Louis Jordan — Drifting Sailor Update : Media Misreports Story, Now Reports that Skeptics Doubt Sailor

jordanmontageThis would be funny, if it weren’t sad.  Last week the German container ship, Houston Express, picked up Louis Jordan, who had been drifting off Cape Hatteras for a reported 66 days in his dis-masted Alberg 35 sailboat, Angel.  The media managed to completely garble the story, to the extent that anyone who took the reporting at face value might not believe what they were reading. Some have suggested that Jordan lied about the whole affair.  Last Friday we attempted the untangle the various accounts.  See our post: Louis Jordan, Sixty Six Days Adrift — What Really Happened?

Here is where it gets at least slightly funny. This morning the Washington Post published an article with the headline: Why skeptics think a South Carolina sailor lied about being lost at sea for 66 days. The short answer about why anyone might think such a thing could be that they read nonsense in the Washington Post. (To be fair, many, many other news sources didn’t do any better.)

Even three days after the initial reports came in, the Washington Post is still reporting the same false information. In this morning’s article they reported:

Jordan’s saga began Jan. 23, when he set sail from the marina in Conway, S.C., on a short fishing trip. He was reported missing six days later. A German tanker spotted him sitting atop his 35-foot-boat’s overturned hull 200 miles off the North Carolina coast on Thursday, a full 66 days after his disappearance.

There are several things wrong with these statements. First, even though some reporters think all ships are “tankers,” Jordan was picked up by a container ship. This is not an important point, but it does suggest that the writer is either uninformed or sloppy.

The larger point is the claim that Jordan was “spotted … sitting atop his 35-foot-boat’s overturned hull.”  The statement is simply wrong. Both the ship’s captain and representatives of the Coast Guard say that the boat was floating upright when found. Beyond that, the claim itself is also impossible.

Jordan’s boat, Angel, was an Alberg 35, a fiberglass cruising sailboat built in the 1960s.  It has 5300 lbs. of ballast, a heavy weight in the keel to help keep the boat upright. In fact, over 40% of the entire weight of the boat is ballast. If an Alberg 35 is rolled over, one of two things can happen. If the hatches are open, it can fill with water and sink. If the hatches are closed and the boat doesn’t fill with water, it will right itself. It will roll back up. The boat cannot float upside down. The 5,300 lbs. of ballast in the very bottom of the boat prevents that from happening.  So, it was absolutely impossible that Jordan was found “sitting atop his 35-foot-boat’s overturned hull,” as reported by many sources, including the Washington Post. The New York Times version was even more dramatic. They report that Jordan was “clinging to the hull of his overturned sailboat, surviving on raw fish and rainwater.”

Where did this story come from?  It appears that a Coast Guard rescue technician, Petty Officer Kyle McCollum, who helped retrieve Jordan the container ship may have misunderstood what he was told by the Germans on the ship. The Coast Guard did not rescue Jordan from his boat. They only picked him off the deck of container ship. It is unclear whether or not the Coast Guard ever saw Jordan’s boat.

Jordan never said that he was “clinging to the hull of his overturned sailboat.”  He says that when the boat capsized, he was sleeping below deck. When the boat righted itself, he had to bail out water that had made its way below.

Likewise the captain of the container ship Houston ExpressThomas Grenz, reports that the boat was floating upright when found. The same was said by Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Krystyn Pecora.

The Washington Post goes on to write:

Even stranger, doubters pointed out, was his skin, which looked pale and unblemished, with only the slightest hint of sunburn, according to the Daily Mail.

“We were expecting worse with blisters and severe sunburn and dehydration,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle McCollum, who had the first contact with the sailor, told the AP.

Once again, it appears that the petty officer’s misunderstanding of the situation was taken at face value.  If he believed that Jordan had been “clinging to the hull of his overturned sailboat, surviving on raw fish and rainwater,” then his expectations made sense. As his assumptions were wrong, so were his expectations.

It is also worth noting that Jordan lived on the sailboat before making his ill-advised advised winter fishing trip. The boat was literally his home. As such, it is likely to have had a certain amount of food and water aboard, as well as clothes, tools and other equipment. Jordan was not sitting exposed to the sun and wind for 66 days. He had the shelter of the cabin and at least some some supplies. When his food and water ran low he caught fish and rain water to sustain him. This is not to say that Jordan had it easy. Depending on which news source you read, Jordan lost between 50 and 90 pounds during the 66 day ordeal.

That Jordan had some supplies and shelter was confirmed by the Coast Guard’s Lt. Pecora, who said that he survived eating the food he had on his boat, by collecting rain water and using a net to catch fish. She said Jordan managed to stay hydrated by going inside his boat’s cabin a lot. A report by the LA Times mentions Jordan cooking pancakes on a propane stove.

