|David Johnstone & John Hoare||
Excerpts from THE PENANCE WAY by Merton Naydler
The mystery of PUFFIN’S Atlantic voyage
The mystery of the disappearance of the tiny
fifteen-foot Puffin, crewed by David Johnstone and John Hoare in their
attempt to row the Atlantic, captured the world’s headlines in October
1966 and there has since been much speculation about the reasons for the
“I began to think of two-man trip as a
desirable purity of idea:
It was hard work, but after a week there was a
day of respite for the annual holiday of the Melbourne Gravediggers’ and
Undertakers’ Union’s annual visit to the seaside. Johnstone was the only
member not in a black suit and wide black braces.
In the second week heavy rain, which would otherwise have waterlogged the graves and impeded operations, was countered by rigging tarpaulins over the grave-sites. At about five feet down under his tarpaulin Johnstone was digging away when a funeral party arrived at the adjoining grave which he had dug the previous day a foot or two away. It was raining cats and dogs. Instructions were that during burials gravediggers should cease work and stand by respectfully until the ceremony was over. Faced with a sousing out in the open, or the shelter of his grave, he stayed where he was, lit a cigarette and waited for the funeral party to move off. Five minutes later the Chief Undertaker lifted up the corner of his tarpaulin and hauled him out. Smoke had been seen rising from his grave during the burial, and the funeral party was waiting assembled in the vestry while the distressing phenomenon was being investigated. Given a week’s notice, Johnstone left on the spot. Then followed jobs in a fruit cannery, as a State-wide furniture-remover, part-time unpaid theatre carpenter, lorry driver and timber yard foreman, insecticide packer, gents’ shirts and Holland blinds salesman, and sheep station jackeroo.
In between jobs he lived in digs on milk and paper-backs until his money ran out. He then read offers of employment in the evening papers and applied for each job in the order in which they appeared in the paper, unconcerned with which was the most suitable or attractive.
Returning to England, he took his father’s advice and entered a great-uncle’s lawyer firm in Bristol. His father’s early death a few months later affected him deeply, unsettling him once again. After studying at an Oxford art school he was found unsuitable to hold the job of driver of a mobile snack bar at a nearby American air base. He lost his next job as a night watchman and showroom attendant in a small Surrey sports-car factory after having forfeited his driving license for a year. Promoted twice during nine months in the offices of a London television insurance firm, he bought, managed and sold a South Coast coffee bar: at a loss. A brief spell as photographic assistant at an Acton soap factory was followed by casual employment in a number of London bars owned by an hotel group.
Among the bars were two in Fleet Street, England’s newspaper heart, where he met and became enthused by a number of journalists. Now a gigantic six feet three inches and weighing eighteen stone, the bearded bespectacled Johnstone moved to his mother’s house in Farnham, Surrey, and found a £3-a-week job on a local newspaper chain. For the next few years he enjoyed the comfort and solidity of the background provided by an understanding mother, who concealed the deep concern she felt for his welfare. By now there could be no lingering doubt that her eldest child was a rolling stone of massive dimensions, in every sense, and she could see no hope for him unless he could settle down to conventional domesticity with some reasonable girl; but although his attitude towards women was physically healthy, he had no inclination at any time towards accepting the burden and responsibility of a wife.
Living principally at his mother’s home, he spent the ensuing two years writing humdrum wedding reports, theatre criticisms and local motoring notes, and sold advertising space. He moved to another local newspaper as senior reporter and profile writer, for which his new-found interest in photography proved a boon; he specialized in property-deal stories and motoring, and fighting the battles of the underdog. Close contact through two jobs with Army public relations staff at nearby Aldershot, home of the British Army, yielded a number of interesting working holidays. He flew to Singapore with the Parachute Brigade on exercise during a fortnight’s holiday in 1961, taking part in heat-exhaustion trials and jungle training. And in 1962 a trip to Bahrain to write up a regimental changeover included a four-day tour of the Trucial States. Later the same year he bivouacked in the Libyan desert to cover a Marines v. Parachute Brigade mock battle, and accompanied the Sandhurst cadets on their annual exercise against the French military academicians at St. Cyr.
