Mariners have always understood that the ocean represents a threshold beyond which basic life support services such as fresh water, food and shelter are severely curtailed. Boat-wrecking reefs, storm swells and carnivorous predators are just a few of the hazards posed by the open sea. However, despite the oceans’ power and ferocity, a handful of fortunate souls who are lost at sea do live to tell the tale, as the following 20 incredible stories illustrate.
20. Louis Jordan
In January 2005 Louis Jordan set sail on a fishing expedition off the Carolina coast when his vessel capsized. As a result, all of his electronic equipment was destroyed, and to make matters worse, Jordan had fractured his shoulder. Miraculously, however, after being adrift for 66 days he was found alive. He credited his survival to drinking rainwater, using his clothes as a makeshift fishing net to secure food, and the comfort of prayer.
19. Jose Salvador Alvarenga
Jose Salvador Alvarenga is perhaps the most famous castaway survivor of recent times, not least because the Salvadorian was accused of cannibalizing his shipmate, Ezequiel Cordoba. The two fisherman got into trouble in November 2012 when a five-day storm off the coast of Mexico destroyed most of their boat’s equipment. Cordoba subsequently starved to death, while a dehydrated Alvarenga survived by drinking turtle blood. He eventually docked in the Marshall Islands, after surviving a brutal 14 months at sea.
18. Burmese Fishermen
In 2009 two Burmese fishermen fought off sharks, starvation and the elements for 25 days after their fishing boat sank off the north coast of Australia. While the other 18 members of the crew perished, the pair survived against the odds by sheltering in a tiny ice box measuring just 5ft by 4ft and drinking rain water. Eventually, they managed to catch the attention of an Australian Coastwatch aircraft flying overhead, who then alerted a rescue team.
17. Samu Perez, Filo Filo, and Edward Nasau
Samu Perez, Filo Filo and Edward Nasau set sail in a small aluminum boat in the South Pacific in October 2010 and promptly vanished. Moreover, friends and family of the Samoan teens were so convinced that they’d perished that they organized a memorial service. While their memorial was taking place, however, the trio were still clinging to life in their tiny boat. Thankfully, the boys were eventually found by a tuna fishing crew off the coast of Fiji 50 days later.
16. Terry Jo Duperrault
Terry Jo Duperrault was just 11 years of age when she found herself lost at sea in the most horrific of circumstances. The young girl had been vacationing off the Florida coast with her parents, brother and sister. However, she awoke one night to find the ship sinking and that the rest of her family had been murdered by the captain. Duperrault escaped on a dinghy but then had to endure three days of hypothermia, hunger and thirst before being rescued by a Greek freighter.
15. Steven Callahan
Inventor and naval architect Steve Callahan was attempting a transatlantic crossing when his boat was struck by a large, unknown object in the night, possibly a whale. Consequently, his vessel sank but he managed to secure a life raft and some essential equipment. He then survived at sea for 76 days by distilling sea water with a solar-powered still and hunting fish with a spear gun. Exhausted but basically unharmed, he was eventually picked up by fishermen.
14. Matthew Bryce
Matthew Bryce was surfing at Machrihanish beach, near Campbeltown in Scotland, when he was suddenly swept 13 miles out to sea. The 22-year-old spent the next 32 hours drifting in chilly open waters. However, he survived the ordeal thanks to his protective wetsuit and his surfboard, which he used as a buoyancy aid. Nevertheless, Bryce was suffering from hypothermia by the time a helicopter from the Belfast Coastguard located him.
13. Harrison Okene
Harrison Okene was sitting on the toilet when his ship capsized some 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria in May 2015. The ship subsequently plunged 100 feet to the bottom of the sea and Okene spent the next 60 hours trapped in a darkened air pocket. The rest of the crew, who had locked themselves in their rooms as a precaution against piracy, perished in the accident. Okene was eventually found by a South African rescue team.
12. Louis Zamperini
In 1943 Louis Zamperini was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force when his bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Eight crew members were instantly killed, and the three survivors soon found themselves adrift in enemy territory in a life raft. However, they survived for 33 days by drinking rainwater and eating fish and birds. Eventually, they were picked up by Japanese forces in the Marshall Islands. Zamperini was subsequently incarcerated as a POW and released in 1945.
11. Ron Ingraham
Even the most seasoned sailors can suffer unexpected calamities, as the story of Ron Ingraham illustrates. In November 2014 the 67-year-old fisherman had set out on a routine trip from the Hawaiian island of Molokai. When his boat started taking on water, he put out a distress call but soon all contact with him was lost. As a result, a massive search operation was launched, but to no avail. However, he was eventually found 12 days later, hundreds of miles from his original location.
