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I Ran Out of Food After 28 Days at Sea

Sailing round the world on my little boat, BOBBIE, has been incredible. Save the time that, after 28 days at sea, I ran out of food.
Photo by Emily Richmond

Sailing round the world on my little boat, BOBBIE, has been incredible. Save the time that, after 28 days at sea, I ran out of food.

It's day 28. I am alone, again, on a sea called Arafura. And there is fuck all to eat.

Sailing around the world, in many ways, often ends up looking a hell of a lot like an exotic spin-off of Supermarket Sweep. I drop anchor, scurry shore-side, and hail a taxi to the nearest big-box marketplace. My cart floweth over with canned beans, boxed noodles, extra large bags of oatmeal, and way too much pasta. I look either OCD or like some nutcase preparing for the apocalypse. Just like to eat, I shrug to the cashier across the register.


But right now, a month into my rations, things are looking much less bountiful. Worse still, my LPG cooking gas has inexplicably run dry. Oh god, I'm going to starve, I think.

I quickly get to work banging up a couple boxes of cardboard with a plank of glass and a mirror that I'd unscrewed from the ship's head and poised on top like a reflector. Just like that, I've got myself a DIY solar cooker. Thank god for all those misspent hours pouring over morbid survival scenarios on the internet.

My new oven isn't pretty but it works amazing well, much like those sunny childhood afternoons frying fire ants with a magnifying glass. Inside it, I'm able to hydrate my oatmeal, warm my tinned foods, and bake scones from odd bits of flour and margarine. In short, I'm able to keep living. But still I wonder how long I can hold out. I have no engine and there has been nary a puff of usable wind in nearly a week. The 200 miles that still lie between me and sustenance might as well be two million—day after day, I am getting no closer. What I wake to in the morning is the same at night: endless horizon in every direction. I cling only to the small sanctity of wisdom that says no matter how shitty the weather, it is never permanent.

I dangle my legs over the side, dejectedly watching jetsam float by. Packets of discarded noodles, little cartons of juice, bright red caps courtesy of our friends at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company—cruel reminders of other peoples' food, of our joint carelessness.

Emily Richmond

All photos by the author

An amazing thing happens, though. I become part of the environment—stationary, nothing more than jetsam myself. The fish stop thinking of me as a vessel and now they just see me as shade. By day eight of the calm, the underside of the yacht is absolutely teeming with life. Now when I sling my legs overboard, schools of fish dart around my ankles, reacting to the whirls of bubbles I kick up. There are small tunas, deep green dorados, even a couple baby mako sharks further down. And then something inside me suddenly rises up, a primal urge: Hey, I can eat that, it occurs to me. I can eat that!

I'd just left Papua New Guinea after a year in the islands among dear friends, for whom hunting is less of a sport and more a way of life. I look around the deck and immediately spot the long bamboo spear my friend, Lolo, had set up. It's four meters long, strong and sleek, with a dozen shards of sharpened metal jutting out from one end. Throw through the fish, I remember him telling me. Just like giving a good punch.

I should pause here to say that ordinarily I do not go all-in for the blood and guts bits of life. I like to think I'm a tough woman in a lot of ways, but thinking of the times I've tried fishing and actually had luck makes my heart sink. I always regret it immediately; What have I done? I'd usually think as a mahi-mahi hauled up over the edge pulses with such a magnificent rainbow of colors as it drowns in oxygen, fighting for its life.


That guilt is nowhere to be found today, though. I chuck bits of debris from the deck, splash buckets of water, and watch flurries of fish surround the disturbances. And so I swing. It's almost too easy. In under a quarter of an hour, I stand with my spear at my side and a dozen fish at my feet.

Emily Richmond

I run a small filleting knife like a letter opener across their bellies, their own meals and its containing vessels spilling forth. I watch the grey entrails return to the ocean, sinking slowly before going into the open mouths of their former friends. We're all doing it, I think.

In the heat of the day, I bake a handful of the halved and open-faced fish inside my makeshift oven. The other half are cut into strips of meat and clothespinned to the lifelines encircling the boat—a cache of jerky for the next meal. It's all so improvised, but the result is the same. Everything we need is right here. It always has been.

Six days later, I inch myself slowly into the port of Dili, a beautiful jewel of a harbor in post-conflict East Timor. A shiny aluminum skiff is buzzing towards me. In it, a lanky lad named Tino greets me and points the way to a good place to drop anchor. "Welcome to Dili!" he shouts over the roar of his motor. I cut him off immediately: "Hey man, how far to the market?"

This article previously appeared on MUNCHIES in May 2014.