Facts About Pirates – WIF Into History

Leave a comment

Facts About

the Real Pirates

of the Caribbean


Piracy is as old as the sea itself … or at least since there’s been some loot to be plundered. But the pirate legacy has since been high-jacked by Hollywood and romantic fiction. And pirates have been told as being faintly noble, selfless, independent, and with a great degree of charm. But the real pirate story is much darker. Pirate life was nasty, brutal, and – especially – short. And for a brief moment in time, each of these lives terrorized the oceans and demanded the attention of the navy. Mercy and honesty were rarely in any pirate’s vocabulary. Today we’ll be taking a look at what made the real pirates the most feared “predators” on the high seas.

10. Blackbeard’s Reign of Terror


Blackbeard’s real name was probably Edward Teach. Some documents, however, refer to him as Edward Thatch or even Edward Drummond, and he is believed to have been either from Bristol, New York, California, Philadelphia, or even as far away as Denmark. Not much is known about his origins, it would seem. But regardless, he became among the most notorious pirates to have ever terrorized the Caribbean and the American East Coast. From a very young age he went to sea and served on an English ship during the War of the Spanish Succession by privateering along the Spanish Main. With the end of the war in 1714 he, like many others, turned to piracy.

Initially serving under another pirate who later retired, Blackbeard became captain in 1717, and commandeered a French merchant vessel which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. He fitted it with 40 cannons, made it his flag ship, and together with three other smaller vessels (sloops) under his command, Teach plagued the West Indies and the Atlantic coast. In May 1718 he blockaded the Charleston harbor in South Carolina for four days, plundering several ships trying to get in or out, and held the local magistrate and his son for ransom. He then headed north, where he ran two of his vessels aground, the Queen Anne’s Revenge included, marooning most of his crew, in order to get a larger share of the loot. Having the governor of North Carolina in his pocket, he was secured a pardon under the royal Act of Grace and retired himself.

His best weapon of all was fear. He made himself appear ferocious, like a psychopath addicted to violence. He always had at least six loaded pistols, a cutlass, and a musket with him, and wore a big feathered tricorn on his head. He sported a huge black beard in which he would tie hemp and light it during battle. Together with lit cannon fuses tied under his tricorn, those who saw him fighting said that he “looked like the devil” with his fearsome appearance and the smoke cloud around his head.

Regardless of his retirement, he was soon back at sea. The governor of Virginia then put a bounty on his head and on November 21, 1718 a small group of men ambushed him and nineteen others within an inlet on Ocracoke Island, in North Carolina. Following a fierce battle the following day, Blackbeard was dead. He was reportedly shot five times and stabbed more than twenty times before being finally decapitated. His head was hung from a pike in Bath, the town he was supposed to retire in. Blackbeard’s reign of terror lasted a little over 2 years, even though he was among the most feared pirates of the 18th century.

9. The Privateers and Buccaneers


At first glance, the words pirate, privateer, and buccaneer seem to mean the same thing. And while this is true to a certain extent, there certainly are some differences. For instance, privateering made use of private ships for attacking foreign vessels under the approval of a country’s government. In a sense, piracy in the Caribbean started off as privateering under the British government. As early as the 16thcentury, many private English ships carried letters of marque, entitling them to attack, loot, sink or capture ships belonging to all enemy nations – especially Spain. They would then give part of the spoils to the government, while the rest they would keep for themselves. However, while the state stood only to gain from these private contracts, the privateers, if captured by the enemy, would be tried as pirates and swiftly executed.

The most famous privateer was Francis Drake. In 1567 he made one of the first English slaving voyages, bringing African people to the New World, and was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. In 1577, under secret orders from Queen Elizabeth herself, Drake went around South America, plundering Spanish ports on the undefended Pacific coast. And thanks to his cunning he even managed to take over and plunder the Cacafuego (“fires**tter”), officially Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, a huge Spanish galleon, filled to the brim with Inca treasure. On his return to England, he was knighted by the Queen. However, he would be one of the few privateers who would actually do what he was intended to. Bolstered by Drake’s accomplishments, many others would try to find the same fame and riches; a standard that would never be achieved again. In time, these would-be privateers would descend to the level of blood-thirsty opportunists, operating under false flags, killing witnesses and betraying their own nations and crewmates.

