Overboard

When 50-year-old South African surfer Brett Archibald fell from a chartered 72-foot motor-boat this past spring, during an overnight crossing from Sumatra to the Mentawai Islands, he was some 40 miles from the nearest shore.

brett archibald surfer overboard survived at sea shark attack survival how to

    Photo: Matt Mahurn

Then it hit again, harder. I wanted to see what it was, so I swam under-water and looked right at a blacktip reef shark about my size.

April 17—1:30 A.M.
I woke up feeling sick and went to the head and immediately started exploding out both ends—it was food poisoning. I went on deck to throw up and saw one of my mates, who was also sick. I went and told the captain, then went back outside. That’s the last thing I remember until I came to in the ocean and saw the boat about 200 feet from me, sailing away. I must have fallen over the railing. I screamed, but I knew it was futile.

April 17—3 A.M.
I decided I had two choices: live or die. I chose to live. I immediately started focusing on getting my heart rate down, using breathing and meditation. Thankfully, the water was about 82 degrees. 

April 17—2:30 P.M.
I knew the guys would look for me. And that afternoon, as a storm was lashing, the boat came along. It was within 350 feet, but because of the rain my mates couldn’t see me. I screamed and swam toward them, but the current dragged me sideways. The boat stopped, and I thought they saw me, but a minute later they sailed away. That was a meltdown moment. I thought, That’s it, I’m done.

April 17—Sunset
Something hit me on my left side. Fish had been nibbling at the back of my leg, so I was bleeding. Then it hit again, harder. I wanted to see what it was, so I swam under-water and looked right at a blacktip reef shark about my size. I thought, At least it will be quick. Then I realized, Wait, it’s a reef shark. If he attacks me, I’ll shove my arm down its mouth and have it drag me into a reef. Then it was gone.

April 18—7 A.M.
A fishing boat sailed straight at me. But it must have reached some coordinate, because it turned sharply and sailed away. Right then I thought, I can’t do this anymore. Before the trip, my wife had read me a story about drowning being a beautiful way to die. I tried to suck down some water, but it didn’t work. So I went about six feet under and breathed. It was actually quite easy. The water came in through my mouth and out my nose. Then my brain went, What the hell are you doing? and I came up like I had an engine. While I was sputtering at the surface, I saw a cross coming at me—a mast. I put my head down and swam while counting to 1,000. When I looked up, I saw four spotters on the roof of the boat. I screamed. They couldn’t see me, but they could hear me. They eventually located me with binoculars. I’d never been so happy to see a boat in my entire life—even if it was full of Aussies!

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