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Wednesday 30 July 2014

A Voyage of Discovery

     The Prisoner spent 25 days at sea on an open raft. He mostly had fair winds, and travelled on a north-easterly course averaging some three and a half knots. There was no allowance for tides, seeing as the Prisoner had no charts and no way of assessing them. He slept 4 hours out of each 24. So, the Prisoner in his 25 days at sea had proceeded at an average of three and a half knots, for 20 hours out of each 24 on a north-easterly course which would put him..... four hours sleep, twenty hours under fair sail maximum travel on a true course 1,750 miles. Minimum would be, 400 to allow for differential, calling it 500 to allow for drift and tide. Due to the fact that the Prisoner set sail not knowing where he was sailing to, because he didn't know where he was sailing from, I think he was extremely lucky!
    I read of the fearless explorer and science writer Anthony Smith, who died recently, who since his teenage years he had been haunted by a wartime story of survival. It happened that in 1940 two merchant seamen, their ship having been torpedoed off the coast of Africa, drifted for seventy days across the Atlantic in an open boat. The two men were driven half-mad by thirst and hunger, and finally reached land when washed ashore on Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
   Anthony Smith, in 1990, tracked down the lifeboat and arranged for it to be presented to the Imperial War Museum. In 2011, when Smith was already into his eighties, he set about finally fulfilling his ambition of re-creating the voyage. He fashioned from plastic gas pipes, a raft measuring some forty feet by eighteen feet, and surmounted by a small cabin, and used a telegraph pole for a mast. The name he gave to the raft was 'Antiki,' this in homage to both his age and Thor Heyerdahl's similar vessel the 'Kon-Tiki.'
   Anthony Smith recruited a crew of three, and set sail from the Canaries in January 2011. Having drifted for 2,700 miles across the ocean at an average speed of 2 knots, the raft two months later, landed in the Leeward Islands, but 700 miles from its intended destination of Eleuthera. A year later Anthony Smith set off on the final stretch with four new companions. After three weeks at sea, the raft was blown ashore at night by a ferocious gale, to find that they had actually landed on the very same beach as had the two seamen 72 years earlier.
   What has Anthony Smith and his intrepid adventure to do with the Prisoner and his voyage of discovery? Nothing directly. And yet indirectly, Smith had a crew of three men to man his raft, the Prisoner was alone aboard an open raft with no cabin. Smith's raft drifted for 2,700 miles, and made land some 700 miles off course. The same could easily have happened to the Prisoner's raft, which could have been blown hundreds of miles off course far out into the into the Atlantic. On the other hand, he could have made land in France and not on the south coast of England! The Naval Commander suggested that the average speed of the Prisoner's raft was three and a half knots, if it had only been two knots, like Smiths, then the Prisoner would have been 500 miles short of being washed up at Beachy Head.
   Now I do realise it's not always a good idea to mix fiction with fact, and that the Prisoner's sea voyage has to be taken at face value because its what happened in the episode 'Many Happy Returns.' Nevertheless, I was struck by Anthony Smith's seafaring adventure, and because of it I turned my mind to The Prisoner all at sea aboard his open raft. Because at the very least Smith's story does demonstrate how easily it could have gone so badly wrong for the Prisoner, had the gun-runners not turned up when they did. By which time they were in the English Channel, and when the Prisoner jumped overboard he had 9.2 miles to swim at most, in order to be washed up on the beach at Beachy Head. The Beachy Head lighthouse proves this point, because its light has a maximum range of 8 nautical miles, which equates to 9.2 miles. To swim that distance in itself is quite an achievement, seeing as how tired, hungry, and exhausted the Prisoner would have been!

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