Man versus nature is a classic tale. In The Odyssey, Homer describes the adventures of Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca who — after engaging in a little piracy — find their ships led astray by inclement weather and marooned in a number of strange lands. Centuries later, Herman Melville would wrestle the themes into Moby Dick, where a single-minded boat captain would struggle against the sea — and its inhabitants — to risk everything in search of the elusive “white whale.”
More recently, the rising popularity of television shows like Man Vs. Wild, Dual Survival and Deadliest Catch have all provided viewers with a glimpse of the modern struggle against nature. These shows illustrate the very real dangers of this constant war. In 2010, for example, the Coast Guard released the details of the sinking of the Katmai, a ship stationed out of Amchitka Pass, Alaska that was featured on the show. Of the 11 crew members aboard, only four were successfully rescued.
This ages-old tale — man versus nature — has persisted for a host of reasons. Chief amongst them, however, is our need to preserve and pass on survival strategies to the next generation. The stories illustrate — often fancifully, exaggeratedly — situations that arise when man earns the ire of Mother Nature.
With this list, we take a look at seven such situations. Times when — through negligence, wrongdoing or just plain bad luck — the full force of nature’s wrath has come to bear against some unfortunate individual. Situations where those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of that wrath have found themselves isolated, stranded and left to their own devices in often remote and unforgiving environments.
From the demonic visits paid to an exiled sodomist to the lone survivor of an entirely unsuccessful rescue, we look at seven real-life castaways.
Alexander Selkirk (1705)
Length Of Time Stranded: 4 Years, 4 Months
Alexander Selkirk was a bit of a hell-raiser. The son of a shoemaker, Selkirk was on the church’s radar as early as 1693 for indecent conduct. So, in lieu of appearing before church elders to answer for his crimes, he set out to become a buccaneer and, by 1694, he was pillaging French vessels, raiding villages in Panama and relieving merchant ships of their valuable cargo.
Experienced at sea, in 1704, Selkirk — aboard the Cinque Portis — expressed concern over the vessel’s seaworthiness and informed the captain he’d prefer to be left on the abandoned archipelago of Juan Fernández. His request was granted and for the next four years he survived on a diet of shellfish and regret.
By the time he was rescued, Selkirk had ventured deep into the island, domesticated feral cats to prevent the spread of rats, survived numerous grave injuries and built two huts.
Philip Ashton (1723)
Length Of Time Stranded: 1 Year, 4 Months
Philip Ashton was minding his own business, fishing in the Atlantic, when he was captured by Edward Low. Low, a pirate notorious for his cruelty, was described by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a man displaying an “amazing and grotesque brutality.”
Despite Low’s barbaric nature, Ashton steadfastly refused to cooperate, bided his time and awaited a chance to effect his escape. That opportunity arose in 1723 when his captors landed at Roatán Island and Ashton managed to hide himself in the surrounding jungle.
Lacking hunting supplies, Ashton lived primarily on fruit until his path crossed with an English castaway. Disappearing one day, Ashton raided the Englishman’s supplies and, using the tools he found, survived for over a year by hunting tortoises until his rescue.
Leendert Hasenbosch (1725)
Length Of Time Stranded: ~6 Months
Ascension Island is no place for a man to call home. Covered by craggy, volcanic terrain, the island was used prior to 1815 as a place of exile for criminal mariners. The most widely known of these criminals, Leendert Hasenbosch, was convicted of sodomy in April of 1725.
A month later, in May, Hasenbosch was transported to the island’s rocky shore. Left with a tent, a meager ration of water, a handful of seeds, some clothing and writing instruments, Hasenbosch made due. The island afforded him no locatable source of fresh water so — in desperation — he resorted to drinking animal blood and urine.
Though his body was never found, Hasenbosch’s writings indicate that he survived six months on the inhospitable land where — plagued by supposed demons — he finally succumbed, dying of thirst.
Oguri Jukichi (1813)
Length Of Time Stranded: 1 Year, 4 Months
Among the first Japanese to arrive in America, Oguri Jukichi was destined for the high seas. At 15 he became a freighter crew member and 14 years later, he was promoted to the position of skipper on the Tokujomaru.
Right off the bat, things did not go swimmingly for Jukichi. In November of 1813, the Tokujomaru’s helm and mast were severely damaged by a storm off the Japanese coast.
Hobbled, unworkable and eminently unseaworthy, the ship drifted aimlessly within the Pacific Ocean for 484 days. By the time the crew was rescued off the coast of California, only Jukichi and two other men remained.
Juana Maria (1835)
Length Of Time Stranded: 18 Years
The longest entry on our list, Juana Maria — a — survived a staggering 18 years as a castaway off the coast of California. After a cabal of otter hunters massacred or displaced the Native Americans inhabiting San Nicolas Island, a rescue operation was dispatched to gather and safely transport the remaining tribe. In the confusion, Juana Maria was left behind, the solitary inheritor of the land, earning her the nickname, “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.”
Though her story sounds tragic, those “rescued” from the island fared poorly in comparison. Largely isolated in San Gabriel Mission, the Indians were susceptible to disease and, as a result, suffered a high fatality rate. When she was eventually discovered, rescuers noted that Maria had built a crude shelter out of whale bones and fashioned clothing out of the feathers of native birds.
Joseph Rangel (2000)
Length Of Time Stranded: 13 Days
Joe Rangel and Lorenzo Madrid’s weeklong getaway turned into a two-week-long nightmare when the boat they’d chartered got separated from its guide ship. Stranded on a desolate, craggy island, the pair — accompanied by a guide — ate snails and grasshoppers and drank what little water they could forage from discarded bottles on the island’s shores.
Their first attempt at escape was foiled after they became exhausted from rowing and were drawn violently back to the island. Their boat was destroyed and, within days, Madrid succumbed to exposure and thirst.
Finally, Rangel and the guide fashioned a raft out of scavenged wood, sailed to the island’s northern tip and were rescued by a group of fishermen after 13 harrowing days.
José Salvador Alvarenga (2012)
Length Of Time Stranded: 1 Year, 1 Month
José Salvador Alvarenga cast off from Costa Azul in December of 2012. According to him, he — accompanied by a teenaged boy known only as “Ezequiel” — was caught in storm, disoriented and left to drift for the next year. Four months into the ordeal, Ezequiel lost hope, refused to eat and, ultimately, died of starvation.
Alvarenga, on the other hand, leaned on his religious beliefs and held out hope for rescue. Surviving on a combination of fish, birds and sharks, Alvarenga gathered rainwater or — in extreme cases — resorted to drinking his own urine to slake his thirst.
After traveling a total of about 6,000 miles, the scraggly-bearded Alvarenga and his weatherworn craft eventually washed ashore in the Marshall Islands.