John and Kris's Reviews > Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea

Adrift by Steven Callahan
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's review
Jul 21, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: all-time-favorites

Books about the sea, have always fascinated me. With respect to poet Sam Coleridge I’ll quit the rhyme time as I think back to my freshman year in high school. One of our first class reads was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and I may have been the only student interested in the classic tale of the seas. I’m not all that superstitious but I’ll never harm an albatross and I have a healthy respect for nature, especially the unforgiving ocean.

Adrift, a classic story of man versus nature, recounts Steven Callahan’s true and amazing tale of survival in the Atlantic after his boat, the Nathan Solo, sinks in minutes during a bad storm just six days into his unaccompanied trip from the Canaries to Antigua. Callahan has only enough time to cut the inflatable life raft loose and grab one of his emergency bags as the Solo goes down in February 1982. His life raft, a covered six man model, is cramped to the point where he cannot fully stretch out his average frame and has a guarantee to work for forty days, which he finds hilarious. Steven Callahan, 30, drifts slowly along the equatorial current for 76 days covering 1,800 miles before being rescued by impoverished fishermen in the remote West Indies. His days are spent fixing leaks, collecting rainwater from stubborn stills, fishing, looking for boats and planes, and attempting to keep himself from going crazy.

Before I continue, ask yourself this question: What would be the first thing you would do once rescued by fisherman off the coast of the island of Guadalupe in the West Indies?

If you answered let the gentleman, your saviors, fish for an hour you might have what it takes to survive such an ordeal. Callahan, a Boy Scout, who lost a third of his weight during his time adrift, survived on eight ounces of water a day, raw fish, and near the end a few birds which he caught with his lightning quick reflexes developed by spearing fish. Callahan, heartbreakingly, saw seven boats throughout his voyage, fired flares, only to watch them drift over the horizon. He was pestered by sharks and Dorado fish, which made up the bulk of his diet – we know them as Mahi-mahi on our Red Lobster menus. He would stab the large Dorado fish with lightning quick jabs, pull them into the raft and devour them like a savage, then cut the leftovers into strips and hang them inside the life raft to dry until jerky. Day and night, for the duration of his voyage, the Dorado and sharks would ram the bottom of his life raft, and because of the sharks he would not once leave his raft, which he dubbed Rubber Ducky III. Ducky would constantly spring leaks and be semi-filled with sea water causing festering stores all over his body. He had his first bowel movement after thirty days. Understandably he tired of using the same bucket to catch water and use as a commode. Due to the sores and the fish, he slept only a few hours at a time. Once rescued his atrophied legs could carry him mere yards before giving out.

Adrift is a quick and enjoyable read. If you need something to read on a plane or on a cruise then this is the book for you. Callahan, not the most gifted of writers, admirably pens his own story and for the most part seems to keep his ego in check. He repeatedly states that he is not a hero and discovered his many flaws while at sea. He, like all of us after a difficult trial, is amazed by the simplest things: a glass of ice-water, grocery stores, clean sheets, bathing, friends, smells, walking without pain – but falls back into the same old thought patterns as time carries him farther from his time adrift.

Before you get into a game of one-upping another’s story to impress make sure Steven Callahan is not in the room. And what about his teeth after seventy-six days? As white and as clean of they’d ever been.
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