In July 1973, Bob Tininenko; his wife, Linda; and his brother in-law, Jim Fisher, set sail from Tacoma, Washington, on a thirty-one-foot trimaran down the West Coast to Costa Rica. The journey was expected to take a matter of weeks, but ten days into the cruise, the party encountered a freak storm off the coast of northern California. When gale-force winds and fifty-foot waves capsized their boat, the voyage became a nightmare.
For seventy-two days, the trio was lost at sea. Challenged by nature and compromised by a bitter rivalry, their courage and will to live was put to the ultimate test. Jim, the owner and skipper of the boat, was a devout fundamentalist whose recognition of God’s will in every event brought him into increasing conflict with his brother-in-law. As the two men battled to take control of a dire situation, Linda kept a secret that would lead to heartrending tragedy.
A “hair-raising” (Houston Chronicle) account of shipwreck and survival and a searing portrait of faith without reason, Lost! is an unforgettable true story from “a writer of tremendous power and achievement” (Detroit Free Press).
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By Thomas Thompson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Thomas Thompson
All rights reserved.
The soft summer wind abruptly died and it became eerily still, almost an omen. James Fisher stood in the bow pulpit of the thirty-one-foot trimaran he had built with his own hands, and he called out mightily to the God who dominated all of his days and nights. "Dear Lord," he cried, his voice passionate in its summons, carrying across the windless hush of the Tacoma marina and causing the other yachtsmen at moor to look up, "we ask for Your protection and guidance. We ask for Your hand upon the wheel. We ask for a safe journey, with a fair wind to fill our sails and hurry us to Your work. We ask that You watch over my brother-in-law, Bob, and his wife, Linda, and me, for we are Your children, going forth on a mission in Your blessed name. ..."
The prayed-for brother-in-law, Robert Tininenko, glanced up. He would tolerate with courtesy any man's prayer, but he disliked being included when he no longer believed in that specific God. A decade before, Bob Tininenko had quit the church into which he had been born, the Seventh Day Adventists. His wife Linda, standing beside him, caught the tension and squeezed his elbow. If he had had any intention of interrupting the prayer to disclaim membership in the family of his brother-in-law's God, tactfully he did not.
As soon as the prayer was done, the Tininenkos were to leave on a sea journey of perhaps as long as fifty days with their brother-in-law, a man so devout, so unwavering in Adventist faith that he did not attend movies, watch television, drink coffee, utter curses, or even read the newspaper. Jim Fisher lived this life in preparation for a second and better one, in the arms of Christ, and he considered it his obligation to enlist others to do the same.
"Get on with it, Jim," Bob muttered under his breath, looking at the fast-dwindling sun. Already they had been delayed most of the day while Jim and a friend tinkered with the radios, setting the antennae and tuning in the frequencies. If the religious exhortation stretched on much longer, darkness would cover their leave- taking. And Bob did not relish threading through a harbor and into Puget Sound at night.
Still, Jim prayed on. "We further ask, dear Lord, that You look after my beloved wife, Wilma, and our two sons, and our unborn child. We pray that You will watch over all of our loved ones and family members. We, Thy servants, dedicate this boat, this voyage, and our lives to You. Thank You for hearing and answering our prayers, dear Jesus."
Bob squeezed Linda's hand and she could feel his impatience. But now the prayer was concluding.
"Amen!" For another moment, Jim's body trembled, as if a force had passed from the unseen into his outstretched hand and down into the muscles and fibers of his husky body. Then he touched the steering wheel of his sailboat as if to transfer this divine power. He nodded.
"Ready?" asked Bob.
"Let's go," said Jim. Only now it was his normal voice, reticent, soft, rather like the tone used by people who fear their remarks will be of little interest to anyone. Only in conversation with the Almighty did Jim's voice fill and rise.
Thus at day's end on July 2, 1973, with the one man moving surely to disengage the lines and the other firing up the small motor to replace the absent wind, did the Triton and its crew of three ease out of the marina and into Puget Sound. From there the graceful, gleaming white craft with blue hull and yellow trim would, on the third day, enter the Pacific Ocean, make a broad turn to the south, and follow a carefully prescribed course alongside and down the western coast of the United States, past Mexico, and — if their calculations were accurate and the winds benevolent — tie up finally in Costa Rica thirty to fifty days hence.
It had arisen suddenly, the idea for the adventurous summer voyage. In early May, as the academic year neared its end at the Adventist high school in Auburn, Washington where Jim served as registrar and occasional instructor of German, a letter arrived. Upon reading its contents, the stocky, blond young man bowed his head and prayed with sudden happiness. At long last, it had happened. God had answered his prayer. An invitation for missionary work!
That night Jim rushed home and thrust the letter upon his wife, Wilma. Reading it hurriedly, she shared her husband's excitement. Together they prayed their thanks.
"Well," asked Jim quickly, when their prayer was done, "what do you think?"
Wilma scanned the letter again. "I have never interfered in what you want to do," she said. "You must do what you believe is the Lord's will. You make the decision."
