about two knots.
Feb 19th Fine weather, with a slight sea. Wind still holding but shifted to the eastward.
Observed Latitude to be 20-08' N., so I hauled her down to S.W. x W. in order to make southing and counteract set which is experienced here.
Feb 20th Fine weather with slight sea and swell. Lots of rain squalls about, but we seemed to miss them all. I increased the rations again today, as I expect to make land soon.
We are very thin now, and resemble a bag of bones,but we are all still in good spirits. A cake of salt water soap would come in very handy for washing, as we are all very dirty. S.Tate (Fireman) developed a septic hand as a result of rope burns. The arm commenced to swell so I decided to open the hand with a razor. The operation was satisfactory and he is now quite well again.
Feb 21st Called this morning to hear the glad cry of "Land". The island was bearing S.W. from us and the wind having come round from that direction we could not make any headway towards the land. Three planes flew over us but did not see us, in spite of my signals. The smoke flares were very poor and would not be visible to a ship any distance away.
Feb 22nd We pulled all night and daylight found us quite close to land, but the men were very tired so I tried sailing again, but wind and current being adverse it was of no avail.
In the cool of evening I again got the oars out, putting Tate, the man with the bad hand, at the tiller. We pulled continually until 2 a.m. when I let go the anchor in two fathoms of water. The coast being steep to, I decided to wait till daylight before landing.
After twenty days in a boat, eleven hours of continuous pulling is a feat worthy of mention.
Feb 23rd When dawn broke we found ourselves lying off a rock-bound coast, with a slight surf. I decided to beach boat as, if we had gone looking for a sandy beach we stood the chance of being swept out to sea by the swift current which ran between this group of islands.
I headed the boat on to the beach, keeping my stern on to the slight swell by means of my hedge anchor. I held her there while the crew got ashore and then allowed her to swing on to the beach where she lay quietly, enabling us to remove such food as we required.
O'Connel and Tate then climbed the hill behind us and there contacted some natives who directed them to the village. The natives came down to us, giving us some hot coffee which tasted very good indeed. We experienced some difficulty in walking, due to the motion of the boat and the continuous sitting posture in the boat.
About 2 p.m. a boat took us all round to the native village, where we were given hot coffee and porridge. I cannot say enough about the kindness of these simple people, who had not been spoiled by the invasion of so called Western civilisation.
We attended a thanksgiving service for our safe deliverance, and then the Commissioner of the B.W.I. came and took us to Tortola, where we obtained hot baths, and so to bed.
Before I end this account I would like to say that the American stores were
excellent in every way, and their condition on opening was perfect.