Book Review of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
by
Steven Callahan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve always liked survival stories and became totally engrossed in Steven Callahan’s first-hand account of how he survived for more than two months, alone in the North Atlantic after his boat sank. In 1980, Callahan entered the Mini-Transat Race from France to Antigua, but less than a week out, his boat was hit and destroyed by what he thinks was a whale. With only minutes to escape, he grabbed what he could and jumped in the inflatable life raft. His supplies consisted of a few items of food, minimal water, some tools and twine, desalination equipment, emergency flares, a signaling device with limited battery and a survival book he’d picked up at a used book sale.

Callahan endured blazing sun, huge waves, storms, shark attacks and a never-ending assortment of life-or-death situations, including the constant pressure to find food. His salt distillers malfunctioned, his raft leaked and he was hundreds of miles out of range for anyone to hear his signal. When he finally made it to the shipping lanes, ships didn’t catch the signal or see him, despite the flares.

Equally challenging were feelings of worry and hopelessness, but Callahan had a mental resiliency like no one else. He writes:

“Mountain climbing, camping, Boy Scouts, boat building, sailing, and design, and my family’s continued encouragement to confront life head on have all given me enough skill to ‘seastead’ on this tiny, floating island. I am getting there.”

Callahan speared dorados and trigger fish, journaled, drew, and calculated where he was with a sextant he made out of pencils, but over time, especially after the raft was punctured while he wrestled a dorado, he questioned if he had the strength to keep fighting. By then he was emaciated and dehydrated and was covered with cuts and sores.

One of his only comforts was the relationship he developed with the schools of dorados that followed him and nipped and bumped his raft, feeding off the barnacles on the bottom.

“The dorados have become much more than food to me…I look upon them as equals—in many ways as my superiors. Their flesh keeps me alive. Their spirits keep me company. Their attacks and their resistance to the hunt make them worthy opponents, as well as friends.”

Later, he wrote: “I needed a miracle and my fish gave it to me.”

On land, Callahan’s family notified the Coast Guard and conducted their own campaign to find him. But on the seventy-sixth day, a fishing boat from the tiny island of Marie Galante spotted his raft. He’d floated all the way from France to just south of Guadeloupe!

Callahan survived because of his unique skills and mindset and I wonder if anyone else could have made it. I marveled at how he used his mind to find solutions to a continuous run of seemingly hopeless situations. This is an example of perseverance like no other.

Adrift was first published in 1986 and despite being an older book, I think this excellent account has stood the test of time.

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34 thoughts on “Book Review of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

    1. Hi Darlene – I looked it up and there is a 2018 film but it’s not the same story. I think this story would make a good movie! Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hi Linda – I was curious so I looked up the movie and it’s not the same story. I was talking about this at work and others said they’d also seen the movie, but I forgot about it until I saw your comment. There’s another movie with Nicole Kidman – I think it’s called Dead Calm – also an “adrift” kind of story, but more of a thriller. Thank you for stopping by!

    1. I have to admit, I’m drawn to survival stories and this one was amazing. I just downloaded another one: Against the Ice about an Arctic expedition. Thank you for stopping by to comment. I am so behind on my blog and in visiting other blogs! I don’t know why exactly. Just doing too many things at once! Hope you are doing well and that you had a nice trip!

      1. HI Barbara, our trip was smashing. Thank you! I am also a bit behind and I also always feel behind. I am experimenting with making a book trailer using powerpoint and some tips for Diana Peach.

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