Friday, July 31, 2009


In 1982 Steven Callahan was crossing the Atlantic alone in his sailboat when it struck something and sank. He was out of the shipping lanes and floating in a life raft, alone. His supplies were few. His chances were small. Yet when three fishermen found him seventy-six days later (the longest anyone has survived a shipwreck on a life raft alone), he was alive -- much skinnier than he was when he started, but alive.

His account of how he survived is fascinating. His ingenuity -- how he managed to catch fish, how he fixed his solar still (evaporates sea water to make fresh) -- is very interesting.

But the thing that caught my eye was how he managed to keep himself going when all hope seemed lost, when there seemed no point in continuing the struggle, when he was suffering greatly, when his life raft was punctured and after more than a week struggling with his weak body to fix it, it was still leaking air and wearing him out to keep pumping it up. He was starved. He was desperately dehydrated. He was thoroughly exhausted. Giving up would have seemed the only sane option.

When people survive these kinds of circumstances, they do something with their minds that gives them the courage to keep going. Many people in similarly desperate circumstances give in or go mad. Something the survivors do with their thoughts helps them find the guts to carry on in spite of overwhelming odds.

"I tell myself I can handle it," wrote Callahan in his narrative. "Compared to what others have been through, I'm fortunate. I tell myself these things over and over, building up fortitude...."

I wrote that down after I read it. It struck me as something important. And I've told myself the same thing when my own goals seemed far off or when my problems seemed too overwhelming. And every time I've said it, I have always come back to my senses.

The truth is, our circumstances are only bad compared to something better. But others have been through much worse. I've read enough history to know you and I are lucky to be where we are, when we are, no matter how bad it seems to us compared to our fantasies. It's a sane thought and worth thinking.

So here, coming to us from the extreme edge of survival, are words that can give us strength. Whatever you're going through, tell yourself you can handle it. Compared to what others have been through, you're fortunate. Tell this to yourself over and over, and it will help you get through the rough spots with a little more fortitude.

by Adam Khan


Walt said...

Poon Lim or Lim Poon (March 8, 1918 – January 4, 1991) was a Chinese sailor who survived 133 days alone in the South Atlantic.

Poon Lim was born on Hainan in 1918. In 1942, during World War II, he was working as second steward on the British merchant ship BENLOMOND, which was on its way from Cape Town to Dutch Guiana. The ship was armed but slow moving and was sailing alone instead of being in a convoy.
On November 23, the German U-boat "U.172" intercepted and torpedoed the ship in position 00.30N 38.45W, some 750 miles east of the Amazon. As the ship was sinking, Poon Lim took a life jacket and jumped overboard before the ship's boilers exploded. All of the rest of the crew of 46 died in this incident. After approximately two hours in the water, he found an empty Carley float liferaft and climbed into it. The raft had several tins of biscuits, a ten-gallon jug of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and an electric torch.

Poon Lim initially kept himself alive by drinking the water and eating the food on the raft, but later resorted to catching rainwater in a canvas tarp and fishing. He could not swim very well and often tied a rope from the boat to his wrist, in case he fell into the ocean. He took a wire from the electric torch and made it into a fishhook, and used hemp rope as a fishing line. He also dug a nail out of the boards on the wooden raft and bent it into a hook for larger fish. When he captured a fish, he cut it open with a knife he fashioned out of a biscuit tin and dried the fish on a hemp line over the raft. Once after a large storm had spoiled his fish and fouled his water, Poon, barely alive, caught a bird and drank its blood to survive.

On two occasions other vessels passed nearby: first a freighter, then a squad of United States Navy patrol planes. Poon contended that the freighter saw him but did not pick him up because he was Chinese. The Navy planes did see him, and one dropped a marker buoy in the water. Unfortunately for Poon, a large storm hit the area at the same time and he was lost again. He was also once spotted by a German U-boat, which had been doing gunnery drills by targeting seagulls.

At first he counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but later decided that there was no point in counting the days and simply began counting full moons.

On April 5, 1943, Poon Lim reached land and a river inlet. A few days earlier, he had known that he was close to the land because the colour of the water had changed and was no longer the oceanic deep blue. Three Brazilian fishermen rescued him and took him to Belém three days later.

During his ordeal, Poon Lim had lost 20 pounds, but was able to walk unaided upon being rescued. He spent two weeks in a Brazilian hospital, and the British consul arranged for him to return to Britain via Miami and New York. He later found out that only 11 others of the ship's crew of 55 had been rescued.

King George VI bestowed a British Empire Medal on him, and the Royal Navy incorporated his tale into manuals of survival techniques. After the war, Poon Lim decided to immigrate to the United States, but the quota for Chinese was full. However, because of his fame and the aid of Senator Warren Magnuson, he received a special dispensation and eventually gained citizenship.

He died in Brooklyn on January 4, 1991

Oh well, I still would like to Sail a boat to Malaysia.

masterwordsmith said...

Amazing, Walt! Thanks so much for sharing....I will make this into a post there a link for the information?

Thanks dear friend.

Have a lovely weekend!

Walt said...

Lam Poon biography from Wikipedia.

No doubt the angels were with him.

masterwordsmith said...

Dear Walt,

Thanks for the link and for sharing!

I do agree he had divine guidance and protection..

May you be blessed now and always.