Before his ship sunk completely, Callahan was able to make a few trips back for gear. First, he brought the knife he held between his teeth when he first bailed from the ship and a “ditch bag” with water and some basic gear. Then he grabbed a sleeping bag, and a cushion. He gathered the food that floated to the surface from the cabin: a box of eggs and a single cabbage.
The raft’s equipment bag was stocked with water, paddles, flares, sponges, a radar reflector, two solar stills, a first aid kit, a collapsible rubber basin, a 100-foot heaving line, charting tools, a flashlight, two signal mirrors, a raft patching kit, two can openers, seasickness pills, fifty feet of twine, and a single fishing hook.
His own emergency bag brimmed with more practical equipment, including a spear gun that would allow him to catch the dorados that would sustain his body and, on some level, his soul.
One day at a time
Callahan adapted quickly to life aboard his little raft. “Early on, I tried to adopt the attitude that this wasn’t the end of the voyage, but continued on a humbler craft,” he said. This humbler craft was made of reinforced black rubber, glued together, and, though intended to fit six adults, measured just five and a half feet in diameter on the inside. Callahan could barely sit up beneath the canopy’s highest point.
Still, Callahan maintained his optimism.“One of the most successful strategies for chronic longer term events is to normalize life as much as possible, to cling on to whatever routines one can. A lot of things change [in survival situations], so for me, it was, ok, I can get up, I keep a log, I start navigating. I started prioritizing for basic needs: food, water, shelter, all those kinds of things. So for me, keeping a log was a really important thing. And I had these little pads of paper that I’d pull out when it was dry enough, and I made some little sketches.”
When he boarded the raft, Callahan had enough food and water to sustain him for 14 days if carefully rationed. With some luck, and calm enough waters to pull his sea anchor, that would be long enough to reach the shipping lanes and a remote chance of rescue. Just a few days in though, he found that these rations left him weak and fatigued. Meeting basic needs soon became a daily, sometimes hourly, struggle as solar stills failed to transform seawater to fresh and speedy fish teased him but refused to succumb to his spear.
On day 13, he caught a trigger fish—colorful, armored, bitter fleshed—and wept. When he reached the shipping lanes, no rescue came. His journey would have to continue to the Caribbean.