Buccaneers, on the other hand, were mostly felons, many of them facing capital charges. They were former sailors who’d jumped ship, or servants who ran away from their contracts working the sugar plantations on the many Caribbean islands. The word derives from the native “buccan,” which refers to a wooden framework used for smoking or slow-roasting meat over a fire. The first buccaneers used these buccans to prepare meat and sell it to sailors. But later, they turned to piracy, operating from the jungles. Whenever there was a ship close by, a handful of buccaneers would jump into a small rowing vessel and board the unaware ship. In the beginning, the island of Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic) was a major buccaneering base. They were later chased off the island by the Spanish and became pirates, operating from the island of Tortuga and Port Royal in Jamaica. They, too, would later be hired in the service of the crown.

8. Pirate Weapons


The above mentioned buccaneers made good use of the Buccaneer Musket. It was a large and heavy gun, measuring almost 6 feet in length. They used it initially for hunting boar on the islands, but also to shoot the helmsman off an enemy deck some 300 yards away. The buccaneers were really good shots, and became the masters of small arms; the first who gave them any real attention. Firing these guns continuously as they were rowing towards their target, they would disable the ship and prepare it for their boarding. The flintlock pistol was another weapon of choice, desired for its light weight and small size. It was ideal for boarding enemy ships, and pirates usually carried more than one since it was good for only one shoot before needing reloading. That’s why Blackbeard carried six with him at all times.

Pirates also made use of the Blunderbuss. It was loaded with a handful of pistol balls and when it was fired it created absolute devastation over a broad area of decks. It had a massive recoil and had to be fired from the hip. Otherwise, it would break the shoulder. Grenades were also used extensively by pirates. Basically a spherical-cast hollow iron ball about 5 inches in diameter, loaded with 5 ounces of gunpowder, the grenade had a wooden fuse sealed with wax. Once lit, it took about 6 seconds to explode. Pirates and buccaneers would throw these onboard an enemy vessel just before boarding it, creating utter chaos and devastation. However, all of these firearms were one-shot weapons, so the backbone of any boarding action was the cutlass. Used for both thrusting and slashing, the cutlass was short so it wouldn’t become a hindrance on a crowded deck. Pirates sometimes used both cutlasses and boarding axes, among other swords or knives, as melee weapons.

7. Hooks for Hands and Wooden Legs


When thinking about a pirate, it’s almost impossible not to imagine him without either an eye-patch, a hook for a hand, or a wooden stump. And knowing the nature of their business, the weapons they were using (and which were used against them, as well), it’s no surprise so many of them had these, let’s say, “prosthetics.” But the real reason for why so many had missing limbs has more to do with infection than the many wounds they were subjected to. For instance, musket balls had the nasty habit of taking a piece of fabric with them when passing through its victim. And while doctors may have been able to take out the ball, the piece of cloth most likely stayed behind. This in turn caused the wound to fester, and many were subject to gangrene.

With no anesthetics or antiseptics, they were aware that if the limb was not amputated it would “mortify,” as they called it, and they would die in severe pain. So, the only effective method available was to chop off the limb. The way they went about it was to strap the injured to a table, have a few men hold him down, give him a good shot of rum, and then put a strap of leather in his mouth to stop him from screaming so much. Then the “doctor” would tie up his leg or arm, in order to stop the bleeding as much as possible. Next he’d take a sharp knife and start cutting the skin and muscle above the wound. When he reached the bone, the doctor would take a saw and cut that, too. The whole procedure would take between 30 to 60 seconds, depending on the doctor’s skill. Finally he’d tie off the arteries, put a dressing on, and off the limping pirate went. But not even this ensured the patient’s survival, and many still died after the procedure.