10. Adrian Vasquez
On February 24, 2012, 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez set out with two friends on a night-time fishing expedition off the Pacific Coast of Panama. However, the trip was doomed. After their engine broke down, the three teenagers were swept out to sea, helpless and poorly prepared. Ships and airplanes were subsequently dispatched to look for them, but without success. Finally, after 28 days, their boat was spotted by fishermen just north of the Galapagos Islands. Vasquez was the sole survivor.
9. Hiromitsu Shinkawa
When a tsunami struck the Japanese town of Minami Sanriku in 2011, it left just a handful of buildings intact. One of the town’s residents, a 60-year-old man called Hiromitsu Shinkawa, was swept nine miles out to sea. He survived by clinging to the broken roof of his home for more than two days. Thankfully, Shinkawa was eventually located by a search-and-rescue team. “I thought today was the last day of my life,” the Kyodo News Agency quoted him as saying.
8. William and Simone Butler
William and Simone Butler’s 40-foot pleasure boat sunk off the coast of Costa Rica in 1989 after it was attacked by whales. Fortunately, the couple managed to secure a fishing rod and salt-water purifier before they abandoned ship. They subsequently drifted in a life raft for 66 days. Surviving numerous shark attacks, the Butlers sealed any punctures with a raft repair kit. They were finally picked up by the Costa Rican coast guard about 30 miles off the coast.
7. Salvador Ordonez, Jesus Vidana and Lucio Rendon
In 2005 three Mexican fishermen – Salvador Ordonez, Jesus Vidana and Lucio Rendon – set out from the town of San Blas to catch sharks. However, the two 200-horsepower engines on their 25-foot fiberglass boat soon broke down and the trio spent the next nine months drifting across the ocean. They nearly sank twice but ultimately survived by eating birds and fish and drinking rainwater. The men were eventually found by a Taiwanese trawler near the Marshall Islands, some 5,000 miles from home.
6. Poon Lim
Chinese seaman Poon Lim departed from Cape Town in November 1942 as part of a 55-man crew on a British merchant ship. However, the vessel sank two days later when it was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat. Poon dived into the water as the ship went down. He subsequently secured a life raft and was lost at sea for an astonishing 133 days – a world record for time spent in a raft. Incredibly, he was finally rescued on the other side of the Atlantic, near the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil.
5. Lapahele Sopi and Telea Paa
Two Samoans, Lapahele Sopi and Telea Paa, survived four months in a tiny boat by drinking rainwater and catching fish. Two of their companions, however, were not so fortunate and died of hunger and thirst. Sopi and Paa were finally rescued in Papua New Guinea in 2001 after firing their last remaining flare to catch the attention of a local villager. Their survival was nothing less than a miracle, said a local doctor who treated them.
4. Maurice and Maralyn Bailey
A once-in-a-lifetime yachting adventure turned into a life-threatening ordeal when a British couple, Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, were hit by a whale off the coast of Central America. Their yacht capsized and sank, and as a result the couple had to take to a rubber dinghy. They subsequently spent the next 117 days drifting in the Pacific, enduring storms, sharks and severe malnutrition until they were picked up by a South Korean fishing boat. They later recalled their experiences in a book called 117 Days Adrift.
3. Dougal Robertson
In 1971 a Scotsman called Dougal Robertson departed from the U.K. in a 43-foot wooden schooner with his wife, daughter and three sons. They successfully crossed the Atlantic and called at various Caribbean ports before transiting the Panama Canal. However, disaster struck on June 15, 1972, when a pod of killer whales attacked and sank their boat near the Galapagos Islands. Thankfully, the crew survived for 38 days in a small dinghy with zero casualties. They were finally rescued by a Japanese fishing trawler near Central America.
2. John Glennie, Rick Hellriegel, Jim Nalepka and Phil Hofman
On June 4, 1989, four friends – John Glennie, Rick Hellriegel, Jim Nalepka and Phil Hofman – were on their way from New Zealand to the island of Tonga when a giant wave capsized their boat. Trapped upside down in a flooded cabin, they were subsequently forced to a break a hole in the hull. Fortunately, the vessel did not sink and the friends were able to cling to the wreck for 118 days, at which point they eventually washed back in New Zealand.
1. Nathan Carman
A weekend fishing trip from Rhode Island ended in tragedy in September 2016. Nathan Carman, 22 – who had been sailing with his mother Linda, 54 – was forced to abandon his boat after it took on water in the engine compartment. Nathan escaped in a life raft but, mysteriously, his mother was nowhere to be seen. He was picked up a week later by a Chinese freighter roughly 100 nautical miles from the U.S. coast.