66 days adrift: How a shipwrecked truck driver sailed a broken 'Angel' to safety

Louis Jordan got through more than two months adrift at sea in his damaged sailboat on pluck, grit, ingenuity, and faith. His dad says prayer helped sustain him.

Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot/AP
Louis Jordan walks from a Coast Guard helicopter to the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Va., after being found off the North Carolina coast, Thursday, April 2, 2015.

It was to be a short fishing jaunt into open ocean to fill his empty cooler with sheepshead and wreckfish. But it took Louis Jordan, an unemployed South Carolina truck driver, 66 days to make it back to land after disappearing on Jan. 29, appearing back on shore late Thursday as a weary-eyed man transformed by disaster.

Rescued Thursday, Mr. Jordan looked to rescuers more as if he’d gotten off a long flight from Sydney than endured over two months on his barely-floating sailboat, “Angel.” But the ordeal was clearly harrowing: He’d lost 90 pounds and spent days enduring sandpaper thirst, boredom, and uncertainty.

"It was a bit like the movie of Tom Hanks on that movie, you know, Castaway," Capt. Thomas Grenz, whose German-flagged ship rescued Jordan some 200 miles off Cape Hatteras, told the Associated Press.

Though his remarkably healthy appearance caused some to question his tale, it’s more likely Jordan’s condition showed a survivor at the top of his game, driven to live by pluck, grit, ingenuity, and faith. A “gentle giant with a good personality,” Jordan was “self-sufficient” and “really knowledgeable on some survival skills,” Jeff Weeks, who manages the marina where Jordan keeps a slip, told the AP. His main diet on shore was rice and fish, which he caught himself.

Day by day, the 30-something, who endured a broken collarbone in the original capsize, reportedly found daily purpose in solving essential problems like food and water, while sticking to familiar routines, like doing laundry. According to his family, Jordan, who lived on the boat, had a strong self-sufficiency streak.

When told after his rescue he’d be transported to a hospital, Jordan reportedly replied, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

"He's got very strong constitution and [is strong] not only physically, but spiritually," his dad, Frank Jordan, told CNN, noting that prayer “sustained him a great deal.”

When disaster strikes at sea, the odds of survival are steep. About 1,000 people lose their lives at sea each year, while only a handful of people are rescued. In 2012, one of three men who went missing in the Caribbean was found after six weeks, the remains of the other two nowhere to be seen. In January, 2014, Mexican sailor Jose Salvador Avlarenga was rescued after spending 13 months at sea, alone.

For Jordan, there was no certainty he would ever be found. He spent most of his time reading the Bible and fretting about what his parents were going through. "I was worried about them more than anything else," he told ABC News. "Their poor hurt feelings, if I'm ever going to show up again or not, not knowing if I abandoned them, that's really worrying."

He had left his slip at Conway, S.C., near Myrtle Beach, with about a month’s worth of provisions.

A few days into his trip, in early February, a rough winter storm capsized “Angel” and broke her mast. Subsequent storms would capsize "Angel" two more times, but she would stubbornly right herself.

Stores of food and water quickly ran out. Opportunities to collect rainwater came mainly during storms, where salt water spray made the captured rainwater unpalatable. When Jordan finally received a soaker without much wind, he quickly managed to fill a bucket with potable water. He told ABC News that he survived mostly on gumption and pancakes, which he fried on his still-working stove in oil.

His dad said Jordan wasn’t an experienced sailor, and he also struggled with his fishing skills after the accident.

But, again, resourcefulness helped. After spotting small fish hiding in the laundry he was allowing to drift in the water to rinse, he easily scooped some up to fry.

Such harrowing ordeals are often transformative for survivors. Jordan, for one, said the experience made him want to have kids. 

In a 2012 account in the Guardian newspaper, sailor Steve Callahan gave one view of the major lessons taught from such experiences after he spent 76 days adrift on the Atlantic in a life raft.

"I had a lot of time to think, and I regretted every mistake I'd ever made – I was divorced, and I felt I had failed at human relations generally, at business and now even at sailing," Mr. Callahan said. "I desperately wanted to get through it so I could make a better job of my life."

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