Friday, February 05, 2010
Adrift by Steven Callahan
What would you do if you were sailing the South Atlantic and your boat went down in a storm? Would you be able to keep your wits about you for the time you were able to free your life raft? Board your now sinking boat to grab supplies? How quickly could you act? What would you do when you realized the nearest land, your best chance of survival, was more than two-and-a-half months away.
Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea is the true story of Steven Callahan, an experienced sailor and sailboat builder who faces exactly this situation. This book is a classic of seafaring and survival, an epic tale of one man's struggle against the sea, against his mind, against the innumerable obstacles a situation like this presents. It is a story of resourcefulness, courage, resilience, and borderline madness.
Callahan gains many insights into himself on the journey, not the least of which is his relationship with the nature that surrounds him, including the doradoes ("my doggies") who come to torture him by bumping him in his sleep yet sustain him, the harrowing ramming of sharks, and the triggerfish (the butlers) who come along at just the right times to provide another meal. There are storms which threaten to capsize him yet bring much-needed water. A sun which bakes him through but never completely dries anything.
Further, he is constantly tinkering with the raft to keep it afloat, messing with the water still to make sure it keeps producing the meager supply that keeps him (barely) alive. Some of this description gets a little far into the minutiae, and I wish his publisher had read these sections with a more critical eye (to be fair, Callahan also offers drawings of his fixes, which puts them into perspective). However, his ingenuity and resourcefulness are something to behold.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I read a lot of books about survival and the courage it takes to face what seem like indomitable odds. There are other books in the survival genre I liked more, but this book certainly belongs alongside those other favorites. Adrift will appeal to sailors and non-sailors alike, transcending its subject matter to talk about the endurance of a man, about our drive to live. Callahan tells his story with such humanity and sometimes humorous insight it's impossible not to laugh. He can then turn it just as quickly as the weather, making you shift in your seat and pull your toes in for safety. Adrift makes for a brisk read, but it will stay with you for a long time.