The Washington Post also questioned Jordan’s injuries. They quoted Erik Kulik of the True North Wilderness Survival School : “He says he broke his right shoulder, and yet he didn’t even seem to be guarding that shoulder in the pictures I saw after the rescue. There is a lot that doesn’t add up.”

Jordan said that he broke his right shoulder, then later corrected himself and said he broke his collar bone. (In an online video, he shows the mark from the break which is on his collarbone near his right shoulder.) A collarbone fracture typically takes two to four weeks to heal. Jordan was missing for 9 weeks so it is not surprising that he had regained mobility in his right arm and shoulder.

There are many questions to be answered about what happened to Louis Jordan. His decision to go fishing in the Gulf Stream in the winter despite hearing the prediction on oncoming storms, suggests that he is “an inexperienced sailor,” as even he describes himself.  Reckless and foolhardy are other adjectives which also come to mind.  Nevertheless, so far we have seen no evidence that he is a liar.

On the other hand, the reporting on Louis Jordan by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and seemingly countless others has been a bad joke.

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31 Responses to Louis Jordan — Drifting Sailor Update : Media Misreports Story, Now Reports that Skeptics Doubt Sailor

  1. rob says:

    I still feel that the story does not seem plausible. His condition is too good, his answers too glib, and his actions too bizare. I am certain another story will emerge in time.

  2. JEREMY LEWIS says:

    If he were that much of an experienced sailor, why no EPIRB? Didn’t he have signal gear on his boat? So the boat lost it’s mast, but still how would it have even rolled over?? You are talking about nearly 2 tons of weight on the sea keel. He’d have to be flying a rig like a Clipper Ship to overcome that much weight. I’ve spent years at sea and have picked up people in distress something just does not add up here. I broke my collarbone and believe me, it will just not heal itself. It’s pretty painful and it must be set exactly right or there will be serious problems.

  3. Peter says:

    “….but I read it in a reputable newspaper….” does get a whole new meaning with this excellently argued unbiased analysis.
    I had been wondering myself after the first reports hit the mainstream-media – and did not make much sense.
    (Lesson, not learned but confirmed: Don’t trust the mainstream-media)
    The question still remains: Why had he not been at least half way to Ireland after drifting for 66 days in the Gulfstream.
    If the boat had lost its keel – as not unlikely with modern plastic-boats – it might have drifted slower, but now that we know what boat it was and that it in fact had been floating upright ….. (?)

  4. Gordo 29 says:

    Time will tell what? Rob and Rick – he was in his boat, he just could not go anywhere without a mast or motor. You don’t sit on deck and fry for days when you have shelter. The boat wasn’t capsized – read the article! He left with 30 days of food and water, and fished (its what he does) and caught rain water for the other 36. He lost 90 pounds – more than a pound a day. If he is guilty of anything, its a lack of safety/rescue gear on board (EERP, etc). But the guy is an unemployed truck driver and survivalist, so maybe he could not afford it. The USCG did not know the condition of the boat when they picked him up.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Do you think it’s fair to blame the Rescue Swimmer for poor reporting? He is just trying to do his job and rescue someone, he is no expert on how long someone has been stranded at sea. He can only report what he is told, it’s the medias job to figure it out and report all of the facts. Great job trying to get all of the facts straight but please don’t blame the people who are risking their lives trying to help others…

  6. Rick Spilman says:

    The one thing that Jordan is absolutely not is an experienced sailor. He calls himself inexperienced. If he was experienced he would never have left the dock so unprepared for the conditions.

    We don’t know exactly how the boat capsized, but a boat lying ahull, as seems likely, can indeed be knocked down and capsized in less than extreme conditions.

  7. Rick Spilman says:

    I never blamed the petty officer. I blamed the press for repeating the inaccurate statement by the petty officer when accurate information was available.

  8. Pat says:

    I appreciated this article; it proved helpful in a sea of confusing information.

  9. Matt says:

    Good write-up Rick.
    Now that the facts seem to have been separated from fiction, his story is making more sense. When I first read the story, I knew that it was not right, and I assumed it was Louis Jordan who was lying, I assumed that the media was able to actually get the facts straight. Clearly not the case.

    I own an Alberg 35 and Rick correctly points out that the ballast to weight ratio is ~40%, meaning that the boat will right itself if knocked over and won’t stay capsized. I read one article where somebody postulated that the keel must have fallen off to cause the boat to stay capsized. This is just not possible on an Alberg because the keel (and ballast) are part of the hull, not bolted on. If the keel fell off, then the boat would be in pieces and sink immediately.

