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10 Incredible Real-Life Castaway Stories

Castaway Stories

We all sometimes get an urge of “getting lost in an unknown place” just for engaging in an adventure. We hope to see the unseen and experience some thrill. But if you take a look at some really miserable and spine-chilling real-life castaway stories, you may never again wish to “get lost.”

1. Poon Lim – The Chinese sailor who miraculously survived alone on a wooden raft in the South Atlantic for one hundred thirty-three days. He survived by catching sea birds, drinking bird’s blood, and killing and eating sharks.

Poon Lim
Image source: freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com, wikimedia

During World War II, Poon Lim was serving as a second steward on the British armed merchant ship SS Benlomond, which was sailing from Cape Town to Surinam. On November 23, 1942, the German submarine U-172 attacked the ship with two torpedoes. The ship sank, leaving behind only six survivors, including Poon Lim. After around two hours of swimming in the water, Lim caught hold of an eight-foot square wooden raft and sailed away on it. The raft had a stock of some biscuits, a forty-liter jug of water, a flashlight, and some other stuff that would help Lim survive for a few days.

The depleting stock made him search for other options like fishing, catching rainwater, etc. Once, a massive storm spoiled all his fish stock. He had to catch a bird and drink its blood to stay alive. He also caught a shark and drank its blood too. He encountered a lot of miseries before finally landing on an island and being rescued by Brazilian fishermen. Poon Lim was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI, and his story was put in manuals of survival techniques by the Royal Navy. (source)

2. Robertson family – Dougal Robertson and his family were castaways for thirty-eight days with no experience and only the barest of necessities. With four children, the family survived on rainwater, turtles, dorado dolphin, flying fish, and turtle blood.

Robertson family Castaway Story
Image source: bbc.com, Image credit: UPI via dailymail.co.uk

Dougal Robertson was a Scottish sailor in the British Merchant Navy. After retiring from the Navy, he worked as a dairy farmer. On January 27, 1971, he set out on a voyage from Falmouth, England to the Galapagos Islands with his family on his schooner Lucette.

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After approximately fifteen months, on June 15, 1972, their schooner was attacked by a pod of killer whales who punctured numerous holes in the boat, making it sink. The family had to sail on an inflatable raft, which could be used only for a fortnight. They then moved to a three-meter-long dinghy with the meager essentials that they still possessed. They survived on rainwater, turtle meat and blood, dorado dolphin, and flying fish. They stored dried meat and water for later consumption.

The Japanese fishing trawler Tokamaru finally spotted them and rescued them after being castaways for thirty-eight days. (1, 2)

3. Alexander Selkirk – He was a Scottish navy officer who lived as a castaway for four years on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. He endured a great deal of loneliness and misery throughout his stay on the island. He encountered deadly sea lions, was attacked by rats, had to eat spiny lobsters, and much more during his castaway period.

Alexander Selkirk
Image credits: SylviaStanley/wikimedia, Robert C. Leslie/wikimedia

Alexander Selkirk was an impulsive, young Royal navy officer and joined expeditions during the War of the Spanish Succession. In September 1704, in one such voyage led by William Dampier, the crew stopped on an island located in the uninhabited Juan Fernandez archipelago off the coast of Chile for replenishing their stocks.

Alexander identified flaws in the vessel and decided to stay on the island worried about the risks of sailing on a flawed vessel. He was left with some accessories like a knife, cooking pot, clothes, and a Bible.

Initially, he had to eat things like spiny lobsters. He regretted his decision to abandon the vessel. The island was full of sea lions and rats, making it difficult for him to live. He survived on meat and milk of feral goats, wild turnips, dried pepper, berries, etc. He was injured a few times during his stay. He found some solace by reading the Bible. After four years, he was rescued by a privateering ship commanded by the same William Dampier. (source)

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4. Ada Blackjack – She was the lone survivor of the 1921 Wrangel Island Expedition. Just twenty-three years old and completely naïve, she was forced by circumstances to join the expedition as a seamstress. Out of the five-member team, she was the only one to survive the extreme freezing conditions, hopelessly low food supply, and other dangers of the island.

Ada Blackjack
Image source: wikipedia

Ada Blackjack lived a somewhat tragic life. Her husband died due to drowning, only one of her three children could survive, and he too, unfortunately, had to be left in an orphanage because of their poverty.

On September 15, 1921, she joined an expedition planned by Vilhjalmur Stefansson to claim the Wrangel Island for Canada. Ada joined them as a cook and seamstress. She was unskilled, timid and was very scared of guns and polar bears.

Soon, the harsh climatic conditions and the extreme scarcity of food made three men leave the island in search of help. Her only companion died after a few days leaving her alone on the island. She fought all the adverse conditions and survived until she was rescued by a former colleague of Stefansson, Harold Noice. She was acknowledged as the “female Robinson Crusoe.” (1, 2)

5. Yamamoto Otokichi – He was a crew member of a rice transporting ship which experienced a plethora of hardships like storms, a typhoon, broken steering, and a shortage of food. The crew members began to die, and the once fourteen-member crew dwindled to a mere three men.

Yamamoto Otokichi and group
Image credit: F. Kayser/wikimedia

On the morning of November 12, 1832, Yamamoto Otokichi sailed on the Hojunmaru as a crew member, transporting rice to Edo. Within a day of sailing, they experienced a heavy storm and typhoon, which blew off the steering and almost capsized the boat. The crew had to cut off the mast to maintain the balance of the ship. Though they survived the storm, sailing on a ship without a mast and steering became a huge challenge.

They had very limited food and water supply, which soon dwindled away to nothing. They were lost in the Pacific Ocean and just drifting along with the currents. They drank boiled seawater, cooked rice with sake and tried to survive, but in vain. Soon all the crew members, except three, died of starvation and depression. The ship started reeking off the stench of the dead bodies, and they had to be thrown overboard. Otokichi had to throw his elder brother’s body in the ocean.

In December of 1833, they landed on the shore of Cape Alava in the Oregon Territory and were soon captured by the Makah Native Americans. (1, 2)

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