5 Epic Disasters at Sea (Survived by Un-killable Badasses)
If the movies have taught us anything, it's that being in a shipwreck is pretty much the final entry in "things you are going to do in your life." All it takes is a superstorm, an iceberg, or a dickhead whale to throw you into a horror-filled survival challenge on a dubious raft with a tiger and/or soccer ball. Of course, we assume that in real life, even the survivors in those movies would die of thirst or shark bite long before rescue comes along.
But we'd be wrong. History is full of shipwreck survivors so bizarrely unkillable that they seemed to go out of their way to mock Death itself, right to his stupid, bony face:
Gudlaugur Fridthorsson Survives Six Hours in Freezing Water, Is a Seal Person
On March 11, 1984, Gudlaugur Fridthorsson was on a boat with four other fishermen near the southern coast of Iceland, because dangerous frozen sea voyages are what you are legally required to do when your name is Gudlaugur Fridthorsson. The Nordic equivalent of Poseidon was apparently displeased with Gudlaugur's presumption, because his boat capsized, sending him and his four shipmates into the cold, unfeeling North Atlantic. Gudlaugur watched his friends sink into the terrible abyss around him one by one, until finally it was just him and the sea. As it turns out, those were the kind of odds Gudlaugur liked best. He kicked off his ice-shielding outer wear and, clad in nothing but jeans, a shirt, and a sweater, began swimming back to dry land.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge how completely ridiculous this is. The human body loses heat about 20-25 times faster when wet, even when you're cruising down Splash Mountain on a 110-degree day. Gudlaugur was over three miles from shore, in an area of the world where "shore" is a loose collection of glaciers tied together by frozen hatred. He shouldn't have lasted longer than 20 or 30 minutes at the very most, certainly no longer than Leonardo DiCaprio.
And Gud didn't even have any nude drawings to keep him warm.
Undaunted by the impossibility of his situation, Gudlaugur swam for six hours. Six goddamn hours in a body of water that shares a border with the Norwegian Sea. Most of us couldn't spend six hours in a fucking bathtub, and this stout Nordic fisherman paddled all the way to dry land. When he realized he'd come ashore at a place where the cliffs were too steep to climb, he went back into the ocean to swim to a better spot. And by "better spot", we mean "a field of razor sharp, solidified volcanic lava."
This was a problem, because Gudlaugur had kicked his boots off hours earlier to avoid drowning. But, as you can guess, he walked across the field anyway, losing tons of blood as the deadly terrain chewed his feet apart. Yes, Gudlaugur was living out the plot of Die Hard, except his Hans Gruber was the entire coastal area of Iceland.
Greenland is Sgt. Powell in the metaphor.
Gudlaugur eventually reached a settlement and was finally taken to the hospital, at which point his body temperature was too low for medical thermometers to even measure, meaning he was at least two degrees colder than any living human had any right to be.
After Gudlaugur made a full recovery (because of course he did), the doctors ran some tests on him and discovered, to the surprise of absolutely no one, he was literally superhuman -- his body fat was three times thicker than that of an average person, and way more solid. He was basically built like a goddamn seal with a beard, which means there's a pretty good chance he was the only person on Earth who could have survived what he went through. He is the closest thing to Aquaman this world has yet seen.
And unlike Aquaman, he already has a movie.
Robert Crellin Politely Rescues Over 20 People
On May 29, 1914, an 8-year-old girl named Florence Barbour was travelling from Quebec City to Liverpool with her family when their ship, the Empress of Ireland, collided with another ship in the heavy fog and started to sink, because ocean liners back then had a serious problem with blindly smashing into things in a cloud of hubris.
"Oh, I'm sorry, after you!"
"No no, please, after you!"
"I insist, after you!"
Florence was awakened by getting thrown across her cabin like a loose shoe from a high-stepping poltergeist. All around her, a shrieking cloud of panic was descending upon the passengers of the Empress. Suddenly, Florence's uncle, Robert Crellin, exploded out of the confusion and grabbed hold of her with the sure-armed strength of an action hero. Crellin looked his niece squarely in the eye and said:
"Don't be frightened, dear, I've got you. God be willing, darling, we will save everyone."
