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The Bombard Story (greatestadventurers.com)
74 points by jbergstroem 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

Unfortunately I lack a reference but I recall reading that Pacific Islanders have for a long time been accustomed to drinking brackish water when nothing else was available and surviving you just fine. I do believe that there is merit to drinking this water when one is already hydrated rather than waiting until dehydration and throwing the body into a drastic imbalance.

I do know that a person can survive without food for a very long time however. Unfortunately I know this first hand as my wife slowly died from malnutrition due to a medical condition that prevented her from being able to eat. (It was not an eaying disorder if anybody is wondering). This occurred over a period of time that most people would not believe if I were to say it. But it was a very long time and it proved to me that the human body is far more resilient than most people give it credit for.

I'm sorry for your painful loss, that is terrible. Recently, I just experienced a similar thing. My Aunt succumbed to Alzheimer's a couple days ago. She had been in hospice care, without any food or water, for two entire weeks. In her case, she had morphine and atropine to keep her comfortable, and I wonder if the lessened distressed contributed to the longer than usual survival time. According to the doctor, a history of excercise and healthy eating might also have been a factor. I had never imagined someone would survive that long in that state.

I'm very sorry about your Aunt. Alzheimer's is awful :(

> Unfortunately I know this first hand as my wife slowly died from malnutrition due to a medical condition that prevented her from being able to eat.

JFC I am so sorry.

I think Steve Jobs died basically the same way. He just kept losing weight.

"and he also drank juice made from pressed fish he caught along the way."

That juice is mostly water, fresh water.

I don't know too much about the central thesis of the book ie that you can drink small quantities of sea water and continue to thrive. However I do know that several/many/most? sea predators survive purely on the water they get from their prey. Maintaining a desalination plant is probably quite costly so eating them along with work in progress seems logical.

The main idea seems reasonably sound. You need to keep the salts gradients to within parameters that your body can deal with whilst supplying it with enough water to function. It seems fair that if you start off well hydrated and only sip small amounts, regularly then your body might be able to do the job.

On balance, I'd concentrate on catching fish and keeping the sea water intake to a minimum.

There is a story of a Salvadoran fisherman who was at sea for 13 months. The story is not fully confirmed and there are some doubts, but he says he survived by catching fish/turtles/birds and eating them.


“Human kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than salt water. Therefore, to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking seawater, you have to urinate more water than you drank. Eventually, you die of dehydration even as you become thirstier.”

SOURCE: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/drinksw.html

But hey, how about the salt that is sweat out and used for a number of body-functions. On the Kontiki expedition, they calculated that if they did not eat any salt in the food, they could add 1/3 ocean water to they drinking water.

I read in a runners magazine years ago that one's sweat is less salty than one's blood. This was in the course of recommending against electrolyte drinks.


> I don't think even half of it turned out to be factually correct in the end, meaning less truthful than randomness.

This implies a 50% chance that a randomly generated statement is true, which--without getting into the weeds on the generative model--is certainly false.

For example, I can generate random statements of the form "I am X years old" for X \in {1, ..., 100}.

Far from a 50% chance that the statement is factually correct.

> without getting into the weeds on the generative model

No, that very much depends on the weeds of the generative model. I can generate random statements of the form "I am not X years old" for X \in {1, ..., 100}.

Also far from a 50% chance that the statement is correct.

If you limit to true/false statements, it is 0.5

"Water, water, everywhere, so let's all have a drink"

-Homer Simpson

why don't you try it out and report back?

I think it’s really a wrong take on it. Bombard’s lesson is mostly one of hope: you can survive a very long time on a raft. He felt too many sailors died too early after being lost at sea, while he knew of very long survivals lost at sea in the whaling community. He suspected a lot of deaths were linked to hopelessness. He set his first travel as both an experiment and an inspiration. When he came back he established a list of things to put in a life raft for long term survival.

As for the water, his lesson has always been to drink as much fresh water as you can, and mixed with a bit of seawater if you really have to. It’s really not about surviving on seawater, his life raft list includes fresh water.

There's a great quote from the Mamet film The Edge:

Most people lost in the wilds die of shame. "What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?" And so they sit there and they ... die.

Afaik, in reality, most people who die lost in the wilds die from exhaustion, injury, cold, heat, lack of water and such.

People dying because "shame" kills them are not a thing in reality.

Of course. Mamet is suggesting that they could have survived the exhaustion, injury, cold, etc., if they hadn't given up. But their embarrassment at their predicament short-circuited their survival instinct. I'm reinforcing nraynaud's comment above about how too many sailors lost at sea die before they should because they give up hope.

Not just ocean water. From Wikipedia:

> However, it appears that Bombard may have been misunderstood in regard to the possibility of survival without fresh water. Bombard has never argued that human survival is possible only by drinking seawater. On the contrary, he indicates that seawater in small quantities can prolong survival if accompanied, if rainwater is not available, by the absorption of liquids present in the bodies of fish.


In case the blog (wordpress) should turn unresponsive - here's a direct link to the PDF/book: http://greatestadventurers.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Th...

This seems like it'd be easy to test and important if true. Has there been any follow-up?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think such an experiment would pass an ethics review. Researchers would probably be limited to investigating people who, for whatever reason, were forced to subsist on ocean water.

It sounds like a job for the military. Those branches for which death at sea is a likely possibility. Perhaps start with what can be achieved with catching fish and work towards seawater intake, very, very carefully.

It is quite likely that some forces have already done the research ...

Bombard's wikipedia page mentions the French and Taiwanese militaries conducted lost-at-sea exercises that supported Bombard's findings. The page doesn't have much in the way of citations, though, and I couldn't find anything on google about either the French or Taiwanese efforts (though I only spent a minute or two looking).

As other posters have mentioned though, the take-away isn't really that you can subsist soley on seawater, but that using seawater to supplement fresh water from rain and liquids from fish can allow one to survive for long periods at sea without an initial store of freshwater.

What's the end goal? To remove the need for naval ships to carry a supply of freshwater? They still have to have enormous supply chain and logistics figured out to keep fuel, ammo, food, medicine, people, etc. at the front lines and out at sea. I'd bet, if anything, the navy would be way more interested in figuring out how to run their ships off of saltwater instead of their people.

> What's the end goal? To remove the need for naval ships to carry a supply of freshwater?

No, to improve the survival chances of shipwrecked sailors.

This sounds like an experiment that would pass, because there is no real danger to particioant, as long as their vitals are monitired and intervention is avaliable if needed

Why not? Having volunteers drink saltier and saltier water while controlled for any organ function abnormalities doesn't sound too bad, Mars 500 was way worse.

To me, at least, it seems like experimenting to see how much poison it takes to hurt or kill someone, except this poison is salt water and not something like cyanide or bleach.

I am pretty confident someone would be a willing test subject. Just attach a world record to it: “longest time surviving on ocean water”

It is true, mostly because he drank little seawater.

did you know that, thanks to him, when somebody is lost at sea now, all search and rescue operations must last many more days.....

So many people have been rescued thanks to his 'adventure' :)

One also needs to be able to filter plankton and catch fish. The ocean has increasingly fewer of these resources these days. Maybe you could survive this way 50 years ago. These days, you'd better hope you can press a plastic bottle for "juice."

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