All the good things of this world are no farther good to us than they are for our use; and that, whatever we may heap up to give others, we enjoy just as much as we can use, and no more.|
- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Alexander Selkirk was the seventh son of a humble, small-town Scottish shoemaker. Despite his father’s wishes for Alexander to learn the art of leatherworking and take up the ultra-boring family trade, the restless, quick-tempered, and impetuous young whippersnapper had bigger and better things on his mind - like slashing angry Frenchmen with a cutlass and swimming in cargo holds full of captured Peruvian silver. He wasn’t about to spend the rest of his life hunched over a table re-attaching stiletto heels on black leather thigh-high hooker boots, so at the age of eighteen he set out sail on the treacherous South Seas as a swarthy privateer, battling the Spanish, tying crazy fucking nautical rope knots, raking in fistfuls of gold, and singing those saucy sea shanties about drinking rum and ogling bar wenches with huge boobs. His wild adventures would serve as the inspiration for one of the most famous and widely-read novels in the history of English Literature, which is a claim that not many badasses out there can make.
Early in his career as a government-sanctioned bloodthirsty pirate plundering Spanish treasures on behalf of the British crown, Selkirk proved himself to be an excellent navigator and shiphand. By the time he was twenty-three he was appointed Sailing Master (chief navigator) of the 16-gun galley Cinque Ports, which meant that pretty much every one of the 63 crew members on the deck was his bitch. The ship was commissioned as part of an ambitious expedition under the command of some dude named William Dampier, and set sail for adventure in September of 1703. The expedition’s goal was to fire its cannons indiscriminately at anything with a sail, face-punch anyone who didn’t speak the Queen’s English as their primary language, and grab more money than a gold-digging ho in a bitter divorce settlement.
Unfortunately, by all accounts, the good Captain Dampier was a complete raging moron. The 1703 expedition was highlighted by constant bickering and incessant bitching between officers and crewmen about stupid shit, while illness, fever, and scurvy wiped out several of the privateers before they had even had a chance to load their muskets. Captain Dampier himself was prone to uncontrollable bouts of anger, paranoia, and complete fucking incompetence, and on more than one occasion his over-cautious nature allowed poorly-defended enemy vessels laden with gold, rum, babes, LSD, and other plunder to escape near-certain capture at the hands of Dampier’s marauding drunken hordes. The two ships in Dampier’s fleet got the shit kicked out of them by cannon fire and bad weather, and this sad group of no-plunder-finding buccaneers more closely resembled the 2001 Pittsburgh Pirates than anything that could ever be considered a “scourge of the seas” (or something equally as cool/menacing sounding).
The Captain of the Cinque Ports wasn’t much better than Dampier. Thomas Stradling was also a total cockburger, and he and Selkirk were constantly arguing about all kinds of stupid shit. Things finally boiled over when the ship put ashore on the island of Juan Fernandez, a tiny desolate rock roughly 400 miles off the coast of Chile. Selkirk told Stradling that the crew needed to take a couple days to repair the Cinque Ports and make her more sea-worthy so she wouldn’t fucking sink into the ocean and result in the deaths of the entire crew, but Captain Stradling told him to go eat a bowl of dick. Selkirk then took all of his personal shit, got off the boat, stood on the beach, and refused to come back aboard until Stradling saw things his way. Stradling basically said, “fine, fuck you then,” and had the crew lift anchor. As Selkirk watched the Cinque Ports sail off towards the horizon, only one thought passed through his brain: “Oh holy fucking shit, what the hell did I just do?” He immediately began running out into the surf, screaming for the crew to stop take him with them, but Captain Numbnuts just leaned over the side of the deck railing, gave Alexander the middle finger and yelled, “cram it up your cram-hole, mutineer!”
One month later the Cinque Ports sunk. The seven survivors, including Captain McJackass, were captured by the Spanish, tortured, and thrown into South American forced labor camps.