At weekends he sailed his seven-ton Bermudan cutter on the Solent from a Hamble River mooring, enlarging a working knowledge of seamanship and sailing learnt during boyhood when he had regularly sailed in his father’s yacht. He never entertained the idea of a career, and as writing was his only consistent enthusiasm over the years, when the need for change stirred him again after an unprecedented four years’ stint in local journalism he accepted a contract from a Nairobi publisher, flying to East Africa early in 1963 with a four-day working stopover in Copenhagen. Within a fortnight he was in Mogadishu working on an official Somali government handbook, and in the next eighteen months wrote hundreds of thousands of words for books and pamphlets in the Middle East and East Africa, plus magazine articles during brief visits to the publisher’s Kenya head office.
Writing and illustrating books for the Kuwait and Tanzanian governments on such varied subjects as trade, education, health, finance, oil companies and oil processing, water distillation, agriculture, traditions, history, tourism any subject, in fact, having any significance in the countries he visited: he also found opportunity in Aden and Bahrain to write commercially sponsored books, interviewing senior governmental officials and ministers, often against the background of a tricky political climate.
Three-quarters the way through the contract Johnstone terminated it for what he considered a number of good reasons, and holidayed for two months in the Seychelles Islands, spear fishing and sunbathing. With a companion he voyaged through the islands to Portuguese East Africa in a small sailing boat, a not unskilled piece of marine navigation, before taking the train to Nairobi, travelling through Rhodesia, Zambia and Tanzania by bus and Land Rover, and then home to England where once again he made his headquarters in his mother’s Farnham house, between times fiat sharing with his London friends and sleeping in his brother Andrew’s studio, also in Farnham.
It was unextraordinary for him to appear in one or the other abode without warning and not infrequently accompanied by a band of friends. He seemed to move in three circles; his family, that is his mother, Andrew and the latter’s lovely wife, Diane; a circle of what might be considered friends acceptable to his family largely in or near Farnham; and a third, a London circle of people unknown to his family but which they suspected to be demimondaine: a wild undisciplined lot into whose bosom David from time to time sank without trace, to emerge, seemingly none the worse for his experience, at his mother’s home. Knowing his giant appetite and the likelihood of his reappearance at any unlikely moment, the refrigerator was kept well stocked with pounds of steak. At two o’clock, morning or afternoon on days when he turned up at his mother’s house, he ate the meat voraciously. While a couple of pounds or so was cooking, he sustained his vast frame with several tins of anchovies. An inventive cook, his steak recipe was simplicity itself: the meat, on a raised perforated grid inside a large frying pan, oozed its juices into the pan’s bottom as unadulterated gravy.
His rich palate also inspired a unique chicken dish. After removing the parson’s noses from forty-six chickens they were thrown away. That is, the chickens were discarded. The parson’s noses were stewed all day in an earthenware casserole lined with one-quartet-inch thick ham with a sauce of liqueur brandy and apricots, then after adding mushrooms and a rich brown sauce were placed in a silver dish and served up hot to the cook. He found the dish rich beyond the dreams of Croesus.
He engendered for cooking the same enthusiasm as for whatever might be his latest inspiration. At the rear of thick lenses his eyes glinted excitingly, while the corners of his mouth twitched into the betrayal of a smile. Although laughter was never far away, it was somehow confined to his belly, which frequently heaved in silent inward mirth.
Andrew saw in him a combination of extreme nonconformism and an absence of ambition for the things in life which provide the driving force for most people; career, family, money and similar materialistic attributes. He fitted into no pattern, at school, at home or outside, and strenuously resisted any effort to make him conform. It was quite impossible to make him do something, and he would often reject good advice along with bad rather than compromise his freedom of choice and decision. Recognizing that this was a dangerous absurdity he explained that he was unable to help himself. If someone tried to interfere, or offered help or advice when he had not specifically asked for it, his reaction was to do the exact opposite, regardless of what that happened to be. He would chew the cud for hours with friends, or with Andrew, but any decision had to be his own. He was a loner’. His non-participation in games or in any other form of group activity was another facet of the same characteristic, and may also explain why he tended to prefer the companionship of friends rather than family, to whom he was nevertheless devoted. He had his own key to Andrew’s house where an outsize bed was fitted up for him in the studio, yet he frequently stayed elsewhere in Farnham, sleeping on someone’s sofa or someone else’s floor. He felt freer there.