    Alberg 35’s are low freeboard, narrow boats and will certainly capsize if lying beam on to a large sea. Albergs also have a deck stepped mast which makes them more vulnerable to dismasting that a keel stepped mast.

    As far as not having an EPIRP for alerting authorities in case of disaster; lots of people who sail offshore don’t carry them (myself included). They are nice to have but expensive, and from what I’ve read, Louis Jordan does not have a lot of money.

    Louis is certainly a contender for the Darwin award for what he did, but I no longer believe that he was lying. He should have never gone out knowing that the weather was deteriorating; the North Atlantic in January can be a pretty nasty place to be. There are much better ways to get experience, but I’ll bet the next time he wants to go fishing he will listen to the weather reports. There’s some experience for ya!

    http://www.alberg35.com

  10. Rick Spilman says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for your comments. The Alberg 35 is a lovely and seaworthy boat. I sailed on a friend’s Alberg 35 in the Great Lakes many years ago. Sweet boats.

    I agree that Jordan nearly made himself a Darwin Award contender. I agree that EPIRBs are expensive and often not necessary for coastal cruisers. And they are expensive, starting at close to $500. Personal Locator Beacons cost about half as much (and broadcast half as long.) If Jordan even had a handheld VHF radio he might have been able to contact help, especially before he drifted too far offshore.

  11. Jerry Silverman says:

    As an experienced Blue Water sailor, I find the whole story to be tainted with fallacies and mis-interpretations. You cannot blame the swimmer since he had no idea what exactly happened.
    I cannot believe anyone who owns an Alberg 35 goes to sea without any idea of approaching weather. I also cannot understand the fact that he was not suffering from exposure or any type of physical distress. He was shown walking off the helicopter with no discernible problems. After 66 days, he would have been showing signs of physical problems.
    I believe there should be further investigations into the situation and all of the reports. In this day and age, reporters have to investigate the stories they publish before they publish them.

  12. CAROLE ALANA says:

    Thanks Rick for clarifying on this story. As a long time boater, I had serious reservations about Jordan’s story. He seemed in too good condition if he’d been sitting on top of the hull. I read somewhere that he said he was in “waist deep water” – hypothermia? Maybe that was initially & he managed to bail it out? I definitely think Jordan has serious decision making deficiencies – time of year, lack of proper emergency equipment. Still wonder why he wasn’t found sooner being just 200 miles off shore – yes, I realize that can be a lot of ocean, but there is a lot of traffic out there. Why no flares? He could have signaled other vessels – surely some were within sight of flares. To not go out without flares, which are REQUIRED by the CG especially that size vessel, is just plain stupid IMHO. I’m still suspicious of some of his claims, got a feeling we’ll be seeing someone trying to make money off this “adventure.” Also, what’s happened to his vessel after he left – just floating out there? I just read a sad story about a couple who the CG rescued in the Gulf, they scuttled their SV by machine gun fire, taking over an hour for it to sink. CG reason was the partially sunk vessel would be a hazard to other vessels – it began to list severely as they tried to tow it with hatches not secure, took on water & not able to fix/recover.

  13. Rick Spilman says:

    Jordan definitely lacked the experience to be sailing offshore and showed terribly poor judgement and a reprehensible lack of preparation. From one interview I watched with him, the boat was partially flooded after the capsize or knockdown which dismasted the boat. He says he bailed out the boat with bucket.

    Apparently Jordan’s boat may still be floating out there. Derelicts can indeed be hazards to other boats. I have never heard of using a machine gun to sink an abandoned boat but have heard of the Coast Guard going aboard to open hull valves to make sure that boats sank so as not to be hazards to navigation.

  14. Phil says:

    Jerry:

    “investigate the stories they publish before they publish them.”

    Are you serious?
    In the rush to get the story out, they read what ever has been written for them by some yahoo in the back office.

  15. Jane Baldridge says:

    The media’s misreporting whether due to sloppiness, laziness or language barrier is not as heinous as the armchair naysayers. I have experienced the Gulf Streams power, I have studied her currents and eddies. I have been on what was thought a well cared for vessel on a well provisioned trip with seasoned sailors and seen what can go wrong. Twice I have been thought lost at sea along with other skilled mariners. Stuff goes bad no matter how well prepared you are. Both times I walked away the spitting image of health because we rationed food and water and were as careful. Both times we were able to sail back under our own rig, modified as it was. Jordon did not know that you don’t go to the Gulf Stream in winter, since a north wind against the flow creates what some of us call “brick walls”. He obviously did not have good weather intel or an epirb. He did think he could find fish to eat if he went to the stream, the Carolina’s waterfront is full of fishing stories that could easily lure the less experienced. The fact he had enough skills to survive and the good fortune to be rescued is what is important. He also seems to have way more grace than his taunting audience. Shame on those of you who say ill of him.

