We Are Not Afraid to Die…if We Can All Be Together
The story ‘We’re Not afraid to Die-if We Can All Be Together’ is a first-person account of the narrator, Gordon Cook. It is a story of extreme courage and skills exhibited by Gordon Cook, his family and crewmen in a war with water and waves, for survival.
The narrator drives home the message that optimism, strong will power, grit, determination and the strong support of the family can help one come out of any disastrous situation with success and enriching experience. Gordon Cook wanted to sail in his own boat and to duplicate the round- the world voyage made 200 years earlier by Captain James Cook.
• The narrator: The narrator 37-year-old businessman. He wants to duplicate the round-the-world journey made by Captain James Cook 200 years earlier. He spends a long time improving his seafaring skills and finally begins his journey with his wife Mary, six-year-old son Jonathan and seven-year-old daughter Suzanne.
• Mary: the narrator’s wife- a woman with courage. She supports her husband‘s dream and improves her sea skills. She joins her husband on their planned three-year voyage.
• Larry Vigil: An American who joins the narrator and Mary at Cape Town to help them tackle one of the world‘s roughest seas.
• Herb Seigier: A Swiss who also joins them at Cape Town to help them cross the southern Indian Ocean.
• Suzanne: The narrator‘s seven-year-old daughter with patience and perseverance who displays immense courage throughout their voyage. She dares to endure pain and chooses to remain silent, not to bother her father. She understands the severity of the situation and behaves way ahead of her age
• Jonathan: He is the narrator‘s six-year-old son who shows immense strength and optimism even in difficult times. A little boy with great wisdom and understands the importance of family and wishes to be together even if they all die .
The Voyage Begins
• In July 1976, the narrator, a 37-year-old businessman, his wife Mary, 6-year-old son Jonathan and 7-year-old daughter Suzanne started their sea voyage from Plymouth, England.
• They wished to go round-the-world on a long sea journey just as Captain James Cook had done 200 years earlier.
• The narrator and his wife had spent 16 years preparing for the round-the-world voyage and improving their marine skills.
• Their boat Wave Walker was a 23 metre, 30-ton boat that was professionally built and they had tested it in the roughest weather they could find.
• The first part of their planned three years, the 105000-kilometre journey passed pleasantly as they sailed down the West Coast of Africa to Cape Town.
• Then they took two crewmen—the American Larry Vigil and the Swiss Herb Seigler before heading east from Cape Town, to help them tackle one of the world‘s roughest seas, the southern Indian Ocean
Problems Begin during the Voyage
• On the second day out of Cape Town, they encountered strong winds and high waves. The windstorms continued for the next few weeks.
• The size of the waves was up to 15 metres. On December 25, they were 3500 kilometres east of Cape Town, but the weather was very bad.
• Despite the bad weather, they celebrated Christmas Day wonderfully. New Year‘s Day saw no improvement in the weather and it worsened over time.
• On 2nd January, the waves were gigantic. They were sailing with a small storm jib, but still, they were going very fast.
• The boat moved to the top of each wave but the gigantic waves and dangerous wind continued to terrorise them.
• To minimise the damage, they dropped the storm jib and lashed a heavy rope in a loop across the stern.
• Then they fastened everything, went through their life-raft drill, attached lifelines and put on oilskins and life jackets and prepared themselves for the worst-case scenario.
• The first indication of impending disaster came at about 6 pm, with an ominous silence.
• The wind stopped and the sky immediately grew dark.
• Then a loud roaring sound was heard. The narrator thought that he saw a cloud coming towards them. With horror, he realised it was not a cloud but the biggest wave that he had ever seen. It appeared vertical and double the height of all other waves.
• The wave hit the boat and a tremendous explosion shook the deck. Water poured into the boat.
• The narrator‘s head smashed against the steering wheel of the boat and, he was thrown into the sea.
• He thought that he was going to die but suddenly his head popped out of the water. He saw that the boat had almost capsized.
• Suddenly, a wave hurled it upright and the narrator was tossed onto the boat.
• His left ribs were cracked; his mouth was filled with blood and some teeth were broken. Somehow he managed to find the wheel, lined up the stern for the next wave and hung on.
Frantic Survival Attempts
• The boat was flooding with water, but the narrator dared not abandon the wheel to investigate.
• Suddenly, Mary came and informed him that the boat was sinking as water was pouring in. He handed the wheel to her and crawled towards the hatch. Larry and Herb pumped the water out like madmen.
• The wooden beams had broken. The whole starboard side had bulged inwards. Clothes, crockery, charts, tins and toys moved around noisily in water. The boat had been damaged.