This side of his character was further illustrated by the impossibility of pinning him down for meals or any sort of activity that needed a decision in advance. He very rarely accepted an invitation to a meal, or any other form of meeting needing a time and place to be fixed, without saying that his coming depended on what he happened to be doing at the time. If pressed for a definite answer it was always no. He would only accept a relationship in which he retained complete control of his own movements and decisions, reacting compulsively to any effort to pin him down, by either rejecting what was offered or by just failing to turn up. In the end his friends just had to accept this, as did his family. It seemed the only way he could manage his affairs. He had to have absolute liberty of action without emotional fetters of any kind.
His total rejection or non-acceptance of the things in life which drive most people on meant that he completely lacked these in any normal sense. Certainly he liked having money, but it was strictly for spending, or giving away, as quickly as possible. A few extravagant gestures and back on the bread-line. When he was broke he expected friends and relatives to provide him with money when he needed it and not to expect to be repaid. At the same time, if he was unexpectedly flush his generosity was lavish; and equally he did not expect to be repaid. For him money was a side issue, really a nuisance, most of all when he did not have any. He seemed devoid of motives, for he had long since accepted that he would never accept the restrictions of marriage, and had almost no regard for personal belongings; and certainly no desire to accumulate more than could be carried in a couple of suitcases.
The only driving force behind his writing was either earning his bread and butter: and compared with most people with houses and families he did not need much: or his own feeling that he had something to contribute. His attitude to material possessions was quixotic. His shoes were never mended, just allowed to wear out and discarded. His clothes, emanating from exclusive Hanover Square, were worn until they fell apart. He did not send a suit to the cleaners until all his clothes were so unpleasant that he had nothing to put on. Nothing was ever mended until full of holes and by then unmendable. Clothes, like money, were a nuisance; but, like money, one had to have them. His wardrobe, strewn over various houses in southern England where he might have stayed in the preceding six months, resembled a poor man’s jumble stall. There were quantities in left-luggage offices, boarding-houses, friends’ garages, or just left in hotels.
His other possessions amounted to a collection of Seychelles shells, two old wooden chests picked up in Zanzibar, an expensive gold and topaz necklace-and-earrings set he designed and had made up in Dar-es-Salaam, an assorted lot of photographic kit, a few worthless odds and ends, sundry papers and photos which uncharacteristically he kept in good order, and crates of paperbacks which he read avidly.
From time to time he toyed with the idea of buying a small house of his own in Farnham as a base, or perhaps Italy or the French coast, but any money he might accumulate would go on his mother, whom he adored, a fast car, a boat of some kind or other, and the rest spent on just living and perhaps a trip to some exotic part of the world until it ran out. He liked company and people and got on well with them. He was a good listener and somehow attracted confidences; he never gossiped and was meticulously honest. But he found himself a difficult person to live with and found the going tough. He accepted that the restrictions and responsibilities of marriage were not for him. He liked women, but usually as ‘incidents’, not affaires. He also liked children, but would have been driven mad by his own.
Over the years he did a great deal of sell-examination from which he learnt what made him tick, and the limitations imposed by the odd quirks of his character. He saw clearly that he did not fit properly into our organized society and knew from experience that he could not adapt to fit. So he made his own life as best he could and tried to soften its impact by devices such as his refusal to accept invitations or to become stuck in any one clique or group of friends. He moved around in his three circles, each deliberately isolated from the others, and only went where he could be reasonably sure of acceptance on his own terms. Yet, as he grew older he increasingly came to terms with himself, the result of a continuous self-analysis and the realization and steady acceptance of his limitations.
