Part 11. Abandon Ship It was hard at first to see Sparky through the rain, a ghostly mirage whose mast kept disappearing in the trough of a wave. As she hove to about 200 yards off our port side, her five-person crew readied themselves and waited. Dave climbed to the stern, opened the yellow casing, tossed us the ribbon-like red line, which we cleated amidship, and flung out the life raft. Although it is designed to inflate automatically on contact with water, none of us had ever done this before, and so we watched with some apprehension. (I’m told you can practice the maneuver in a swimming pool, but that just doesn’t seem the same.)
As soon as it hit the water, the amorphous blob of material began to inflate with a reassuring whoosh, and – like a balloon that turns into a latex dog to the delight of small children – it gradually assumed the form of a circular raft, about eight feet in diameter and two feet deep. We struggled to haul the now-inflated raft to the middle of the boat for easy entry, but no matter what we tried, we could not pull it around Restive’s heaving stern. Our only option was to bring the raft as close as possible to the stern, keeping it always free of the boat, and then, when a wave had brought the raft to its nearest point, hurl ourselves one by one into it – a septuagenarian high dive into a small pool.
Fred went first.