The letter was from Elder Fleck, a retired Adventist minister who was establishing a bakery in San José, Costa Rica. His intention was to employ Costa Rican youth to work in the bakery, to pay them good salaries, and to convert and proselytize for the church. If the bakery made profits, they would be used to establish other small industries and to further spread Adventist doctrine. It was a way of combining missionary and business activities, two objectives in which the Adventists are traditionally strong.
Elder Fleck wanted Jim Fisher to be his administrative aide at the bakery and to start up other light industry, such as broom and mattress factories. If Jim accepted, it would be a four-year commitment. But the pay would be meager and the living conditions hard.
Jim and Wilma Fisher had always lived frugally, both by religious intent and because he made only $400 a month in his job at the Adventist high school. Their home was rented from the church for $50 a month. Their clothes Wilma sewed or bought from Goodwill, their vegetables (they ate no meat) came from a home garden, their furniture was built by Jim's hands. There was no television set, no newspaper subscription, no budget at all for entertainment other than family outings to collect Indian artifacts along the Columbia River or seashells near the Sound. But even with a strict ten per cent of their income going to the Adventist tithe, the Fishers were not in debt, nor did they consider their lives barren. Theirs was the good and hard life of an unfrilled America, an America where credit cards and installment buying did not exist, an America where family roles were sharply defined — father as wage earner and disciplinarian, mother as homemaker and teacher of the young, children as obedient and dutiful progeny. It was and always would be thus in the Fisher family.
Their simple, puritan tastes and harsh economies had even left them enough extra, by meticulous budgeting, for Jim to build the thirty-one-foot trimaran, an accomplishment that dazzled their more affluent and debt-burdened friends.
First there had been a simple thirteen-foot catboat that Jim had constructed to take his family on the lakes and rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Setting his sights on a more ambitious project, Jim had sold the boat for $600 and with that money purchased plans and matériel for a trimaran. Finding an old discarded revival meeting tent, he rigged it into a work shed next to his house. The building of his new boat became a consuming family project for two years.
Trimarans are sea creatures of grace and beauty, descended from the Polynesian outrigger canoe, which sliced across the Pacific for thousands of years. Jim chose the design over more conventional sailboats not because trimarans are known to be quick, nor because of their spacious interiors which can accommodate several sleeping passengers, but because of the cost. A thirty-one-foot trimaran could be constructed for a third as much as a keelboat. And, Jim pointed out to Wilma, trimarans are supposed to be virtually unsinkable.
Two years and some $5,000 later, the boat was done. The name Triton, which Jim selected for his trimaran, held two meanings. One was clever — the craft had three hulls and weighed one ton; the other was romantic — triton was a kind of brightly colored seashell that Jim loved to collect. That Triton was also the name of a minor Greek deity, son of Poseidon, god of the sea, did not occur to him, for Jim's grounding in mythology was slight. His education had been firmly within the framework of his church, and he did not wander often into fiction or the imagination of pagan cultures.
The Triton served splendidly as a family diversion on Puget Sound during the summer of 1972. Four could sleep comfortably on the two double beds, two more could pass the night on cushioned benches, and the spacious top deck was perfect for sunbathing and casting for salmon or plunging off into the cold, clear waters of the Sound.
It was, in truth, the only possession of the Fisher family worth very much materially, discounting an ancient Volkswagen and an elaborate home-built aquarium for tropical fish. Jim adored his boat so much that it sometimes worried him. In conversations with God, he would promise that if his pleasure in owning and using the boat ever encroached on his love and service to God, then he would banish it. Immediately.
One week after the letter from Costa Rica arrived, a week filled with prayer — old-fashioned, down-on-the-knees kind of prayer — Jim announced that he would accept the call. It is an order from God, he told his family, and in this house, God is always obeyed. Wilma was prepared for the decision, because she and her husband had agreed months earlier that if no invitation for missionary work was made to them, they would leave their home in Auburn and spend a year as free-lance missionaries. Both wanted and prayed for an opportunity to serve their church.
Once accepted, the move to Costa Rica demanded sudden decisions. Because there was no money to pay for a moving company, they decided to sell everything. Wilma held a garage sale, and, to her delight, everything was bought quickly, even their old car. "God means for us to go," she told her husband, happily counting the almost one thousand dollars realized.
But what of the Triton?
"Tell me what to do, Lord," Jim prayed. Should he sell the boat? As she stood the trimaran was worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and this money Jim could invest in his missionary endeavors. Or should he sail her to Costa Rica, where the Triton could be used to take students on outings and show them the beauties of God's world?
He put it to God squarely, as was his custom. If You want me to sell my boat, he prayed, then send me a buyer.
Having issued the challenge, Jim waited for a response. He believed not only in the real power of prayer, but in the notion that God always made His will known. Perhaps Jim stretched this point a little, for he dearly wanted to take the boat on which he had worked so long. Consequently he did not put a "For Sale" advertisement in the newspaper, nor did he tack one up on the Triton's mooring at the marina, nor did he spread word among his friends and sailing colleagues that his trimaran could be purchased. Thus when, after a month or so, the Lord had not materialized a buyer, Jim decided that it was meant for the Triton to sail to Costa Rica and join him in his missionary work.
