By the standards of boats built by desert-island castaways, the Providence was a thing of beauty. Thirty-three feet long, and made of timber from the shipwreck that had stranded them, she was simple but seaworthy. She also offered the only viable route back to civilisation for more than 200 refugees. As a first step, that meant a westward journey of 500km or so to Madagascar, where the wrecked ship had come from. If you arrive on a ship—a brand-new transport three-masted schooner belonging to the French East India Company—you cannot all leave on a raft.