Lost at sea for 24 days, this man survived on ketchup, seasoning and dirty water

Elvis Francois was lost at sea for more than 20 days with nothing to eat but ketchup and seasoning
Elvis Francois was lost at sea for more than 20 days with nothing to eat but ketchup and seasoning


  • Heinz launched social-media campaign to help Elvis Francois buy a boat

Elvis Francois was lost at sea for more than 20 days with nothing to eat but ketchup and seasoning. When he closed his eyes and went to sleep, he mostly dreamed of limes.

“I was so thirsty," said the 47-year-old, who would fantasize about squeezing the green citrus and squirting the juice into his throat.

Mr. Francois spent 24 days drifting across the Caribbean Sea from St. Maarten to the coast of Colombia before he was rescued by the Colombian Navy in January. Mr. Francois said he survived by slurping a soupy concoction of ketchup and seasonings. News of his ordeal prompted Heinz, the namesake ketchup brand of Kraft Heinz Co., to launch a social-media campaign last month asking people to locate Mr. Francois so the company could help him buy a new boat.

Mr. Francois said the boat he was on wasn’t his. He had moved to the island of St. Maarten from Dominica looking for work. He found a job on the sailboat, which he said was about 35-feet long. He lived and worked on the boat, giving it a fresh coat of paint and helping repair the engine. Then, one day in December, a strong current pulled the boat out to sea with just him in it, he said.

The engine didn’t work. The radio had no signal. There was no way to get back.

He didn’t eat much the first 10 days, Mr. Francois said. Sometimes he pulled seaweed out of the sea and dried it on the boat. Other times he ate the insides of shellfish that stuck to a rope. He felt weak, he said, and could barely move.

Inside the boat, which included a kitchen and two beds, he found a glass bottle full of Heinz ketchup, garlic seasoning and a bottle of Maggi liquid seasoning, which is typically used to flavor chicken, roasted vegetables and other dishes.

He found water in a large container, he said, but it was dirty. He strained it through a T-shirt before drinking it and did the same before putting it into a pot to make his soup, which included seaweed, ketchup, garlic seasoning and the Maggi sauce. He heated it with a propane tank that he found on the boat.

How did it taste? “For me it was OK," Mr. Francois said of the soup. “I could live on it."

He sipped it three times a day and gained his strength back. “The ketchup worked for me," he said. “If I didn’t have it, I don’t think I would be living today to tell that story."

The day he was rescued was the same day he finished the ketchup bottle, he said.

“I am not surprised he survived," said Dr. Uma Naidoo, the director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The water was key to keeping him alive, she said, and the ketchup and liquid seasoning had enough sugar to fuel him. “While these are not nutritious foods, they have ingredients that could sustain his body energy," Dr. Naidoo said.

The Colombian Navy said in a Jan. 18 statement it found Mr. Francois in the boat 120 nautical miles northwest from Puerto Bolívar, a port in northern Colombia by the Caribbean Sea.

His boat was spotted because the word “HELP" was written on the hull, the navy said. Mr. Francois said he used gray spray paint to write the word several times.

His first meal off the boat was two slices of toast, cheese and oatmeal. He washed it down with hot tea. “It was very good after not having anything serious to eat for 24 days," he said.

Mr. Francois was taken to Cartagena, Colombia, where he was sent back to Dominica.

The Colombian Navy posted pictures and video of Mr. Francois and shared his story, making international headlines. Nearly a month later, Heinz said it wanted to find Mr. Francois to help him buy a boat, butcouldn’t locate him. Heinz created the social-media campaign #findtheketchupboatguy and found him through a local news source in Dominica.

Mr. Francois said he was happy to be rescued, but his return to Dominica brought challenges. He left last year because his house was damaged in an electrical fire. He hasn’t had the money to repair it and he’s currently living in it without running water or electricity. “It’s still a major problem for me," he said.

A Heinz spokeswoman said the company was “providing him the resources for his new boat," which could be money. Mr. Francois said he’s been talking to the company and would welcome a new boat, which he could live on.

“I love exploring," he said.

Write to Joseph Pisani at joseph.pisani@wsj.com

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