shark or seagull for dinner dear?

A 25 year old Chinese steward on a British ship during World War 2 spent a remarkable 133 days adrift on a life raft

image found here

Poon Lim shipped out as a second steward on the British merchant ship Ben Lomond. The ill fated vessel was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat on November 23 1942. The ship was sinking rapidly, so Poon Lim leaped over the side. His first concern was simply to stay alive. After struggling for two hours he saw a life raft several hundred feet away. He swam to it and climbed aboard.

sub image found here

The timber raft was 8 ft. square. Tied to it were some tins of British biscuits, a large water jug, some flares, and an electric torch. By allowing himself a few swallows of water and two biscuits in the morning and in the evening, he estimated that he should be able to stay alive for at least a month.

To keep his body in shape, he swam routinely twice a day when the sea was quiet. He used the ocean swimmer’s looping stroke as he circled the raft, always keeping his head above water, his eyes open for sharks.

Australian Whale Shark found here

He took apart the electric torch to get a wire, which he made into a fishhook then spent days shaping the metal, using the water jug as a hammer. The tough hemp rope that held down his almost exhausted supplies of food and water served as a fishing line.

He used a piece of biscuit for bait. After finally catching a fish, he cut it in half with the edge of the biscuit tin and ate the raw flesh, using the remains as bait to catch his next meal. 

More British Biscuit Tins to be found here

About the end of the second month on the raft, he spotted sea gulls. Hoping to catch one, he gathered seaweed from the bottom of the raft, matted it in bunches and moulded it into a form that resembled a bird’s nest. By this time he had caught several fish, which he baked in the sun to improve their taste. Some he ate and some he left next to the nest, so that they would rot and the stench would attract the gulls.

seagull chick found here

When he finally saw a gull flying towards him, he lay still so it would land. As the gull attacked the fish, Poon Lim grabbed it by its neck. A fight ensued, which he won, but only after he was the victim of deep cuts from the bird’s beak and claws.

Next he set out to catch a shark. He used the remnants of the next bird he caught as bait. The first shark to pick up the taste was only a few feet long. He gulped the bait and hit the line with full force, but in preparation Poon Lim had braided the line so it would have double thickness. He also had wrapped his hands in canvas to enable him to make the catch. But the shark attacked him after he brought it aboard the raft. He used the water jug half-filled with seawater as a weapon. After his victory, Pooh Lim cut open the shark and sucked its blood from its liver. Since it hadn’t rained, he was out of water and this quenched his thirst. 

Basking Shark found here

On the morning of the 133rd day, April 5 1943, he saw a small sail on the horizon. He had no flares left, so he waved his shirt and jumped up end down in an effort to attract the crew’s attention. The craft changed direction and headed for him.

The three men in the boat, who spoke Portuguese, took him aboard. They gave him water and dried beans before starting up their motor to head west to Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. He had crossed the Atlantic.

Activists in Belem found here

Poon Lim was able to walk unaided. His total weight loss during the drift was 20 lb. He received numerous honours. King George VI presented him personally with the British Empire Medal, the highest civilian award.

Kylie’s got one too

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44 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great story. Even if it was a small shark it would take a mighty strong hook, however (?).

    • Yes, sounds incredible doesn’t it?

  2. This is such a great story and fabulous sharks

    • I find them pretty scary

      • I expect I’d be nervous in their environment, but I have great admiration for them.

  3. hoping to have my own chance to dive with the whale sharks! although i’m expecting to be happily settled back at the dive resort every evening… not eating seagull guts!

    • Diving with the whale sharks is the awesomest thing to do!

      • I’ll just sit at the harbourside restaurant and have a little salad, thanks!

      • Me too Cindy!!

  4. That is a very extreme way to diet.

    • I wonder if the biscuits were gingernuts

  5. I don’t think I would have lasted a week.

    • I don’t think I would have lasted three days

      • I don’t think I would have lasted three hours.

      • I don’t think I would have lasted.

  6. I still can’t believe he had enough water… An amazing tail!

    The King

    • And the blood he drank would have been rather salty wouldn’t it…?

  7. Lost 20 Lb – hmmm – I wonder if I can get shipwrecked – – –

  8. I probably wouldn’t have lasted a week.

    • But would you last longer than Spilled Ink Guy?

  9. What a man! What a great achievement! Excellent stuff.

    • Yeah, he was pretty determined

  10. How do we know that he didn’t originally have three companions on that big raft….who he then ate over the next three months?

    • Uh oh…. I hadn’t thought of that

      • Ew! There are a few chapters from the Australian novel “For the Term of His Natural Life” devoted to cannibalism.

  11. Such ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention etc. But I can’t believe he survived on so little food for 133 days and only lost 20 lb. I rather like Affer’s theory.

  12. 133 days on a raft is small potatoes hen. I once spent 2 weeks on the karsi with a bad case of the squits and no pencil to do the crossword puzzle. Now that is real staying power.

    Four down, starts with a curry, ends with chilled toilet paper, found inside the human body. Can cause you to pull funny faces.

    • Jimmy, you really crack me up

  13. That basking shark is the stuff of nightmares. Aargh!

  14. Amazing story of determination and inventiveness.

  15. Made me think twice before going to the shop for provisions. Innovative use of carrion and bodily fluids. A+

  16. Thanks for the British Biscuit Tins link.

    For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about British Biscuit Tins and even made a note of it.

    I don’t always understand my thought processes.

    • There is a famous biscuit tin in James Joyce “Ulysses” – which Bloom throws at a meanie called The Citizen. I wonder if that biscuit tin was British or Irish?

  17. Great story. I’m not sure that I would take on a seagull even if in the peak of fitness. They eye you in a menacing way that just unnerves me. We have some nesting on our roof at the moment – I make sure that I am always polite to them, “how do you do”, “don’t worry about all the crap that you have left all over the roof” etc.

  18. Of course Kylie Minogue’s got one, because she’s Kylie. She is also very short too.

  19. Wow – amazing story. Kind of like a nonfiction version of Life of Pi.

  20. It didn’t occur to me that a shark could still attack while on a raft. I thought they were harmless once out of the water. Makes me worry about my kids’ pet shark that sleeps at the foot of their beds every night.

    • Now you’ve got me worried about your kids as well

  21. No idea why but I LOVE shipwreck stories! This one’s a beauty.

  22. And to think he did it without a ball named Wilson.

  23. Amazing story of survival. He had it all figured out as well.

  24. I remember reading about this guy in my Guinness Book of Records when I was a kid.

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