By Tui Benjamin
A Brit who survived for 117 days lost at sea on a life raft with his wife has died aged 85 – but his incredible story has been unearthed by a Spanish explorer nearly 50 years on.
Maurice and Maralyn Bailey sold all of their belongings to buy a 31ft yacht, the Auralyn, and departed Southampton in June 1972, intending to emigrate to New Zealand together.
But their boat sunk on March 4, 1973 after a 39ft sperm whale crashed into the hull 300 miles from the Galapagos Islands and they spent four months stranded on a tiny inflatable dinghy in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Left with only a few tins of food, a compass and enough water to last just 20 days, the couple had no choice but to eat the raw flesh and drink the blood of turtles, seabirds and sharks in order to survive.
But despite this, hundreds of animals approached their life raft – from dolphins, sharks and killer whales to turtles, marine birds and fish of all shapes and sizes – which the couple came to know as their friends.
Spanish explorer and documentary maker Alvaro Cerezo rediscovered Maurice and Maralyn’s unbelievable forgotten story when he first made contact with Maurice, now a widower living in isolation in Lymington, Hants, in 2016.
The 37-year-old, who raised the alarm over Maurice’s death in December last year when the old man stopped responding to his emails, has now released a never-before-seen film retelling his friend’s astonishing story.
Alvaro, from Malaga, said: “I had been fascinated by Maurice and Maralyn’s story since I was little.
“When Maurice recently passed away, I wanted to do something special for this beautiful couple – not only because of their adventure but also because of the way they lived.
“They were people ahead of their time.
“Maurice told me he would go back to life on that life raft if he could. He missed his life with the animals, away from human civilisation.
“Maurice and Maralyn’s story reminded me of the movie Life of Pi.
“It felt like a fable where the animals are the leading actors and ‘never lose hope’ is the great moral.
“Fifty years later, in a period of eco-consciousness and feminism, I thought it was the perfect moment to bring this forgotten story back to life.”
Maurice and Maralyn had already made stops in Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and Panama on their round the world trip before they attempted to sail across the Pacific.
But after the Auralyn was shipwrecked, tides and currents pushed them away from known navigation routes until they ended up in one of the most inhospitable regions of the ocean, where no ships venture.
As inflatable rafts are designed to float for only a few weeks, theirs quickly began to deteriorate and the couple were forced to bail out water and pumped in air every half hour, day and night.
At first they caught and killed animals using a fishing hook Maralyn fashioned from a safety pin, before discovering birds would regurgitate or drop their catches of fish on their raft.
The couple cried every time they had to kill turtles and other creatures to survive – becoming vegetarians as soon as they were rescued.
One day a huge whale stared at Maurice without blinking for half an hour, while floating just a few inches from the raft.
In the film, he described the animals as friends who seemed intent on accompanying them to save their lives, while helping to alleviate their isolation.
Maurice told Alvaro: “After so many months with them, we felt just like sea creatures ourselves.
“The sea way our life, the animals were our neighbours.
“[When we were rescued] I couldn’t believe that we were going back to human civilisation. We wondered what civilisation had to offer us now.”
After 16 weeks lost in the middle of the ocean, Maurice and Maralyn were rescued by a Korean fishing boat on June 30, 1973 and returned to England, where they set up home in Hampshire.
The couple’s story – 117 Days Afrift – was published as a book and became a classic adventure tale in the 1970s and 1980s.
But over time their story was forgotten, and after Maralyn died of cancer in 2002, Maurice was left completely alone as the pair had no children or surviving family.
Alvaro, who is himself a real life Robinson Crusoe as he owns Docastaway, a company that abandons brave holidaymakers on far-flung desert islands to survive alone for days or weeks at a time, tracked down and visited the elderly man in 2016.
He decided to share his documentary about the couple’s improbable triumph over adversity as a testament to their beautiful love story.
Alvaro, who while exploring remote islands has discovered other real-life castaways including David Glasheen and Masafumi Nagasaki, said: “Maurice was definitely a very special person.
“It’s hard to believe he died with no one.
“He was deeply in love with Maralyn and since she died he lived his last years extremely lonely, far from society and in a very austere way.
“Despite his incredible story, it was hard to believe that I was maybe the only person who maintained contact with him until his death.
“Sometimes I called him, other times we wrote to each other via email.
“I was surprised by the admiration Maurice professed towards his wife, who was his guide throughout life.
“Maralyn was the person who gave him the security he needed to face his life, not just on the raft but day to day.
“She was the person who saved his life.”
For more information: go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3pi-HrNIuA&feature=youtu.be