A Sea of Trouble

For 66 days Bill and Simonne Butler drifted together on a tiny raft in the Pacific. After they were finally rescued and came back to Miami, they drifted apart.

At age 55, Simonne feels it's time she went back to the Old World. Her sons Crist centsbal and Alexander are both grown, and she wants to move closer to her ailing mother in France. She hints at a new career but refuses to elaborate, saying only that it's tied to the Catholic religion. After Bill left her, she says, she renewed the vow of celibacy she had made on the raft. "I'm not happy in Miami any more," she says, settling slowly into a plush chair in her Miami Lakes apartment. The metal statuette of Nuestra Se*ora de Los Angeles stands on a display case below a framed picture of Jesus; a copy of the Conde Nast Traveler sits on the coffee table.

Simonne moved to Miami Lakes after Hurricane Andrew tore apart the large house in Kendall she had shared with Bill for more than a decade. The raft in which they'd lived for 66 days was lost in the August storm. "When the hurricane came," she says grimly, "for me it was a sign I have to go."

About her divorce from Bill, she is both bitter and sanguine. "After what happened [with the shipwreck]," she confides, "I thought he would stay with me for the rest of my life. Bill was my idol, and God doesn't like idols; he breaks them down in everyone's life. I've learned so much since I've been alone. I've learned how to take care of myself. I think Jesus wanted it that way. He wanted to make me free. I know I have something to do in this life," she concludes.

"What did I learn from the voyage?" writes Steven Callahan in Adrift. "My beliefs about the indifference of the sea, about the relative nature of good and evil and of all human values, about the equality of all God's creatures, and about my own insignificance were only reinforced."

Bill Butler speaks of a moment-by-moment communication with God, which persists to this day, even though he never gave religion much thought before the shipwreck. As a lifelong sailor, he had felt capable of handling any crisis on the sea A or on land, for that matter. "I'm convinced, looking back at the whole thing, that it was meant to be," Bill says. "The good Lord was trying to teach us to see the true light." For him, the light dawned when he realized he couldn't save himself, that in the end he survived solely through the mercy of God.

"I feel so strange, like I don't fit in any more," muses Simonne Butler. "People talk to me about trivial things that have no meaning whatsoever to me. I talked to Steven Callahan on the phone after we got back, and I told him that. He said, 'You'll find your peace.'" Like her former husband, Simonne has a distinctly faraway gaze A it's as if they're both still scanning a wide and empty horizon. "I'm still not there," she says.

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