Thursday, May 26th, 2011
The Real Castaways: True Stories Of Being Stranded On A Deserted Island
Could a boat license have helped these people?
To many of us city dwellers, the idea of fending for ourselves sans Google, cell
phones and hot water is hardly even fathomable. The need to stretch our imaginations
and physique to learn how to tie knots, make rope, start fires with two sticks or
fend off bears is almost unimaginable. Most of us would probably be found blowing
our nose with poison ivy while devouring the deadliest of mushrooms if we were ever
trapped in an unknown environment.
Which is why stories of real life castaways never cease to amaze us. These are just
some of the many incredible stories of survival and people who defeated all odds,
overcame the deadliest obstacles, alone stranded on an uninhabited land.
Survived: 4 years and 4 months
The story of Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish sailor who spent four years as a castaway,
was the inspiration behind Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe as well as Gulliver's
Travels. Selkirk was a sailor serving under Captain Thomas Stradling. In mid-expedition
the captain made a stop for more supplies. Selkirk voiced his concern about the
security of the ship with the extra weight carried on it. He tried and failed to
rally others not to continue on. Stradling then decided to leave Selkirk alone on
the island of Juan Fernández.
Selkirk turned out to be quite a skillful survivor. He lived in huts made of pimento
At first he remained where he felt safer along the shoreline. While waiting for
someone to come to his rescue, the desperate castaway survived on oysters, shellfish
and anything he could catch. That is until hungry sea lions wanted their territory
back for mating season. This drove him deeper into the unbeknownst depths of the
island. There, Selkirk was lucky enough to come across feral goats which provided
him milk, meat and clothing as well as feral cats that protected him against the
ravenous rats that attacked him at nighttime.
On February 1, 1709, four years and four months later, he was finally rescued by
a privateering ship. His story became a sensation and Selkirk continued his life
as a sailor, ending his career serving as lieutenant aboard the Royal ship Weymouth.
Douglas Robertson & Family
Survived: 38 Days
Accompanied by his wife, daughter, son, and twin sons, Douglas Robertson was an
experienced sailor from Scotland who purchased Lucette, the family boat with the
family's life's savings. While sailing to the Galapagos Islands from Panama their
boat was sunk by a pod of killer whales.
Already being a close knit group, the family demonstrated remarkable survival skills
and were able to survive 38 days on their small dinghy. They collected rain droplets
for drinking water, caught turtles and flying fish for food and sailed their way
towards Central America to be rescued. By their 38th day, they were sighted by a
Japanese fishing trawler heading towards the Panama Canal. Robertson had documented
their adventure which inspired his book Survive the Savage Sea.
Gerald Kingsland & Lucy Irvine
Survived: 1 year
In 1980 British writer/adventurer Gerald Kingsland put an ad in Time Out Magazine
seeking a female companion who would want to share her life with him on a deserted
island. A young 24 year old Lucy Irvine accompanied him and the two set out to Tuin
Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
From 1982-1983, they lived as self-imposed castaways on the uninhabited island.
However water supply was scarce and if it hadn't been for Badu Islanders coming
to their rescue, the couple would have perished there. Upon their return to civilization,
Kingsland and Irvine wrote separate accounts of their adventure. Irvine published
Castaway in 1983 (the story which inspired the Robert Zemicks blockbuster hit film).
Kingsland's book The Islander was published in 1984.
Survived: 16 years
Tom Neale depicted in the book An Island to Oneself
Author of the popular autobiography An Island to Oneself, Tom Francis Neale was
a New Zealander who spent 16 years of his life (in three sessions) living alone
on Suwarrow island in the Cook Islands.
His first time around, Neale caught a ride with a ship passing close to Suwarrow.
They dropped him off with two cats, water tanks, a hut and some books. There he
found remnants of what coast watchers had left behind during the Second World War:
a damaged boat, wild pigs and chickens. Because the pigs were destroying all the
vegetation, he hunted them over the course of several months. During his time there
he planted a garden, domesticated the chickens, and repaired the boat.