• He somehow managed to reach the children. Sue had a big bump on her head to which he did not pay much attention. He found a hammer, screws and canvas.
• Somehow he managed to stretch the canvas and secure waterproof hatch covers across the gaping holes. Some water continued to come in but most of it could be prevented from entering the boat. But this was not the end of their troubles.
Damaged and Lost Equipment
• The hand pumps started jamming with the trash floating around the cabins. Soon their electric pump got short-circuited and the water rose threateningly.
• He found that their two spare handpumps had been pulled away by currents along with the forestay sail, the jib, the lifeboats and the main anchor.
• He managed to find another electric pump to drain out the water.
• The night was an endless, bitterly cold routine of pumping, steering and working the radio. However, there was no response to their Mayday calls as they were in a remote corner of the world.
• Sue‘s head had swollen alarmingly. She had two black eyes and a deep cut on her arm. She didn‘t tell the narrator more of her injuries as she didn‘t want to worry him when he was trying to save them all.
Pinpricks in the Vast Ocean
• On the morning of January 3, the pumps had reduced the amount of water on board.
• Each of them took rest for two hours by turns.
• They had survived for 15 hours since the wave hit the Wavewalker, but the boat was not strong enough to take them to Australia.
• The narrator knew that the boat wouldn‘t hold together long enough.
• He checked his charts and calculated that the only one hope for them was if they could reach lie Amsterdam, a French scientific base, one of the two pinpricks in the vast ocean.
• Mary found some corned beef and cracker biscuits and they ate their first meal in almost two days.
We Aren’t Afraid to Dying… if We can all be Together”
The narrator went to comfort the children. And assure them that they were going to make it.
• Jon said that they were not afraid of dying if they can all be together. This gave the narrator hope and a reason to fight the sea.
• He tried his best to protect the weakened starboard side of the boat. However, later in the evening, as more water came into the boat, they felt defeated again.
• On 6th January, the weather improved. The narrator again tried to calculate their position.
• While he was at work, Sue came to him and gave him a card. She had drawn caricatures of Mary and the narrator.
• The card said that she loved them both and hoped for the best.
• The narrator was filled with optimism. Somehow they had to make it.
The Most Beautiful Island in the World!
• The narrator made several calculations using a spare compass, made some adjustments and asked Larry to steer a course of 185 degrees. He said that, if they were lucky, they would see the island at about 5 pm.
• Dejected, he went down to his bunk and fell asleep. It was about 6 pm when he woke up.
• He thought that they must have missed the island. Just then, Jon and Sue came to him and hugged him because he was the “best daddy in the world”.
• The narrator was confused. Sue announced that the island was just in front of them.
• He rushed out to the deck and saw the most beautiful island in the world! It was lie Amsterdam, a piece of volcanic rock with little vegetation.
• When his feet touched land the next day, he thought of the cheerfulness and optimism of all the people on the boat which made them pass through the worst stress.
The story has a string of themes woven into it. First is the human nature of knowing and exploring the unknown and taking on challenges. The second is the human instinct for survival. The
captain and his crew courageously fight the raging storm with intensity and ferocity and victoriously emerge from the jaws of death. Third, human bravery, grit, courage and determination exhibited not only by the elders but the children Sue and Jonathan too. Fourth, being optimistic and having a sharp presence of mind, the qualities which are instrumental in the Wave walker and its crew’s survival.
Questions and Answers
1. Describe the Wave walker.
Ans. The Wave Walker was a professionally built 23-metre, 30 ton Wooden- hulled beauty. It had been fitted and tested in the roughest weather for the month.
2. Why did the author undertake the voyage and what preparations did he make?
Ans. The author wanted to duplicate the round -the world voyage made 200 years earlier by Captain James Cook, the famous explorer. He and his wife spent 16years of their leisure time honing their sea faring skills in the British Waters. He procured “Wave Walker”, a 23-metre, 30-ton wooden-hulled beauty, that had been professionally built. They spent months fitting it and testing it in the roughest weather as they had to sail for 105,000 Km in 3 years. The narrator also took along Larry Vigil and Herb Seigir – the two crewmen to help tackle the roughest seas of the southern Indian Ocean.
3. When did the narrator sense the first signs of disaster?
Ans. The narrator sensed the first signs of disaster on the second day of the journey from Cape town. They began to encounter strong gales. For the next few weeks, the gales blew continuously. The Narrator was worried because the size of the waves was alarming, up to 15 metres, as high as the main mast.
