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Castaway and his dog who survived months adrift at sea back on dry land

[This story began when the sailor and Bella, a stray dog he picked up while traveling through Mexico, set sail on a lengthy fishing expedition from the Sea of Cortes, also known as the Gulf of California.]

In a miraculous rescue, Australian Tim Shaddock, 51, and his dog Bella were rescued after being stranded in the Pacific Ocean for two months. The Sydney native had set sail on his catamaran Aloha Toa on a 3,000-mile trip from Le Paz, Mexico to French Polynesia in April.

A month after departing, a storm damaged their catamaran and knocked out all of Shaddock’s electronic devices.

He was thus unable to contact anyone for help. The sailor and dog were stranded at sea with nothing to do but wait for rescue.

An old photo of the sailor and dog.


Being out on a small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was certainly not an easy task, particularly since the sailor had to care for his four-legged friend as well. Shaddock survived the ordeal by using his fishing gear to catch food, which he had to eat raw.

Water was also collected to hydrate the sailor and dog stranded at sea. Help finally arrived when a helicopter accompanying a tuna trawler spotted the missing vessel off the coast of Mexico.  

The incapacitated catamaran was found some 1,200 miles from land when they were rescued.

After the lucky discovery, Shaddock told his rescuers, “I have been through a very difficult ordeal at sea. And I’m just needing rest and good food because I have been alone at sea a long time.”

On board the tuna trawler, a specialist physician who worked with the captain immediately provided the sailor and dog stranded at sea with medical care. The medical professional applied bandages around Shaddock’s toes and other areas of his feet and took his blood pressure.

The doctor reported that the sailor and dog stranded at sea showed normal vital signs, despite their ordeal.

Shaddock and Bella did not have any serious illnesses or injuries, were able to stave off hunger and dehydration, and protected themselves from the heat of the sun by hiding under a canopy on board the catamaran.

The doctor added that Shaddock was conscious and chatty and eating small meals. Shaddock himself stated that, “I have very good medicine. I’m being looked after very well.”

Mike Tipton, a physiology professor at the extreme environment laboratory at the University of Portsmouth in England, stated that Shaddock’s survival came down to a combination of luck and skill.

He said, “He was in a warm environment so didn’t need to worry about hypothermia. He had a supply of fresh rainwater. He did the correct thing of minimizing activity in the hottest part of the day to reduce sweating.”

Shaddock fortunately protected himself from sunburn since that affects the ability to regulate body temperature.

Tipton also said that Bella may have been crucial to the sailor’s survival. He shared, “You’re living very much from day to day, and you have to have a very positive mental attitude in order to get through this kind of ordeal and not give up.

The companionship was key to the survival of the sailor and dog stranded at sea. Tipton said, “Once you’ve got enough food and water, then I think the dog has an advantage. Your survival time is as long as you can keep collecting water, getting occasional food and doing things that help you stay positive.”

He added that having a plan and rationing water and food is really the secret to long survival voyages.

Experts marveled at how this story turned out since Shaddock and Bella were fortunate to be found at all. Tipton likened the incredible discovery to finding a needle in a haystack. He said, “People need to appreciate how small the boat is and how vast the Pacific is. The chances of someone being found are pretty slim.”

The survivors were brought back to Mexico, where they were greeted on land by Antonio Suárez, president of Grupomar, the company that operates the trawler that found the sailor and dog stranded at sea.

Shaddock also expressed his gratitude to the fishermen who found him and his dog. He said, “Look, to the captain and this fishing [crew] — [they] saved my life — what do you say? I’m just so grateful. I’m alive. I’m feeling all right. I’m feeling a lot better than I was, I can tell you. Thanks so much.  The message is we’re all here for each other. All sailors help each other.”

He added that he would not have endured being adrift at sea without the support of the stray dog. The Australian sailor shared that a crew member who took part in their rescue would be adopting Bella.

Despite the pair’s terrifying adventure, Shaddock vowed that that he’ll be back on the water. Though there are no immediate plans to embark on the high seas, the sailor insists that he won’t give up his pastime. He declared, “Look, I’ll always be in the water. I just love nature.”

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