A very inebriated passenger on a cruise ship, Webster Wycoff, was walking on the upper deck one night when he lost his balance and went sailing over the railing and into the dark sea below.
His wife was asleep in their cabin when it happened. There was no one else who would miss him until the next day. The ship slipped away into the night. The shock of hitting the water instantly sobered him up as he swam back up to the surface. As he bobbed like a cork in a swimming pool, he watched the lights from the cruise ship dim, then disappear. He never felt so alone in his life than that moment.
All he knew was he was near the Bahamas. That was it. He looked up at the full moon and the stars sparkling brightly in the clear sky. All he could do was lay back and float. He didn’t have anything to cling onto to. A rising tide of panic overtook him, but he calmed himself down. Above all, he told himself, he was a survivor.
He tried not to think about what was swimming below him. Just the thought of a shark was enough to nearly paralyze him. He was one of the many viewer/victims of the movie “Jaws,” who forever afterwards dreaded sharks. Webster had no idea what kind of sharks were common where he was at. It didn’t matter. Any shark would scare the hell out of him.
To change his line of thinking he thought about his wife. They were on their honeymoon after getting married in southern California. Her name was Beth, and she was a nurse. It was because of her that he got out of the US Navy. She refused to be married to a man who would suddenly disappear for days at a time, and not know where he went, or if he’d come back. She didn’t want to be constantly worrying about him. So he retired after 15 years of service.
They had a big wedding, members from both sides of the family packed the hall they rented. After the wedding ceremony there was a joyous celebration. One of the many gifts they got was a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas. Mr. and Mrs. Wycoff were toasted numerous times.
He felt something big below him. Movement caused the water he was floating on to move slightly. He gently rolled over and ducked his head under the water to see what it was. Whatever it was, it kept going and didn’t bother to circle back and check him out. His relief was fleeting as he thought about the odds of being discovered. He was a needle in a haystack. A grain of sand on the beach. Years of training told him his shit had hit the fan, and there was little he could do about it.
A day passed, and he was still awake. Beneath the stars again. He was thirsty and discouraged when he bumped into a tangle of broken boards that looked to be part of a crude raft. Jagged boards of varying length, lashed together with rope, bobbed alongside of him. He grabbed onto them and managed to use them like a belly board, arms and legs overhanging. It was something. He was so tired that he fell asleep as he drifted with the currents.
He woke up under a glaring sun. He was only wearing a pair of shorts and a colored t-shirt. His exposed body parts were sunburned a cherry red and his lips were swollen. His mouth was so dry it was hard to swallow. What was he drinking when this happened? Awww yes…Irish whiskey. Nectar of the gods. What he would give for a bottle of water right now. It wouldn’t even have to be cold.
His thoughts became more jumbled as the day wore on. Three days later he was so desperate that he bit his arm. Savaging the wound until he was able to lick the blood that slowly seeped out. He tore a strip of his t-shirt off and bound the wound afterwards. He clung to sanity by a thin thread that night when something brushed his dangling leg! He looked down in time to see it was a great white!
It slowly circled him. He watched the fin break water like a mongoose transfixed by a Cobra’s stare. A deer blinded by the headlights. Something within Webster surfaced. A fighting spirit that would not allow him to go quietly into the night. When the shark struck, it rose out of the water displaying rows of sharp teeth and came down where he was! Webster had slipped off the boards. He bared his teeth and poked the monster in one of its eyes, pulping it instantly!
The water thrashed violently as Webster swam in the opposite direction. When he looked back over his shoulder he saw two fins in the water, but they weren’t pursuing him. They were attacking the shark he blinded in one eye. He turned away and concentrated on swimming as long as his strength allowed him. When he finally had to stop and tread water it was getting light.
For a moment he thought he was hallucinating. A small island lay directly ahead of him! With renewed strength he swam to it and crawled up onto the pristine white sand of the beach. He passed out just beyond the gently breaking waves in a shallow depression.
It was still light when he woke up. He was thirsty and hungry. Seeing the lush jungle about fifty yards away he forced himself to stand up. On wobbly legs he entered it and kept his eyes peeled for signs of water. When he saw the little freshwater stream he sobbed in gratitude. He drank too much water at first – even though his training had taught him not to – and vomited it back up. Eventually he got some water to stay down.
He was delighted to find coconuts and bananas, but he had to earn his meal by climbing up the trees for the precious fruit. In his weaked condition it took everything he had left to knock down enough fruit for a few meals.
Two days later while he was walking along the beach he saw a small plane. When it approached the island he waved his arms wildly and shouted for help. The plane circled around and wagged its wings in acknowledgement of his presence. Then it left! Stunned, Webster felt like he was gut shot! He was still sitting on the beach when a seaplane came into view. It gracefully landed in the water and the pilot waved at Webster, who had already ran out into the surf and began swimming towards the plane.
When he got aboard the pilot asked him if there was someone he wanted to radio a message to that he was alright? When he explained to the pilot who he was and what happened to him he contacted authorities. An hour later as Webster relaxed in the plane the pilot asked him, “Want to take a call from someone named Beth?” he asked with a sly smile.
“I’m fine,” he said, “as she cried out of relief on the other end. “Listen, I promise not to go island-hopping again without you. Okay?”
As It Stands, survivor stories have always made for a good read.