Skepticism Arises While Details Emerge of Carolina Sailor’s 66 Days Lost at Sea, But Why?
by Owen James Burke
“It’s rare that a man is lost at sea and returns home looking even healthier than before he disappeared.” — The Washington Post. True, but sailor Louis Jordan was bordering on obesity when he headed off to sea. Photo: The Virginina-Pilot, Steve Early via The Post and the Courier
When a man is found adrift in a swamped sailboat 200 miles out to sea, it is expected by many that he would appear a sunburnt and blistered husk of a human, weak and uneasy on his feet. We think of skin so fried and riddled with sores that it’s dripping off the bone, of men so gaunt that their ribcages look as if they’re about to protrude through their decaying flesh. We think of wiry, foot-long Robinson Crusoe beards encrusted with salt and unintelligible utterances spilling from lips so chapped they’re painful to even watch. But just as there is no one formula for surviving a plane crash or a car accident, there is no prescribed story or set of circumstances for a sailor lost or in distress at sea.
The sensational story of 37 year old South Carolina sailor Louis Jordan who was rescued last week has risen more than a few eyebrows among newsrooms and living rooms alike, and for many, because Mr. Jordan appears to be in such good health, something doesn’t add up. Details remain limited and hazy, but one question skeptics seem not raise is, “How the hell else would one end up 200 miles out to sea on a disabled boat which they’ve devoted their life to restoring?”
Louis Johnson stepped aboard his rescuing vessel the Houston Surprise with steady feet and a firm handshake, offering to lend a hand as thanks for his rescue. The officers refused his offer and told him to shower and rest up, probably in shock that the man could even muster a sound through his parched larynx, let alone stand on his own two feet. Curious as it may sound that a man could appear in such stamina after being adrift for weeks (presumably), this is not a sailor who was afloat on a wooden board exposed to the elements without food or water; Louis Jordan remained aboard his vessel where he was able to supply and maintain the necessary means for survival.
Sailor Louis Jordan sets foot on hard ground after over two months lost at sea. Photo: The Virginina-Pilot, Steve Early via The Post and the Courier
HOW COULD HE LOOK SO HEALTHY?
The Washington Post’s recent article propagating skepticism around Jordan’s account bears evidence far more vague and unsubstantial than the very few initial details that have been released so far. The article constantly brings into question the suspect condition in which Mr. Jordan arrived on land, yet took into account no consideration of his physical figure before he set sail in January. The Post and Courier, after consulting the family, discovered that the sailor was overweight, and borderline obese around the time of his departure.
Louis Jordan was no string bean when he left Bucksport Marina in late January. He was about 6’2″ and 230 pounds, and in a Facebook post (according to The Post and Courier), had himself described his arms as “those of a big hairy butter & egg man.” According to the body mass index (BMI) a healthy 6’2″ male weighs between 144 and 195 pounds. Otherwise, they’re considered to be “overweight” (or chiseled like an ox, which looking at pictures Jordan was not). He lost 50 pounds over the course of the two months he says he spent at sea. That’s a remarkable amount of weight to lose in two months, whether one is exercising and eating right or undernourished. The Washington Post also neglected this tidbit of information.
The fact that he looks to be “healthy” is neither relevant nor necessarily evident on first glance, as Mr. Jordan was not only overweight but nearly obese by BMI index standards when he first set sail. This was fortunate in his case because he had a reserve of body fat which helped sustain him by supplementing his simple and probably meager diet of small crustaceans and fish, and probably explains why he was rescued in “fairly good condition.”
However long he did spend aboard his incapacitated sailboat, he was always able to seek refuge from the sun and elements in his cabin. Damp and flooded as it may have been, he had much more protection than Callahan did in his raft, and was able to walk about the deck to keep somewhat nimble, a luxury not awarded to those afloat in a life raft, which has been described by sailors unfortunately acquainted with the devices as a drifting waterbed. Jordan’s boat, swamped and disabled without a rudder or a working mast, may not have had any steerage, but it was still a vessel with a cabin and a few supplies. This is not to say his survival was not trying, terrifying, or heroic and remarkable, but it was probably nowhere near the trials undergone by Callahan, who found himself in a tiny raft barely large enough to sleep in with hardly any water or provisions at all.
Louis Jordan aboard “Angel.” Photo: Louis Jordan
HOW LONG WAS HE ACTUALLY ADRIFT?
No one knows, but media outlets, including a flimsy Washington Post article, continue to claim they do, purporting that Jordan–who himself has not yet confirmed–was adrift, injured and disabled from the very same day he was reported missing. This is unconfirmed implication somehow seems to be the foundation of the rampant skepticism surrounding his story.
It wasn’t until several weeks into his excursion into the Gulf Stream when a nor’easter blew downstream bringing winds reaching 70 miles per hour. It could have been during this storm when he and his boat the Angel endured the blow from the wave that capsized them. The Angel is (or was–it may have since sunk) a 35-foot Pearson Alberg sailboat, a respectable but spartan and modest vessel–a vessel which I have sailed, but not one upon which I would necessarily chose to venture into the Gulf Stream, and certainly not in the middle of winter.
HOW COULD HE HAVE A BROKEN COLLAR BONE WHEN HE’S CARRYING A BACKPACK?
Breaking a collar bone, like most broken bones is painful at first, but it heals, oftentimes without being examined or reset by a medical doctor. If Jordan broke his collar bone upon impact during capsizing, it’s entirely plausible that he had mostly recovered by the time of his rescue, many weeks later. In fact, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle McCollum–a skeptic himself, according to The Washington Post’s own unsubstantiated skepticism–noted that although Jordan was able to move his harm “fluidly” while not showing “any sign of pain in his face,” recalled seeing “slight bruising” on his right clavicle.
Ultimately, Mr. Jordan had food, water and shelter–all the necessary means to survive. Horrifying and traumatic as his experience may or may not have been, many longer and far more harrowing stories of survival have been confirmed. His story, as it stands, offers no more reason to doubt than there is to believe that a competent and prepared sailor could not survive about a partially swamped boat for any number of weeks with the right ingenuity. Details are continuing to surface, but as it stands, there’s no substantiated evidence worth discrediting Mr. Jordan’s story, unless you believe that this past Easter weekend brought about the resurrection of the lord in the form of a bible-quoting Baha’Ist and freewheeling trucker by trade aboard a swamped sailboat in the middle of the Gulf Stream.
“I don’t mind being criticized,” said Jordan in response to skeptics. “To paraphrase the Bible: Fools hate to be criticized, but wise men love to be criticized.” Jordan had with him a bible, which he read front to back, perhaps to keep his spirits high. — OJB
Louis Jordan made a statement to the AP in response to critics on Monday. Read The Washington Post’s vague, half-cocked article here, a more investigative report at The Post and the Courier, and related Scuttlefish stories below: