Salvador Alvarenga's Fishing Journey

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A fishing trip turns into a terrifying test of survival after Salvador Alvarenga becomes one man against the sea.

Salvador Alvarenga loved the simple lines of the fiberglass craft. No cabin or roof. Just a 25-foot-long narrow, canoe-shaped boat designed to carve up the waves like a huge surfboard, agile and fast, with the engine mounted on the back.

Alvarenga was a 37-year-old Salvadoran fisherman living and working in Mexico. A heavy drinker quick to pick up the tab, he had no family tying him down—his 13-year-old daughter lived with her mother in El Salvador. On this day, November 18, 2012, Alvarenga planned to head out into the Pacific at 10 a.m. and work straight through until 4 p.m. the next day. His crewman was Ezequiel Córdoba, a 22-year-old
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In one day, he’d make enough money to survive for a full week.

As he blasted through the waves some 75 miles from land, Alvarenga let out his two-mile-long fishing line. The storm was gaining strength on land but had yet to reach the men far offshore. That changed around 1 a.m. Waves rocked the small boat, which began to tilt sideways like an amusement park ride. “Get us out of here!” Córdoba screamed to Alvarenga. “Let’s go back!”

With the winds and waves kicking up, the boat began to fill with water. Alvarenga had Córdoba bail, while he pulled in the fishing line. But the crashing waves filled their boat with water faster than they could empty it, forcing Alvarenga to make a radical decision. He cut the line, dumping thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and fish into the sea. He then pointed the boat toward his home port, Chocohuital, six hours away. Then Alvarenga called his boss, Willie, to report his position.

With the coming dawn, Alvarenga spotted the rise of the mountains on the horizon. He was figuring out a route through the vicious shoreline surf when the motor coughed. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Alvarenga. “We were 15 miles off the coast, and the motor
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By all reasonable standards, he should have been dead months earlier. Was he being allowed to live for a reason? Had he been chosen to bring a message of hope to those considering suicide? “What could be worse than being alone at sea? That’s what I could tell someone thinking about suicide. What further suffering could there be than this?” he says.

On January 30, 2014, coconuts bobbed in the water, and the sky was filled with shorebirds. A cold rain limited visibility. Alvarenga stood on the deck, staring out. A tiny tropical island was emerging from the rainy mist. It looked wild, without roads, cars, or homes.His first urge was to dive overboard and swim to shore. But leery of sharks, he waited. It took him half a day to reach land. When he was ten yards from shore, he dived off the deck and let a wave carry him in. As the wave pulled away, Alvarenga was left facedown on the beach. “I held a handful of sand in my hand like it was a treasure,” he said.

Alvarenga was discovered by the lone couple who inhabited the island. He had washed ashore on the Ebon Atoll, the southern tip of the Marshall Islands, one of the most remote spots on Earth. Had Alvarenga missed Ebon, the next likely stop was the Philippines, 3,000 miles

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