The recent movie All is Lost with Robert Redford is interesting and instructive to all bluewater sailors. The purist’s have found fault with it, however, I am not only a professional sailor who has attended the required Basic Safety Training (BST), but also participated in many military fire fighting and damage control classes. In addition, I have formal training in survival, instructed flight crews in egress, survival and rescue and hold a degree in Survival and Rescue Operations.
This background makes me think offshore sailors could and should learn important lessons from this movie. My advice is for readers to buy or rent this DVD and with pen and pad in hand, watch it while making two lists, one of things he did right and one of things he did wrong. After watching the movie and making your lists, think about what you would have done in a similar situation, if it were you out there instead of Mr. No-Name. We are told very little about this man, not even his name or why he is on a solo voyage, but we do know his location was 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. We can also deduce from a paucity of dialogue that he was on some kind of a personal quest, perhaps to get a reset in his life and family.
What happened in the movie that launched him from his ordered and comfortable existence to one of chaos and misery is a reasonable possibility and one that could happen to any of us, in any craft, at any time. In fact, there are possibly scores of these 20- and 40-foot containers lost overboard and floating, semi-submerged for up to four months at a time. They are hard to spot and represent a genuine hazard to boats like the one in the movie. Our Mr. No-Name yachtsman did the proper thing when he attempted some damage control and put a fiberglass patch over the hull breech.
Other things he did right were to take as many useful items from his boat as possible before launching and boarding his inflatable life raft. He also did some improvising and used his knife and some plastic to make a solar still out of an empty five-gallon plastic jug and tried to clean the salt residue off of his VHF and portable satellite radios by using fresh water, but to no avail. This part of the story is one of the biggest reasons for carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB) on your person. If he had one, his eventual rescue would have taken place much more quickly. I have written about PLBs in the following hyperlinks:
Nov. 11, 2013
Worlds smallest PLB
Jan. 6, 2012
InReach of civilization and rescue
Nov. 3, 2010
The pocket satellite communicator
March 16, 2010
PLBs…Don’t leave dockside without one!
One thing our sailor did wrong was to not read the signaling instructions until he actually tried to use them. He also used the flare during the day instead of smoke or his signal mirror. Speaking of emergency signals, he should have had them more organized for instant use instead of clumsily trying to find the right one when time was of the essence. A good portable VHF marine radio would have been invaluable for hailing ships when he was in the shipping lanes, but he didn’t carry one. Another big mistake he made even before his survival episode began was not to sufficiently tighten the PL-259 antenna connector to the mast antenna and weatherproof it like I wrote about in:
March 14, 2013
The importance of antenna placement
Of all his mistakes, though, the biggest one from a survival point of view was that in the end he simply gave up. In survival situations it is important to never, ever give up.