6. Captain Charles Vane – Years Active: 1716-1720


As we said before, pirate life was brutally violent and extremely short. A good example was Charles Vane, a notorious pirate, contemporary and friend to the infamous Blackbeard. His pirating days began in 1716 and in 1718 he became a captain himself. He was renowned for his violence and ill temper, being hated even by his own crewmen. He is one of the few pirates who didn’t accept the King’s pardon, and in a mere four years after his “career” began, he would be hanged. After a mutiny aboard his ship, he was left behind on a small sloop together with a few loyal comrades. In a hurricane, he would miraculously survive, being washed ashore on a small fishing island. However, the man who found him there recognized him and brought him to justice.

Before his death however, in April 1718, Vane and his men came upon a sloop somewhere in the Bahamas and attacked it. They violently beat the crew, stole everything onboard, and chose one man, Nathaniel Catling, to be hanged. He remained suspended until everyone believed him dead, and the pirates brought him down. He somehow survived, but seeing this, one of the pirates hacked him across the collarbone with his cutlass. Vane and the other pirates then set the ship on fire and left. However Nathaniel Catling not only survived a hanging and a slash to the neck, but also escaped to describe the events in an official deposition. In a similar incident, Vane had someone tied to the bowsprit, while they were burning his eyes with matches and holding a pistol in his mouth. Vane was forcing him to tell what valuables were hidden onboard.

5. Edward Low – Years Active: 1721 – 1724


Edward Low got his notoriety of being a psychopath first, and a pirate second. He made his fleet in Nova Scotia, where he managed to capture 13 fishing vessels, and then he moved south to the more lucrative Caribbean. As his pirating career went on, his infamy grew. A few surviving victims recalled his brutal nature where he often chained, mutilated, burned, and even forced some of his captives to eat the heart of their captain. In one particular incident, Governor John Hart described as Low was attacking a ship from Portugal bound for Brazil. As they were being boarded, the captain of the Portuguese vessel dropped a bag of gold into the ocean to keep the pirates from taking it. Seeing this, “Low cut off the said Master’s lips and broiled them before his face, and afterwards murdered the whole crew being thirty-two persons.”

Due to his increasingly violent nature, both against his victims and his own men, in 1724 the crew mutinied and left him marooned on an island. What eventually happened to him is a matter of speculation. Some believe he was found by the French who, after discovering who he was, had him hanged in Martinique. Others believe he managed to escape and lived out the rest of his days somewhere in Brazil.

4. Henry Morgan, King of the Buccaneers – Years Active: 1655-1682


Henry Morgan is one of the successful few who managed to live to the ripe old age of 53, and die of tuberculosis, and not by hanging or decapitation. And he did so by staying somewhere in the gray area and not going full on “black,” as many other privateers or buccaneers did back then. Throughout his life he acquired a reputation as a remarkable leader and a fearsome conqueror. He sacked the city of Puerto Principe in Cuba, Puerto Bello in Panama, the towns of Maracaibo and Gibraltar in present-day Venezuela, as well as the city of Panama (which he completely burned to the ground). For his many victories for the English crown against the Spanish, Morgan was honored by the King and promoted to deputy governor of Jamaica.

Nevertheless, a pirate is still a pirate even if he’s made governor. The sacking of all of those Spanish settlements weren’t done solely for the glory of England. The booty Morgan collected from all of them made him a very rich and highly influential man. In the city of Maracaibo, he and his buccaneers tortured many citizens in order to find the hidden valuables. In Porto Bello he burned the private parts of his women prisoners and even roasted a woman alive on a stove, in order to get the information he so desperately desired. In Gibraltar they tortured a man by placing four stakes into the ground and tied him by his thumbs and big toes. They then pulled and pushed at the cords with all their strength. If this wasn’t enough, the pirates then placed a 200 pound stone on his belly and lit some palm leaves, burning his entire face.

3. Montbars the Exterminator – Years Active: 1668 – 1670s


A French buccaneer, Daniel Montbars got the appellative “Montbars the Exterminator” from the Spanish, against which he was renowned for acting violent to the extreme. Born to a wealthy family, he was well educated and raised as a gentleman. He developed a deep hatred for the Spaniards after learning of their savage treatment of the indigenous people in the New World, and would become a fierce enemy of the Spanish Empire throughout his career. In 1667 he left France for the West Indies together with his uncle, where they served in the Royal French Navy. Their vessel was later sunk by the Spanish and his uncle perished.

Montbars then moved to Tortuga and joined the buccaneers, where he became a captain. He distinguished himself during an attack against a Spanish galleon where, “Montbars led the way to the decks of the enemy, where he carried injury and death; and when submission terminated the contest, his only pleasure seemed to be to contemplate, not the treasures of the vessel, but the number of dead and dying Spaniards, against whom he had vowed a deep and eternal hatred, which he maintained the whole of his life.” He attacked and set ablaze many Spanish strongholds and settlements across the Caribbean, giving no quarter to his enemies. One of his most famous torture methods was to cut open the abdomen of his prisoners, nail his large intestine to a post, and then force the poor man to dance away from it, all the while “beating his backside with a burning log.”

2. Francois L’Olonnais – Years Active: 1660-1668


While on the subject of psychotic Frenchmen, let’s take a look at Montbars’ predecessor, Francois L’Olonnais, another Spanish-hating buccaneer. His real name, however, was Jean-David Neu, but he also went by “Flail of the Spaniards.” He was born in France around 1635, where he was sold to a master who took him to the Caribbean. In 1660 he joined the buccaneers stationed in Saint-Domingue and his reign of terror began. In 1663 he survived a shipwreck where all of his crewmates died, and when the Spanish came to investigate, he covered himself with his crewmates’ corpses and smeared himself with their blood to appear dead. He then dressed himself as a Spaniard, released some slaves and escaped on some small canoes. On his way to Tortuga he and his small crew destroyed an entire Spanish ship and left only one man alive to tell the story.

From Tortuga, L’Olonnais launched an attack on Maracaibo and Gibraltar, hunted down the people trying to escape through the jungles, then raped, tortured and murdered everyone. In another raid on the town of Puerto Cabellos, he “ripped open one of the prisoners with his cutlass, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and then hurled it in the face of one of the others, saying, ‘Show me another way, or I will do the same to you.’” He wanted to find a safe route to San Pedro, another Spanish port-city close by. In 1668 his small fleet was finally captured and destroyed by the Spanish. He managed to escape the onslaught by running into the jungle. There, however, he was captured by natives who ripped him to pieces while still alive and then burned him. Some rumors go as far as saying that he was eaten by cannibals.

1. Olivier Levasseur – Years Active: 1716-1724


Okay, let’s move out of the Caribbean for this last one. Olivier Levasseur, aka La Buse(The Buzzard) was a French privateer in service to the French crown during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). After the war he was ordered to return home, but instead joined a pirate company in 1716. The Buzzard decided to try his luck in the Indian Ocean, on the Western coast of Africa. He and some other famous pirates like Edward England or John Taylor raided and plundered ships and ports in the region, going as far as razing to the ground the slaver port of Ouidah, in present-day Benin. From 1720 they began operating from the island of Sainte-Marie, just off Madagascar.

Taylor and Levasseur later marooned England on the island of Mauritius on the account of him being too humane with his prisoners. The Buzzard’s favorite torturing method was the “woolding.” In order to extract information he’d take a length of rope, which went around the head of his prisoners, and with a stick he would tighten it little by little. If the captive didn’t divulge his secrets, or if he had none, the rope would be twisted so much his eyes would pop out of their sockets. Levasseur called it, “the rosary of pain.”

