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

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

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

Mr. Francois spent 24 days drifting across the Caribbean Sea from St. Maarten to the coast of Colombia before being rescued by the Colombian navy in January. Mr. Francois said he survived by slurping a soupy mixture of ketchup and spices. News of his ordeal reached Heinz, Kraft Heinz’s ketchup brand of the same name Co.

to launch a social media campaign last month asking people to find Mr Francois so the company could help him buy a new boat.

Mr. Francois said the boat he was on was not his. He had moved to the island of St. Maarten from Dominica in search of 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 new coat of paint and helping to repair the engine. Then, one day in December, a strong current pulled the boat out to sea with only him in it, he said.

The engine did not work. The radio had no signal. There was no way back.

He didn’t eat much for the first 10 days, Mr. Francois said. Sometimes he pulled seaweed out of the sea and dried it on the boat. At other times he ate the entrails of shellfish that attached themselves 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 usually used to season chicken, fried 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 in a pot to make the soup, which included seaweed, ketchup, garlic seasoning and the Maggi sauce. He heated it with a propane tank he found on the boat.

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

He sipped it three times a day and regained his strength. “The ketchup worked for me,” he said. “If I hadn’t, I don’t think I’d be alive today to tell that story.”

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

“I’m not surprised he survived,” said Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The water was the key to keeping him alive, she said, and the ketchup and liquid condiment had enough sugar to give him energy. “Although these are not nutritious foods, they have ingredients that can sustain the body’s energy,” said Dr Naidoo.

The Colombian navy said in a statement on January 18 that it found Mr. Francois in the boat 120 nautical miles northwest of Puerto Bolívar, a port in northern Colombia on 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.


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His first meal off the boat was two slices of toast, cheese and oatmeal. He washed it down with hot tea. “It was really 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 released photos and video of Mr. Francois, sharing his story and making international headlines. Almost a month later, Heinz said they wanted to find Mr. Francois to help him buy a boat, but could not find him. Heinz created the social media campaign #findtheketchupboatguy and found him through a local news source in Dominica.

Mr. Francois said he was glad to be rescued, but the return to Dominica presented challenges. He left last year because his house was damaged in an electrical fire. He has had no money to repair it, and he lives in it without running water or electricity. “It’s still a big issue for me,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Heinz said the company “gave him the resources for his new boat,” which could be money. Mr. Francois said he has spoken to the company and would welcome a new boat that he could live on.

“I love to explore,” he said.

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

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