When we think of sailing the ocean, we imagine a beautiful yacht on smooth waters, with every amenity at our fingertips. Now, imagine surviving 76 days adrift at sea...
Steve Callahan was having a bad day. He was watching his sailing boat sink into the Atlantic Ocean from a six-man life raft in the middle of a storm.
It was 5 February 1981, and it was the beginning of a 76-day fight for survival.
It was dark when the 29-year-old had hit an unknown object on his return trip from the Canary Islands. The collision caused catastrophic damage to his yacht, the Napoleon Solo, enough to fill the cabin within a couple of minutes. His bad luck wasn't about to run out either, though, as he struggled to get the life raft to inflate.
Eventually, with the yacht almost entirely submerged, the raft inflated and he jumped ship. Just before he cut away, he realised that he needed the ditch kit and other essential items that were still inside the flooded cabin. The ditch kit contains essential items like water and food in case of emergencies, and this was most certainly an emergency.
Steve climbed abord his stricken vessel, took a deep breath, and submerged himself in the cold dark water. He fumbled around until he found the pack and cut it loose with a knife. By now though, the cabin was completely submerged, and the pressure from the water outside meant that he couldn't get the cabin doors open. Just before he was going to run out of breath, a wave crashed over the boat, which released the pressure and the doors opened for Steve to surface.
Over the next 76 days, Steve drifted on the currents and the winds from the Canary Islands to Guadaloupe. A 4,700 kilometre trip across the Atlantic Ocean. He would fight thirst, hunger, dehydration and a shark. He spotted nine ships, but none of the saw his flares. He would have to repair punctures to stay afloat and a broken speargun to keep fishing.
Eventually, on 20 April 1982, he spotted a couple of islands, and one had lights on it. The following day fishermen from the island of Marie Galante were drawn to him after spotting birds hovering over the raft.
He'd survived, and spend an afternoon in the hospital rehydrating and treating saltwater sores that had developed all over his body. He spent a few weeks recovering on the island before hitchhiking on boats through the West Indies and back home.
Steve said that it wasn't all trauma, there were positives. He described the night sky as "a view of heaven from a seat in hell". He still sails the seas, calling them "the world's greatest wilderness".
In the video below by Youtube channel, Wonder, titled I shouldn't Be Alive, Steve describes his ordeal in more detail. Land ahoy!