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Adrift by Steven Callahan

07 Feb

The Pacific castaway José Salvador Alvarenga was known by fisherman in a Mexican port and his boat was reported missing in late 2012, it has emerged.

A few days ago, this man, José Salvador Alvarenga, was rescued from the Pacific Ocean after what he claims were 13 months adrift. Some people accept his story, many are suspicious:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/04/castaway-story-backing-from-mexican

While I reserve comment on this particular case, I don’t think we have all the facts yet, I don’t find his story completely unbelievable. Why? Because I recently read an amazing book by Steven Callahan.

 Adrift: Seventy-six days lost at Sea is Callahan’s recollection of his time on an emergency life raft after being shipwrecked in the Atlantic. The story is incredible, moving, and uplifting. Callahan, a lifelong sailor, built his own boat, the Napoleon Solo in 1981. It is apparent from his detailed description of this boat that Callahan truly loved this boat. He wasn’t a “D.I.Y.er” either, by 1981, Callahan had been building and designing boats for seven years.

Callahan’s ambition was straightforward, he wanted to test the Napoleon Solo in a trans-Atlantic race called the Mini-Transat, alone. He tested the boat in a solo race from Newport to Bermuda. He then sailed with a friend from Bermuda to England, the plan being to head to Penzance where the race would take him to the Canaries and on to Antigua, thereby circumnavigating the Atlantic Ocean. Callahan claims that he didn’t have any thoughts of being the fastest, only of testing himself and his skills as a boat builder and designer, and as a seaman as well.

After leaving Penzance, Callahan faced a major storm which necessitated major repairs to the Solo. He made the repairs and headed out for the open water of the Atlantic Ocean on January 29th. He experienced smooth sailing at first and anticipated arriving at his destination on February 25th. Then, a major storm in early February, through which he fought to keep his boat safe, ended up causing such major damage that he had to abandon the Solo, managing to remove only the emergency life raft with its standard supplies and a duffle bag with extra emergency supplies he had packed and a survivalist guidebook.

Through a combination of intelligence, planning, luck, and sheet force of will, Callahan managed to survive the treacherous crossing. He had to fight hunger and, more crucially, thirst, storms, sharks, fish, and his own mind.  Callahan’s writing style is spartan. He could be an engineer in the way he focuses on the facts of the situation. Then again, this may have saved his life. With his intelligence he was able to remake his fishing spear each time it was damaged apparently beyond repair. He was even able to repair a massive gash in the side of his life raft, and modify desalination units that were not working properly. In the end, he floated to the island of Guadeloupe and Marie Galante, where he was rescued by fishermen who happened to be in an area they rarely fished. Callahan spent weeks in the hospital recovering and was eventually reunited with his family.

Callahan’s story is fantastic, and this book is an incredible testament to the power of the human will to survive the apparently not survivable. The illustrations drawn by the author are compelling and are used to great effect to illustrate complex rigs that Callahan devised during his journey. He also uses them to show the pathos of his experience, betraying the lack of sentimentality of his words.

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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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