In any case, the two pirates managed to accomplish one of piracy’s greatest exploits. Without even firing a single cannon, they captured the Portuguese great galleonNossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape). This ship was carrying the treasures of the Patriarch of the East Indies, and the Viceroy of Portugal, who were both onboard, on their way home to Lisbon. Since the galleon went through a severe storm, the crew had dumped all of its 72 cannons overboard, preventing the ship from capsizing. The booty was huge, consisting of many bars of silver and gold, countless chests full of golden coins, jewels, pearls and other valuables, as well as many religious artifacts. And among them was also the Flaming Cross of Goa made of pure gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. It was so heavy, it required three men to move it to Levasseur’s ship. This treasure-trove made all the pirates rich beyond their wildest dreams.

 In 1724 he sent an emissary to discuss an amnesty on his behalf. But since the French government wanted a sizable chunk of his loot (estimated at over £1 billion), he instead settled down in secret somewhere on the Seychelles archipelago. Eventually he was captured and hanged in 1730. While he was at the gallows, he threw a necklace into the crowd while yelling, “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!” The necklace contained a cryptogram of 17 lines. The hidden message proved too hard to figure out, and to this day his immense treasure is still hidden away somewhere.

Facts About Pirates

– WIF Into History

Castaway Tales – WIF Travel at Your Own Risk

Leave a comment
Travel the world for 10 cents on the dollar

Travel the world for 10 cents on the dollar

Incredible Tales of

Real Life Castaways

When someone is taking a voyage across a body of water, there’s always a chance that something could go horribly wrong. For some people, it can go so badly that they find themselves out at sea and no one knows where to find them. These are 10 remarkable stories about people who found themselves in such dangerous predicaments.

 10. Temaei Tontaake and Uein Buranibwe


In October of 2011, two men living in the South Pacific, Temaei Tontaake and Uein Buranibwe, were heading from their island, Marakei, to a nearby island called Abaiang. The trip was only 80 miles and wasn’t supposed to take long, but their GPS ran out of batteries and they got lost. Luckily, they had their fishing gear and were able to catch some sharks; they then used the shark meat as bait and caught some tuna. Their big problem was water. It didn’t rain much and at times they were forced to drink seawater.

They were at sea for 33 days before they ended up on a coral atoll called Namdrik. On the atoll they met some locals and Tontaake learned that the locals were the offspring of his long lost uncle who everyone thought had died while out at sea 50 years ago. It turns out that his uncle ended up as a castaway on the very same atoll. When he couldn’t get off, he ended up settling down, had a family and died years later on the atoll.

Tontaake and Buranibwe were able to get off the atoll from a passing cargo ship a few days after arriving and then they were flown home.

9. Manjiro Nakahama


In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro Nakahama and his shipmates set out on a fishing trip from their Japanese village, which is now known as Tosashimizu. After a terrible storm they were left shipwrecked on an island far from the coast of Japan. They were found by Captain William Whitfield, an American from Fairhaven, Massachusetts. He took them aboard and dropped off most of the castaways in Hawaii. But during their time on the ship, Nakahama and Whitfield had become close friends and Nakahama returned to Fairhaven with Whitfield, making him the first Japanese person to live in the United States.

Nakahama learned to speak English and when it came time to develop relations with Japan, Nakahama was used as an interpreter. Today Tosashimizu and Fairhaven are sister cities and there is a Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society that hosts an annual festival in their honor.

8. Philip Ashton


In 1722, Philip Ashton, a fisherman from New England was kidnapped by a crew of piratesled by the notorious British pirate Edward Low. Ashton had been their captive for nine months when they landed on Roatán, which is in the Honduras’ Bay Islands, in 1723. They were looking for fresh water. When the pirates went on land, Ashton saw this chance to escape and without any supplies, including shoes, he hid in the thick brush and the pirateseventually left without him.

