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10 Incredible Real Life Castaways

Updated on March 10, 2016
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10) the Robertson Family

In 1971 Dougal Robertson and his wife Lyn decided to spend their life savings on a small ship and travel the world with their four children. However, 17 months into the journey, disaster struck when a pod of killer whales crashed into the boat, sinking it into the Pacific Ocean. The family scrambled aboard their tiny inflatable life raft, only able to carry enough food for six days. After their supplies ran out, the Robertsons hunted fish and turtles from their dinghy, using makeshift tools. The ordeal lasted 54 days until they were rescued by a Japanese fishing trawler.

9) Leendert Hasenbosch

Leendert Hasenbosch was a Dutch sailor from the early 18th century. He was marooned on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean as a punishment for sodomy. Hasenbosch survived six months on the previously uninhabited island. Unable to find any fresh water, he drank his own urine and the blood of turtles before succumbing to dehydration in 1725. A year after his death, British sailors discovered the Dutchman’s camp and diary. It thoroughly detailed his struggles for survival and has since been published internationally. In a sad twist to Hasenbosch’s tale, it later emerged that Ascension Island had two sources of fresh water.

8) Ada Blackjack

Unlike those stranded on tropical desert islands, Inuit Ada Blackjack had to battle extreme freezing weather to survive her two years as a castaway. In 1921 Blackjack was part of an expedition of five in Wrangel Island, north of Siberia, where temperatures average -15 degrees. When conditions grew difficult, three of the men left in search of food and help, never to be seen again. She was left alone with one other man, who she nursed until he died of scurvy. She became very adept at hunting and keeping herself warm, and eventually she was rescued in August 1923. Uncomfortable with the fame she received for her incredible story, Blackjack eventually returned to the Arctic, where she lived until her death at the age of 85.

7) Chunosuke Matsuyama

In 1754 a freak storm blew a ship of Japanese sailors onto a coral reef, forcing them to seek refuge on a nearby Pacific island. Tragically unable to find food and fresh water, the crew of 43 men eventually all died due to lack of sustenance. However, before he died, one sailor - Chunosuke Matsuyama - carved an account of their experiences onto thin pieces of wood from a coconut tree. He placed the wood into an empty bottle and threw it into the ocean. Over 150 years later, the bottle washed up on the shore of a Japanese village, discovered by a seaweed collector. Remarkably, the village in question was Hiraturemura - the very same village where Matsuyama had been born.

6) Three Mexican Shark Fishermen

After running out of fuel on a fishing expedition, Jesus Vidana Lopez, Salvador Ordonez, and Lucio Rendon spent nearly 10 months as castaways in the Pacific Ocean. The trio drifted for approximately 8,000 km until they were saved by a Taiwanese trawler in August 2006. Two other sailors perished only a couple of months into the ordeal. They feasted on raw bird meat, which caused them to vomit blood. Questions arose over the purpose of the voyage, when the fishermen said they’d been hired by their now-dead sea mates. This caused the media to speculate that the men had been drug traffickers who arranged the expedition to collect a shipment of narcotics. While he was lost at sea, Vidana’s wife gave birth to a baby girl, who was six months old by the time the fisherman returned to Mexico.

5) Juana Maria

Known as the ‘Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island’, Juana Maria was the last surviving member of her Native American tribe, living alone for 18 years in the mid 19th century. Maria was left behind following a rescue operation for victims of a Russian massacre. They had decimated the tribe, leaving only 20 survivors. She constructed a hut out of whale bones and survived on seal blubber that she left out to dry. In 1853 a hunter named George Nidever found Maria and brought her to live at the Santa Barbara Mission with him and his wife. Unfortunately, only seven weeks after her arrival on the mainland, Maria contracted dysentery and died.

4) Ernest Shackleton

In 1914 polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton led an expedition to cross Antarctica in the ironically-named ship ‘Endurance’. The ship became trapped in impenetrable ice and ended up sinking, forcing the crew to camp nearby in temperatures of -49 degrees Celsius. Knowing how his men would perish from exposure in a matter of days, Shackleton and five others left in search of rescue. With only enough provisions for four weeks, they completed a 17-day, 1,300km journey. Conditions were unforgiving and Shackleton suffered frostbitten fingers as a result. Fortunately they eventually found a manned whaling station. The remaining men from the expedition were subsequently rescued and not a single member of the crew died.

3) Marguerite De La Rocque

Marooned in 1542, 16th century French noblewoman Marguerite de La Rocque became famous for her incredible survival story. During a trip captained by her cousin Jean-François Roberval, Marguerite was discovered having an affair with a young man on board the ship. The pair, and a servant woman, were abandoned on the Isle of Demons near Quebec, as punishment for the scandalous behavior. The young man, the maid, and the baby that Marguerite gave birth to, all perished on the island, which was rumored to be home to various devilish creatures. But Marguerite survived. Provided with limited weaponry, she hunted wild animals, allegedly killing a bear and using its fur for warmth. After two years, she was rescued by fishermen and returned to France, where she gained notoriety as a courageous romantic heroine.

2) Alexander Selkirk

18th Century Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk is widely believed to be the inspiration behind Daniel Defoe’s iconic novel Robinson Crusoe. Serving under the tyrannical and reckless Captain Thomas Stradling, Selkirk grew fearful of the ship’s seaworthiness. He raised his concerns and was subsequently marooned as punishment for his insubordination. Selkirk spent over 4 years on the island of Juan Fernandez in the South Pacific Ocean. It emerged that he was a very capable survivor. He made huts out of trees and used feral goats as a source of meat, milk, and clothing. To ensure that the goats would never be able to outrun him, he maimed their legs when they were young. Rescued by a privateering ship in 1709, the castaway’s story went on to become a sensation.

1) José Salvador Alvarenga

José Salvador Alvarenga spent 13 months adrift the Pacific Ocean, after a one day fishing trip went wildly awry. Alvarenga began his journey in Chiapas, Mexico, when freak weather blew his boat off course and he ended up almost 11,000 km away. The fisherman survived off raw fish, birds, turtle blood, and rainwater. His young companion, Ezequiel Cordoba died four months into the voyage, as he was unable to stomach the raw diet. On the 30th January 2014, Alvarenga finally drifted onto the shore of a small isle in the Marshall Islands. In December 2015 Alvarenga made headlines once more when it emerged that Corboda’s family accused him of cannibalism and declared that they were suing him for $1 million. Alvarenga maintains that he did not eat his companion’s corpse but threw it overboard.

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