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Illustrations by Ms Anje Jager

Most men have what I call the "exploratory gene", a drive within them to go beyond their comfort zone and get back to nature. These experiences have a risk associated with them, and I learnt this the hard way when in 1982 my boat hit something (I believe it was a whale) and sunk. I was lost adrift for 76 days in a 6ft life raft. Since then, I've interviewed other survivors and a commonality among us is that, while none of us would like to go through the experience again, we all gained a great deal from it. It sounds cliché but there is a truth to the notion that by enduring such horror, we find out that we are much hardier than we thought we could be. In my case, one of the most enlightening elements was learning about my great weaknesses. As your life drags before your eyes like a bad B-grade movie, you see your failures, but that realisation gives you a purpose - come out of it, rectify those shortcomings, realign your priorities and move on. Men need experiences where they become the insignificant factor to do that. Should you be unlucky enough to be stranded at sea, here are a few pointers that might make the situation seem a little better.


There's a saying in the sailing world that you should always step up to your life raft. A lot of people will be tempted to get off the boat when it's stormy and scary on the boat, but I guarantee it will be ten times worse on a life raft. Don't abandon your boat until you know it's really done for.

It's the classic error: while drinking seawater will relieve you in the short term, it will be the death of you in the long term. Don't do it. Salt water has higher salt content than your cells, so draws fluid out.

You have to remember that you are in an isolated environment with limited resources; once something is gone, it's gone. If you patch a hole in the raft using a piece of cushion, that cushion currency is used up. I could have relieved my salt water sores using the medical resources I had but I knew I needed to save them in case I incurred a more serious injury. Use what you have wisely.

It might feel as if you are trying to reach an unreachable goal but you have to stay positive, keep busy and focus on the positive. My time lost at sea enabled me to see incredible things that I would not have encountered in any other situation; the star-filled sky (there's no bigger sky country than the middle of the ocean), the shimmering bio-luminescent fish at night as they followed or were disturbed by the raft. I've talked to survivors who actually miss their experiences... there's a purity to it you'll never go through again.

If you are lost in the Pacific, sharks will be a problem. I wasn't, but still came in contact with a few. If it happens, keep calm and keep off the bottom of the raft because if anything is poking down they will grab onto it. Like most predators, they want to avoid an injury so they will bump the boat a few times to see if you fight back. If they do this you need to show you can hurt it. Whack it or poke it with something, anything to show you mean business.

set sail in these...