The problem was that the island was deserted and Ashton didn’t have a plan beyond getting off the pirate ship. He searched for food and was lucky to find fruit. A big problem was giant bugs, and he spent most of his time trying to avoid them. In total, Ashton spent 16 months alone on that island before he was found by a group of Baymen from the mainland. He was taken to their camp, where they fed and clothed him. The camp was attacked by pirates, which happened to be Low and his crew. Luckily, Ashton was able to escape. In March of 1725 a merchant vessel landed on the island, looking for water. The ship was heading to New England and Ashton was finally able to return home.

7. Narcisse Pelletier


Narcisse Pelletier was 13 when he set off with a crew from Marseilles, France in August of 1857. Their trip had a stop in Bombay before heading to Hong Kong to pick up laborers, and then they were on their way to Australia. Along the trip, they encountered a number of problems, like running out of food, being shipwrecked, and angry natives. While what exactly happened is disputed, the end result was that sometime between late September and early October, 1858, Pelletier was left alone on the Cape York Peninsula in Australia.

Pelletier was found on the beach by a group of Aboriginal people. After his journey, he was incredibly weak, he had been injured by natives and his feet were cut up after some contact with coral. Amazingly, after a short time with the Aboriginals he was adopted by one of the men and was given the name Amglo.

On April 11, 1875, English sailors were exploring the area and saw a group of Aboriginals with a white man. They tried to communicate with Pelletier, who had been with his aboriginal family for 18 years, but Pelletier didn’t understand them because he didn’t speak English. Despite not being able to communicate he said he felt compelled to go with the men. He said that he wasn’t rescued or kidnapped, but he thought if he ran away from the men, they might shoot him. Once he was back at the ship, two men spoke French to him, but Pelletier’s French was rough and it took him a while before he could speak it again.

In December of 1875, at the age of 32, Pelletier returned to Paris and was reunited with his family. He was of immense interest for not only his story, but also because he had marks and holes in his body from Aboriginal traditions, such as the holes in his ear lobes from where wooden plugs had once been. After returning to Paris, he worked in a lighthouse and died at the age of 50 in 1894.

6. Yamamoto Otokichi


Up until the 19th century, Japan was a very secretive, private country. People who snuck into the country could be executed. On the other hand, people weren’t allowed to leave the country, but sometimes did accidentally. One such person was 14-year-old Yamamoto Otokichi.

In 1832, Otokichi and 13 shipmates were delivering rice and porcelain to Edo (which is now Tokyo). On the way, there was a storm and they were blown off course. They ended up floating in the North Pacific without a mast or a rudder. Over the course of 14 months, all but three of the men on the ship died and the remaining three, including Otokichi, were dying from scurvy. They were saved when they landed on a shore and met Native Americans from the Makah tribe. They had ended up in what is known today as Washington state.

After meeting the Makah, the men were fed, but were ultimately enslaved. Then the news started spreading that men of unknown origin had been captured. A British doctor at Fort Vancouver (which is now Vancouver, Washington) named John McLoughlin heard about the men and thought they were Chinese. He bargained with the Makah and was able to bring all three of them to Fort Vancouver. Once at the fort, the three men were taught English and that is when McLoughlin learned that they were from Japan.

Knowing they were from Japan, McLoughlin thought that the British government would be interested in the men because it might lead to trade. So they were sent on a seven month boat trip to England, only to find out the British weren’t interested. They were then shipped off to the Portuguese-owned port of Macau on the Chinese mainland, where they stayed for two years.

In 1837, while in Macau, the three men met an American tradesman who wanted to trade with Japan. He also had found four other Japanese castaways in the Philippines. So in July, Otokichi and his two fellow castaways joined the tradesman and the other four Japanese castaways and set off for Japan. They approached the port at Edo and since Japan was so against foreigners, cannonballs were fired at the ship. After a few more attempts, they sent two castaways to shore, but ultimately they were forced to turn back.

