In my last post I shared about my great-grandfather Eskild Alfred Eskildsen’s attempt to come to America on the SS Norge in 1904. Tragically, it sank in middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Of the nearly 800 passengers on board, he was one of only 160 who survived.
As the SS Norge sank, he managed to swim out to lifeboat #4 which was only just over half full. Read Part 1 for the heroic story of his survival to that point.
Surviving in the lifeboat is another chapter in his remarkable story. They were far out to sea and had no navigation equipment. The men were organized to row in three shifts of four hours at a time. They headed in what they hoped was a north easterly direction, back towards Europe. The others lay on top of each other trying desperately to get warm. It was bitterly cold. No one was dressed for the frigid conditions. Some had no shoes or head covering.
They only had provisions enough for two biscuits and a little water each day. Prayer was very helpful in giving hope and not losing their sanity. Days wore on in monotonous agony. By the fourth day, they had just two drops of water and one biscuit each. On the sixth and seventh days they had absolutely nothing to eat.
There was one infant on the lifeboat, a one year old. Her continuous crying was heart wrenching. Her father, Ole Eid, became frantic; he tried giving her a few drops of saltwater, but that immediately made her condition worse. So in utter desperation he cut his arm and allowed the baby to suck on his blood.
There was also a teenager on the lifeboat, Rolf Vaagaasar. When he thought he could not bear his thirst any longer, he used his hands to scoop up seawater and drink. But the result was near insanity. His fellow passengers tied him up to keep him from taking his life.
On the seventh day it began raining heavily. The sail was lowered and used to catch a bucket of water. Everyone agreed it was an answer to their prayers.
Here are a couple of lessons I see in this story of survival after the sinking of the Norge:
ONE: Prayer Helps
Communication with God through prayer is a life-sustaining gift from the Almighty.
Of course He is not obligated to grant every request. But even when God determines it is best to do otherwise, prayer gives us a sense of peace in the troubled seas of life.
Recently I read the story of a Christian brain surgeon who courageously began to offer to pray with his patients before their surgeries. He found that when they allowed him to pray, it usually produced remarkable calmness in both the patients and him. I highly recommend his book Gray Matter by David Levy—which you can order in my online bookstore here (under biography)
TWO: I Have Nothing to Complain About
Eddie Rickenbacker had a similar experience of lifeboat survival. In the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie wrote, “I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for twenty-one days, hopelessly lost in the Pacific. ‘The biggest lesson I learned from that experience,’ he said, ‘was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.’”
When I start to throw myself a pity party, I often remember the experiences of Eddie Rickenbacker and Eskild Alfred Eskildsen.
Click HERE if you missed Part 1 of this story.
In Part 3 I share the rest of Eskild’s remarkable survival story. Click HERE to read Part 3.