BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, December 2015
“His name was Salvador and he arrived with bloody feet.” From the opening sentence of Jonathan Franklin’s 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, this riveting adventure has us in its grip, spellbound and eager to know more about the mysterious Salvador Alvarenga.
We learn that Alvarenga arrived in the Mexican coastal village of Costa Azul in the fall of 2008 looking to start a new life and leave behind his troubles in El Salvador. With bravado and tenacity, Alvarenga worked his way up, first taking menial jobs and gaining the villagers’ trust, and eventually captaining his own boat and earning a reputation as the best fisherman in the village.
On November 17, 2012, Alvarenga set out with an untested mate, Cordoba, hoping to outrun a possible Norteno—a violent storm capable of producing hurricane-strength winds. After a successful haul on the fishing grounds, the pair headed home, but within 20 miles of shore, their boat encountered the Norteno. To avoid capsizing in rough seas, they jettisoned almost all of their supplies; their engine failed, and by the time the winds had calmed, the two were floating far from shore at the mercy of fickle weather and the currents of the Pacific Ocean.
Franklin, who spent a year interviewing Alvarenga, meticulously recounts the day-to-day lives of these mariners and their attempts to survive. Although Cordoba died in early 2013, the resourceful Alvarenga fought on, devising ways to catch fish, turtles and birds, and constructing a makeshift rain barrel out of plastic bottles found in the ocean. He repaired his tattered clothing with a fish fin fashioned into a needle.
By the time he washed ashore on one of the atolls in the Marshall Islands on January 29, 2014, Alvarenga had survived longer at sea in a small boat than anyone previously recorded. His story of resilience, ingenuity and grit is an unforgettable true-life adventure.