As modern human beings, we take so many things for granted. Good food, clean water, shopping, healthcare, time in front of the TV, trips to the movies, sporting events, a good night’s sleep…the list goes on. But what if you woke up tomorrow and all this was gone? No more convenience, no more fun, and having to fend for yourself when life gets tough. Well that’s exactly what we’re going to be exploring today. We’ll be seeking advice from military experts, survivalists, and researching stories in the media.
If you found yourself stranded on an island, you’d quickly need to forget about life’s luxuries and instead knuckle down and focus on the essentials for staying a live. So let’s start by looking at what those essentials are. Ross Boyer was the survival consultant on the 2014 Bear Grills show, The Island, where women and men were stripped of their luxuries of 21st century living and left for up to 6 weeks, as part of an experiment to see if they would recapture their primeval instincts. What are some of the key survival tips they were told to adopt?
Three is the magic number – Three seconds before taking any action. Three hours is longest time you should take to establish your base. And don’t forget that you can last up to three days without water and three weeks without food.
2. Beware of the beach – The sand will be scorching, and will be the driest part of the island, so you will dehydrate very quickly. There are also Sand flies, which have ferocious bites that can get infected. And watch out for dangerous and unpredictable tides and wave patterns.
3. What about food? – Well nearly all islands will have jungle areas, and if you know what you are looking for, the jungle can offer enough food to survive. However, there are also things to be wary of. Avoid plants with white or yellow berries. Don’t eat mushrooms, as many are highly toxic, so it’s not worth the risk. If it tastes bitter or soapy, then spit it out. Shiny leaves mean danger. Stay away from plants with leaves in groups of three. And avoid beans or plants with seeds inside a pod.
4. Fire, fire fire – Fire is your friend and essential for warmth, cooking, boiling and sterilizing water, and signaling for help with smoke. So how do you light one with no matches? Focusing sunlight through a lens is ideal, but if you don’t have a lens, you will need to place some dry leaves on a piece of bark and role a stick between your hands, so there is a enough heat friction between the stick, bark and leaves, to spark a flame.
5. Stay calm – Being stranded on a deserted island can leave even the most experienced campers feeling confused, scared and panicked. But panicking causes us to lose control and stop thinking rationally. Once the realization of being lost has set in, take a deep breath and reassure yourself that help will come. Then get back to focusing on other areas of your survival.
6. Find a friend – In the popular 2000 film, Cast Away, Tom Hank’s character befriended a volleyball. Using blood from an injured hand, he drew a face on the ball, which he named Wilson, for obvious reasons. It was his only companion during the four years alone on the island. And then there’s Robinson Crusoe…. Crusoe had a parrot called Poll that he befriended and taught how to speak. So find or invent a friend to keep you from going insane.
7. Have a positive attitude – Most modern castaways are rescued within 12 hours, and most of us can last for a night. But if that does not happen, then keeping a positive attitude is essential for survival. Tell yourself everyday that you can make it through. Keep pushing on.
So, these are the essentials, but what about putting it all into practice. Next we decided to look at a couple of real examples and see how our castaways fair. Former British Army captain Ed Stafford spent 60 days naked and marooned on a deserted island in the South Pacific with only his video camera. No food, no water, no tools, no knife, and not even any clothes. We mentioned how important fire is, well it took poor old Stafford two weeks to start one, after he located the right wood. For food, he did manage to find and kill a feral goat, which he skinned, cut up, and cured. This provided him food for an entire week. Stafford got very sick at one point, but as this was for TV, his support crew flew some medicine in. Lucky for Stafford, but if it had been for real, it could have been his end. He said the biggest challenge he encountered was coping with isolation. At times, Stafford felt he was going to lose his sanity, but he survived to tell the tale.
Next we came across the story of Lucy Irvine, a British adventurer and author, who spent a year on the uninhabited island with one other person, to write her book, Castaway. Tuin Island is a mile long, uninhabited strip of sand and palms in the Torres strait, 70 miles from Papua New Guinea. Lucy shared her time with turtles and giant goannas. She says that food was the main focus of the day. They would hunt in the morning for sharks, presumably small ones as she says they were easy to catch. She had a few coins and banknotes when she arrived, but money is no use on a deserted island. They tied the coins to little flags and used them as weights to get the fishing lines out. The notes became kindling for the fire. Lucy said that returning to civilization after her survival-experience was a shock, and when they published her book Castaway, she became something of a celebrity and went from naked woman grubbing about in the sand for bait, to a creature groomed for television chat-shows.
We found one other interesting story about an Australian, David Glasheen, who went from high-flying businessman to being alone on a deserted island where he has been for more than 20 years. Now 74 years old, Glasheen moved to the idyllic Restoration Island, off the North East of Australia, in May 1997 after losing his fortune in a stock exchange crash. But originally, he didn’t go alone. A woman from Zimbabwe went with him. Their plan was to build a 60-room luxury resort. According to Glasheen, she couldn’t handle it. It was all too tough for her, and she left shortly after arriving. So Glasheen grew a beard and stopped wearing shirts, and though his plans for the resort did not work out, he decided to stay alone at the tropical castaway. Over the 20 years he’s been on the island, Glasheen has survived by growing his own vegetables, as well as catching fresh crabs and fish. He’s renovated a World War II outpost into a livable home, complete with solar power. But as time passed, and the outside world evolved, technology has reached Glasheen, who now has Internet access. So we’re not sure Glasheen is technically stranded, but certainly an interesting story. So much so, that he’s even had a visit from Russell Crowe, who once moored his yacht and stayed for dinner.
So now you know how to survive if you are stranded on an island. If it does happen, you may well be picked up within 12 hours, or perhaps you will want to stay for years, like our nomadic Australian castaway, David Glasheen. Whatever happens, remember to stay calm, find food, water, shelter, and learn how to stoke a fire.
So, do you think you could survive? What would you do that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.