The man and his dog survived on raw fish and rainwater.

He describes himself as a quiet person who enjoys being alone out on the ocean. Still, stranded aboard a fishing boat for three months with no one for company but a stray dog, 54-year-old Australian sailor Timothy Lyndsay Shaddock hopes to never repeat the harrowing experience.

Call of the Ocean

Shaddock knew he was taking a big risk when he left Mexico’s Baja Peninsula with the intention to cross the Pacific Ocean by boat to French Polynesia. It’s hard for him to put into words exactly why he took that risk. But he had his heart set on adventure, and as he says, “I love the people of the sea. It’s the people of the sea that make us all come together. The ocean is in us. We are the ocean.”

That was his motivation behind setting out on a catamaran from the Mexican city of La Paz. But before he would even get out on that boat, Shaddock met a stray dog who took to him instantly. He named the dog Bella. Little did he know how important Bella would become for his sanity and well-being. At the time, she was just a scraggly thing that kept following him around.

“I tried to find a home for her three times,” Shaddock said, “and she just kept following me onto the water. She’s a lot braver than I am, that’s for sure.” Later, he would count his lucky stars that the he hadn’t been able to find a permanent home for her right away.

Just a Man and His Dog

man hugging his dog
Photo by Dmitriy Ganin

Bella chose Shaddock, and she was on that boat in April when the sailor resigned himself to his travel companion and began what would end up being a life-threatening journey.

A few weeks into it, Shaddock and Bella’s boat was besieged by bad weather. The last time that the duo saw land was in early May. That’s when Shaddock waved goodbye to the Sea of Cortez and ventured into the open ocean.

“There were many, many, many bad days and many good days,” Shaddock remembers. When a storm knocked out the boat’s electronics, the sailor found himself without a way to cook. He had started with plenty of food and water, but eventually, the man and his dog were surviving off of raw fish and rainwater in the middle of the harsh elements.

On the hard days, Shaddock found his mind wandering to dark places and he assumed the worst would happen. The sun and the mental ordeal sapped his energy. “The fatigue is the hardest part,” he said. He tried to keep himself busy by fixing things on the boat and getting in the water with Bella to cool off.

The Little Boat That Could

Three months passed slowly by. And then, one day, Shaddock spied a helicopter overhead. The pilot hovered, threw Shaddock a drink, and then flew off. 

That pilot was working for Grupomar, a Mexican fishing company whose tuna boats were out in that area of the Pacific Ocean. Shaddock didn’t know it at the time, but he was more than 1,200 miles from land. Soon after the pilot’s departure, he saw a speed boat approaching. That boat was called the Maria Delia. The pilot had sent help.

When the man and his dog were finally pulled aboard the Maria Delia, they were in bad shape. But still, Bella rolled around happily, expressing her gratitude for the rescue in a way only dogs can do. The crew immediately provided medical attention, food and hydration. Then they took the pair to the Mexican port city of Manzanillo. Shaddock and Bella giddily set foot on land again.

“To the captain and fishing company that saved my life, I’m just so grateful. I’m alive and I didn’t really think I’d make it,” Shaddock said. He’s even more shocked and proud of his dog Bella for surviving those three months at sea. Her presence had kept him grounded at the worst of times.

Grupomar’s president, Antonio Suarez, says the boat that saved Shaddock and Bella, the Maria Delia, is their smallest boat and is more than 50 years old. It was slotted for retirement as Suarez modernizes the fleet. Suarez is glad that the small boat hadn’t left service yet and that the Maria Delia got one last hurrah, a “marvellous farewell, saving human lives.” 

A lone sailor, a stray dog, and a company’s smallest boat all came together at the right place at the right time to bring a happy ending to the story. Each played their part in turning the otherwise tragic series of events into a heartwarming survival story.

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