Most of America will have read how he stayed alive (all the while nursing a broken collar bone) by catching small fish in his laundry, catching rainwater in a bucket, and reading his way right through the Bible twice. Most of America will have learned of his suffering from hunger and thirst.
And most of America will have been misled by some of the shoddiest journalism ever to have been foisted on the public.
Anyone who has had the slightest connection with small boats and the sea will have been disgusted by the sloppy and inaccurate reporting of this accident. Even newspapers within spitting distance of the sea were guilty of deliberate distortion and failing to check the facts.
The Virginia Pilot, for example, stated that “He cut off the mast to prevent his small boat from sinking.”
The facts, the plain unvarnished facts that anyone could have checked, were far different.
Jordan was actually spotted drifting off Cape Hatteras (between 124 miles and 300 miles off, depending on the news source) by a German flagged container ship called the Houston Express. They called the Coast Guard, who sent a helicopter to fetch Jordan from the ship.
He was taken to hospital on shore, checked, and discharged. He did not have a broken collar bone. He was not suffering from sunburn or any kind of exposure. He was not dehydrated. And he had certainly never spent a minute on the overturned hull.
None of the worthy members of the Press thought to ask him how he could have perched on the bottom of a full-keeled Alberg 35 for days on end. Nobody queried if it is even possible for a relatively narrow boat with a ballast keel to remain inverted for more than a few seconds.
Nobody thought to ask him if he had an engine, and, if so, why he didn’t simply motor back to shore. Nobody asked him why, if he could cook and eat pancakes, he would want to eat raw fish. Nobody asked him why he was so far out to sea.
Obviously Jordan has very little experience of sailing at sea. He seem to have gotten into a storm and been capsized and dismasted. Nobody asked him if it was a 90-degree capsize or complete inversion. It seems he had the gumption to cut away the standing rigging attaching the damaged mast to the boat, but after that he just drifted helplessly. He was a liveaboard based in a marina in Conway, South Carolina, and he had food and water on board sufficient for a month.
When did he start rationing himself, if in fact he did? Nobody asked. His family reported him missing after he said he was going on an offshore fishing trip, and the Coast Guard conducted searches fruitlessly for 10 days.
The biggest question of all, and one that completely escaped the Press, is why his boat was found drifting off Cape Hatteras when the current should have carried it half-way across the Atlantic. The average rate of the Gulf Steam is 4 miles an hour according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), slowing to 1 mile an hour farther north.
There are 1,584 hours in 66 days, so, even at the speed of 1 mile an hour the boat should have traveled 1,500 miles to the north and east. This point obviously did occur to the Coast Guard, however. According to several reports they checked his financial records to see “if he sneaked ashore” somewhere.
I haven’t spoken to Jordan so I can’t know what he told the media. But I do know what the media reported, and it makes me ashamed to admit I was once a journalist. There can be no excuse for this total lack of professionalism. The Press is indeed in a very sorry state in this country, and it makes me wonder how much I can trust in anything I see in print or on the radio or TV. And if this is what the professional newsmongers are offering, God preserve us from the amateurs who run rampant all over Twitter and the Internet these days. Nothing is now more elusive than the truth.
The art of reading between the lines is as old as manipulated information.
— Serge Schmemann, NY Times, 10 Nov 85
“How did poor old Joe survive that mustard gas and pepper spray?”
“Oh, it turns out he’s OK. He’s now a seasoned veteran.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)