10 Incredible Real-Life 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 credit: 1,2

During the 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 which would help Lim survive for a few days. The depleting stock made him search for other options like fishing, catching rainwater, etc. Once, a large 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 rain water, turtles, dorado dolphin, flying fish, and turtle blood.

Robertson family
Image credit: 1,2

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. 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 Scottish navy officer who lived as a castaway for four years on an uninhabited island in 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 credit: Geograph, Britain express

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 of abandoning 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)

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 credit: Tumblr

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 15th Sept 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: 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 a 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 sea water, 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 the December of 1833, They soon landed on the shore of Cape Alava in the Oregon Territory and were captured by the Makah Native Americans.(1,2)

6. Jose Salvador Alvarenga – The first person to survive for thirteen months on a small fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. He and his boatmate survived on raw fish, turtle meat and blood, small birds, sharks, rainwater and even their own urine for those thirteen months.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga
Image credit: 1,2

A fisherman by profession, he set out in his fishing boat with a co-worker from the coast of Mexico on November 17, 2012. Very soon after they set out, they were hit by a storm that lasted for five days, and they lost their way. They did not have any kind of equipment with them to maneuver the boat, and it began drifting on the currents. After finishing the available food stock, they had to hunt and eat fish, turtles, jellyfish, and seabirds. They had to depend on rainwater, turtle blood, or their own urine for quenching their thirst. After four months, his co-worker died of starvation since he gave up eating raw food. He claimed to have kept track of days by counting moon phases. He finally reached the Marshall Islands, where he was rescued by the locals.(source)

7. Narcisse Pelletier – A French cabin boy whose ship voyage encountered numerous complications and the crew had to land on an island. Narcisse underwent a lot of hardships like drinking urine and seawater for survival before being rescued by an Aboriginal family.

Narcisse Pelletier
Image credit: sudouest

In August 1857, when Narcisse Pelletier was a fourteen-year-old, he set out from Marseilles as a cabin boy on the Saint-Paul which was carrying wine for Bombay. The ship then went to Hong Kong to pick up many Chinese laborers and transport them to Australian goldfields. To refill the depleting necessities, the ship stopped at a small island. While in search of water, some men were attacked and killed. Pelletier was hit by a rock and attacked by men from a nearby island, but he and some members managed to escape the attack and boarded a longboat. They again faced scarcity of food and had to eat seabirds, drink seawater, and even their urine. Pelletier was later rescued in a very weak state by an Aboriginal family.(source)

8. Nakahama Manjiro – A fisherman by profession, he was once aboard a ship with his four friends when the ship wrecked on the island of Torishima. Rescued by an American ship, they reached Honolulu. Due to Japan’s then law of isolation, none of them could return to Japan and Manjiro decided to continue with the ship crew and managed to reach the United States.

Nakahama Manjiro, Captain Whitfield
Image credit: WhitfieldManjiro.org

In 1841, when Manjiro was fourteen years old, he went fishing with his four friends, and their boat was beached on Torishima Island. They were rescued by an American ship and ended up in Honolulu. It was at that time when Manjiro decided to stay on the ship and was taken to the United States by Captain Whitfield. He studied English for survival and managed to get aboard the whaler Franklin which was set to go to back to Honolulu. Manjiro again met his four friends, however, none of them were able to go to Japan because Japan had an isolation policy under which leaving the country was a punishable offense. A few years later, Manjiro and two of the friends decided to go back to Japan. When they reached Okinawa, however, they were immediately arrested. After investigating and questioning them, they were released, and Manjiro was appointed a minor official.(source)

9. Philip Ashton – He was a fisherman from Massachusetts who was abducted by pirates. Though he managed to escape the pirates’ captivity, he remained a castaway for sixteen months on an island and had to survive in extremely hot climate infested with insects and alligators.

Philip Ashton
Image credit:1,2

In June 1722 ,Philip Ashton had set out fishing near the coast of Shelburne, Nova Scotia when pirates caught him. While under the captivity of pirates, Ashton behaved like a total rebel and did not cooperate with the pirates, so was often threatened. When the pirates landed on Roatan Island, Ashton managed to escape and hid in the jungle full of insects and alligators. He even weathered the extremely hot climate. He met one more castaway who disappeared after a few days leaving behind some equipment that Ashton could use to kill and eat tortoises and crayfish. He was finally rescued after sixteen months by a ship from Massachusetts.(source)

10. Juana Maria – She was a native American and the last surviving member of her tribe, the Nicoleno. She lived by herself for eighteen years on San Nicolas island which was part of the archipelago of the Channel Islands off the California coast. After many unsuccessful attempts, the Santa Barbara Mission finally found her.

Juana Maria
Image credit: Ancient Origins, Jstor Daily

The tribe of Nicolenos lived on the San Nicolas Island which was once attacked by Kodiak natives from Alaska. This attack resulted in the slaughter of most of the Nicoleno males and captivity of the women. In 1830s after the Kodiaks left the island, there were only about a hundred Nicolenos left, and many of them abandoned the island soon after. In 1835, the Santa Barbara Mission arranged an operation to rescue the remaining islanders and bring them to the mainland. They sent ships to relocate the islanders, and according to a story, only one member of the tribe was left behind because she was in search of her infant and could not reach the rescue boat in time. She was Juana Maria. She had to spend the next eighteen years alone on the island. She lived in a cave to hide from more attacks so could not be easily found in spite of many attempts by the Santa Barbara Mission. Finally, in 1853, she was found by the Mission, and she arrived on the mainland.(1,2)

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