Lost at Sea? Part 1

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In the news, a man named Louis Jordan survived 66 days lost at sea off the Carolina coast with little apparent physical effect. Some have wondered out loud how this is possible: Could it have been staged? I decided to take a closer look at why he was so successful in keeping it together when everything else fell apart.

Rough seas caused Mr. Jordan’s 35-foot sailboat to capsize in the middle of the night. Wisely, he stayed with the upside-down boat which was still floating. As a result, he was able to remain near his supply of water and food, as well as some equipment, such as a fishing net. Luckily for him, the boat eventually self-righted in the waves, which sailboats are designed to do. If he had been stranded in the water on an open raft or with just a life jacket, he would probably have succumbed to exposure in cold Carolina waters.

Little physical evidence of the elements on our castaway? In a boat without power but with an intact cabin, you have shelter from the wind and sun. Any normal person would know to stay inside on the open ocean in January. Still, he looked almost too good for the amount of time he was out there.

Mr. Jordan says that he rationed himself to a pint of water a day, which means he consumed more than 60 pints of water during his ordeal. How did he do it? We know that the lifelong sailor lived on his 35-foot boat. We can assume that, like many boats that size, there might be a shower with a water tank large enough to allow bathing. If he could access the tank and also use containers to catch rainfall, he could stay hydrated.

From a survival standpoint, we know that he could live for quite a while without food, but 66 days? It’s possible (although it varies from person to person) as long you drink water. In cases of anorexia, organ failure occurs at around half the normal Body Mass Index (BMI), about 12-13 (normal 18 – 25). A typical fashion model has a BMI of about 17. Mr. Jordan started off at about 230 pounds and states that he ended up losing 50 pounds.,
Again, he may have had some food stores that survived the capsizing. We do know he had some equipment to catch fish. Fish are often attracted to floating jetsam, and he states that he wiggled a shirt in the water and snapped up curious fish with a net. I’ve never tried this technique, but it seems possible.

Mr. Jordan claims that he “broke” his shoulder in the capsizing, although there was no evidence of trauma when he was rescued. Since he isn’t a medical professional, I would think that any significant pain would make him think a fracture occurred. Any number of lesser injuries can cause pain, however, and he more likely injured soft tissue which healed 2 months down the line.

Now to an aspect of this story that I can’t explain; How Mr. Jordan was found just 200 miles from shore after 66 days. What about ocean currents? It seems like a small amount of distance to drift in such a long time period. If someone could explain how this could happen, please comment below.
A hoax or the real thing? Can someone be found alone hundreds of miles out to sea in a damaged boat without it being a true story? I’ll give Mr. Jordan the benefit of the doubt, but could his survival story have been embellished along the way?

Absolutely. Mr. Jordan didn’t file “float plans” (the equivalent of a plane’s flight plan), so it’s not certain exactly how long he was out there. If he came back in to a different marina and got in trouble when he went out again, it might not have been a 66 day journey. In any case, it allows a discussion of how best to survive being lost at sea; that will be the subject of our next article.

Joe Alton, MD


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Lost at Sea, Part 2
Survival Medicine Hour: Typhoid vs. Typhus, Valerian Root, Tourniquets

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