4. How did the narrator and his family celebrate Christmas?
Ans. On 25 December, the narrator was 3,500 Kilometres east of Cape Town. They faced atrocious weather but had a wonderful holiday with a Christmas tree. There was no improvement of weather on New Year. They expected the
weather to change and it did change but for the worse.
5.How did the narrator prepare to face the storm?
Ans. The narrator sensed the impending disaster as the waves were gigantic, and although they were sailing with only a small storm jib, making eight knots still the ship rose to the top of each wave. The endless enormous seas rolling towards the boat could be seen. The screaming of wind and spray was painful to the ears. The boat was slowed by dropping the storm jib and lashing a heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stern. The narrator then double lashed everything, and everyone went through the life raft drill. They attached lifelines, donned oilskins and life jackets and waited.
6. Describe the wave that damaged the boat.
Ans. At 6 pm there was an ominous silence, the first sign of impending disaster. The wind dropped, and the sky grew dark immediately. There was a growing roar and an enormous cloud toward aft of the ship. It was a wave, perfectly vertically and twice the height of other waves with a frightful breaking crust. A deafening thunder broke the silence. The stern moved up and faced the wave. The narrator thought of riding over the wave but a tremendous explosion shook the deck. A torrent of green and white water broke over the ship.
Textual Questions Hornbill English Chapter – 2
1. Notice these expressions in the text. Infer their meaning from the context.
Honing our seafaring skills, Ominous silence, Mayday calls, Pinpricks in the vast ocean, A tousled head
Honing our seafaring skills:
This refers to the efforts made by the author and his wife, to perfect or sharpen their seafaring skills.
The silence here refers to impending danger.
Mayday calls are radio-telephonic words that signal aircraft or ships stuck in a disastrous situation.
Pinpricks in the vast ocean:
This phrase expresses the search for two small islands in the vast ocean.
A tousled head:
This refers to hair in disarray or the disarranged hair of the author’s son, Jonathan
Understanding the Text
1. List the steps taken by the captain
(i) to protect the ship when rough weather began.
(ii) to check the flooding of the water in the ship.
Answer: (i) In order to protect the ship from rough weather, the Capitan decided to slow it down. So he dropped the storm jib and lashed heavy mooring rope in a loop across the stern. Then they doubled fastened everything and went through their life-raft drill
(ii) To check the flooding of water in the ship, he put waterproof hatch covers across the gaping holes which diverted the water to the side. When the two hands pump blocked and the electric pump short-circuited, he found another electric pump, connected it to an out pipe and started it.
2. Describe the mental condition of the voyagers on 4 and 5 January.
Answer: On January 4 and 5, the voyagers felt relieved after the rigorous practice of continuous pumping. They had their first meal in almost two days. Their respite was short-lived. They faced a dangerous situation on January 5. Fear of death loomed large. They were under great mental stress.
3. Describe the shifts in the narration of the events as indicated in the three sections of the text. Give a subtitle to each section.
Answer: The first section: The first section opens on a cheerful note. The narrator and his family are all set for their ultimate dream- to take up an around-the-world voyage like Captain James Cook did. They have perfected their seafaring skills. They begin the voyage and despite of the bad weather, they celebrate Christmas on the ‘Wavewalker’.
The second section: This part of the narration covers the hazards faced by the voyagers. There is a shift in the narration from cheerful to intense. They find themselves in an extremely fatal and disastrous situation. A huge wave hits their boat and the narrator is thrown overboard. Despite getting injured, he maintains his composure and applies every possible way to tackle the critical situation. They manage to pump out a maximum amount of water out of the boat in about 36 hours. But as they continue to face bad weather conditions the narrator loses hope. The children remain fearless, courageous and optimistic throughout.
The third section: The children provide moral support to the narrator and he continues with his efforts. Under the captaincy of the narrator, they manage to reach Ile Amsterdam. The narrator proves his seamanship and receives the title of “the best daddy” and “the best captain” from his children.
The above three sections can be subtitled as follows:
a) The first section: Round-the-world voyage begins
b) The second section: The attack of the big wave
c) The third section: Ultimate victory
Talking about the Text
1. What difference did you notice between the reaction of the adults and the children when faced with danger?
Answer: There was a lot of difference between the way in which the adults and children reacted when faced with danger. The adults lose hope and wait for their end with a heavy heart. At this point, they are motivated by the children. The children offer moral support to adults. They display maturity and tolerance. Jonathan expresses his fearlessness and courage when he says that they are not afraid of dying if they all can be together. Sue expresses her love and gratitude for her parents by making a greeting card. She is strong enough to not let her parents know about her serious injuries. She did not want to bother her parents in times of crisis.