  16. Pingback: Fantastic Voyage: Sailor Missing for 66 Days, Recalls His Surreal Journey - Page 3 - The Vette Barn Forum - A Community for Corvette Lovers

  17. Michael says:

    I bought a 1979 Tartan Ten putted around on diesel a couple of hours. Lifted a sail a couple of times. Put up more sails. Tested all the sails I had. I’m no sailor, but, I could float for 66 days within sight of shore with no training other than going slow and testing everything. I have 45 gallons of water, a three compasses, cloths, scuba gear, gun, ammo, fishing gear. (I might even have flares but not a flare gun) I could loose 50 pounds and still look Ok. I would not want to deal with a storm, cold, no mast, and 1500 miles of drifting. I could even break an ankle and be just fine without going to a doctor within 4 weeks… I’ve done that. I have 15 gallons of diesel also. I just may could have gotten close enough to putt my way home. Maybe not, 15 Hp does not move well against any kind of wind. New York City? I know I’m looking stupid here with my one year of sailing experience. But, I’m saying I think he might could have done it just with the knowledge of having rebuilt the sailboat.

  18. John W. says:

    The profession of journalism is-to be succinct-not what it used to be, and more and more stories are hitting the streets without having been properly vetted, checked, or verified (the recent Rolling Stone fiasco regarding non-existent “rapes” at U.Va. come to mind). The Alberg 35 is a well-built, robust classic ocean-going sailing vessel; being a heavily-ballasted keel displacement hull, she can be knocked down-even rolled over-but will come back up. Mr. Jordan was clearly careless and inexperienced-and is a very lucky man as a result. That appears-in absence of any other information-to be the long and short of it all.

  19. Carl Burkart says:

    Unbelievably sloppy reporting by all involved. Still lots of question remain unanswered.
    What is the current status of Louis Jordan’s 35′ Alberg? Still adrift off the Carolina coast?

  20. Greg Vitaich says:

    Having read all the comments in this thread I would encourage the contributors to watch and listen carefully to the complete video interview of Mr. Louis Jordan conducted by Ms. Jane Wertz of WAVY Channel 10
    Hampton Roads VA., April 3, 2015 while still at the Sentara General Hospital, Norfolk VA.
    If after having done so you still believe Mr. Jordan, having entered the Atlantic Ocean at Little River Inlet NC. spent 66 days drifting in the Gulfstream and was picked up 200 miles east of Cape Hatteras…
    You should never again set foot on a vessel of any kind.
    The one immutable fact of the Atlantic Ocean is that the Gulfstream will take you to Iceland, Ireland, and even Spain if you’re lucky.

  21. Rick Spilman says:

    No Greg. It just isn’t that simple. Other vessels have drifted in several different directions from Cape Hatteras.

    http://www.oldsaltblog.com/2015/04/derelicts-adrift-angel-fannie-e-wolston/

  22. Greg Vitaich says:

    In the interview Mr. Jordan states he was asleep when he capsized and rolled completely over. He stated he broke his collarbone. Saw waves coming over his boat. Found himself waste deep in water and then bailed out the boat with a bucket using only his good arm.
    That he would be asleep in weather so heavy it rolled an Alberg 35 is not believable. That he could bucket bail waste deep water with one arm with waves crashing over the boat and the companionway open is simply not believable. With the boat swamped as it was and the limited freeboard of an A-35 in heavy weather the boat would sink,,,Simple as that…..

  23. Carl Burkart says:

    Still no comment as to the current status of Mr. Jordan’s 35′ sailboat. I would think that Louis or perhaps the Coast Guard would make some attempt at salvage and not leave the boat adrift at sea.
    Has Louis lost all interest in sailing? A broken mast and rudder are not insurmountable repairs.

  24. Greg Vitaich says:

    The USCG will not “salvage” any vessel. That comes directly from USCG Dist. 5 yesterday. USCG would not state if they have found Jordan’s boat. I was referred to the USCG JAG Officer in Portsmouth VA. who has not returned calls.
    It seems odd to me that USCG would not/could not/have not found Jordan’s boat. They would have had its position from the rescue of Jordan by M/V Houston Express. Houston called USCG at 1:30 PM Apr. 2 after picking up Jordan.
    CG launched Helo from Air Station Elizabeth NC. at 3:40 PM. Helo hoisted Jordan at 5:50 PM. Houston was then approx. 25-20 miles east of rescue position. Why didn’t the Helo fly back down the track of the Houston and find “Angel” ????
    Question: If one were to disconnect the engine cooling water piping/hose at the through-hull fitting would an A-35 sink ??? I think it would….

