The following story was condensed from a longer excerpt. It presents a quick look at several key survival concepts. We hope you will enjoy and profit from it.
"Toward the end of August we were ordered to head back toward the Canadian coast. For the past several weeks I had spent several hours daily lifting weights and doing exercises to build myself up. I would need enormous stamina and strength when my time came. Several of my shipmates joked about my physical fitness work, saying, "Hey, are you going to try to be Mr. World?" But I kept at it. Only I knew why.
One day as I radioed material to Russia, I received an incoming message As I started copying it down I realized it was a message concerning me. In five days another Soviet ship was due to meet us and I was to be transferred to the other ship which would then head straight back to Russia.
After acknowledging receipt of the message, I mulled it over with alarm. Five more days then back to Russia, perhaps never to be near free shores again. "Sergei," the captain ordered, "radio Canadian authorities. Ask for permission to ride out this storm inside their territorial waters."
"Yes, sir," I replied routinely. Then the importance of that message hit me! Inside Canadian waters!
That was it! If we went that close to shore, I might be able to make it. I had planned to go into the water as our ship lay just outside territorial waters, twelve miles offshore, and use some wood as flotation to get me in. But I knew the water temperature and well knew I might die of hypothermia before I made those twelve miles. But now we were going inside Canada's waters! The idea filled me with renewed hope and energy. But whatever happened, I had made up my mind: I would not go back to Russia. Making the final decision to go under any circumstances and conditions cleared my mind to focus on one thing - my moment of escape.
For several days and nights our ship had been fighting its way through a violently convulsed Pacific Ocean. Though our ship was large and built to ride out the wildest storm, it had, for some sixty hours, bobbed about as if it were no more than a fisherman's skiff on that angry sea. Many of the most seasoned sailors aboard were sick. I had slept very little during the previous few days. My job as radio operator had kept me almost constantly on duty. The tempest outside, though, contributed far less to my discomfort than did the emotional storm within me. After months of cautious planning and preparation, I was at last nearing the time for my escape to freedom.
"How far are we from shore?" I asked my friend Boris, who was on duty at the helm. He checked his chart. "About a half-mile," he replied.
"How far to that village?" I asked pointing out lights barely visible through the driving rain and wind.
"About three and a half miles," he replied.
"Thanks," I muttered, moving on to my post in the radio room just behind the bridge. Three and a half miles, I mused, making some quick mental calculations. I would only be safe in the village itself. That had to be my goal. If I merely reached shore, a half-mile away, a search party could come and get me. Only the village and people would be safe. I had already checked the water temperature. It was about forty degrees Fahrenheit. This far north, time in the water would be a matter of life and death. I estimated that I could survive four hours at most in the cold seas. It's now or never, I told myself.
I left the bridge, stepping out onto the deck and into the storm. I grasped the rail with all my strength and moved cautiously toward my quarters. Again and again the driving wind and rain almost sent me sprawling across the heaving walkway. I opened the door to my quarters, stepped inside, and locked it behind me. A surprise intrusion now could be fatal, ending any possibility for escape. Uneasily, I glanced at my watch again. It was now 9:45. I had less than fifteen minutes left for final preparation. Now I had to move fast to make my moves during the few remaining minutes, while the deck was still deserted. The minute the storm let up, men would be all over the ship, checking for damage. Because of our northerly location I was wearing my heavyweight uniform - my big military boots, a lighter-weight sweater, and, over it, a heavy turtleneck sweater. I needed to avoid all possible questions, should I be spotted on deck.
Well, at last I'm ready. Knife in place, belt securely fastened. My watch now read 9:55, time to go. Opening my cabin door, I stepped out onto the walkway and was stopped by a burst of freezing spray.
Slowly I fought my way midship to the spot I had picked a few days before as the best jumping-off place, the only spot I could find that was hidden from most other parts of the ship. A close look at the wild, turbulent waves sent shivers down my spine. I had better quit looking, I thought, or I might give up before I even got into the water. I waited until the last breaker had hit the ship. Then I climbed over the railing. I took a deep breath, dived, and cut the water perfectly, plunging deep. Then trouble began. Overpowering sensations of shocking cold struck me. Now that I was immersed in it, my body was shocked by its frigidness.
Driving my numbed arms and legs, I began swimming underwater as fast as I could. I had to go as far from the ship as possible before surfacing to avoid being spotted by someone on board. Finally, my lungs bursting for air, I desperately clawed my way to the surface and gasped for breath. I looked back. I was still much too close to the ship! I took another huge lungful of air, dived again, and swam submerged as far as I could. That was better, but I was still too close. Again I went under and swam until, gasping for breath, I had to surface. That was much better.
Only one thing filled my mind - get away from the ship. Soon I had swum far enough away from the ship to surface, stop and take stock of my situation. Now the numbing cold really hit me. My boots and heavy clothing had become waterlogged and added enormous weight. I had to fight just to stay on the surface. A heavy wave plunged me under, and I thought I wasn't going to make it. Somehow I reached the surface, coughing and sputtering and gasping for breath. Those boots! What a mistake! I should have taken them off! That little mistake was going to cost me my life,
I had to get those boots off - fast. I ripped off my big outer sweater. Quickly I loosed the knife strapped to my arm. Then I took a deep breath, ducked my head underwater, and began to cut and hack away at the left boot. I knew that if I didn't succeed soon, the next wave could send me under for the final time. The leather was giving! I surfaced once more for another breath of air, then went down to finish the job. But the right boot wouldn't give! Finally I managed to get the edge of the knife in just right and pulled - and I could feel the leather tearing. At last I was free of my boots, but I was too drained of energy to feel very good about it. I had been in the water almost an hour. No sooner had I rid myself of the boots than I became aware of a new problem: fog! heavy, dense, blinding patches of fog were fast blanketing me and the ship. Soon the driving rain and waves closed off my view of the ship’s lights which I was using to get my directions to shore. In the swirling fog and blinding rain I could no longer keep my bearings. In which direction was the land? Which way should I swim? I became confused - and lost! Everything was going wrong!
I could feel the deadening numbness beginning. I gave myself just two more hours. If I didn't make shore by then, it was unlikely that I ever would. I chose what I thought was the direction of land and headed for it with all my might.
On and on I swam until, by the luminous dial of my water-proof watch, I could see it had been nearly three hours since I had plunged into the water. I had to be close to land now! My heart leaped a bit at the thought.
A violent burst of wind scattered the fog momentarily. Eagerly I strained to see any sign of the shore. Then suddenly there it was, scarcely visible through the fog - a great black object, standing high above the heaving waters. Land! A rock! I had made it! My heart beat faster with excitement. I had done it. Beautiful! Just beautiful! No sight in all my life had been so welcome as that mountainous hunk of rock. You've made it Sergei! You've made it! I congratulated myself. I swam on toward the rock, recklessly using up my remaining energy which I wouldn't need now. Then the fog parted for a few seconds. I stared in utter disbelief. Oh, no! It can't be! But it was. Three hours of excruciating cold, most of my energy spent, and here I was, back where I had started, back at the ship! And now I faced a predicament for which I had made no plans! What should I do? The bright lights shining through the portholes looked so inviting and warm. Perhaps I should say I fell overboard. With the ship pitching as furiously as it was, maybe my story would be convincing enough. They would pull me in, give me hot food and warm blankets, and my bitter nightmare would be over.
But would it? The unbearable circumstances I was running away from would be back to torment me for the rest of my life. What then? Strike out for shore again? It seemed so impossible now. I was physically exhausted, psychologically drained. How much longer could I survive in those frigid temperatures? I had estimated my endurance at four hours at the most. And already I had been in the water three hours.
Numb with cold, I sized up the situation the best my tortured mind would allow. I decided I would rather die trying to find real life than continue to live as I had been living. I would not - could not return to the life I had known. Even if I drowned I must not go back. With little hope left, I nevertheless started slowly swimming away from the ship. I thought of the documents around my waist. Would someone find them? Would anyone know who I was? My mind became dizzy as thoughts drifted in and out. All my life, from six years of age, I had been alone - no mother or father. It seemed cruel that I would die still alone, lost in a watery grave.
I tried to get my bearings. Which way was shore? This way? That way? How could I possibly tell, when I could see only a couple of feet around me? I stopped all forward movement. I was turning in circles, trying frantically to decide which way to go. I realized I was lost utterly lost.
