In a haunting real-life reenactment of the 2000 Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, one man, Steven Callahan, was stranded at sea and, against all odds, managed to survive. In 1982, 29-year-old Callahan was attempting to sail across the Atlantic solo when a whale struck – and ultimately sunk – his handmade craft. Callahan was able to grab a life raft and a few supplies before having to abandon his shipwrecked boat.
Callahan was stranded at sea with just some dried food, a small amount 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, became severely dehydrated, and lost 40 pounds. Despite all of this, he lived to tell his story. Eventually rescued by fishermen, Callahan later turned his experiences into a memoir entitled Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea.
During Callahan's time at sea, his personality split in two 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 Callahan's boat was sinking – and while 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. Ultimately, he saved a fishing line, water purifier, speargun, and a few other odds and ends.
He retained a few ounces of peanuts, baked beans, eggs, cabbages, corned beef, raisins, and only eight pints of water. With all of his salvaged supplies, Callahan reckoned he could survive for 18 days. In the end, he used his skills to survive for 76.
Using pencils, Callahan 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 rescued.
He hoped the current would float him over to islands of the West Indies. Eventually this did happen, but the journey took much longer than he anticipated.
While Callahan was able to fish to acquire decent calories based on his rations, his inadequate water supply and lack of complete nourishment nearly led him to starvation. By the time some fishermen found him, he was 40 pounds lighter than he had been. He also suffered extreme discomfort from his skin sloughing off and forming open sores as a result of the constant wetness and sun exposure.
"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."