‘438 Days’ Tells The Harrowing Tale Of Castaway Salvador Alvarenga’s Survival While Lost At Sea

Getty & AFP / Stringer

You’ve read stories before about fishermen or sailors lost at sea for extended periods of time, whether it’s fiction like the high school summer reading list stalwart, Life of Pi, or the occasional news items about sailors adrift in the ocean for a month or two at a time. But very rarely if ever is there a saga quite like Salvador Alvarenga’s harrowing journey from Mexico to the Marshall Islands while stranded in a small fishing boat for 438 days.

Yes, you read that right: 438 days. Over a year in the ocean, more than three full football regular seasons, or enough time for approximately 60 cross country trips of the United States. An excerpt from the upcoming book, appropriately titled 438 Days, describes part of the experience:

After weeks at sea, Alvarenga and Cordoba became astute scavengers and learned to distinguish the varieties of plastic that bob across the ocean. They grabbed and stored every empty water bottle they found. When a stuffed green rubbish bag drifted within reach, the men snared it, hauled it aboard and ripped open the plastic. Inside one bag, they found a wad of chewed gum and divided the almond-sized lump, each man feasting on the wealth of sensorial pleasures. Underneath a layer of sodden kitchen oil, they found riches: half a head of cabbage, some carrots and a quart of milk – half-rancid, but still they drank it. It was the first fresh food the two men had seen for a long time. They treated the soggy carrots with reverence.

As someone who hasn’t even had the same full time job for more than a year at a time, 14 months at sea (12 of them by yourself) is unfathomable. The type of willpower and strength to not only stay alive but stay even relatively sane for that long is something that most people can’t even think about nonetheless actually summon in a time of strife.

Not only did Alvarenga survive, but he reconciled with an estranged daughter after returning to Mexico and even passed on a message from his departed boat-mate to the man’s mother. You won’t find a more heartwarming ending than that outside of the movie theater, where this story will surely be found soon enough. For now it’s just a book, but a book that tells the most gripping survival tale this side of 127 Hours.

(via The Guardian)