He once said that for him life consisted of a search for worthwhile challenges. It was the acceptance of the challenge which mattered, not its fulfilment, and thus he only found things worth while attempting if he was not sure that they could be done. If he knew they could be done, or had done them once, then that was the end of his interest and he looked for a new challenge. The challenges he sought were impersonal, as he tested his ability to overcome a physical or intellectual problem, or a set of circumstances. He was not interested in competition, which to him proved only that men are different, not that one is better than the other. This may have been a rationalization of a characteristic trait.
For example, at the age of ten or eleven he made a series of beautiful clay models but never repeated the endeavour; he only ever concluded one painting: a brilliant cartoon of his father, lampooning the latter’s immersion in the unwordly he designed the decor for a R.A.D.A. showpiece of the late ‘forties, repeated only by his designing a single set for the Melbourne Little Theatre a few years later, in an interval between labouring jobs. Although his talents were not great they were extraordinarily varied, yet his personality never gave him the chance of exploiting them to the full. It was just the way he was made. His better achievements were one-off efforts, never a sustained at tempt at something he knew he was good at: because he knew he could do it. On returning from Africa in 1964 he had ideas about everything under the sun except journalism, the one job he knew he could do but which, typically, he only started doing after his father had died.
Cars played a big part in his life, perhaps because they provided an escape and a relaxation; for the same reason he avoided working with them, unwilling to commit himself to them any more than to anyone or anything else. He found them a great safety valve and burnt up the night roads at high speed to work off his frustrations. His cars were driven flat out until they needed major and expensive repair or were crashed, when they were discarded like a pair of old boots. He never sold a car or claimed insurance. At the Cooper school he got down to the last dozen out of thousands of would-be racing drivers tested at Brands Hatch. Other interests, by contrast, were butterflies and seashells.
Johnstone had a dread of growing old. He could see no future for himself as an old man, and consistently maintained that he had no intention of ever being one. His plan was to press on and find some way out in his fifties or whenever he found life becoming intolerable. Probably he did not value his own life particularly highly at any time. He refused to pay National Health Insurance contributions on the ground that he would be gone before he could possibly benefit from them.
He was an attractive and endearing person. Whenever there was a knock at the door of Andrew’s Farnham home he and Diane both hoped it would be David rather than anyone else, and were as delighted to see him as they were frustrated by his refusal to base himself more permanently with them. At the same time, a visit by him probably meant the larder being drained of milk and whatever food was in it, with a good chance that Diane would also be lumbered with a stack of washing and the house inevitably a shambles when he left. But they still hoped it would be him at the door; and sometimes, completely unexpected, he appeared with armfuls of food and a bottle of wine from the nearby Wheatsheaf, to take over the kitchen for hours on end and produce a monster, lavish and beautifully cooked meal for whoever happened to be there; he then disappeared with a ‘See you some time’. At birthdays and Christmas his presents were either non-existent or lavish.
He knew he was not an ordinary run-of-the-mill man, limited by near horizons of domestic contentment and familiar bliss, yet to the world he had demonstrably failed to show what he was made of. As he poured away the years of his young manhood, Johnstone felt an increasing need to prove to himself and to the world the stuff of which he was really made, an implicit acknowledgment of the extraordinary qualities he had long sensed but had not yet translated into comprehensible or recognizable reality. He needed to make a mighty effort, heaving himself by his own bootstraps out of the succession of shallow ruts in which he had so far allowed himself to stifle. He needed also to undergo suffering and fear, necessary ingredients to lead to a catharsis which would exorcise the ghosts of failures past, and clear the way for a more positive and purposive existence at a generally unavailable level. He was unable to make do with a second or third best, another manifestation of his non-conformity. There was no real niche for him in the conventional world, but in the days of piracy or empire-snatching he would have been great.
The Puffin adventure was the challenge he had been seeking.
