Orphaned on the Ocean: The Unbelievable Story of Terry Jo Duperrault

A young girl alone on a raft. A mysterious yacht accident. A missing family. It's a strange and tragic tale.

By Richard Logan and Tere Duperrault Fassbender from Alone: Orphaned on The Ocean
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014

The Bluebelle alone orphaned on the oceanLife Magazine/Courtesy Titletown Publishing
The Bluebelle
Slowly, Terry Jo climbed the stairs and stuck her head out of the hatch. She saw more blood pooled on the starboard side of the cockpit, and possibly a knife. She climbed on deck and turned toward the front of the boat. Suddenly Captain Harvey lunged at her and shoved her down the stairs. “Get back down there!” he growled.

Heart pounding, Terry Jo averted her eyes from her mother’s and brother’s bodies, returned to her sleeping quarters, and crawled back onto her bunk. Then she heard sloshing. Soon, oily-smelling water seeped into her cabin and covered the floor. Terry Jo realized the ship was filling with water, but she was afraid to move.

Suddenly she saw the captain’s dark form silhouetted in the cabin’s doorway. He had something in his hands, possibly her brother’s rifle, and stood looking down at her. The only sounds in the room were of his heavy breathing, the thundering of her heart in her ears, and the slap of the rising water against the bulkheads.

Then the captain turned and walked out of the cabin, and she heard him climb the stairs back to the upper deck.

With water lapping over the top of her mattress, Terry Jo knew she had to abandon the cabin. Wading through waist-deep water to the stairs, she climbed to the top again. From the light of a bulb atop the boat’s main mast, Terry Jo saw that the ship’s dinghy and rubber life raft were floating beside the boat on the port side.

“Is the ship sinking?” she called out.

“Yes!” Harvey shouted, coming up from behind her. He pushed the line to the dinghy into her hands. “Hold this!” he shouted. Numb from shock, Terry Jo let the line slip through her fingers.

The dinghy slowly drifted away from the sinking Bluebelle. Harvey jumped overboard to catch it. Terry Jo watched him swim after the dinghy as he disappeared into the night.

She remembered the cork life float that was kept lashed to the top right side of the main cabin, which was now just barely above-water. She scrambled to the small, oblong float and quickly untied it. Just as the float came free, the boat deck sank beneath her feet into the ocean. Half crawling, half swimming, she pushed the float into the open water.

As she climbed onto the float, one of its lines snagged on the sinking ship. For a breathless moment, Terry Jo and the float were pulled underwater as the Bluebelle went down. Then the line came free, and the float with Terry Jo on it popped back up to the surface. She huddled low on the float, afraid that the captain might be lying in wait for her in the dark waters.

She had no water, no food, and, in her thin white blouse and pink pants, nothing to protect her from the chill of the night. The moon had set, and heavy clouds denied her even the light of the stars. She could hear the moan of the wind but see nothing. Waves broke without warning, the salt water stinging her eyes and lips. A sudden shower drenched her, and she began to shiver uncontrollably. Soon one thought began to occupy her mind: Where is my father?

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