▲ Circa late 19th or early 20th century. Photo courtesy Robert Neff
In September 1878, a powerful storm claimed several ships in the vicinity of Jeju Island. One of these ships was the Barbara Taylor and the other was the Italian schooner, Bianca Pertica.
The Bianca Pertica departed Nagasaki on Sept. 18th with a load of coal bound for Shanghai. That evening it found itself in the midst of an almost legendary storm. Throughout the night and the following day the ship was battered by the storm. The sails were ripped from its masts by the powerful winds and when the crew finally sought shelter below the deck they were greeted by nearly six feet of water and the holds were rapidly filling. Several times they tried to man the pumps but small pieces of coal rendered them inoperable.
On the 20th, the captain tried to reassure the 14-man crew that they would reach landfall before nightfall but his efforts fell upon deaf ears. All realized that the ship was doomed. Guiseppe Santori, a young Genoese sailor, later recounted that “part of the crew were crying, some praying, and some, seeing no hope, got drunk in despair.”
Even though they all knew it was inevitable, the ship’s sudden and violent sinking in the late afternoon caught them all by surprise. Only a few men were able to get into the lifeboats while the majority was swept away, clutching pieces of flotsam and screaming for help. The captain chose to go down with his ship.
Santori was one of the lucky ones. He and two of his mates, Piladi Taddei and Bacchione Leoni, were the only ones to make it to the lifeboat. They tried to help some of the others, but only managed to rescue two: Cesare Paolo, the chief mate, and boatswain Chelini Pasquali.
The safety offered by the small open lifeboat was precarious. The storm continued to rage and the men were forced to incessantly bail water with their bare hands in an effort to keep it afloat, but they were all exhausted and eventually, one by one, fell asleep. They were suddenly awakened when a large wave overturned the boat and cast them into the sea. Paoli, the chief mate, was too weak to save himself and was washed away while the others desperately righted the boat. They had lost everything: their food, water, and even the oars.
The following morning, Sept. 21, they were greatly relieved to be greeted with a bright sunny day but were dismayed to discover that Boatswain Pasquali had died quietly in the darkness of the night.
Throughout the day they drifted with the ocean current while suffering from the heat of the glaring sun and the irony of dying from thirst on a vast body of undrinkable water. For Piladi, who was “very ill and delirious,” it was too much and he died on the 22nd. On the 23rd, just as they were beginning to lose all hope, they sighted land some 25 miles in the distance – it was Jeju Island. Their relief, however, soon turned to despair when a rogue wind arose and blew them away from the island.
Santori later recalled “As we had no oars, no sails and no provisions of any sort, we did not know what to do.”
The elements and fate continued to mock them for the very next day the wind changed direction and blew them back towards the island and then parallel to its coast. In desperation, the two survivors, Bacchione and Santori, pried a piece of wood from their boat and constructed a make-shift mast with crude sails from their clothing. In an attempt to lighten their load they cast the bodies of their dead companions into the sea.
Their efforts were somewhat successful. The small boat inched its way closer and closer to the island and by the 26th they were only six miles offshore. For nearly six days they had been without any appreciable amount of water and Bacchione, “unable to stand the thirst any longer, drank a quantity of salt water, which did him much harm.”
As Bacchione began to retch the wind died rendering their sail useless. Santori pulled down the mast and fashioned it into a crude oar and attempted to paddle the boat to shore.
Bacchione attempted to help but soon gave up saying he had no strength and laid down in the bow of the boat and slept, never to awake from his troubled sleep.
The following morning the wind began to blow and once again Santori raised his sail. It is interesting to note that he did not throw Bacchione’s body overboard, even though it would have lightened his load. Perhaps Santori found comfort in having a mute companion to share his ordeal.
For nearly two days he and his dead companion drifted ever steadily closer to Jeju Island until, on the morning of the 29th, the boat was only 40 yards from shore. Santori, alarmed at the sudden shift of the wind and fearing it would take him back out to sea, jumped into the water. Despite dehydration and exhaustion he was eventually able to make his way to shore where a group of Koreans discovered him and cared for him. He was eventually placed with the Barbara Taylor’s shipwreck survivors and subsequently rescued.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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