In a dramatic rescue in March 2015, Louis Jordan was plucked from his damaged yacht after 66 days at sea. A German container ship passing by had spotted him and by all accounts had saved the shipwrecked sailor’s life. That, at least, was the story as it was reported initially.
Jordan, 37, set sail from a marina in Conway, South Carolina, on what he had planned to be a brief fishing excursion. He was aboard his 35-foot boat Angel, a Pearson Alberg 35 yacht. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 230 pounds, Jordan was dubbed a “gentle giant” by friends, according to The Washington Post.
Like his father, retired teacher Frank, Jordan subscribes to the Baha’i faith. Baha’i adherents believe that all the major religious leaders – Muhammad, Buddha, Jesus – are actually preaching about the same god. Frank Jordan is an experienced sailor, but his son is not.
Jordan had actually been living on his yacht. He’d spent the past few months making it shipshape, and he’d taken the boat out on short trips. But the trip out to open ocean that he embarked on that January 2015 day was much more ambitious. And it probably wasn’t a good idea for an inexperienced sailor to head out into the Atlantic in winter.
Speaking to Associated Press, Jeff Weeks, manager of the marina that Jordan set out from on January 23, was skeptical of Jordan’s seamanship. “He might sail up and down the Intercoastal Waterway, but he didn’t have the experience he needed to go out into the ocean,” Weeks said.
For the first few days of his son’s trip, Frank Jordan was relaxed about not hearing from him. But by January 29 he began to feel anxious so he contacted the Coast Guard and told staff there about the lack of contact from his son.
Then, on February 8, the Coast Guard started a search for the missing yachtsman, and marine traffic was asked to keep an eye out for him and his vessel. Frank was staying upbeat and wrote on Facebook, “With God, all things are possible.”
Frank continued his post, “The Pearson 35 is an awesome boat that can ride out all kinds of conditions. Louis may have been blown out to sea by the nor’easter ten days ago, and he may be making his way back now. I pray that is the case.”
But things took a darker turn a week later when the Coast Guard called off its search. Now Jordan Sr. wrote on Facebook, “When your son disappears and the weeks wear on, and the weather is cold and the Atlantic is stormy and wild, many horrible thoughts begin to go through your mind, and you begin to unravel.”
Then came sensational news on Thursday, March 29. A cargo container ship, the Houston Express, had spotted Jordan. According to first reports, he was sitting on the hull of his overturned yacht. He had ended up 200 miles out in the ocean off North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, some 500 miles away from where he had started out in February.
A Coast Guard helicopter flew out to the Houston Express and winched Jordan on board. The press revealed more details of his ordeal. His boat had capsized in heavy seas, losing its mast, and Jordan had survived by drinking rainwater and eating raw fish. He’d caught the fish by trailing his clothes in the sea as a lure, then netting them.
This was a dramatic survival story indeed. In fact, many observers began to say that it was just a little too dramatic. Doubters began to question the story of Louis Jordan’s ordeal. And they were right to do so – the initial press reports had been wildly inaccurate.
It seemed that the source of the story that Jordan had been clinging to the hull of his capsized boat had come from misunderstanding between the crew of the Houston Express and a Coast Guard official. In fact, no one had ever said Jordan’s yacht had been capsized when he had been rescued.
The truth was that Jordan’s boat was the right way up when he was spotted by the crew of the Houston Express. That his ship had been damaged in a storm was not in doubt – in fact, it had lost its mast. But the master of the container ship Captain Thomas Grenz reported that it had been the right way up.
We can hardly blame Jordan for press inaccuracies. But other aspects of Jordan’s seemingly miraculous escape troubled some observers. For a start, he seemed to be in remarkably good physical shape for someone who had been adrift at sea with few supplies for so long. Jordan, some said, looked well fed after his rescue.
And doubters also wondered why his skin had not been damaged by the sun and salt water. And why, if as he claimed, he’d broken his shoulder, did there seem to be no evidence of this injury? Stung by these disbelieving critics, Jordan went public to, as he hoped, set the record straight.
Speaking to the British Mail on Sunday, he said, “God knows I am a truthful man. My family knows I am telling the truth. The people who know me know that.” And he added that his bank account had been checked for activity while he had been missing, and the scrutiny had drawn a blank.
One survival expert, the True North Wilderness Survival School’s Erik Kulik, had his doubts. He told the Mail on Sunday, “After that amount of time at sea, he would have been wobbly on his feet, and yet he seemed to walk perfectly. 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.”
But Rick Spilman, a naval architect who’s written several books on sailing, begged to differ. He told the Chicago Tribune that Jordan’s story, minus the reporting blunders, was “totally plausible.” Speaking to the The Virginian-Pilot, Spilman said, “There’s a lot we don’t know, but based on what we do, it certainly appears to me that what he’s saying could indeed have taken place.”
A Coast Guard spokesman quoted by the Mail on Sunday sat firmly on the fence. He said, “We don’t have any reason to doubt him but nor can we confirm he spent all this time out there.” And he continued, “We are looking forward to learning more about what exactly happened. We are as keen as anyone to find out the truth.” Perhaps we’ll never discover what happened to Louis Jordan during his ocean adventure.