133 days at sea in an eight foot raft. Meet Poon Lim 7 years ago

133 days at sea in an eight foot raft. Meet Poon Lim

133 days at sea in an eight foot raft. Killing birds to drink their blood and catching sharks with a nail, rope and a water jug. This is not MacGyver. It's the story of Poon Lim.

By Declan Whooley

Poon Lim, Cast Away, 1942

Chinese native Poon Lim was a steward on a British ship during World War II that was travelling from Cape Town to Surinam. The Germans intercepted the boat 750 miles east of the Amazon and two torpedoes sunk the boat in two minutes. Lim would be the only man of the 53 on board to survive the attack.

A young Poon Lim

After two hours in the water, Lim found an eight foot wooden raft which had tins of biscuits, a forty litre jug of water, chocolate, sugar, two flares and an electric torch on board. Once the reserves were finished he survived on catching rainwater on a canvas jacket and fishing. Nothing like a bit of resourcefulness.

A MacGyver ahead of his time, Lim used a nail from the raft and the wire from the torch to make a fish hook, using the hemp rope as the fishing line. He managed to catch fish and small sharks with this crafty method and used a knife he made from the biscuit tin to cut the fish. A half-filled water jug was then used to kill the larger fish and sharks when he struggled to kill them with the knife. Ouch!

Sharks were particularly fruitful and he drank the blood from their liver for survival. He even drank the blood from a bird he caught at a time when he was barely alive after a storm spoilt his fish and fouled his water.

Poon had to deal with sunburn, seasickness and the agony of watching boats go by. First a freighter and then a squad of US Navy patrol planes went past, with Poon contending it was because he was Chinese that they didn’t offer assistance. It should also be noted that at the time that U-Boats often offered ‘dummy’ survivors to ambush their enemies. A German U-Boat also saw a stricken Poon but did not help.

Poon on his makeshift raft

Poon counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but after spending so long at sea decided that there was no point in counting the days and simply began counting full moons. However after an incredible 133 days in the raft, three Brazilian fishermen discovered the raft.

He had lost 9kg and spent four weeks in hospital but made a full recovery. To this day no-one has spent longer at sea in a raft and the US Navy teaches his survival techniques to its sailors.

As Poon said about his record before his death, "I hope no one will have to break it”. Amen to that.