Desert island

images-36Though somewhat inconvenient, becoming a castaway needn’t be a harrowing experience. Heed the lessons of Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who survived alone on an islet for over four years. Jack Palfrey retells his tale.

The roaring winds of the South Pacific buffer the bow of the Duke, a hardy British frigate, moored near the craggy island of Más a Tierra.

Aboard, the ship’s captain and experienced seahand, Woodes Rogers, awaits news from the small landing party that have gone ashore, investigating bright lights they believe to be French sailors stocking up on supplies.

Rogers whiles away the idle hours scribbling in his diary, a soiled manuscript that will go on to be published in England under the title: A Cruising Voyage Around the World.

“February 2, 1709: We are all convinc’d the light is on the shore, and design to make our ships ready to engage, believing them to be French ships at anchor,” he wrote.

As the sun bows to kiss the Pacific Ocean, Rogers becomes worried. Fearing his men have been captured, he commands a signal be raised for the crew to return. When he finally spies the returning boat, he is stunned by what he sees.

“Our Pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man cloth’d in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them,” he scribbled.

The wild man was Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been living alone on the small atoll for the last four years.

“At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use, that we could scarce understand him,” authored Rodgers. “We offered him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but Water since his being there.”

The feral Selkirk intrigued Rogers. He admired his physical prowess and was impressed by his resourcefulness, inviting him to be a mate aboard Duke.

As a dense darkness smothered the vessel, Rogers ushered Selkirk below deck, hoping to be regaled by the castaway’s tale under candlelight.

Selkirk was marooned on Más a Tierra after a disagreement with his then captain over the seaworthiness of his ship. Selkirk dramatically suggested he would rather stay on the island than sail on.

His captain, somewhat of a literalist, left Selkirk ashore with his bedding, clothes, firelock, gunpowder and bullets. He also had his tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a bible and his mathematical books.

Grappling with a strong sense of despair, Selkirk turned his attention to survival.