  25. Carl Burkart says:

    The apparent total disreguard for Angel and the lack of possible restoration efforts
    to serviceability by her owner or anyone else for that matter makes no sense to me.
    There must be at least a handful of sailors in the Carolinas who would like to own a 35′ Alberg. Intentional scuttling makes no sense even if L.J never ventures out to sea again.
    Was the boat heavily insured, making its loss more palatable?
    Perhaps the loss is intended to add weight to a chapter in the forthcoming book?

  26. Greg Vitaich says:

    As I’m sure all contributors are aware, there is a “parallel” thread running on this same site. Yesterday in that thread Mr. Jordan stated that “Angel” was “taking on one hundred gallons of water a day”. Its now been thirteen days or 1300 gallons. Seawater weighs 8.55 lbs./gal. x 1300= 11,115 lbs. or 173.4 cu. ft. of seawater inside “Angel” the Alberg 35.
    Trying to calculate the interior volume of such a sailboat without detailed drawings is a “Fools errand”. Suffice to say that at 100 gallons per day “Angel” is now at the bottom of the Atlantic along with so many answers to the many questions raised on this forum. In ten days of reporting Mr. Jordan has never once mentioned the 100 gallon per day leak. Not once. But what about those two Killer Whales that surfaced near enough that Mr. Jordan could see their faces and was amazed at how beautiful they are ? Orcinus orca are not known to inhabit the Atlantic coastline of the United States. They are cold water creatures. Have any of you Atlantic sailors encountered a Killer Whale in the area of Cape Hatteras ?
    The insurance value of a 52 year old Alberg 35 is not much, perhaps 5 to 8 thousand dollars. With certain exceptions, and Jordan’s A-35 is not one of them, insurance companies do not allow an owner to decide the level of coverage. One cannot insure a 52 year old sailboat for a sum that is not justified by its market value. Today, there are three Alberg 35’s for sale for between $11,000 and $18,000 on the internet. If… “Angel” was insured the ACV (Actual Cash Value) would be in the range 4 to 6 thousand dollars.

  27. Farhad says:

    I know him personally. Another thing that media mis-reported was they only mentioned he’s reading Bible all the time. Lewis is a Bahai and he said he mentioned that in all his interviews that he was saying Bahai prayers, reading holy scriptures from Bahai writings and Bible but media only reported the Bible part. Also if they had asked me who do I think who would survive a jurney like this, Lewis would be on my short list.

  28. Bill Butler says:

    Louis Jordan lost off the Carolinas for 66 days….

    Since the 66 days definitely hit my inner gong I have studied Jordans story.. and found a few kinks.. and am sure there are more to come..

    First is the 66 days bit for which no doubt I provided the inspiration. He left from Conway, SC on Jan 23, which is 17 miles inland from the ocean…To get to the Atlantic he had two choices, head South to Winyah Bay via the Waccamah river/canal?? It’s about 50 miles which would have taken him a day or two. But he stated that he headed North via the intra coastal waterway to, I imagine, Little River inlet and that’s about the same or a bit more than the southern route.

    So chances are he was ready to hit blue water Jan 26. A strong cold front hit the area Jan 26/27. I assume, by the way he appeared on TV, he waited that one out. Things should have calmed down for a departure Jan 28/29..

    Two major cold fronts hit the area in February, Feb 16/17 (Octavia) and Feb 25 (Remus). Chances are that he got whacked by one of those. So it looks like he was adrift for 40/50 days which adds up to his OK physical condition. People are still checking up his bank/credit accounts to detect activity during this period.

    So.. I get to hang solo on to the 66 days adrift..

  29. Greg Vitaich says:

    Dear Mr. Butler,
    I’m not sure what you mean when you say ” Hang on solo to the 66 days adrift”. Please tell me.
    I do thank you for the weather information. That is most helpful in analyzing Mr. Jordan’s story of his 66 days adrift.

  30. Bill Butler says:

    Hello Greg.. just chase down Bill Butler 66 on the web..
    whales sank my 39 foot sailboat out in the Pacific 1200 NM from shore and I spent 66 delightful days with my wife surrounded by sharks, 25 foot waves and the other good stuff.. Have you seen the film “The life of PI?”.. I tell friends THAT is MY story.. I was on a 6 foot raft with a tiger as she chewed my butt out nightly for having got her into this mess… Book is on Amazon and video on FAcebook and You Tube..

    Fair winds..

    Bill