Now the question arose, how would he get her there? Wilma and his small sons could not sail as crew, because his wife was pregnant with their third child. The second son had been born two months prematurely, so frail that he was almost lost, and with that precedent, Jim felt he could not risk having his wife go into labor somewhere off the coast of Mexico.
Then why not, suggested Wilma, ask her brother, Bob Tininenko? Known by family reputation as an excellent sailor, Bob was above all a man who seized life and attacked it, whether scaling a mountain, skiing down a precipitous slope, or backpacking into the remote regions of Rumania. He, too, was married, but Bob and Linda had no children and were prone to do things impulsively. Their marriage and their world stood radically apart from the Fishers' frugality and piousness. Theirs was a relationship of candlelight and good burgundy and a sleeping bag thrown down on pine needles beside a rushing stream. They were a striking couple, he with dark good looks and compact, muscular body, she possessed of exquisite beauty and grace adorning the angular figure of a high-fashion model. The blood of the East flowed in both. His parents had come from Russia in the early part of the century in the wave of immigrants fleeing the chaos of revolution. Her mother was Japanese, a Tokyo girl who had fallen in love with an American Navy man during the occupation following World War II.
Though shy, like her mother, Linda gamely followed her husband up his cliffs and into his wildernesses. They had even met on the side of a mountain where Bob was teaching a ski class to his junior college students. Linda showed up the first day with her bindings on backwards, and Bob laughed. But her determination to learn made him respectful, and within the few months that it took her to become one of the best and most daring skiers on the mountain, he was irrevocably in love with her. They were married six months later.
Because both were now teachers — he an instructor of history at Lower Columbia Community College, she with a year as remedial-reading instructor for children, now going on to a first-grade assignment — both would be free for the summer. Wilma's suggestion was perfect, said Jim happily. Every detail was going so smoothly that God's hand must surely be guiding them.
Bob received the cruise invitation with interest, but he immediately wanted to know what kind of navigational equipment and radios the Triton would have. Having sailed on the boat during a summer cruise in 1972 to Vancouver, Bob knew she was not rigged for long-range ocean communication.
The best there is, promised Jim. He was even then in the final process of getting his license to send and receive over ham radio.
A few days later, with Linda's enthusiastic consent, Bob called his brother-in-law and said they would go, the one proviso being that the radio lifeline between ship and shore be satisfactory to him. Once again, Jim promised an excellent radio setup, with an elaborate system of communications to friends down the coasts of the United States and Mexico.
There was, however, a shadow in his voice, something vague, something that Bob could not place, but something that nonetheless worried him. He quickly put it away, this fraction of discomfort, this pinprick of worry, for Jim Fisher was the most moral of men. Bob had never known him to lie.CHAPTER 2
Indeed there were radios — three of them.
On the afternoon they sailed, Jim summoned Bob from where he was studying the ocean maps and Linda from the cupboards where she was stacking canned goods, and he spoke enthusiastically about the communications shelf that he had erected at the forward end of the main hull.
The first and simplest radio was a receiver, nothing more. Its value was in picking up marine broadcasts, Greenwich time, and small craft warnings from coastal weather stations. Moreover, it could receive regular commercial radio broadcasts from coastal towns, serving as a kind of approximate navigational aid. When the Triton neared Portland, for example, that city's radio stations would come in clear, and then fade away as the boat moved farther down the coast.
As the men talked, Linda moved back to the icebox where she had left an unfinished job — coating four dozen eggs with Vaseline to prolong their freshness. It was a tip she had picked up from a camping guide, one of several books she had read in preparation for the voyage. Her hope was that the radios were a little more modern than the icebox. For it was just that, the old-fashioned kind that required a large chunk of ice and would not keep perishables cool more than a few days. As she moved a large bag of Washington State cherries over to make room for the eggs, a burst of rock music suddenly erupted from the receiver. Linda turned in delight.
But Jim, wincing, quickly turned off the radio. He had proved that it worked well, and that kind of music was offensive to his taste.
The second system, explained Jim, was the ship-to-shore.
Bob interrupted. "But that's only good for a maximum twenty-five miles out."
"Forty tops," disagreed Jim. The course set by the two men would take the Triton into commercial shipping lanes, sometimes as far as one hundred miles offshore. The ship-to-shore radio would be useless that far out at sea. But even with its limited range, insisted Jim, the ship-to-shore would be useful for, say, entering the harbor of Los Angeles ten days hence. The journey was to be divided into three parts of approximately a thousand sea miles each: Tacoma to Los Angeles, from there to an unspecified stop in Mexico, perhaps Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco, and the final leg into Costa Rica. Because Jim estimated the Triton could average one hundred miles a day, each segment was budgeted at ten days. Bob and Linda were allowing themselves a total of fifty days, the extra time to accommodate delays from errant winds or for sightseeing in Central America. Whatever, both had to be back in Washington by the end of August to resume their teaching.
Excerpted from Lost! by Thomas Thompson. Copyright © 1975 Thomas Thompson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good story about the will to live and the means to do it. An heroic tale of beating the sea.