Perched on stools in the saloon bar of The Bush, a favourite local pub, Johnstone and a band of cronies were discussing the arrival at Falmouth of Robert Manry, a middle-aged American journalist who had just sailed the Atlantic single-handed, in a small boat. When the others went off to watch a boxing match on television, Johnstone sat musing at one end of the bar, his back against the wall, increasingly oblivious of the barmaid’s small talk as the germ of an idea swiftly took root, sprouted and blossomed.
As he sat muttering inwardly the only two remaining customers departed. The Atlantic had been rowed, he mused. In 1896 two Norwegian oyster fishermen, Harbo and Samuelson, had rowed across to the English Channel then down the Seine to Paris, wearing bowler hats, in a boat called the Richard K. Fox ... Seventy years ago. They had taken some sixty days. He had read a story about the odd exploit. The tale was told that on their return trip in a cargo boat which broke down, they were lowered over the side to row the remaining 200 miles to New York to bring help. The whole story was dubious but it was a good tale. The twinned lines of thought, Manry and the Norwegians, were rapidly interfused with Johnstone’s own restless, adventurous spirit, constantly questing the satisfaction of excitement and novelty, preferably combined.
By the time his friends returned an hour or so later, he had made the decision to row the Atlantic, ‘downhill’ from west to east (the approximate direction of the prevailing winds and currents) and was promptly bet ten cigarettes by the incredulous that he would not even get as far as his first step, advertising in The Times for oarsmen. Next morning he wrote out the advertisement and posted it, with a cheque: ‘Will five fortitudinous oarsmen over 28 join me and engage in second-ever transatlantic rowing voyage?’
Almost immediately he received a slightly disheartening shoal of replies: a telegram from an unlikely adventurer of fifty, another from a German youth, a letter from a Frenchman, dozens of others from a mixed bag of enthusiastic youngsters, too inexperienced to merit serious consideration. Replies from Belgium and Canada, France, Portugal and Germany, altogether well over a hundred but including one which he liked so much that he wired the writer asking him to make immediate telephone contact. Within ten days of the pub daydream, Johnstone and John Hoare had met and instantly accepted each other, though still four men short of the contemplated crew.
John Hoare, a tall and good-looking twenty-nine, was a fit, muscular, outdoor man. Outwardly conventional and perhaps less imaginative than Johnstone, he was a romantic with an inbred sense of adventure. As a schoolboy he was extremely popular, physically and mentally strong, and although gentle and easy-going his anger was quickly roused at injustice. He excelled at rugby football, an activity he carried into manhood, and by contrast also enjoyed caricature drawing, at which he was adept. He loved adventure and adventure books, and became infatuated with the heroism he dug out of World War I books, which he read avidly, studying military techniques and tactics until he became authoritative about the War’s battles and the generals who conducted them. He had gathered material about Captain Ball, V.0., one of the great flying idols of 19 14—18, and was engaged in writing a book about him. He was a great admirer of courage and of writers about courage, and thus a Hemingway fan.
During military service he became a parachutist, and while stationed in Germany learnt to speak the language fluently. After his discharge from the Army he joined the Territorial reserve, continuing his parachuting activities. He also enjoyed shooting, and was a first-class swimmer. It was important to him to maintain a high standard of physical fitness, but equally he enjoyed good restaurants and good conversation. He owned fast cars which he drove in rallies, and was as comfortable in rough outdoor tweeds and corduroys as in the dark suits his work demanded. During his military service he had studied free-lance journalism and taught himself to type, and became feature writer and motoring correspondent on a Lincolnshire newspaper. In conversation he was laconic and very much to the point; he could not tolerate hypocrisy, a characteristic which was totally lacking in him. He loved dogs, and was accompanied everywhere by his own boxer. His thinking was straight, and his expression correspondingly direct. His sense of humor was such that he derived maximum pleasure from the innate folly of the human situation; he laughed at himself rather than at his fellow men, for whom he felt profound compassion. Tallying at so many points with Johnstone’s own personality, he was at the same time a perfect foil for the man whose advertisement had evoked the instant response of a parallel adventurous spirit.
