In 2007, Gemma Sheridan and two friends went out on a voyage that was to take them from their hometown of Liverpool, across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal and then onward to the Island of Hawaii. The first stage of the voyage went without incident. However, after passing through the Panama Canal into the Pacific, things took a turn for the worse.
There was a huge storm that took out the boats electronics and washed her two friends over board and seriously damaged her boat. Without any electronics and with a damaged boat, Gemma drifted for 17 days until she came across another storm. During the storm, Gemma was knocked unconscious. Gemma woke up on a beach, surrounded by the wreckage of her boat.
Here is account of her journey: Within the first hour I had a major panic attack. It was a disturbing feeling, being isolated, alone and so far from home without any hope. I had been on water rations for 2 weeks, so finding water was the first priority.
There were no pools of fresh water so I had to dig up a contraption that drew the water away from the rock and provided for one drop every 40 seconds. That was my water source, so it was coconuts until it drained. It definitely was not a great start. The amount of energy everything took was beyond what I expected.
For the first two weeks I stayed in a mock shelter I made from debris that washed ashore. I needed to find real shelter so I found a large tree that looked perfect. I scraped away at the bark of a tree with a giant clam shell for 11 days just to build a shelter.
It took four weeks before I managed to light a fire. You have no idea how happy I was when that happened. There were eight goats on the island, for adults and 4 kids. I saw them on day one and they seem to taunt me by coming so close I can almost touch them. I made a bow and arrow but this just did not work and my spear was not sharp enough. So when the hunting tools didn’t work I spent seven days building a trap with spikes on it. But that was not good enough either.
One day I was walking around the island looking for crabs and I saw what I thought was driftwood. It was a goat. The goat had been eating leaves when it got its horns stuck and panicked. It was a massive thing and it was all meat, so I tried squeezing at its windpipe and hitting it on the head with a clamshell. It took about 15 minutes to kill and it was pretty gruesome. It showed me how far I was from being able to hurt because even though it was trapped it still took me too long.
Fast forward a few years and everything has changed. The physical side was tough but ultimately fine. I did a series of exercises on the beach everyday. I managed to get a to a stage where I was getting stronger. I had made a sign on the beach that was about 10 feet high, but it had sat there all this time and nothing came of it. So I decided to go all out I spent the next few weeks clearing space and find materials to build a huge sign in the sand on the beach. My hope was that perhaps a plane might fly over and see it, but in all my time on the island, I had not seen one single plane. I did not give up though.
Fast forward a couple more years. I woke up one morning to the sound of a plane flying over me which was unusually low, I could not believe it, I thought I was in a dream. I ran to the beach screaming and waving my arms like a lunatic. The plane flew over two or three more times and then dropped a small package. Inside was a radio, fresh water, food and a small medical kit. I switch on the radio and heard the first human voice in years. We talked for what seemed like an eternity, then I asked the voice on the other end “How did you find me?” to which he replied “Some kid from Minnesota found your SOS sign on Google Earth”. I didn’t even know what Google Earth was, but I’m eternally grateful and indebted to them now.