On January 16, 2014 Salvador Alvarenga’s boat washed ashore on tiny Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands after 438 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean, and no one believed his story. Local officials at first denied it, international media called it a hoax, and even Alvarenga had a hard time grasping it. Instead of being relieved, he found himself becoming increasingly paranoid, struggling to grasp what was real, and not. Was the drama playing out around him real, or yet another figment of his imagination?
In the newly released book 438 Days author Jonathan Franklin takes you inside the complex, and multilayered world that Alvarenga constructed during his fifteen months afloat. Not only was he forced to continually scavenge for nourishment as he slowly drifted across the waters, but he also needed to find ways to keep from going mad. Especially after his first mate passed away 118 days into the ordeal from a broken spirit. With no formal training he was able to create an alternate reality where he could allow his mind to escape the crushing deadness of floating at sea.
With not much more than a fillet knife, a few pieces of clothing, and parts from a broken outboard motor, he was able to create everything he needed. With a diet of sea birds, sea turtles, barnacles, and the odd shark he could pull into his boat he was able to sustain a minimal level of nutrition to not wither away and die. His innovation was amazing. If his clothes tore he sewed them back together with fish bones. When the sun was too hot he made a hat from an old turtle shell. When he bumped into floating garbage patches he scavenged anything he could find. He endured hardships that would break 99.99% of the population. The driving force was the desire to head back to his native El Salvador and reunite with his daughter he had not seen in over a decade since fleeing due to a vendetta on his head.
It seems that some of the hardest moments in the book come at the end once he is reunited with society. He struggles to grasp what his next steps are going to be. Will he go back to the hard scrabble life he once lived or settle down?
In his book Franklin is able to put you on the boat with Alvarenga as he struggles day after day. His narration is perfectly timed and never bogs down. It is a well-written book that will leave you in awe at what one fisherman with little formal education was able to accomplish. This is one of the most unlikely, and inspiring stories of survival that has been told lately. Pick it up.