Sergei, you're finished. You're going to die. No one knows. No one cares. No one. Now, in my last moments, my mind turned to the God whom I did not know. Almost instinctively, I prayed. God, I have never been happy on this earth. Now that I'm dying, please take my soul to paradise. Maybe You can find me a little bit of happiness there, God. I don't ask You to save my body. But as it now goes to the bottom, take my soul with You to heaven, please, God! I closed my eyes fully believing this was the end. Now I'm ready. Now I can sleep. I relaxed and stopped struggling. My battle was over. Slowly, ever so gradually, I could sense something strange happening. Though I had been drained of every ounce of energy, I sensed a new strength flowing into my tired arms. I felt the strong and loving arms of the living God in the water like a heavenly buoy! I wasn't a believer. I had never prayed to God before. But in that moment, I became aware of new reserves of power pouring into my worn, water-soaked body. I could swim again! My arms, which were as heavy as logs only minutes ago, now felt strong enough to get me to the shore! I had now been in the water almost four and a half hours.
And, strangest of all, I could sense what general direction to take! I could sense where the shore lay. Even when the tossing waves spun me about, I could come right back to the path I somehow knew would lead to shore.
I didn't understand what was happening to me. For two more hours I swam steadily forward. Then, out of the wild seas, I could hear a great crashing noise in front of me. I swam strongly toward the sound. As the fog and driving rain cleared for a moment, I peered through; there it was - a huge rock rising out of the water! A real rock! The noise I had heard was the roar of the breakers crashing against it. It was rock - good, solid rock! I had reached land! I've made it! I've made it! My heart leaped for joy.
Then just as quickly my enthusiasm died. I suddenly realized how violent the storm-driven breakers were. Any one of them could pick me up, hurl me against the rock and crush every bone in my body. You're not out of it yet. Then I called out to God once more - and again I knew He was with me.
I watched carefully as a huge wave crashed against the rock. Then I began swimming furiously to slip in between the huge breakers at just the right moment. I made it! Suddenly I was able to grasp the rock. For the first time in five hours, I had something solid to hold onto. Quickly I mounted the rock and climbed higher and higher to avoid the next breaker, which could easily knock me loose and wash me back out to sea. At last I found myself looking down at the surging water far below.
But as I relaxed a little, I was suddenly overcome by total exhaustion. I knew I couldn't stay here. I knew that my absence from the ship had long ago been discovered. I was still on the seaward side of the rock. If the storm eased, I could easily be spotted. I felt that any minute a boat would come cutting through the fog with an armed search party and I would be doomed. I began climbing again. It was such a tall cliff, but somehow I managed to get to the top, and I thought at last I was safe.
But no! My heart sank. It seemed I was not on shore at all. The village was across a bay of water - about two miles away. I would have to swim more! By now, I was becoming delirious. I couldn't take stock of my situation. My only thought was a blind, compelling drive to get to the village quickly before they came for me. But it all seemed impossible. My energy was gone. I was frozen and shaking violently. I moved toward the edge of the high rock, then began climbing down to the waterline. Suddenly I slipped and fell ten feet down the sloping edge of the rock. I fell and hit again and again and again. I landed at the bottom of a ravine. I lay there, bleeding, in pitch darkness. For a second time I felt I wouldn't make it. In darkness and in driving rain, I desperately climbed back out of the ravine. If it had not been for my mountain-climbing experience I would not have make it out of that ravine.
I could see the lights of the village about two miles across the bay, so inviting, but so far. Dawn was coming fast. I had lost track of time. I had to get there. I plunged into the water a second time. I screamed in pain as an excruciating, red-hot fire engulfed my body as the saltwater poured into the open wounds. When I tried to swim, the pain increased. Yet, despite the agony, I swam on. Soon, however, I began to feel faint. I had lost too much blood and began to lose consciousness. No! Not here. Not when I'm so close to freedom! Through the dawning light of the new day, I could see a little fishing village in the distance. Only a few hundred yards to go! God, after all I've gone through, don't let me die so close to freedom. Please don't.
Then everything went black. The last sight I remember was of that little village fading from my closing eyes. The last conscious thought I remember was, I must keep swimming! I must keep swimming! Then total darkness. I remember nothing else, until I woke up in a hospital cot."
Extensive excerpt condensed from "The Persecutor" By Sergei Kordakov - (out of print, audio possible available on archive.org) note: before you buy a copy to read, please be aware that sections of the book are quite graphic and not suitable for all ages. You have been warned.