On February 5, 1982, Steven Callahan had just bunked down for the night in the 23’ sailboat that he was single-handedly sailing from Europe to Antigua, when his boat sank, casting him adrift for a harrowing 76 days. As he puts it:
Disaster at sea can happen in a moment, without warning. . . . I lie on my bunk, slung upon the lee canvas, hanging as if in a hammock. . . .BANG! A deafening explosion blankets the subtler sounds of torn wood fiber and rush of sea. I jump up. Water thunders over me as if I’ve suddenly been thrown into the path of a rampaging river. . . Already the water is waist deep. The nose of the boat is dipping down. Solo comes to a halt as she begins a sickening dive. She is going down, down!
“Adrift” is Callahan’s account of his desperate battle to survive in a life raft on the Atlantic. A bestseller when first published in the late 1980s, this is a timeless tale of adventure. Callahan was luckier than many. He had outfitted his boat with a raft designed to accommodate six people. This meant that he had more room to maneuver in and that the craft itself was minimally more capable of sustaining the pounding it would take. He had a knife. He was able to salvage some supplies as his sailboat was sinking. Perhaps the most essential to his ultimate survival were a space blanket, sleeping bag, spear gun, a Tupperware container, some water and rations, and an emergency pack that had two water distilling kits. He had twine and lines, flares and a first-aid kit. Awestruck by the beauty of the sea, he had, what he calls “a view of heaven from a seat in hell.”
During his ordeal, most things broke, but he had the ingenuity to make repairs. He had the means to – at times imperfectly – distill limited quantities of potable water and fish. He lived off the fish — mostly dorados — he managed to catch with his spear gun. He did yoga to keep in shape. He somehow managed to maintain his sanity and his will to live. Few people would get out of this mess alive, but his pragmatism pulled him through:
When I face a crisis, I try to keep in mind a few simple concepts: we cannot control our destinies, but we can help to shape them; we must try to make life hop a bit, but we must also accept that we can only do the best we can.
After 76 days, he is rescued by a fishing boat off the coast of Guadeloupe. The fisherman catch many of the dorados that have followed Callahan across the Atlantic. He rides to land in the fishermen’s boat:
I look down at the dorados for the last time. Twelve of their kind, twelve triggerfish, four flyers, three birds, and a few pounds of barnacles, crabs, and assorted oceanic booty have kept me alive. Nine ships did not see me. A dozen sharks tested me. Now it is done, finally over, finished.
This is an amazing account by a writer who learned a lot in 76 days. Landlubbers and seafarers alike can profit from his story:
The real story of ss Adrift is not so much about me as about the magic and mystery of the sea and how it delivered me two priceless gifts. True, my odyssey showed me that I was a lot stronger and more resilient than I ever thought possible, and this is no small thing. But more important, the sea probed (my) numerous weaknesses and failures. . . .That was a far greater gift than any endurance record or human accolades.
If you loved “Kon-Tiki,” you’ll love “Adrift.” It has already proven itself to be a classic of its genre.
“Adrift” is available on amazon.com.