Eventually Otokichi settled in Shanghai, adopted the name John Matthew Ottoson and became a respected translator. He tried to return to Japan by sneaking back for a bit in 1849, but returned Shanghai. In 1854, Otokichi travelled with a British crew to sign the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty and was allowed back in Japan, 22 years after he went fishing. Otokichi learned that everyone thought the people on the ship were dead and visited the memorial stone dedicated to them. Instead of staying in Japan, he returned to Shanghai and was apparently paid a handsome sum by the British for his role in opening up relations between Britain and Japan. He died at the age of 49 in 1867.

5. Maurice and Maralyn Bailey


In June of 1972, Maurice and Maralyn Bailey set off from Southampton, England on their 31 foot yacht, Auralyn, and headed to New Zealand. On March 4, 1973, the couple had just passed through the Panama Canal when they were hit by a giant whale that left a hole in their boat. Knowing the yacht was sinking, they inflated a rubber dinghy and filled it with some supplies, like glue and patches for the dinghy, tins of food, a small oil burner, a map, a compass, water containers, knives, plastic mugs, and their passports.

Once on the dinghy, their hope was that either they would be rescued soon or they would just drift to the Galapagos Islands. While they waited to be rescued, they made cards from the pages a notebook and played games. When the food ran out, they fished both with their bare hands and using string and safety pins for hooks. They drank rain water, and luckily for them, it rained often. As the weeks and then months went on, they eventually began to wither away. They had sores from the sun and the saltwater and were sunburned so badly that they could hardly move. Their raft also wasn’t doing well; it needed to be constantly pumped with air.

On June 30, 1973, a Korean fishing boat saw a weird blob in the distance and decided to investigate. They realized it was a life raft and when they got to the Baileys, they were still alive but barely conscious. They brought them onboard and tried to feed them, but their stomachs had shrunk so much that they could only take in liquid. The crew also massaged their muscles to help them rebuild their strength.

After spending 117 days on the ocean in a rubber dinghy, the couple wrote a book about their experience and the year after their rescue, they set out to sail again on the Auralyn IIto study whales in the seas off Patagonia in South America.

4. Ada Blackjack


Ada Blackjack was an Iñupiat Inuit and lived most of her early life in Nome, Alaska. In 1921, at the age of 23, she was hired on to be a seamstress and a cook on an expedition to Wrangel Island, which is north of Siberia in the Arctic Ocean. Her husband left her to care for her young son, who was stricken with tuberculosis. She saw the expedition as a good way to make money and possibly find a husband. They hired her on because she was the only one who showed up; everyone else thought it was too dangerous.

On September 16, 1921, four men and Blackjack set off on the expedition and two weeks later they were dropped off on the island, but it quickly became obvious that they were ill prepared. For example, none of them had ever fired a gun. Blackjack had been raised in town and never learned traditional Inuit skills, like hunting, fishing, or how to build an igloo. Shortly after their arrival, the weather got worse.

By January of 1923, they were running low on food, and they had expected to be picked up six months earlier in June or July. They knew that they had to do something, so on January 28, three of the men decided to walk across the frozen Chukchi Sea to Siberia, a distance of 700 miles, to get help. They left Ada with Lorne Knight, who was incredibly sick with scurvy. Ada cared for him the best she could, but he died in April of 1923.

Finally, by August of 1923, a rescue mission was sent to Wrangel Island and on August 20, they found Ada, who was the lone survivor. The three men who tried to cross the Chukchi Sea were never seen again.

3. Ernest Shackleton and the Crew of the Endurance


In 1914, famed Irish explorer of the Antarctic, Ernest Shackleton, planned on crossing the Antarctic via the South Pole. His plan was to start below South America and make his way to the Ross Ice Shelf, which is below Australia. However, in order to make the trek, he had to have supplies on the second leg of the trip. He hired a group of 10 men who would start off from the Ross Ice Shelf and place supplies every 60 miles.