Another likely reply to the advertisement, if only by virtue of its persistence, was from a Captain Ridgway, telephone calls from whom cropped up at Johnstone’s various Farnham haunts, and not long after meeting Hoare he accepted Ridgway’s invitation to the little house opposite the Farnham parish church where the latter lived. In no time Johnstone was convinced that they could not possibly get along together in a small boat. Ridgway, a lean, tough parachutist, seemed exactly the right man physically for the adventure, but the sensitive Johnstone was instinctively aware of an assertiveness which he feared would bring about a clash of personalities he was unwilling to risk, and therefore studiously avoided making any commitment.
Friends in the street, having heard about the adventure on radio or read it in the papers, stopped to ask: ‘You’re not really going to do it, are you?’ and receiving an affirmative reply commented, ‘Well, I hope you can swim!’
With Hoare he promptly embarked upon investigating the initial problems of oars, food, place and time of departure, type of boat, charts and meteorological information, matters of which both men were almost wholly ignorant until visiting various experts in those fields. Having realized that they should be ready to start as early as possible in the new year, once the unsettled conditions of winter had passed, they busied themselves with listing equipment and clothing, and the design, costing and building of the boat they intended to row.
Among facts discovered from the experts was that a man can live for ten days without food, provided he has a quart of water a day, or on only a pint a day if he has four Ounces of sugar; that fat provides nine calories to a gramme, protein four and sugar four; that for avoiding hunger pains, protein and fat are best because the body takes longer to assimilate them, although fat alone can poison the system and must have sugar with it; that for long-term survival, a hundred grammes of protein a day is the minimum for survival, but that if there is less than a quart of water a day available then protein should not be taken, because it absorbs water. Seawater should never be drunk, as it draws water from the body cells for dilution. Salt tablets should not be eaten, but dissolved first in water. Maintenance of a steady work level required half a gallon of water a day, and food producing 4,000 calories; about thirty-three and a quarter ounces of dehydrated food, measuring 10 in. x 4 in. x 4 in. Water should be carried in several small containers rather than a single large one, so that if one failed all would not be lost. Plastic water containers float in the sea, which is heavier than fresh water. A four-man fifty-day voyage would require nine cubic feet of dehydrated food and thirty-two cubic feet of water, a total weight of four-fifths of a ton.
But acquaintances by the dozen were telling the men it couldn’t be done, and only a few enthusiasts showed any confidence in them. They explained their venture next to Cohn Mudie who promptly agreed to design a boat for them. They sat in his Victoria office, an exciting place with walls covered in plans of speedboats, sailing craft, maps and charts, and shelves filled with books about boats, odd lengths of line and nylon sheet and bits of canvas lying about haphazardly, and models, particularly two of Small World. Mudie also had extensive experience of the Atlantic from his long cruise in Sopranino, which encouraged him to the view that a small boat was perfectly safe in the Atlantic. Johnstone enthused handsomely at the rough sketch which the designer there and then produced, though he thought the vessel looked a bit too comfortable, perhaps more suitable for a Mediterranean cruise. He wanted something that looked more spartan. Particularly he was worried about a little mast which Mudie had drawn in, until reassured that it was intended not for a sail but for a reflector which would help large ships see the rowing boat on their radar screens. To Johnstone, Mudie was a man who obviously had a tremendous feeling for boats, as he explained about ‘crispness’ which, after a boat had been distorted due to wave action, snapped it back into shape immediately, in contrast with a soggy type of craft which being less whippy and well braced did not reform so crisply. Animatedly they debated the technical advantages of a clinker-built against a cold-molded-ply boat, discussed possible ship builders, where the compass should be positioned, and a host of structural details. Mudie promised that by the end of the week he would have prepared a sufficient drawing to allow a builder to cost the boat, and the two men departed in a happy frame of mind. They had got speedily under way.
