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Plum Pudding

In the news today is an amazing shipwreck survival story from Australia that has some similarities to JFK's survival swim from WWII days in the Solomon Islands, near Australia. THE STORY OF PT-109

The current story is about three Australian fishermen whose boat hits a reef and sinks - tossing them into the ocean with nothing to hold on to but an overturned cooler:

Fisherman swims 10 hours to shore. BBC, Feb 28, 2008

One of the men sets out on a swim to shore that takes him ten hours - arriving exhausted on the beach to be found by a jogger passing by. The swimmer then gave directions for an air search to find the other two crew members - one of whom is found still holding on to the cooler - the other one no longer there.

The endurance needed to swim and survive was so all-consuming that one of the survivors - a fisherman at that - said he will never go back on the ocean again.

No doubt they would be able to relate to JFK's exhaustion when he finally reached land - Plum Pudding Island in the Solomons - back on August 2nd, 1943 - as described in the following excerpt from the book PT-109 by Robert J. Donovan:

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Plum Pudding Island is an oval of green with a band of white sand around it like a life preserver, holding it afloat in water that blends from sapphire, where it is deep, to the color of mint where it washes the coral reefs. The island is about a hundred yards long and seventy yards wide at the middle....

Plum Pudding

Near sundown on August 2 Kennedy and Pat McMahon half drifted up on the southeastern rim of Plum Pudding Island. Reaching the clean white sand seemed to be the ultimate limit of Kennedy's endurance. His aching jaws released the strap of McMahon's kapok, the end of which was pocked with Kennedy's tooth marks. For a time Kennedy lay panting, his feet in the water and his face on the sand. He would have been completely at the mercy of a single enemy soldier, but the island was deserted. His feet blistered, McMahon crawled out of the water on his knees and feebly helped Kennedy up. Swimming with the strap in his teeth Kennedy had swallowed quantities of salt water. When he stood he vomited until he fell again in exhaustion. McMahon's hands were swollen grotesquely. Every move he made tortured him. He knew, however, that as long as they were on the beach they would be exposed to view. He tried to drag Kennedy across the ten feet of sand, yet he could scarcely drag himself. He found he could crawl, and as Kennedy's strength returned he too crawled across the beach in stages with McMahon until the two of them collapsed under the bushes. After a while Kennedy was strong enough to sit up and watch the others as they neared the beach on their two-by-eight plank.

It took the eleven survivors fully four hours to swim the three and a half miles across Blackett Strait from the overturned hulk of PT 109 to Plum Pudding Island. At the start they were all close together, but gradually Kennedy pulled ahead with McMahon in tow. Kennedy had swam the backstroke on the Harvard swimming team and was generally a strong swimmer. Towing McMahon he would move in spurts, swimming the breast stroke vigorously for ten or fifteen minutes and then pausing to rest.

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"How far do we have to go now?" McMahon would inquire. Kennedy would assure him that they were making good progress.

"How do you feel, Mac?" he would ask, and McMahon would invariably reply, "I'm okay, Mr. Kennedy, how about you?"

Being a sensitive person, McMahon would have found the swim unbearable if he had realized that Kennedy was hauling him through three miles or so of water with a bad back. He was miserable enough without knowing it. Floating on his back with hs burned hands trailing at his sides, McMahon could see little but the sky and the flattened cone of Kolombangara. He could not see the other men, though while all of them were still together, he could hear them puffing and splashing. He could not see Kennedy but he could feel the tugs forward with each stretch of Kennedy's shoulder muscles and could hear his labored breathing.

McMahon tried kicking now and then but he was extremely weary. The swim seemed endless, and he doubted that it would lead to salvation. He was hungry and thirsty and fearful that they would be attacked by sharks. The awareness that he could do nothing to save himself from the currents, the sharks or the enemy oppressed him. His fate, he well knew, was at the end of a strap in Kennedy's teeth. At that stage of his life it never occurred to him to pray. His sole reliance was on Kennedy's strength...[end quoting from chapter IX, PT-109 by Donovan]

Fisherman swims 10 hours to shore
BBC, Feb 28, 2008

A fisherman swam for more than 10 hours to find help for the two companions he left behind after their boat sank off the east coast of Australia. The exhausted swimmer was found on a beach, and coastguards were then able to find one of the men. He had spent 30 hours at sea, clinging to debris. The search continues for the boat's skipper. The three fishermen were on board a trawler that sank about 15km (9 miles) off the east coast near Byron Bay. "Judging that the second fisherman survived through the night... we can only hope that the same has occurred with the third," a spokesman for the Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter service said.

The fishermen were thrown into the sea early on Wednesday after their ship hit a reef, prompting a major search and rescue operation. Hours later, fisherman Michael Williams crawled onto New Brighton Beach, north of Byron Bay. Chris Gort, who saw Mr Williams on the beach, said the fisherman "had pretty bad cuts and bruises to his legs and his arms, he was pretty exhausted, pretty badly sunburnt". Mr Williams raised the alarm about his two companions, and a second fisherman was picked up by a rescue helicopter 30 hours after first being thrown into the ocean. John Jarratt was found at sea north-east of Ballina, suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. Mr Jarratt said he and skipper Charlie Picton, an experienced fisherman, had clung to an insulated cooler after the ship went down, but that in the darkness the two became separated. He said a rescue helicopter had apparently flown above the exhausted pair without spotting them. Mr Jarratt has told friends from hospital that he will "never" go back in the ocean, local media reported.

Fisherman says "never again" to sea
Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 28, 2008

Trawler wreck survivor John Jarratt has recovered from hypothermia after spending up to 30 hours in the water but never wants to go to sea again, his sister says. Rosemary Jarratt, speaking this morning at Ballina District Hospital on the NSW north coast, said her brother was in good condition. "JJ's feeling okay. He's resting now," she told the Nine Network. "He recovered from the hypothermia in about four hours and has just a few cuts on his feet - so that's nothing really. "He didn't lose any body weight or anything." The 41-year-old deckhand was rescued yesterday after clinging to debris in open ocean after the trawler sank and and he tried to save skipperCharlie Picton.

Fellow deckhand Michael Williams swam for shore after the boat capsized and 12 hours later was washed up on a beach near Byron Bay, sparking the search for the other two. "When the boat went down they just grabbed whatever they could to hold on to," Ms Jarratt said. "JJ said, 'We'll be out here for at least three days because no one knows we're here', so brave Michael swam all the way to shore. "He's my hero, he's all our hero," Ms Jarratt said of Mr Williams.

Mr Jarratt survived by clinging on to an Esky for 30 hours. Emergency services early today halted the search for Mr Picton, who is believed to have drowned. Ms Jarratt said her brother had spoken a little about his skipper but would not disclose what he said. She said the emergency had been a tough time for the family. "Firstly, it was utter turmoil not knowing where he was. But we also knew that John was very strong." The ordeal had made Mr Jarratt a permanent landlubber, she said. "He says he never wants to go out to sea again."

Jackie Jura
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