They'd Help You Too - Steve Callahan's Survival Secrets - My Patriot Supply
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They'd Help You Too - Steve Callahan's Survival Secrets

March 24, 2018 0 Comments

Today, I wanted to share a story that truly inspired me.

Worthy Read for Survival - Adrift

I just finished a book about one of the most extreme survival situations I've ever read about.

That's why I'm writing you today: to share some insights and lessons that might be helpful in your preparedness journey.

Hopefully, none of us will be put in as extreme of a situation as the man in this story, but these lessons can be applied to any emergency.


 First, a little backstory:

Steven Callahan spent his life around boats, and his passion led him to design and build boats as a career. Then, when he was 29, he completed his first sail across the Atlantic from American shores to England. This tremendous achievement would be followed up by seemingly impossible adversity on his sail back west.

Steve Callahan - Learning His Extreme Survival Lessons

One night in early February 1982, Callahan was awakened by a "deafening bang," which created a large hole in the hull. He later believed that a whale or large shark had smashed into the boat.

Because of its skillful marine design, the boat sunk slow enough that he was able to retrieve some survival supplies, including water, food, flares and a spear gun.

These are some of the items Steve noted in his log that he had on his life raft:

  • A Tupperware box with pencils, paper, mirrors, pocketknife, hooks and fishing line
  • Two pints of water in a plastic jug
  • A bag of food: ten ounces of peanuts, sixteen ounces of baked beans, ten ounces of soaked raisins
  • One and one-half one-pound cabbages
  • A sleeping bag
  • A short spear gun

As you might guess, this meager amount of supplies made it extremely difficult to survive 76 days, especially while exposed to the harsh environment of the open sea.

In Callahan's own words he had to learn to "live like an aquatic caveman" to survive.

His biggest and most immediate issue? Water.

Luckily, he was blessed with a few showers that allowed him to collect rainwater. But his true genius was the evaporation chamber he built from his Tupperware box, empty tin cans and two pieces of black cloth. Through these methods, he was able to produce about a pint of fresh, drinkable water a day.

For food, Callahan relied on fishing for dorado, flying fish and triggerfish. His fishing was not without challenges, though. He recalls that many of the fish learned the range of his spear gun within 24 hours and "teasingly skirted" just outside that range.

But as his voyage continued, the fish became more comfortable with his presence, and would even bump the bottom of his raft. He took this as a sign that something in the universe wanted him to survive. He was right - and he took advantage.

On top of food and water, his only shelter, his life raft, presented challenges as well. He noted that he was concerned about his life raft's guarantee to last 40 days. He had to repair it several times and knew that without the raft, his survival would not be possible for more than a few hours.

Many of Callahan's efforts to signal for help also went unnoticed. He used a radio device that was out of range, and the flares he sent up were not seen by passing ships. He knew that he couldn't count on being rescued to survive and had to use everything in his power to rely on himself.

After 76 days, Callahan was discovered by fishermen, who saw birds flying around his raft.

If you want to hear his first-hand account, I highly recommend Callahan's book Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea.

Up to this point, I've only given you an overview of how Callahan survived. Now it's time to get deep into the why and learn how we can apply these principles to our own preparedness journey.

There are two major principles that Callahan used to survive so long at sea.

#1 - Learn to improvise

Before his sailboat had completely sunk, Callahan dove into the cabin of his ship to gather materials he could use to survive. This was his first step toward being able to improvise and make his own survival tools and gear. It was absolutely essential to his ability to collect and produce drinkable water. While it took him several days to get his improvised solar still working, he didn't give up.

In any emergency, there's a good chance you might be missing an element that will be essential to your survival. It's important to take note of your surrounding environment and make the most of it by improvising.

Dental Floss Fishing Hooks

For example, dental floss can easily become fishing line or used as a snare. An empty tin can and a fuel source can become a mini stove. Improvisation skills are invaluable in a dire situation. You have to be determined, resourceful and creative. Perhaps in a future Survival Scout, we'll dive even deeper into how to develop improvisation skills.

#2 - Maintain presence of mind

A lot of survivalist experts talk a lot about "the will to live." The truth is, it's a pretty abstract concept, especially to those who've never been through a life-threatening situation.

While Callahan most certainly displayed a very strong will to live, it was his constant presence of mind that got him through his harrowing 76 days. In an article published in 2004, Callahan claimed he would ask himself several important questions each day, which kept his mind occupied with the practical needs of his survival.

These questions included:

  • "Which of the elements most critical to my physical survival need the most attention: food, water or raft?"
  • "What is the worst-case scenario if I do this?"
  • "What are the beneficial elements of what is happening right now?"
  • "Am I doing the best I can?"

These reflective questions helped keep his mind focused and not despair. He also had the presence of mind to not hold out hope for rescue - and only rely on his own ability to stay alive.

Even after 40 days adrift, Callahan still had the presence of mind for a little humor.

His life raft - which he had already nicknamed Rubber Ducky - was only guaranteed for 40 days of use. He wondered "If she fails me now, can I get my money back?"

While it might seem like an inappropriate time to joke, he implies how confident he was of his own survival. Even in the midst of mental exhaustion, he had the presence of mind to press on, make any repairs to his raft and stay positive.

Improvisation and presence of mind are two things anyone living the preparedness lifestyle needs to develop. They are absolutely invaluable in tough situations.

After his ordeal, Steven Callahan had a new lease on life. He became an advocate for emergency marine safety, even developing an innovative life raft based on his experience. On top of that, Steven became a consultant to Hollywood for scenes that occurred on the sea, including Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Life of Pi.

Many people might leave their passions behind after such a difficult situation, but Callahan only became more passionate.

As someone who feels the same way about bringing passion to work every day, I feel a kinship with folks like Steve Callahan. That's why we started My Patriot Supply in 2008, to share our passion for preparedness with folks like you.

I hope you're as inspired as I am by Steve's story - and I hope the lessons he teaches us stick with you. You never know when you'll need them.

Have a great weekend and stay safe out there, friends!

In Liberty,

Grant Miller
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply

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