On a stormy night exactly 100 years ago this January, an egg-shaped, 18-foot-long cocoon, fitted with a short mast and a gaff-rigged sail, washed ashore on the sands at Pavilion Beach in Gloucester, Mass. Inside, to the surprise of local residents, were four Norwegians, apparently healthy and in fine spirits, despite having spent the previous six months enclosed in the pod on what proved to be the first trans-Atlantic voyage of an enclosed life raft.
The expedition was the brainchild of the Norwegian sailor Martin Brude, who made the voyage — departing from Norway with his three comrades the previous August — to suggest to the maritime world that an enclosed life raft was safer than an open one for surviving a rough launching from a ship and the subsequent tumult of the open seas. Originally met with skepticism, Brude nonetheless convinced a Norwegian shipyard to finance construction of a steel pod, and he sailed away in August 1904. Several months later, when no word came from Brude, he was presumed to have been lost at sea and was reported as such by several European newspapers. On Jan. 6, 1905, Brude proved otherwise by beaching his little craft at Gloucester. (The pod was the precursor to the enclosed fiberglass escape pods in use today.)
The Norwegians, sealed tightly in their egg, faced storm after storm with stoicism and in complete safety, reportedly smoking their pipes and reading books.