If you think that sounds like cheesy platitudes meant to calm a hysterical child, then you clearly don't realize that Robert Crellin was actually telling the future. Check this out -- the Empress of Ireland took a meager 15 minutes to go completely under. As the ship rapidly sank beneath them, Crellin put Florence on his back and jumped off the deck into the water, swimming around for over an hour with his niece clutching his shoulders like a JanSport full of desperate human emotion.
If you were wondering whether or not Crellin had a mustache, the answer is "of course he did."
Eventually they came across an overturned lifeboat, and Crellin hoisted Florence on top of it before climbing on himself. They picked up a third survivor, and the trio floated over to a collapsible lifeboat, which they managed to open and hop into, because floating on a callous sea of death will turn everyone into an engineering savant.
Now, most people would have been content to just stay in the boat, shivering and comparing survival stories until a Coast Guard ship full of brandy and blankets showed up. Not Robert Crellin. He damn well meant what he said about saving everyone he could (see "looking into the future" above), and immediately set about pulling helpless folks out of the water, ultimately rescuing more than 20 people.
"I know I shouldn't complain about being rescued from certain death, but did you have to do it in the nude?"
When they were eventually rescued, not only did Robert Crellin downplay his role in the proceedings, he also directed the hero-hungry media towards Florence, telling reporters, "The child was pluckier than a stout man ... she never even whimpered, and complaint was out of the question." Classy, Robert Crellin. Real classy.
"Really, she was holding me up. I was basically wearing her as a flotation device."
Two Men Survive 25 Days at Sea in an Icebox
In 2009, a Thai fishing boat set out with a crew of 20 to squeeze in some last-minute fishing before Christmas. The trip didn't go as planned, however, as the wooden boat splintered and sank on the 23rd of December, some 200 miles off the coast of Australia (unless, for some strange reason, that was what they meant to do, in which case the trip went exactly as planned). Due to unfortunate circumstances and/or terrible foresight, there were precisely zero life jackets on board, and the entire crew spilled into the water and eventually drowned.
That is, all but two men. These unnamed survivors decided that dying at sea was totes lame, y'all, and they wanted nothing to do with it. So they managed to stay alive by climbing into a floating icebox. Where they spent 25 days.
What, you thought the title of this entry was a metaphor? It was a literal icebox.
The men didn't have anything that they could improvise into makeshift fishing tools or a sail, so they survived by drinking rainwater from sea storms and eating fish that birds had vomited into the icebox (because apparently, South Sea birds are constantly drunk). They had virtually no protection against the blazing sun, and bathing was completely out of the question because the waters were being diligently patrolled by sharks.
Also, did we mention that it was cyclone season? Because it was totally cyclone season. The tenacious pair of cooler pilots were hit by winds of up to 50 knots by Cyclone Charlotte, roughly equal to 57.6 mph gusts. Winds at that speed are strong enough to raise 40-foot waves and cause structural damage to buildings, which you may recognize as things that are generally much sturdier than iceboxes or human faces. Yet somehow, their plastic life box didn't sink, and they were rescued by a routine customs service flight on the lookout for illegal trawlers and human traffickers (bizarrely, the floating ice chest full of people technically fits into both categories).
David Crowley Rides a Bale of Cotton to Safety
David Crowley was the second mate on the steamboat Lexington, which was sailing from New York City to Boston when, on January 13th, 1840, it caught fire and sank several miles off the coast of Long Island. This being directly in the middle of a northern winter, the people on board had the choice of either burning alive on the rapidly immolating steamer or jumping into the water and freezing to death.
However, Crowley and a few others boldly came up with a third solution: the Lexington was carrying numerous bales of cotton, which, among other things, can totally be used for flotation in an emergency. So he rolled a bunch of the bales into the water and hopped onto one, patting himself on the back for his ingenuity and patiently anticipating a relatively swift rescue. And indeed, the three non-David-Crowley survivors were picked up by noon the next day. The only problem was that nobody noticed David Crowley.
