Discovery Channel


Shipwrecked Survival Facts

We look at some of the best shipwrecked survival stories in history...



Discovery Ed

on the 11 May, 2012

James Cracknell is stranded at sea in the last episode of World’s Toughest Expeditions so we thought we’d take a look through the history books to uncover some of the most amazing survival shipwrecked stories in this weeks’ FACTS.

FACT 1: In 1542 French explorer Jacques Cartier led a voyage to Newfoundland with a 19-year-old Marguerite de La Rocque. But during the journey Marguerite became a young man’s lover and as punishment she, her lover and her maid were all marooned on the ‘Isle of Demon’s‘ (Harrington Island) near the Saint-Paul River, France. Marguerite gave birth to a baby that sadly didn’t survive, and later her lover and the maid also died. She survived by hunting wild animals and living in a cave for two years before she was rescued by fishermen.

FACT 2: The inspiration for Robinson Crusoe is thought to be Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk who was left alone for over 4 years on a small island in the Pacific with no human contact in 1704. He was a sailing master on the ‘Cinque Ports but fearing the ship would sink after battles with the Spanish Alexander demanded to be put ashore on the next island they encountered. He was given a musket, knife, bible and a few tools and was left to his own devices. He was found in 1709.

FACT 3: In 1725 Leendert Hasenbosch was abandoned on Ascension Island for sodomy. He died on the island but left a diary that was found and detailed his ordeal. His accounts on the island include him drinking turtle blood and drinking his own urine in attempts to stay alive.

FACT 4: In 1794 Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman and his 43 companions were caught in a storm in the Pacific Ocean which forced their ship onto a coral reef and them to seek refuge on a nearby island. With no fresh water the crew all died but Matsuyama carved a message telling the story of his group's shipwreck onto pieces of wood he then inserted into a bottle, incredibly it was another 150 years before their story came to light after the was found in the Japanese village of Hiraturemura.

FACT 5: In 1812, the British ship Isabella was shipwrecked off Eagle Island in the Falklands and most of the crew were rescued by the American sealer Nanina commanded by Captain Charles Barnard. Barnard realized they would need extra provisions for the added passengers and with four others went to retrieve more food. During their absence Barnard’s ship was taken over by the British crew and Barnard and his men were left on Eagle Island by the very men they had saved. They in turn were finally rescued in 1814.

FACT 6: in 1835 Juana Maria lived for 18 years alone on the island of San Nicolas after the rest of her tribe was killed off by otter hunters. Juana Maria and her people, the Nicolenos, were hired to assist Russian hunters but warfare between the two groups broke out and amongst the fighting Juana Marina was inadvertently left behind on the island. Juana was found in 1853, no-one knew her language or her name so she was named Juana Marina. She died within 7 weeks of being rescued succumbing to disease from her rescuers.

FACT 7: In 1914 Ernest Shackleton and his party become trapped in ice on their ship Endurance for 10 months until pressure sunk the ship. Shackleton and his crew were forced to camp on ice floes for five months before they sailed lifeboats to Elephant Island. Realising there was no hope for survival on Elephant Island Shackleton and five others survived a 17-day journey in a 22-foot lifeboat as they rowed to South Georgia. After landing on an uninhabited part of the island they were then forced to cross 26 miles of mountain and glaciers to finally reach a whaling station at the other side. The Chilean government and navy then helped Shackleton and rescued the men from Elephant Island and no lives were lost.

FACT 8: During an arctic expedition in 1921 a team of five were left on Wrangel Island, north of Siberia. The team of explorers along with 23-year-old Eskimo woman Ada Blackjack, hired as a cook, were going to stay on the island for a year with 6 months’ worth of provisions that would help sustain them as they also lived off the land. However, the men were unable to find food and began to starve. Three of the men went to seek help, leaving Ada with the fourth man, sick with scurvy. The three were never seen again and the fourth man soon died leaving Ada to fend for herself. She managed to survive until she was rescued in 1923.

FACT 9: In 1943 John F. Kennedy was a 26-year old skipper of the PT 109 craft. One night it was ripped in half by a Japanese destroyer and the surviving crew had to cling to the drifting bow for hours. The next day they managed to swim to the deserted Plum Pudding Island and after two days without food or water they swam to larger Island Olasana. They were rescued by scouts after six days of surviving on nothing but coconuts.

FACT 10: In 1972 Dougal Robertson and his family spent 38 days afloat in the Pacific after a pod of Orca Whales sank their schooner. They survived off rain water and by catching fish. Their boat sank around 200 miles west of the Galapagos Islands and they were found close to 800 miles away. All members of the family survived.


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