The crew of the Endurance started their mission in January 1915, but they quickly ran into problems, a major one was that their boat was lost when it was blown out to sea. Yet, the men continued their trek and left supply depots every 60 miles. Unfortunately, they lost three men along the way. But the other seven men were amazingly able to survive in the harsh conditions for two years.

In January of 1917, a group of men approached their camp and amongst the group was Ernest Shackleton. That’s when they learned that all their work was for nothing. Shackleton’s ship had to be abandoned early in the trek because it became frozen. In April of 1916, he and the 17 men in his crew set off in small boats and made it to Elephant Island. After that, Shackleton and five men crossed the Atlantic to South Georgia, covering 1,000 miles in 16 days. They found a whaling station and were able to get the other men rescued. Everyone in Shackleton’s crew survived.

2. Poon Lim

poon lim

On November 10, 1942, the SS Benlomond was travelling from Cape Town, South Africa and heading to Paramaribo, Suriname in South America before heading to New York. On November 23, about 750 miles away from the coast of Brazil, the ship was hit by two torpedoes from a Nazi U-boat and the sank in under three minutes. In all, 56 men died, but 24-year-old Poon Lim was able to get a life jacket. The U-boat spotted the lone survivor, but left him to die in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. For two hours, Lim floated in the ocean until he found an eight square foot raft that had a canvas roof. On board, he found some water, cans of crackers and pemmican (which is similar to beef jerky), sugar, chocolate, a flashlight, wire, and two flares.

Lim continued to float around, thinking that any day he would be rescued. In order to survive, he made a receptacle to catch water. He also tied a wire to the flashlight and used pieces of the cans as hooks, even using some of his own food as bait. He would also use the bait to catch a seagull. He matted seaweed on the floor of the raft and left rotting fish near it. This made it look like a seagull nest, and when a seagull landed on it, he broke its neck, drank its blood, and used the salt water to make jerky out of the rest of the body. Also, to keep up his strength he would swim every day, even though he wasn’t a good swimmer and thought he might drown.

Along his voyage he came close to being rescued three times. He spotted at least three vessels: a passing freighter, an American plane, and a Nazi submarine, but they either would not or could not help him. Then, miraculously, on April, 1943, a Brazilian fisherman about 10 miles away from the Brazilian coast saw him waving his shirt, so he picked him up. They didn’t speak the same language, but Lin ate anything he was given and danced with joy.

Lim amazingly survived 133 days at sea. During his time he lost 20 pounds, but was otherwise relatively healthy. He was given the British Empire Medal by King George VI and was granted permission to immigrate to the United States. He died in 1991 at the age of 72.

His survival skills were so impressive that the Royal Navy implemented some of his tactics into their manuals. At the time, Lim held the record for surviving the longest at sea, though he said, “I hope no one will ever have to break that record.”

1. Jose Salvador Alvarenga


On November 17, 2012, 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga set off to go fishing with a shipmate in his teens named Ezequiel Cordoba. Shortly after setting out, there was a bad storm and they were blown out to sea. They floated for 16 weeks when Cordoba died. According to Alvargenga, Cordoba apparently couldn’t survive on their diet: raw fish, turtle meat, and turtle blood. Alvarenga claims he kept Cordoba’s dead body on board for five days before throwing it overboard.

Alvarenga continued to drift until January 30, 2014 when he came ashore on the Marshall Islands. He was shaggy haired, dehydrated, and confused when he found himself on dry land. Since being back, there have been some who have doubted his stories, but experts in water currents said it is possible. Also, Cordoba’s family does not believe that he died the way Alvarenga says he did. Alvarenga has also denied allegations that he ate Cordoba.

According to Alvarenga’s lawyer, he passed a polygraph test about the events. If his tale is true, it means that Alvarenga has spent the longest amount of time as a castaway at sea.

Castaway Tales

– WIF Travel

 This article is adapted by Gwendolyn Hoff for Writing is Fun-damental

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website