Slowly over the ensuing days, struggling to accept that he was acting out his dream, Johnstone attuned to the realities of the adventure, screwing down his mind to further and yet further degrees of discomfort and privation which he knew he would suffer, anticipating that when the time came he would be prepared and able to lie on the bed which he was beginning to prepare for himself. Serious from the outset, despite the scepticism of many of his friends, he was with accelerating intensity placing himself in a position of non-return. The wild idea was rapidly becoming practical and was beginning to carry him along with it.
Simultaneously, he began to think that a crew of six would be a crowd for the voyage, and that four was a more suitable number. Hoare and he even began to consider going it alone, but at that stage dismissed the notion as impracticable. They were now concentrating their minds on the basic idea of the adventure, trying to accept it as a reality, distinct from what had been merely an exciting prospect. What had initially made the mind boggle was already becoming steadily less indigestible. The idea of four men instead of six became increasingly firm, until Andrew told his brother bluntly that if he were doing the trip he would have as few as possible, in fact that if he could not go alone he would not go at all. At the most, he’d have one other man with him. Although David automatically rejected the suggestion, he found it filtering into his conscious thoughts with increasing strength, until within a few days he was unable any longer to consider the venture other than as a two-man show. It was suddenly obvious.
The thinking reduced the idea as if it were a soup or a stew simmering slowly to boil away the water and taste the essence. I began to think of a two-man trip as a desirable purity of idea: Go the penance way.
When consulted Hoare agreed with alacrity, influenced especially by the fact that the Norwegians had been only two. Suddenly it seemed all too obvious, and David telephoned to tell Cohn Mudie to hold his horses, as they might very well be wanting a small boat. He still had to clear three main doubts: First, if there were only two men then there must obviously be times when only one was rowing, and could one man row in a seaway with two oars? Secondly, what was medical opinion from a physiological point of view? And thirdly, on a direct aspect of design he had to discover the most suitable length of oar, height of rowlock, and width of boat to suit the chosen oars. Only then, it seemed to him, could Mudie calculate how deep in the water the boat should sit, allowing for the estimated weight of provisions and water, and thus complete his design.
At the Royal Naval School for Safety Equipment and Survival Training, Johnstone sought and received valuable advice on suitable clothing, electronic devices, also desalination and physiology.
‘Are you a married man, Mr. Johnstone?’ he was asked first.
‘Well, the last man seeking our help turned out to be running away from his wife and family. We didn’t know at the time. We’re not anxious to act as divorce brokers.’
His bona fides established, he was variously told and noted the position of the Atlantic weather ships and lectured on appendicitis and seasickness, learning that anyone can be made seasick under certain conditions. Long term seasickness, being incurable, must be discovered before crew were enlisted, for drugs which were of temporary utility could not make permanently better a man who did not recover within the first couple of days at sea. No additional safety hazard arose from the fact that the crew consisted of two, rather than four or six. Appendicitis was an unlikely result from a change of diet.
In the far corner of a room full of Civil Service desks he was lectured on seamanship and particularly sea rowing. He found the atmosphere redolent of the period of Samuel Pepys, with jack tars, cannon-balls, bolts of sail cloth, salted pork and telescopes just round the corner, and Nelson keeping an untypical genial eye overall….
The conduct of both men in the teeth of monstrous adversity represents heroism of an outstanding order. With ample opportunity and justification on more than one occasion to surrender honourably, the thought simply never entered their heads. They were determined to carry on to the end, an end which they had calmly contemplated might be tragic; they committed themselves to it from the outset and did not flinch when face to face with its reality. Their precondition that nobody should risk his life to save them was fully met.
Johnstone’s and Hoare’s attempt was not worthless.
Their courageous behaviour constitutes an epic in the history of man’s unending struggle against the sea, brilliantly exemplifying the eternal spirit of human adventure. Puffin’s voyage, through the almost miraculous discovery of the Journal, has made a positive contribution to man’s knowledge of the oceans, yielding much unfamiliar information in particular about the capricious Gulf Stream.
The future will see new attempts by brave and adventurous men to row across the Atlantic, and by scholars to investigate the behaviour of the earth’s waters. For them, Johnstone and Hoare have made things easier.