Carr: Tobacco Juice, Rose Hips, and Sea Urchins

Hurricane Island
Hurricane Island

By Michael Carr – Tobacco Juice is the Island’s unofficial name. This mound of granite and scrub is just barely an Island, more like a pile of large and irregular shaped boulders sitting in Hurricane Sound. Her name as shown on NOAA chart 13305 is Lawry’s Ledge, but locals call her Tobacco Juice because on the chart she appears as a drop of tobacco juice.

He was isolated here for three days and two nights, by himself. Not totally by himself, there was also a muskrat or large rat which seemed to also inhabit the Island, making brief appearances and then disappearing. A tidal range averaging 10 feet, made the Islands size change, going from 60 yards across at low tide to maybe 40 yards across at high tide.

He had a 10’ x 10’ blue tarp, a 2.5-gallon plastic jug of water, one apple, a bag of granola, a hunk of cheddar cheese, and the clothes he was wearing. That was it.

“OK,” he said to himself, let’s figure out a good place to rig up the tarp. With no one to converse, he talked to himself.

“Find a high spot, one which won’t become inundated at high tide, and out of the wind.” He counseled himself.

He found a gap between two boulders where he could stretch the tarp and then hold it down with smaller rocks. He scavenged the Island’s shoreline for the necessary rocks, and this kept him busy for an hour or so. Once his shelter was up and secure he sat and looked at the supplies.

“Should I ration this food over three days, or just eat it all now?” he asked himself.

He was ravenous at this point and really wanted to eat. His usual routine involved physical activity and he was not prepared to ration food. He thought of Christopher Robin’s recommendation, “that we ought to eat all our Provisions now so that we shan’t have so much to carry” and gave up the rationing idea.

He was here on Tobacco Juice Island as part of an Outward Bound training program. Outward Bound was started in Scotland in 1934 by Kurt Hahn in response to the high death rate among merchant seaman resulting from Germany’s sinking of British ships. Young British merchant mariners should have survived if they had launched lifeboats and knew survival skills. Outward Bound’s curriculum was designed to teach the hard technical skills necessary for survival. This training continues today.

Soon the apple, granola, and cheese were gone. What to eat now? By day two he had discovered the massive growth of sea urchins clinging to rocks, just below the low tide line. Wait for low tide and then peel off the urchins. Their insides are filled with green goo, resembling and green goo found inside lobsters, called tomalley. Tomalley is filled with protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, and though it’s look is not appealing, and its taste is bland, it will keep you alive.

In addition to sea urchins, the top of Tobacco Juice Island had a growth of Rose Hip bushes. These bushes produce a fruit, which is high in Vitamin C, magnesium, and other minerals, which support health.

“Ok,” he thought on the afternoon of his second day, we are going to be just fine.

“I have water, I have food, I have shelter, and the large Island rat has not attacked me yet”, so we are doing “wicked good”.

Survival is about prioritizing, staying focused, and accomplishing simple tasks one after another. He thought of Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire”. He reminded himself to never build a fire under snow-laden branches.

As the sun set each day and air temperature dropped fog rolled in over Hurricane Sound. Within minutes of the air reaching its dew point, his world shrunk to the size of Tobacco Juice. He sat under his tarp, stared out at the fog and green cold water and let his thoughts wander. When the human brain is removed from a constant bombardment of stimuli; voices, electronics, television, and radio it starts working on its own. No longer is the brain relying on outside prodding to animate itself.

In an unstructured environment, sleep comes at random times. He found himself waking up in the middle of the night to harvest sea urchins at low tide and sitting facing east waiting for Twilight, and the suns gradual rising. He was surviving quite nicely. Yes, this was only three days and two nights, but he felt strong and confident.

“,Yup” he said, “We can do this”.

“I think this is day three,” he thought, but he could not really remember. Random naps, the unstructured days, and a meager food intake, had allowed his brain to lose track of time, or maybe just not prioritize keeping track of time.

“I think this is the last day, hmmm, maybe not”. He mumbled to himself. “No matter”.

And then, as the sun was beginning to set over Owl’s Head, a small boat appeared. It was not a lobster boat, but the Boston Whaler used by Outward Bound. There was no sound of its engines at first, but then he could hear the outboards. It slowed to an idle as it came up to the island’s small beach.

“Hello,” shouted the boat’s skipper. “Ready to go?”

“Yes!” he said out loud, but part of him wanted to stay. He had bonded with this little mound of rocks, with it’s one elusive animal inhabitant.

“Let me pull down my tarp, I’ll be right there,” he said. He had not wanted to take down the tarp until he knew he was really departing.

After retrieving the tarp & empty water jug he waded out into the cold Maine water, and rolled himself into the boat.

He was filled with weird emotions, both a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of having missed human companionship. He was glad to be back with others now, but also knew he would remember his time on Tobacco Juice Island.

“Damn, I am so hungry,” he said to the boat’s skipper. “I can’t wait to eat!”