Weird History The Incredible Story Of Steven Callahan – Stranded Alone At Sea For 76 Days  

Carly Silver
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In a real-life version of the 2000 Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, one man was stranded at sea and managed to survive, against all odds. That man is Steven Callahan. In 1982, 29-year-old Callahan was attempting to sail across the Atlantic solo when a whale struck his handmade craft and caused it to sink. He was able to get ahold of a life raft and a few supplies before having to abandoning his shipwrecked boat.

Callahan was stuck at sea with just some dried food, a tiny bit of fresh water, and a few gizmos for 76 days. During that time, he built his own fishing line, created a navigation tool from pencils, got severely dehydrated, and lost 40 pounds. And he lived to tell the tale. Eventually rescued by fishermen, Callahan later turned his experiences into a memoir called Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea.

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Photo:  North Yarmouth Academy/Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

He Experienced Split Personalities: "The Captain" And "The Crewman"


During Callahan's time at sea, his personality split into two distinct individuals to deal with the trauma: "the Captain" and "the Crewman." The Captain took charge of the situation, barking out orders to the Crewman, his subordinate. Callahan's journal even recorded an argument between the Captain and Crewman over how to use a water ration. 

As His Boat Was Sinking, He Barely Had Time To Collect Supplies For His Raft


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As Callahan's boat was sinking – and he scrambled to inflate his life raft – he was only able to salvage a few supplies. As his sloop sank, he had to dive back into the cabin and use muscle memory to locate objects. In the end, he saved a measly eight pints of water, fishing line, water purifier, speargun, and a few other odds and ends. In terms of food, he retained a few ounces of peanuts, baked beans, eggs, cabbages, corned beef, and raisins. With all of these, Callahan reckoned he could survive for 18 days. In the end, he used his skills to survive at sea for 76 days.

Callahan never was sure exactly what caused his boat to capsize, but he believed that a whale crashed into it. Why? The whale hadn't noticed the boat and was cruising for food at the water's surface, then swam right into his vessel. 

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Photo:  North Yarmouth Academy/Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

He Built A Crude Navigational Device Out Of Pencils


Callahan was very handy when it came to making things work with what he had. Using pencils, he constructed a crude navigational device called a sextant. Using the location of the North Star and the sextant, he was able to approximately decipher where he was and where he should go to get saved. He hoped the current would float him over to islands of the West Indies. Eventually this is what happened, but it took much longer than he planned.

By The Time He Was Rescued, Callahan Was Down 40 Pounds And Covered In Salt-Water Sores


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While Callahan was able to fish to acquire a modest amount of calories, his inadequate water supply and lack of complete nourishment led him to almost starve. By the time fishermen scooped him, he had lost 40 pounds. He also suffered extreme discomfort from his skin sloughing off and forming open sores as a result of the constant wetness and sun exposure. He remembered,

As I moved into tropical waters, it became hotter and the dehydration unbearable. One of the worst parts of being adrift for so long was the physical discomfort, the salt-water sores on my skin, the hunger and constant thirst.