TESTIMONY PART 2
The Aho-Dori wasn’t a large craft, but she made up for it in luxury and safety.
He had sworn to us that it was safe. “The safest yacht in all of Japan,” he had said. “The best that money can buy.” Boasting, of course. But why shouldn’t he have boasted? Kasai-san had all the money in the world. He could buy anything he wanted, do anything he wanted. His father had left him both a fortune and a company that still generated money at a dizzying rate, ¥40,000,000 of which had been put into constructing his beloved boat. He could spend and spend, throw money in any direction he saw fit. In his early thirties, he was set for life.
Why, then, should he not have the safest yacht in the world?
Nothing could have saved us that night. No boat on Earth could have withstood the fury of that storm.
(Another long pause)
None of us were prepared for it. Not even Sakeda-san. The skies were supposed to have been clear, beautiful and blue. But within seconds, they had turned an ugly gray. The clouds appeared from nowhere, seemingly closing in on us from all sides. The sun disappeared. We wouldn’t see it again for many days following the storm.
We all did what we could. Sakeda-san changed course, tried to outrun the clouds as they swept in. I manned the mainsail, struggling against the wind and pressing my mouth tightly closed as sea water relentlessly crashed against my face. Yoshida-san joined me, attempting to control the mast as I pulled in the sail. I remember, he said the strangest thing to me as the storm raged around us: “To get a girl, you scare them first, and then treat them tender, right?” It seemed an odd time to be offering patronizing romantic advice, unless, of course, he was hoping to woo Mami-san with this method. Perhaps he thought he was being helpful, or hoping to get love advice from a psychology professor. I risked a mouthful of bitter water to open my mouth and respond, telling him, in effect, that such an idea was less psychology, and more the plot of a paperback novel. That seemed to end the conversation.
Moments later, I was rushing downstairs to the shortwave radio. My hands were still wet from my work above deck, and they trembled as I radioed an S.O.S. into the night. I’m not sure how much got out before the water came pouring down the stairs. Before the saltwater destroyed the entire setup, shooting smoke and sparks into my face…
Next to go was the central mast. The force of the wind snapped it like a mere twig, sending it falling forward onto the deck. There was nothing else we could do. The water had ruined the engine, and we could no longer call for help. The men and I retreated below deck to wait out the storm. When Yoshida-san failed to follow, Sakeda-san and Koyama-san ran back up the stairs to find him. He had been swept across the deck, his body tangling in the ropes that littered the surface of the boat. They brought him back down shivering, soaked and frightened out of his mind. We were all frightened. Helpless.
We were waiting to die.
The storm passed, of course. The yacht certainly wasn’t in one piece, but we were still afloat. And alive. But for how long? Were we being searched for? When would we be found and rescued?
In the blink of an eye, our relaxation had tuned into intensity. Our joy into fear. Our freedom suddenly felt confining, as if the promise of the wide world outside our boat had constricted around us. We were trapped. Imprisoned by the very thing that had freed us. And the change had happened so quickly, none of us were…
Everything was shot. The radio. Both the main and auxiliary engines. The radar. In fact, the only thing that did seem to work were the cabin lights. I was grateful for this, as I had been passing the time by reading. Although hours had passed since the storm had ended, visibility outside the ship was practically nonexistent. A thick fog had enveloped us, isolating our little boat in the South Seas. We couldn’t be seen. We couldn’t be heard. We couldn’t move under our own power. We were drifting, a tiny dot in the vast Pacific. Lost…
These were the thoughts I was attempting to suppress as I read my book. As a distraction from the present circumstance, it was serviceable. But even in the moments when I shut out the fears that crawled from the back of my mind to rob me of what little peace I could find, the others would voice their concerns. Mami-san was quickly becoming intolerable. Her worry was expressed through complaint. Loud complaint. It soon became hard to focus on reading as she paced back and forth within the tiny cabin, grumbling and moaning as she went along.
At some point during the morning following the storm, Mami-san switched on our small radio. We had used it for listening to weather forecasts, and on occasion to play music. However, no one had touched it since the storm. It was our only link to the outside world, the last tether connecting us to civilization. To home.
Kasai-san said as much when he entered the cabin, quickly switching the radio off to conserve its power. Its repeated use the previous day had left it with a low battery. We never considered that we’d need it for anything other than having some fun. Now it sat on the table in the center of the cabin, suddenly a sacred object that represented what might be our last shred of hope.
Mami-san spoke up. It was time for the news. Perhaps we would be mentioned. Perhaps we’d hear if they were looking for us.
Kasai-san switched the radio back on. We all leaned forward, listening as he tuned it to the news. I’ll never forget the first words that came from that radio:
“Hope has been virtually abandoned.”
The report was about us. About our voyage.
About how they believed us to be dead.
They read our names off, as if in memoriam.
They weren’t looking for us. We were dead to them.
The women wept. I nearly wept. We all felt the same. Our last hope, our last line to the outside world had just been severed. No one was coming. No one was looking.
We were horribly, crushingly alone.
And then the radio went silent.