The Adventures of Poon Lim

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The amazing survival story of Poon Lim.

Poon-LimOn 5th April, 1943, the crew of a small Brazilian fishing vessel spotted a life raft off the coast of Brazil. When they approached it, they found that it had a single occupant – a young Chinese man called Poon Lim.

He had left his homeland several years before to work on a British merchant ship as a steward. But of course, this was now the Second World War and on 23rd November, 1942 his ship, the SS Ben Lomond, had been torpedoed by a German U-boat.

Poon Lim had been adrift on his life raft for 133 days

When the ship was attacked, he had grabbed his life jacket and jumped into the ocean. He saw four other men leave the vessel in a lifeboat but they soon disappeared. Poon Lim was the only survivor. Carefully, he took stock. There was water aboard and some basic rations. He estimated that by using just a little each day, he would be able to survive for over a month. The only other useful pieces of equipment were some flares, some rope and a flashlight.

He knew that he was about 750 miles from land. The ill-fated ship had left Cape Town some thirteen days previously. In vain, he hoped to be rescued but the weeks passed. He ran out of water and provisions. Now he knew he had to fend for himself.

He knew that his best option for food was catching fish. But the liferaft hadn’t had the forethought to provide fishing equipment. Using his teeth, he pulled a nail from the liferaft and fashioned it into a fish hook. He unravelled some of the rope to make a fishing line. He took the flashlight apart and made a smaller fish hook using a wire from it. His fishing tackle worked just fine.

He pulled apart his lifejacket and made a canvas container to catch rainwater. He even managed to catch birds to eat. Miraculously, he kept himself alive – and sane –  for one hundred and thirteen days; almost five months.

But he was frightened that he might lose his mind. He tried to keep himself occupied at all times and when he wasn’t singing traditional Chinese songs, he tried hard to make his mind go blank so he wouldn’t dwell on his surroundings and seemingly hopeless circumstances.  In order to keep fit, he tied himself to the liferaft (he wasn’t a great swimmer) and would swim round and round the craft — except when he saw sharks.

Rescue

When the Brazilian fishermen drew their boat up to the liferaft, they were astonished to see Poon Lim singing and laughing joyfully at the thought of being rescued at last. They were further amazed when he was able to walk unaided. Poon Lim claimed to have lost only ten pounds in weight during those hundred and thirty three days.

As soon as the boat reached shore, he was taken into hospital but the doctors declared themselves amazed that the castaway was so fit and healthy.

It was only when he realised where he was that he became aware that in his tiny liferaft he had crossed the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine . See The Writer’s Door for more information.

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Author: Jackie Jackson

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3 Comments

  1. Poon Lim contended that they would not rescue him because he was Asian and they may have assumed he was a stricken Japanese sailor, although another explanation is that German U-boats often set a “survivor” on a raft as a trap to get a rescuing ship to stop which made it a sitting duck to be sunk.

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  2. Talk about an unwelcome adventure. Amazing he lived so long! It fascinates to hear what survivors create from what they have. Inspiring and very interesting article.

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    • Isn’t it an amazing story? The will to live is certainly a strong one!

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