The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Read time: about 7 minutes

The political scene was unfavorable, the story had been already sold, ripped till the last bone and it was a little too late after the fiasco. All these factors de-lured the author from writing the story of a shipwrecked sailor. Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, a renowned author, for his work such as “A Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love In The Time Of Cholera”, wrote his first piece of non-fiction while he was a journalist. He was approached by this sailor who has survived ten days in the sea without potable water and much to eat. He immediately turned down the offer, seeing not much meat in the story. But as it happened he was destined to write the story. A story well told, ran in a newspaper for fourteen days before running into troubles. The sailor was expelled from the Navy and the author was exiled. The story of a shipwrecked sailor is an underrated work of the author.

Since Luis Rengifo had not sailed for such a long time, I was sure he would be seasick. That first morning of the voyage he asked me, while he dresses, “haven’t you gotten sick yet?”

I told him I hadn’t.

Then Rengifo said, “In two or three hours I’ll see you with your tongue hanging out.”

“That’s how you’ll look,” I said.

“The day I’m sick,” he replied, “The Sea will get sick.”

Cover page

The edition I am reading is by penguin. The cover page is a shot of the ship wood with a rope hanging from it. The author, being more famous than the story within, takes the entire cover page. The title of the book is somewhere lost below, not clearly visible too. The book, if seen simply as a product design, fails epically. The cover page is overcrowded and the text within is hardly legible.

Few may find it absurd, but the interest in a book is directly proportional to the way in which it is designed.

It was two o’clock. The wind went on roaring, and above the noise I could still hear the voice of Luis Rengifo: “Fatso! Row over this way.”


Luis Alejandro Velasco was a sailor with the Columbian navy. A man of early twenties, he had the vast ocean to discover. He enjoyed this life with the ship mates, went out partying and had a girl-friend. In short he was an ordinary man trying to live his life to the fullest. The story is about him, how he turned into a national hero after what he considered “hardly” heroic survival of his.


“When I heard him speak I realized that more than thirst, hunger and despair, what had tormented me most is the need to tell someone what had happened to me.”

And thus began the telling of story of the shipwrecked sailor. Luis Alejandro Velasco was a sailor in Columbian Navy. After watching a film of a sinking ship the seed was sown. He invariably started thinking of the possibility of him surviving a storm. It did come to realization when the strong winds upturned his vessel which was overloaded with personal items such as refrigerators, ovens etc. It made sense to throw away these in the sea to keep the ship afloat.

However, the orders when given to put on the life jackets and follow the instincts. Velasco watched his friends dying, calling for help. It was his sheer luck that he reached the life raft on time. This is where he is going to be until after he is found.

The story is narrated in first person accounting his life during on the life raft. The continuous swing from the possibility of being rescued to the want of dying a peaceful death is what makes the story interesting. However the stubborn desire to live overpowers all. The sailor survives. The sailor becomes a national hero, appears on tv and gets kissed by beauty queen. But this does not last forever as good things hardly do. He pays the price when he finally decides to tell the story. The complete truth this time.

The content has got all the meat. The story is thrilling even though it is well known, what the sailor survives.

It was terribly delicate. With the first twist, I felt the neck bones break. With the second, I felt its living warm blood spurt through my fingers. I pitied it. It looked like a murder victim. Its head, still pulsating, hung down from its body and throbbed in my hand.


Before the story was written it was decided that it would only be fitting that the story is written in first person and signed by the sailor. The story is biographical. The language implores the psychic of a sailor who is left alone in a life raft, trying to survive the vast ocean. There are some spine-chilling accounts which are well described by the more than able hands of the author.

Good points

The content is gripping as a struggle of a man for his survival would be. There is a mental chaos in the book which perfectly demonstrates the happenings in the brain of the sailor. The writing does justice to the story which in itself is magnificent.

Bad points

The cover is bland. The font is hardly legible. An avid reader is going to be repulsed by the font inside.

Those who expect another booker prize winning book from the author are going to be disappointed. The story is the nonfiction written by the author much earlier. It may not carry the same magic as the later books by the author.

After nine, an icy wind began to blow. I tried to escape it by lying in the bottom of the raft, but that didn’t work. The chill penetrated to the marrow of my bones.


The book is a wonderful account of one man’s survival in the vast sea. He is left to fend for himself and does so wonderfully.

Who do I recommend this to

For the readers who like a true story of bravery instilled by the situations, this book is going to be a must read.

Quotable quotes

After seven days at sea, thirst is a feeling unto itself; it’s deep pain in my throat, in the sternum, and especially beneath the clavicles. And it’s also the fear of suffocating.

The bird pecked me gently without injuring my scalp. It seemed as if it were caressing me. I remembered the gunnery officer on the destroyer who had told me it was undignified for a sailor to kill a sea gull, and I felt remorseful about the little one that I had killed for no good reason.

I looked at the side of the raft where I had marked each day and counted eight scratched. But I had realized I had forgotten to record this one. I made a scratch with my key, convinced it would be the last one, feeling desperate and angry at the realization that it would be harder for me to die than to go on living.

My ninth night was the longest of all. I had lain down in the raft and the waves were gently breaking against the side. But I wasn’t in command of my senses, and with every wave that broke I relived the catastrophe. It is said that the dying retrace their steps.

I did nothing heroic. All my effort went toward saving myself. But since salvation came wrapped in a glow and with the title of hero as a prize, like bonbon with a surprise inside it, I had no choice but to accept my salvation as it came, heroism and all.

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH