438 Days: One man’s tales of survival while adrift in the Pacific Ocean

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Jonathan Franklin-438 Days

Jonathan Franklin’s new book “438 days” tells the gripping true story of a man who survived 14 months in the Pacific Ocean eating seabirds, fingernails, and drinking his own urine.


In this photo provided by the Marshall Islands Foreign Affairs Department, Salvador Alvarenga sits after surviving for 14 months on a small boat at sea, eating his own beard and fingernails to survive

On November 2012, a fisherman called Salvador Alvarenga ignored the warnings of bad weather and decided to head out to sea regardless in his 25 ft fibreglass boat.

Over-fishing has reduced the fish population along the Mexican coast and so fishermen have to venture out sometimes upto 120 miles further out to sea for a lucrative catch.

A 60-hour shift, delivering a good haul of tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi and, above all, shark, could earn a fisherman around $250.

On that fateful day, Alvarenga’s fishing companion was unavailable and so he took with him the inexperienced 22 year old Ezequiel Cordoba boasting of the fact that his own experience would be enough for both of them.

Among the fishermen of Costa Azul, Alvarenga had the reputation for being not only a dedicated carouser on land, but also exceptionally hardy and resourceful at sea. But little did he know that these qualities would sustain him in his 438 days of ordeal at Pacific Ocean.

Jonathan Franklin, an American journalist unfolds Alvarenga’s story like a rollicking adventure story and gives it the chronicle that it deserves.

According to Brain Viner, Jonathan Franklin’s book about Alvarenga’s ordeal is astounding.

The book informs that Alvarenga and Cordoba had caught nearly half-a-ton of fish when a ferocious storm hit them. To make matters worse, the engine of the boat failed.

By the end of the 16-day storm, after frantically bailing out water and jettisoning the catch, they were almost 300 miles offshore, well beyond the limited search-and-rescue capabilities of the Mexican Coast Guard, who, infact did not know that they had survived.

The story of what happened next on their boat named Titanic is remarkable starting with the search for sustenance.

In desperation, Alvarenga caught jellyfish and ate them whole. He tried eating his whole finger but unsure about the flow of blood, he dropped the idea and instead ate his own fingernail and sections of his beard which he marinated in the seawater.

He and Cordoba routinely drank their own urine to survive.

The boat soon drifted south-west and by then, the duo became expert scavengers gathering dozens of bottles and buckets, in which they collected rainwater, from the “non-stop parade of floating garbage” that litters the Pacific.

They survived on triggerfish, turtles, seabirds, shark liver, and fish eyeballs and fish vertebrae.

Cordoba, however, did not share Alvarenga’s resolve to stay alive. He grew depressed, refused to eat and eventually, after around four months, he died.

Alone and depressed, Alvarenga now created a magical land for himself where he had the greatest meal of his life and enjoyed “the most delicious sex” to keep himself sane and banish suicidal thoughts.

Eventually, on the 438th day, he was washed ashore on the Ebon Atoll, southernmost of the 1,156 atolls and outcrops that make up the Marshall Islands and was given shelter by a native couple.

Once his story was verified, it was picked up by media organisations everywhere.

Alvarenga’s story reminds us of Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Published by MacMillan, the book is available for £16.99.

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