Sailor and His Dog Survive 3 Months at Sea by Eating Raw Fish and Drinking Rainwater
"There were many, many, many bad days and many good days"
After spending three months adrift on the Pacific Ocean, Australian sailor Timothy Shaddock was rescued by a group of Mexican tuna fisherman on July 12, the Associated Press reports. Stepping on dry land for the first time since April, Shaddock recounted on July 18 how he and his “amazing” dog Bella survived the ordeal by eating raw fish and drinking rainwater.
“I’m feeling all right. I’m feeling a lot better than I was,” Shaddock told reporters during a welcome ceremony in Manzanillo on Tuesday. “To the captain and fishing company that saved my life, I’m just so grateful.”
The 54-year-old sailor added that there were times when he didn’t think he’d survive. But thanks to his perseverance and ingenuity, he’ll be returning to Australia soon to reunite with his family.
“There were many, many, many bad days and many good days,” Shaddock said of his time adrift at sea.
The First Bad Day
Shaddock set sail in April from the Mexican city of La Paz, which is located in Baja on the Sea of Cortez. He was joined on his small catamaran, named the Aloha Toa, by Bella, a stray dog that he’d picked up during his travels in Mexico.
“She’s the spirit of the middle of the country and she wouldn’t let me go,” he said of his newfound companion. “I tried to find a home for her three times, and she just kept following me onto the water. She’s a lot braver than I am, that’s for sure.”
Shaddock originally planned to sail across the Pacific to French Polynesia, but that plan fell apart just weeks into the journey. He ran into bad weather in early May after sailing out of the Sea of Cortez and into the Pacific, and his catamaran was badly damaged in a storm. Without any electronics or the ability to cook, he and Bella found themselves adrift in a crippled vessel.
Survival at Sea
Fortunately, Shaddock had some fishing gear onboard. He spent the following weeks, which soon turned into months, catching fish, eating them raw, and sharing the meat with his dog.
While it’s unknown what kind of fish he was catching, the Sea of Cortez and South Pacific are known as some of the most fertile fishing grounds on the planet. They’re home to large numbers of billfish, dolphin, bonito, tuna, and other saltwater species that can be eaten raw. (Some of these species carry parasites and there is always a risk when eating uncooked fish straight from the ocean.)
As for how they stayed hydrated, Shaddock said he collected rainwater the whole time. He didn’t explain how, but there are a few different ways he could have done this—like using a tarp or one of his sails to catch and funnel the water into a receptacle.
Of course, physical needs are only part of the equation when trying to survive in the open ocean. And Shaddock said he was able to stay sane all those months by tinkering with his boat and taking the occasional swim, which allowed him to “just enjoy being in the water.”
Saved by Fish, Rescued by Fishermen
Shaddock has Grupo Mar, a Manzanillo-based commercial tuna fishing fleet, to thank for his eventual rescue. A helicopter pilot that was scouting for the fleet spotted his small catamaran roughly 1,200 miles from land. The pilot then returned with the María Delia, one of Grupo Mar’s tuna boats.
The crew did what they could to help Shaddock and his dog, who were both in a “precarious” state, according to the company. They gave them food, water, and medical attention before bringing them back to port on July 18. One of the crew members also agreed to adopt Bella and promised Shaddock that he’d take good care of the dog.
Shaddock has since been cleared by doctors and local governments to return to his native country. And when an AP reporter asked him what meal he was looking forward to the most when he got home, he gave an unexpected answer.
“Tuna,” he replied. “Sushi.”