Remember Robinson Crouse, a novel by Daniel Defoe, the story of A sailor stranded on a desert island who must tap into his creativity and tenacity to survive. The novel’s in-depth description of events on the island offers insightful advice on how to survive in the wilderness. For ages, sailors and explorers even have utilized this book as a survival manual for shipwrecks and other nautical catastrophes.
However, reality is even stranger than fiction. Did you know that the narrative is allegedly inspired by Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who spent four years on the Pacific island of Más a Tierra, which was eventually renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.
The history of maritime is littered with sea survival stories. Let’s take a closer look at some of them
Jose Salvador Alvarenga
At times, a fictional story can lose its credibility with the reader because of the unreal elements narrated, and the physical and mental impossibilities. Alvarenga’s story is a tale of survival that hovers on the edge of reality and is not without controversy.
On December 21, 2012, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a Mexican fisherman, set off from the coast on a 7-meter boat with his friend Ezequiel Cordoba. He had planned to be back by sunset. However, his plans did not materialize and the boat vanished in the Pacific Ocean. It would be 438 days until Jose Salvador Alvarenga made contact with the mainland.
Over the course of 14 months, Alvarenga drifted an estimated 6,700 kilometers. He drank rainwater, ate raw fish and turtles, and caught birds to stay alive. His friend could not make it to the end.
Alvarenga finally washed up on the shore of Ebon Atoll, a Marshall Islands island. He was thin, nude, and sunburned, yet he was still breathing. He was transferred to a hospital where his wounds were attended to. Although Alvarenga’s account was initially regarded with suspicion, specialists finally corroborated it. He is the only person to have done it in recorded history, living for over a year in a small boat that got lost at sea. Later, he returned to Mexico for an emotional meeting with the family of Ezequiel Cordova, a shipmate who died from starvation four months into the trip and fell overboard.
His story became an inspiration. Jonathan Franklin has written a book about this gruelling story of survival.
World War II saw numerous fierce and gory naval battles. Many soldiers perished in sinking ships. In some maritime disasters in World War II, death tolls even reached 10,000. Poon Lim could be one of the victims, however, he turned his story to survival.
After his ship was sunk by a German submarine during World War II, Chinese seaman Poon Lim endured 133 days at sea in the South Atlantic Ocean. One of the castaways who has survived the longest time. When the British cargo ship SS Benlomond was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1942, he was working as a steward.
Poon Lim was the sole survivor. He was able to reach a floating tiny wooden raft, where he was able to swim to it and grab a life jacket. A few supplies, such as some food and water, were on board the raft.
Poon Lim initially used the canvas of his life jacket to catch and divert rainwater. He then created smaller and larger fish hooks using the wire from his electric stove and nails he had removed from the raft’s timber.
Poon Lim found that these sharks wouldn’t leave him alone, so he decided to use bird flesh as bait to bring the lesser sharks in so he could trap them.
He hauled the shark into the raft when it eventually bit the bait. Lim wrapped his hands in canvas for protection and grip, then battered the shark to death with a water jug that was only partially filled. He fought the sharks while savouring their fins, a speciality of the Hainan Chinese people.
On April 5, 1943, a Brazilian fisherman managed to save Poon Lim. He was sent to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, where his wounds were attended to.
An American sailor named Steven Callahan made it through 76 days at sea on a liferaft after his sailboat capsized.
Callahan was raised in New York City. He fell in love with sailing when he was young and went on to become a professional sailor and a naval architect. Callahan participated in the Atlantic Ocean Mini Transat 6.50 single-handed sailing competition with his own-built sloop Napoleon Solo. The race was brutal. Several of the race fleet’s boats were sunk by the heavy weather. He had to abandon the race in order to go to Spain and fix his boat.
However, he carried on towards the Canary Islands with the intention of sailing across the Atlantic to reach Antigua. Tragically, his boat sustained significant damage. He had to leave his boat after a strong gale and search for help in an inflatable life raft. Callahan was able to dive numerous times and collect some items that helped Napoleon Solo survive before he entirely submerged. He struggled for 76 days before being rescued by fishermen off the coast of Marie Galante, southeast of Guadeloupe.
His experience was featured in various sailing-related articles and survival-themed TV programmes. He then published “Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea” in 1986. For more than 36 weeks, the book remained on the New York Times best-seller list.
