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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Lost-at-sea story has a happy end

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

The survivors of an incredible eight-week voyage on a castaway sampan in 1973 are having a reunion at the Chart House Friday evening.

On Jan. 3, 1974, The Advertiser ran a headline, "Fisherman Lost Since Nov. 12 Located." Barbie Morley, the girlfriend of the navigator and the only person to insist all along that the crew was still alive, and Aubby Middleton, the navigator, are now husband and wife. They told me the story last weekend in Kona.

Middleton said the owner of the sampan bought the fishing rights for Christmas Island so he sent out the sampan Kamokila. The sampan stopped at Fanning Island for water and supplies. But there was a drought at Fanning. No water. The Kamokila started for Christmas Island with 275 gallons of fuel and enough food for three days.

Just as the Kamokila entered the channel at Christmas Island on the evening of the third day, the fuel ran out. Exhausted, the crew threw out the anchor.

Middleton woke up at 2 a.m. with water on his face. The anchor cable had parted. They were out of food and fuel and drifting toward the Philippines. By morning, they were a mile off Christmas Island, shouting and waving. But all the residents were in church on the other side of the island. They dropped an anchor tied to 3,000 feet of fish line and couldn't reach bottom.

The crew spent a week making a sail out of burlap bags and a mast from bamboo buoy markers. The mast broke when they set the sail. They made another mast and stuck it in the smoke stack.

"We fished but our baited hooks wouldn't reach to the depth of food fish. All we could catch was sharks," said Middleton. Shark eyes are the size of golf balls and they contain fresh water. The crew drank shark blood and water from the eyes.

After several weeks, the crew began hallucinating. They staggered around, unable to balance.

"We survived on shark meat and it was killing us," said Middleton.

He retched his guts out over the bow and complained bitterly to God. God spoke to him, telling him they would be saved. But not how. They began catching mahimahi. On Thanksgiving, they caught an albatross for dinner.

On Jan. 1, they drank the last drop of water in the engine. A Japanese fishing boat spotted them but refused to rescue them at first, thinking they were pirates. It took several hours to get radio confirmation that the Kamokila was lost.

Middleton said he and his wife were not religious before. The experience turned his life around. They now go on religious missions and are writing a book.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.

Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly said sharks don't have livers.