One shark, when passing under the raft, rolled on its back, and an anxious Sonny could see its half-opened mouth. Ray had no idea if what he was saying was true or not, but the last thing he needed was for his son to go into a panic. He also hoped his words calmed the captain and George Conyea, because they were as wide-eyed as Sonny, watching every move their new visitors made. Ray felt despair like he had never known.
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Sundown was just three and a half hours away, and the thought of the sharks gliding beneath them at night was too terrible to contemplate. He felt absolutely helpless. Minutes crawled by and the four survivors kept still, eyes glued on the fins lazily cutting through the water on all sides of the raft.
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An hour went by and the group tried to ignore the sharks, but with little success. There was nothing else to look at, nothing else to take their mind off the seven fins circling them. About two hours after the sharks first arrived, more fins appeared in the water not far from the raft. Sonny was terrified, thinking, not more sharks. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for the past two hours, afraid to move a muscle.
There was no doubt in his mind that the dolphins had driven the sharks off to help him. Unlike the sharks, the dolphins swam quickly around the raft, their entire backs almost coming out of the water, and then briefly submerge and repeat the process. Up and down came their fins. But after just three or four minutes, they moved on and were gone from sight. Without the fear of sharks, their minds went back to the predicament of time running out for a rescue.
It would be dark within the hour. Their thirst was unbearable and all felt extremely weak.
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Sonny was in the worst shape because of his small body. Now that the sun was low in the sky, he was shivering again. His father noticed and had him move back on his lap where he wrapped his big arms around the boy, trying to stop his shaking. See those seagulls way up there? Sonny perked up a bit. But he thought maybe this game was what his father needed to do. With heads tilted back, father and son watched the birds they had chosen.
It was easy to look up because the sun was almost touching the ocean. Again they chose birds.
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Sonny chose one high in the sky and way off on the eastern horizon. This time the captain and George Conyea also looked up to see which birds the father and son chose. Sonny kept his eyes on his own bird. The captain removed the strap from around his neck and handed them to Ray, who hurriedly put the binoculars to his eyes.
He adjusted the focus and stared intently at the bird far in the distance. The survivors still could not hear its engines or tell what kind of plane it was, but there was no doubt it was a plane and that it was heading toward the raft. Within seconds, Ray was waving the board with the white coat on it, and the others were waving their arms. Please, please , he said to himself. The boy could not make it through another cold night. He waved the white coat wildly. Ray could make out the outline of the plane and, because of its unique construction, realized it was a Navy PBY.
The single wing was elevated on a pylon above the fuselage rather than coming straight out from the sides.
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This allowed unobstructed visibility for its aviators to scan the ocean during either patrols for U-boats or search-and-rescue missions. Two engines with propellers were mounted on the wing, one on each side of the aircraft. The plane came ever closer but it did not descend. Ray thought maybe it was going too fast to see them. He was certain the plane was coming for them.
And he was right. In one swift motion, the PBY started descending and adjusting its course slightly so it was just fifteen feet off the ocean and heading right toward the raft, banking hard so that Sonny could actually see the pilot, who was giving a thumbs-up. The boy let out a croak of joy along with the cheers of his father, the captain, and George Conyea. The four raft passengers watched with awe as the plane circled back toward them.
Its foot wingspan and foot length made it appear enormous so close to the water. Just as the plane was barreling over their location, they saw the pilot drop a package out the window, landing just ten feet from the raft. Using the board and their hands, all four survivors paddled furiously toward what they hoped was their salvation floating in the water. The captain grabbed the package and ripped it open. Inside were two flares, a large container of water, and a note. Ray thought for a minute. Someone, maybe Lucille or Ina, might be hurt and the plane could rescue them.
He thought Sonny could make it the half hour or hour that he expected the shrimp boat to take to arrive. We may want to let our bodies adjust to the water before we take a second drink. When Sonny took his gulp of water, he thought he had never tasted anything so good, so sweet. It was as if the water had magical powers, because he felt better immediately. A few minutes later the plane reappeared, then moved off. Follow me.
Pick up survivors in water. A half hour went by and the survivors bobbed on their little raft in the darkening shadows. They all had another drink of water, and the captain said that he thought a shrimp boat could reach them within the next half hour. The hydrating water had eased his thirst but did nothing for his growing hypothermia. Sonny had forgotten about the flares. But he also wondered how his dad would see a boat in the distance in the pitch black of night. More time went by. The sun had set, but the survivors could still differentiate between the horizon and the ocean in the twilight.
Ray still scanned the dark ocean around the raft for any sign of a fin. He wondered what to do if a shark appeared and thought that should one come, he could use the strong light from a flare to scare it off. But with only two flares.
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The prospect of another night in the water scared Ray to the core—not for himself but his concern over Sonny, who he could feel shivering in his arms. He second-guessed himself about not waving in the plane. Now there was nothing he could do to change that decision.