The Japanese captain’s voyage was one of the oddest adventures in history.
According to Guinness World Records, Captain Oguri Jukichi and one of his sailors spent the longest time at sea between 1813 and 1815. After their ship was damaged in a storm off the coast of Japan, the two Japanese sailors are said to have survived for roughly 484 days. Before being rescued off the coast of California on March 24, 1815, they were dragged in the Pacific. Twelve crew members perished from vitamin deficiencies, but the two managed to survive by consuming hundreds of sacks of soybeans.
Deborah Scaling Kiley
Deborah Scaling Kiley was the first American woman to complete the Whitbread Round the World Race, today known as the Ocean Race.
She was engaged in October 1982 to crew the Trashman, a 58-foot sailing boat, for a routine transit from Maine to Florida. The five crew members huddled on a Zodiac life raft as the Trashman capsized in 40 to 50′ of water.
Three crew members would pass away during the following few days. Two of them—Mark Adams and John Lippoth—drank seawater, went crazy, jumped off the raft, and got caught in a shark attack. The third, Meg Mooney, was buried at sea after passing away from infected injuries she sustained during the sinking. Brad Cavanagh, the only other survivor of the crew, and Kiley were picked up by the Olenegorsk, a passing Soviet cargo ship, five days after the ship sank. They were then handed over to US authorities.
The movie called Two Came Back was based on Kiley’s memoir.
Jesus Eduardo Vidana, Lucio Rendon and Salvador Ordonez
On August 9, 2006, a Taiwanese fishing boat discovered Jesus Eduardo Vidana, Lucio Rendon, and Salvador Ordonez in the southern Pacific Ocean, all three of them severely malnourished.
The three guys claimed to have left on a shark-fishing expedition in October of the previous year from San Blas, Mexico, which is located some 8,000 kilometres away. They said that heavy gusts had captured their 8 m boat and pulled it out to sea. After running out of fuel, they were abandoned to the currents and had to rely on uncooked fish, birds, and rainwater to survive.
The group claimed that two other crew members perished after failing to tolerate the diet and that their corpses were dumped into the water. They refuted claims made by some people that they may have engaged in cannibalism or drug trafficking.
They explained that the tuna fisherman who had saved them had given them excellent care when asked why they seemed to be in such good shape after such an ordeal.
Tami Oldham Ashcraft
Tami was dreaming of a fanciful trip with her fiancé.
On a yacht called Hazana, Tami Oldham Ashcraft, then 23, and her fiancé Richard Sharp sailed from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983. They were eager for the adventure as they delivered the yacht to its owner.
Unfortunately, when they got caught in a hurricane, their trip took a fatal turn. The Hazana was blasted by the storm, which also damaged its rudder and brought down its mast. Oldham was rendered unconscious, and Sharp was washed overboard.
Oldham found herself alone and drifting in the Pacific Ocean when she awoke. She had no method to ask for assistance from anyone. In addition, she had insufficient food and water, and her boat was in poor condition.
Oldham, however, was determined to live. She steered the Hazana to Hawaii using her sailing prowess and navigational ability. She also had to learn how to repair the damage to her boat and how to ration her food and water. The trip was tough and protracted. Along with other difficulties, Oldham struggled with hunger, thirst, tiredness, and loneliness. She persevered though. She was rescued in Hilo, Hawaii, after spending 41 days at sea.
Her story is immortalized in the movie called Adrift.
The Angel, a 37-year-old South Carolina-based sailor’s sailboat, was used by Louis Jordan when he set out on a fishing expedition. In 2015, Jordan was forced to abandon his boat after a severe storm overturned it, leaving him stranded in the Atlantic Ocean without access to food, water, or any form of contact.
Jordan was aware of his low likelihood of survival, but he persisted. His boat was righted using his sailing prowess, and he then started the laborious and time-consuming process of fixing it. He also had to figure out how to collect rainwater and ration his food and water.,
The following 66 days were spent at sea for Jordan as he travelled tens of thousands of miles. Along with other difficulties, he struggled with hunger, thirst, weariness, and loneliness. But he never lost confidence. Jordan was finally saved on March 30, 2015, by a passing cargo ship. He was malnourished and frail, yet he was still surviving.