After a serious back injury in 1954, which paralyzed him for 4 days, he was lucky
enough to be discovered by a couple on a yacht who nursed him back to health. They
promised they would send a ship out for him and two weeks later the Cook Islands
government arrived to take him back to Rarotonga.
Neale waited for his back to heal in order to return to his island. Though he married
and had two children, in the spring of 1960 he returned to the island with enough
provisions to last him three and a half years. Then in January 1964 he left the
island voluntarily as pearl divers now began invading the area.
Neale returned to the atoll in June 1967 and stayed there until 1977. That year,
another yacht found him ill. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer taken to Rarotonga
where he died eight months later.
Ernest Shackleton & Crew
Survived: 105 days
Shackleton's ship Endurance
The famous explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 28 men left England aboard
the ship Endurance (pictured above) on August 8, 1914 to fulfill his dream of crossing
the South Polar continent from sea to sea.
During the expedition the ship got trapped in ice. Shackleton and his men found
themselves marooned in the Antarctic for five months. They lived on top of floating
ice, fed on seals and kept warm by playing hockey and dog-sled racing. In April
1916, Shackleton and 5 of his men set off in three small lifeboats they had recovered,
to find help on Elephant Island. The six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of
ocean. The six men landed on an uninhabited part of the island so their last hope
was to cross 26 miles of treacherous mountains and glaciers until they finally reached
a whaling station where they found help.
Shackleton returned to rescue the men on Elephant Island and amazingly, apart from
some missing toes from frostbites, not one member of the 28-man crew was lost.
Survived: 18 years
San Nicolas Island
The story which inspired Scott O'Dell's book Island of the Blue Dolphin was that
of the last surviving member of the Nicoleño tribe, Juana Maria, better known as
the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. After Russian otter killers invaded the island
and massacred most of her people in 1835, missionaries heard about the news and
decided to sponsor a rescue operation. All remaining members of the tribe were gathered
and shipped to San Pedro Bay to live at the San Gabriel Mission. All except Juana
In 1853, 18 years later, a sea otter hunter named George Nidever found her living
in a hut made of whale bones surviving on seal blubber she left out to dry. She
was taken to the Santa Barbara Mission and reportedly, was fascinated by everything
surrounding her, the European people, the clothing, the food, the horses. Nidever
brought her home to live with him and his wife however it wasn't long before these
new living conditions took their toll on the longtime castaway.
Just seven weeks after arriving on the mainland, she contracted dysentery (an inflammatory
disorder of the intestine) and died. The Lone Woman was baptized with the Christian
name Juana Maria (her native name is unknown).
Survived: 2 Years
Ada Blackjack was an Inuit woman who lived as a castaway on an uninhabited island
in Northern Siberia for two years. Ada had taken a job as a cook and seamstress
to save money for her only son Bennett who had chronic tuberculosis. She joined
a team of explorers who were attempting to claim Wrangel Island for Canada. The
team left on September 16, 1921 but turned out to be inadequately prepared for the
future that awaited them.
They ate their way through much of the rations, and did not hunt and store enough
food to last them very long. Three of the men attempted to cross the frozen sea
to seek out help and more food to eat, leaving behind Ada and the scurvy-inflicted
Lorne Knight. As expected, the men never returned and Ada cared for both her and
a rather ungrateful Knight right up until his death in April 1923.
Ada became a very resourceful survivor learning how to set up traps to capture small
wild animals such as Arctic foxes, and also became quite the skilled-gunwoman managing
to kill birds, seals and even fending off polar bears.
On 19 August 1923 she was rescued by a man hired by the former head of the expedition
who had left her and Knight there, Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Ada used the money she
saved to take her small son Bennett to Seattle to cure his tuberculosis and had
another son Billy. Eventually, Ada returned to the Arctic where she lived until
the age of 85.
To read more about this amazing story read
Again, these are only some of many incredible castaway survival stories. Please
share some your survival stories with us in the comment section below.