Somehow, every single rescue boat managed to completely pass him by, and by the time the other survivors were warming themselves by the fires back at home, Crowley was still floating on top of a bale of cotton in Long Island Sound, desperately trying to get someone's attention. To keep from freezing to death, Crowley burrowed a hole into the center of the bale he was riding and stuffed his clothes with cotton until he looked like a "fat snowman", which turned out to be a good move, since he wound up drifting unnoticed for another 48 hours.
"We're going to have to charge you for that cotton."
By the end of the second day, Crowley had floated over 50 freaking miles. Luckily, the bale washed against a floating ice pack, and the half-crazed, hypothermic second mate of the Lexington was able to crawl across the frozen sheet until he reached dry land. Soon, the residents of a nearby house got the shock of a lifetime when what looked for all the world like a bloated dead body knocked on their front door, asking for help. We have to give them credit for not immediately mistaking Crowley for a bog monster and shooting him several times in the face.
Crowley went on to make a full recovery. Later on, the owners of the cotton aboard the Lexington presented Crowley with the same bale of cotton that saved him, because we're certain that's exactly what he wanted to be reminded of every day for the rest of his life.
Bob Bartlett Survives 12 Shipwrecks, Travels 700 Miles Over Arctic Ice to Save His Crew
Bob Bartlett's life was full of so many fantastical adventures that we cannot address them all in a single entry. The man went on numerous ocean expeditions (tooling around the Arctic areas in particular), traveled further north than most people in history, and likely developed a reputation as the absolute worst person to share a boat with in the history of naval travel, because throughout the course of his journeys, he was shipwrecked 12 goddamn times.
Maybe you should consider another line of work, Bob-o.
With that in mind, we'll just focus on what is possibly his most famous exploit: The Voyage of the Karluk. Bartlett was filling in as the captain of the Karluk Arctic expedition (the original captain left the party to go hunting, which was presumably a totally normal reason to abandon an expedition back then) when the boat got stuck in ice on August 13, 1913. They drifted helplessly westwards for months, until finally, in January of 1914 (nearly half a year later), the ice tore a hole in the side of the ship. As you may have guessed, this did not improve their situation.
However, Bartlett (who at this point in his career probably assumed every boat he stepped on was going to sink) had seen this coming. He'd already had his men climb out onto the ice to build igloos and fill them with necessary supplies. As the Karluk sank and everybody else abandoned ship, Bartlett stayed on board, playing dozens of musical records until the last possible moment. Finally, Bartlett played Chopin's "Funeral March" on the ship's turntable, then calmly stepped on the ice and watched the Karluk go under. We assume he did this in slow motion while his hype man showered him in dollar bills.
Or seal blubber, or whatever it is Arctic explorers use as currency.
After living in the clustered batch of igloos that became known as "Shipwreck Camp" for a few months, Bartlett struck out with the remaining survivors to walk the 100 miles to Wrangel Island, with the hope of pressing on to Siberia for help. However, it turned out that most of the survivors were simply not as hardcore as Bartlett, and were too weak to continue once they reached Wrangel.
So Bartlett hopped on a motherfucking dog sled with an Alaskan Inuit named Kataktovik, and the two rode 700 goddamned miles over Arctic ice to get some help for the crew. When the two men reached East Cape on the Bering Strait, Bartlett's legs and feet were so swollen from exposure that he couldn't walk. He didn't let something like "potentially losing your limbs to frostbite" put him out of action for long, and as soon as he recovered, he hopped on a boat to go back to Wrangel Island and pick up the men he'd left behind ... only to discover that a Canadian ship, King and Winge, had beaten him to it.
"We waited as long as we could, but Dancing With The Stars was starting soon and we needed time to get pizza ..."
Still, the fact that he personally told the Arctic Circle to go fuck itself in order to save the lives of those depending on him earned him an almost legendary reputation as a master of Arctic navigation. To wit: a few years later, when the members of a Greenland expedition who had been stranded in the ice for four years finally spotted a rescue ship and the figure of a man standing at its helm, the leader of the party reflexively yelled out: "Is that you, Bob?"
Bartlett shouted back, "Of course! Who in hell do you think it is?"
We're 95% sure he isn't wearing any pants in this picture.
For more ridiculous badasses, check out 5 Nuns Who Could Kick Your Ass and 6 More Real-Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy.
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