Summary: Chapter 14, Thirst

On the third day without water, rain finally comes. Louie and the men devise ways of collecting the water. The men also create hats to protect themselves from the sun. As the days wear on, Mac’s binge on the chocolate proves to be more and more costly. One day an albatross lands on Louie’s hat. Louie snaps the bird’s neck and rips into it with pliers. The bird’s insides reek, but Louie manages to use the meat as bait to catch a fish. Louie and Phil feel inspired. Phil recalls an article he read about a crew that survived twenty-one days on the water, which was thought to be a record.

Louie decides that no matter what happens to their bodies, he won’t let their minds deteriorate. He and Phil constantly quiz one another, teach each other songs, and reminisce about the old days. Louie begins regularly describing meals his mother used to prepare, which tricks their stomachs into satisfaction. Mac is more withdrawn than the other men.

The men go on this way for many more days, floating along, eating what they can, drinking what water falls from the sky. They eventually surpass the twenty-one-day mark they thought to be a record. Not long after that point, their luck runs out. The rain stops coming and the fish stop biting. Louie says he will devote his life to God if rain comes back. The next day it does. This happens twice more.

Summary: Chapter 15, Sharks and Bullets

On the morning of the twenty-seventh day, the men spot a plane high in the sky. The men wave their shirts in the air, in tears, thinking they might be saved. Soon, the plane starts firing at them. The men dive into the water, using the rafts as cover. They hardly have the energy to climb back aboard. At first, they think the plane made a mistake, but when it returns and begins firing again, they realize it is a Japanese bomber.

The firing comes five more times, and Louie hops into the water each time, punching sharks away. Somehow, they all survive. One last time, the plane comes and drops a depth charge, but it never goes off. The secondary raft is completely torn in two and the men must make do with one raft. But it is so deflated that sharks soon begin jumping into it, trying to drag one of them into the water. They fend a shark off with an oar, but more come. Louie fixes the raft enough to stop the sharks from coming.

The men estimate they have travelled about 1,250 miles. They guess they will need to survive about three more weeks before finding land. Louie and Phil retain some energy, but Mac is fading.


The survival of the men on the raft is a combination of luck, chance, and determination. If not for the rainfall that was outside of their control, they might have perished. Hillenbrand shows that, for the men in the story as well as for people outside the book, survival can depend a great deal on mental attitude. Phil and Louie choose to be optimistic. The men use their conversations and senses to avoid mental atrophy, which not only keeps them calm and occupied, but also is smart. Louie also remains hopeful when he prays to God for water, and when he makes a promise to God about what he will do in the future. This promise will be powerfully referenced later in the story.

Louie and Phil keep their hope alive when anyone else might fall into complete despair, and with their hope they find opportunities where anyone else might see none. They use their quick wits on more than one occasion in order to capture food and water. They wisely take advantage of opportunities, including to grab the albatross and to catch the fish swimming alongside the sharks. Without knowing it, Louie and Phil are undergoing endurance training that will equip them for the endurance tests to come, in the Japanese camps where they will be held as prisoners. By contrast, Mac does not have the same mental fortitude as Louie and Phil have. Mac serves as a character foil, one to whom the reader might find it easier to relate. While Louie and Phil, crewmates from Super Man, are Superman-like, Mac is heroic but human. He is more susceptible to negative thoughts, including the guilt that seems to consume him as a result of his initial weakness in eating the rationed chocolate.

Chapter Fifteen loops the reader back to the description at the opening of the book. This time, the reader can contextualize the episode within Louie’s larger life and war experience, and within a more informed historical context of World War II. This whole episode is part of what might be called a “castaway narrative,” or a “sea narrative.” Such an observation sheds light on Hillenbrand’s storytelling versatility as well as on Louie’s stunning and episodic life. Chapter Fifteen shows how relentless the sea journey was and how the men continuously fight problems. Even right after the Japanese bombard them, the men are attacked by sharks. They face forces that wish for them to die, and they somehow manage to survive.

Chapter Fifteen also brings the reader closer to the next portion of Louie’s life, which will be a prisoner of war narrative. Here, the men’s false hope of being saved is soon replaced by the realization that they are more likely to be attacked by the enemy than saved by their own side. The fact that a bomber would repeatedly fire on men on a raft is a first experience of the brutality of the Japanese. Although they do not yet fully know it yet, for Louie and Phil this is the beginning of what is to come next. At the same time, the fact that the men survive the bombardment is nothing short of amazing. The repeated inability of the bomber to sink their rafts almost seems to be some sort of divine intervention.