2. How does the story suggest that optimism helps to endure “the direst stress”?
Answer: Optimism is a determination to overcome difficulties. It raises one’s spirits and helps one overcome stress and difficulty with ease. The story displays courage and optimism throughout. Survival happens only because of the optimistic struggle that the family carries on with.
The level of perseverance in the author rises when Jonathan says, “we’re not afraid of dying if we can all be together. Besides, the caricatures of him and Mary, drawn by Sue, helps his determination and optimism to grow many folds. The positive outlook of the children infuses positivity in the narrator. He rigorously calculates their position and finally asks Larry to steer a course of 185 degrees. Though he had lost all hope by then, he did not show it and optimistically told Larry that they would spot the island by about 5 P.M. Fortunately, their struggle and optimism pays off and they manage to find Ile Amsterdam by evening.
3. What lessons do we learn from such hazardous experiences when we are face-to-face with death?
Answer: Such experiences teach us the potential that courage, perseverance and tolerance hold. It explains how one must react in the direst of situations. It teaches us that one must never lose hope and try to find reasons to stay positive in the face of adversity. In such situations, one must try his/her best to remain calm and composed and understand the power of unity and teamwork. Moreover, the importance of common sense, putting continuous efforts to overcome the catastrophe and the significance of being extra cautious and careful are learnt from such hazardous experiences.
4. Why do you think people undertake such adventurous expeditions despite the risk involved?
Answer: The spirit to experience unique elements of nature, undaunted passion and willingness to accept challenges drive people to take up adventurous expeditions. The people who involve themselves in such activities are very well aware of the risk involved in them. But due to their passion and enthusiasm to do something unique and great, they willingly accept such challenges. Also, their desire to be in the lap of nature and experience its beauty pushes them to such expeditions.
Thinking about Language
1. We have come across words like `gale’ and `storm’ in the account. Here are two more words for `storm’: typhoon, cyclone. How many words does your language have for `storm’?
Answer: In Hindi, ‘storm’ is known as ‘aandhi’, ‘toofan’ ‘and had, etc.
2. Here are the terms of different kinds of vessels: yacht, boat, canoe, ship, steamer, schooner. Think of similar terms in your language.
Answer: ‘Naav’, ‘Nauka’, ‘Jahaaz’ and ‘Kishti’ are some of the various words used in Hindi for the word ‘boat’.
3. ‘Catamaran’ is a kind of boat. Do you know which Indian language this word is derived from? Check the dictionary.
Answer: The word ‘Catamaran’ is derived from Tamil word ‘Kattumaram’.
4. Have you heard any boatmen’s songs? What kind of emotions do these songs usually express?
Answer: Yes, Boatmen’s songs usually express love and nostalgia. It revolves around the longing to meet a loved one. It may also express their love for the sea.
Working with Words
1. The following words used in the text as ship terminology are also commonly used in another sense. In what contexts would you use the other meaning?
Knot stern boom hatch anchor
Knot: a) interlacing, twining, looping, etc
b) a group of persons.
Stern: firm, strict, uncompromising, harsh, hard etc.
Boom: a) deep, prolonged, resonant sound
b) to progress or flourish
c) to hit hard
Hatch: a) to bring forth, produce.
b) derive, concoct
c) to draw, cut, or engrave lines
Anchor: a) a person or thing that can be relied upon for support
b) host of an event.
2. The following three compound words end in-ship. What does each of them mean?
Airship. Flagship Lightship
Airship: It is a self-propelled lighter-than-air aircraft with the means of controlling the direction of the flight.
Flagship: It is a ship carrying the flag officer or the commander of a fleet, squadron. It displays the officer’s flag.
Lightship: It refers to a ship anchored in a specific location flashing a very bright light for the guidance of ships, as in avoiding dangerous areas.
3. The following are the meaning listed in the dictionary against the phrase `take on’. In which meaning is it used in the third paragraph of the account:
Take on sth:
to begin to have a particular quality or appearance; to assume something
take sb on:
to employ sb; to engage sb, to accept sb as one’s opponent in a game, contest or conflict
Take sb/sth on: to decide to do sth; to allow sth/sb to enter e.g. a bus, plane or ship; to take sth/sb on board
Answer: In the third paragraph, in lines: “… we took on two crewmen to help us tackle … roughest seas…”, the word “took on” suggests to take somebody on i.e., to employ or engage somebody.