The easy part was landing the plane. Once in the ocean, Ray calmly inflated the life raft and put the survival kit into the boat. Spike was stepping out onto the wing of the plane when it suddenly flipped over, nose first into the ocean. Bobbing vertically, the plane paused for a minute while Spike held on for a few breaths. He inflated his life raft and jettisoned his .45 as the plane filled up with water and dove to the bottom of the Coral Sea. Spike fumbled around in his water logged pilot’s gloves slapping and splashing his way over to the life raft. Once on the raft, Spike and Ray looked at each other as they coughed up some salt water from their soggy lungs and began to take inventory. Upon further review, there wasn’t much to inventory. The main survival kit went down with the plane because it was never tied to the life raft. Spike’s back up survival kit followed when he had to abandon his pistol belt to inflate his life vest. With Guadalcanal out of sight and Australia many miles away, Spike and Ray had one 3 man life raft, two pocket knives, a pair of stubby aluminum oars, a hand pump for the life raft and a small square of nasty rubberized fabric that made rainwater unbearable to drink. As this was sinking in, Ray and Spike were overcome by all the salt water they swallowed and spent the next few minutes vomiting over the side of the raft.
With no land in sight, Spike and Ray were at the mercy of the prevailing winds and currents. They had no intention to row as the direction towards land was unknown and the currents could not be overcome. Then it started to rain. All night, Spike and Ray cupped their hands in a desperate exuberance trying to stuff as much fresh water into their guts as possible. As the storm was slowly pushed out by the new morning sun, the two men settled into the hazy dawn of a new day filled to the brim with fresh rain water. Still trying to make sense of their surroundings through the overcast, Spike and Ray were now hosts to a visiting 12 foot shark. The beast circled the raft, staring at Ray and Spike with, as Spike described it, a look of pure evil. Every so often, the shark would break the stare and dart under the boat. As its dorsal grazed the bottom of the raft, the two men were reminded of their place on the food chain as the shark returned to its circling patterns on the other side. This went on for some time as the shark toyed with the idea of capsizing the raft but never committed. Eventually it drifted away, leaving Ray and Spike to wonder if they were just backscratchers on the shark’s morning swim.
While digesting the shark encounter, that same day a Japanese destroyer emerged from the horizon. Helpless, Ray and Spike watched the boat approach and then stop within a few feet of the raft. Some Japanese soldiers peered over the edge but, apparently, two American soldiers in the middle of the ocean with no food and water posed no threat to the Empire. Leaving them for dead, or so they thought, the Japanese destroyer throttled the engine churning up some big waves in its wake. “That was enough for one day,” thought Spike and Ray. The raft bobbed to southwest with the seasonal currents and prevailing winds pushing them further and further into the hazy abyss.
The new day burned off the overcast to show Guadalcanal looming to the north. This serendipitous sign was accompanied by an eddy and a change in the winds pushing the crew north. With no time to argue this stroke of luck and moment of grace, Ray and Spike began paddling furiously towards Guadalcanal. All day and into their night, their fatigue was eased by the prospect of land. As the stars shone in the night sky, Ray took over the first night shift as Spike got some sleep.
At 4am, an exhausted Ray slapped Leo’s knee. He had been on a rampage for the last several hours fueled by the idea that he could land the boat on Guadalcanal before daybreak. The current, the night and the lack of food slowly crept in and ransacked his dreams. It was now Leo’s turn. Pushing hard, Leo brought the raft within reach of the beach only to realize it was a false landing. One hundred feet of marsh still lay ahead. Leo rolls out of the boat and, with Ray paddling, starts to kick and push their way to landing on the beach. Three days from their water landing, Spike and Ray were, once again, on land.
Once on the beach, Ray and Spike raced towards that salvation known as a coconut. Basking in their glory, the men gather up some coconuts to begin the arduous task of opening one up. Slowly picking at it with his pocket knife, an obsessed Leo heard Ray say something off in the distance. “Leo, someone is looking at us.” Leo looked up from his coconut. “Who? Where?” As his eyes slowly adjusted to the jungle landscape, three natives came into focus peering at him through the bush. Leo looked over at Ray and slowly put down his coconut. Unsure of their next move, they wondered if these were the cannibals they had joked about while on the USS Yorktown. Leo raised his hand and waved towards the natives, hoping his greeting was a universal sign for friendship. Stoic, the men just stared. Spike and Ray stared back, waiting for their next move.