A bit of life or death non-fiction this week with Steven Callahan’s Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea. In January 1982, the sailor’s small boat smacked into something and promptly sank. Stuck in the middle of the Atlantic on only a small inflatable raft, Callahan was left with only his ingenuity and courage to survive out at sea.
The book, published in 1986, is his account of how he managed to fend off the relentless gaze of the sun, sharks, starvation, dehydration, and the possibility he’d be forever lost. It’s an uplifting read as he was saved (obviously), providing us all with a glimpse at how to cope with severe adversity (such as getting charged twice for a tin of black beans at the local supermarket).
The big draw here is your reaction of, “Cripes! How awful to be lost at sea for 72 days! How would I cope?” Well, you narcissistic fool, you’re given a detailed insight into the whole unpleasant affair. Lucky you – perhaps read this book whilst in a warm bubble bath for dramatic effect!
Anyway, after leaving port from the Canary Islands whilst out travelling the world, young Callahan’s boat struck what he believes was a whale. It sank almost immediately (the boat, not the whale).
Luckily, he escaped to a life raft and returned to his sinking boat to retrieve supplies. The result, however, left the poor bugger stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Death from starvation seemed the only outcome.
Humans are canny things, though, and Callahan used his intelligence to take on the elements as his little raft drifted aimlessly on the tide. If you’ve seen the Martian (Ridley Scott’s film), Callahan showcased similar scientific creativity as Matt Damon used on Mars (it’s a true story, right?) to generate fresh water from solar stills.
His raft, meantime, became an ecosystem on the vast expanses of water – fish (and some sharks) began to hang out underneath the shadow of the boat, allowing Callahan to fashion a spear to catch food.
This is how it played out for what must have been 76 pretty dreadful days, which also included several occasions where giant tankers came storming past his little raft. They all failed to see him, despite the distress flares he sent off – presumably, all on board must have been drunk.
Regardless, what’s impressive with is the lengths and creativity Callahan went to in order to survive. It’s what makes humans special – those noggins of ours which allow us to think our way through tough times.
He was emaciated and weak upon finally reaching land, but he made it more or less intact and was able to pen this bestseller. 30 years later, it’s a fine read – measured, sensible, and introspective. If you want some inspirational stuff for your bookshelf, here’s a good place to start.
All is Lost
If you can’t be bothered reading the book, we recommend All is Lost (2013) starring Robert Redford.
Although there’s no indication it’s based on Callahan’s experience, there are a number of major similarities which make us believe it was adapted from Adrift (as it turns out, Callahan was used as a consultant during the filming of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi).
Whether that’s mindless conjecture or not we don’t know, but the film (which features barely any talking) is excellent and we can suggest you watch it should books not be your thing. Heck, we’re not too big a batch of snobs, we know reading isn’t for everyone.