Unfortunately, Alexander Selkirk’s situation wasn’t a whole lot better. He was completely alone, stranded on a deserted island, equipped only with a knife, a hatchet, a musket with one pound of powder, a chest of linens, two books on navigation, a Bible, a tin pot, some tobacco, a flask of rum and a flip-can (whatever the hell that is). He sat on the beach, desperately hoping that his doomed friends would return for him, but deep down he knew that he was on his own, left to battle the elements mano-e-mano with only a handful of random MacGyver-style supplies to keep him alive.
The first few months of exile were hard for Alexander Selkirk. As a career sailor, he was used to living in close quarters with a lot of other dudes, drinking rum, shooting cannons and playing hilarious practical jokes on his buddies, but now he was completely alone. He went through a deep Goth music-like depression and suffered from intense loneliness, despair, and the sort of utter fucking boredom that is associated with being stranded on a fucking desert island twenty-four hours a day with nothing to do but bang coconuts together and masturbate. He kept mainly to the coast of the island at first, ate shellfish that he found on the shore and spent all day either sleeping or scanning the horizon for sails, but after a couple months of moping around like a depressed teenager suffering through a particularly painful grounding at the hands of his oppressive parents Selkirk decided to suck it up and do what he had to do to survive. He moved his shit inland, built two thatched-roof huts out of pimento trees and grass, made fire by rubbing sticks together, and used his musket to hunt the mountain goats that were native to the island. He would cook the goats with his tin pot on a home-made wooden spit, season the meat with the spices and vegetables he scavenged on the island, and used their hides to make clothing and bedding for himself, stitching the furs together with a rusty nail he salvaged from debris he found on the shore. He read the Bible out loud every single day, not only to bolster his morale, but also in an effort to maintain his grasp on the English language.
A major problem for Selkirk early in his life on the island was that hordes of giant fucking rats would break into his hut at night and attack him while he slept. Like any good diabolical madman, he then found and domesticated some of the feral cats that made their home on the island, and his army of felines served as his minions, providing both protection and companionship. He also domesticated some of the goats on the island, and used them to provide him with a source of milk and cheese. He also claims to have taught the cats and goats to dance, and says that he used to sing and dance with them, which is probably an indication that solitary life on the island kind of made him flip his lid a little bit. I mean, in my experience at least, I have found that cats hate dancing.
For four years and four months Alexander Selkirk lived on Juan Fernandez Island. Life in the wilderness made him strong and completely nuts, kind of like a mix between Bear Grylls, Tarzan and Gary Busey. When he used up the last of his gunpowder and shot, Selkirk learned to catch goats simply by running them down on foot and taking their shit out like Ray Lewis. He knew every inch of that island like the back of his hand, built up his body and his strength until he could run super fucking fast and leap great distances like Conan the Barbarian. His feet became so tough and calloused that he no longer needed to wear shoes, and his resourcefulness in terms of scavenging materials from the environment and adapting them to his needs was second only to the Professor from Gilligan’s Island. His only concern in life was dying alone and having his corpse eaten by his cat army, which incidentally was something he actually spent a lot of time worrying about.
Of course, life on a treacherous desert island isn’t all about drinking milk and playing full-contact rugby with a herd of wild goats. One time, Selkirk tripped and beefed it off of a cliff while chasing a goat, hit his head on a rock and knocked himself unconscious for twenty-four hours. Also, during the course of his four-year exile, two different Spanish ships made port at the island. While this may seem like it was a good opportunity for the exile to get off that rock, Selkirk knew that as a British privateer he would be immediately captured and either executed on the spot or sent to work hard labor in the Peruvian gold mines. Sitting back on the beach sipping Mai Tais certainly seemed preferable to a lifetime of slavery in a poorly-lit cavern, so Selkrik managed to evade enemy patrols on both occasions (though once it got a little balls-out when a group of Spaniards opened fire on him with their rifles and chased him through the woods or a while).
Finally, on 31 January 1708, an English expedition landed on the island, piloted by none other than William Dampier – Selkirk’s old commander. Dampier brought Selkirk aboard, and Alexander immediately went to work proving to his new crewmen that he was the most hardcore motherfucker to ever live. His years in the wilderness had made him stronger and faster than any man in the British Empire, and there are reports that when landing parties would go in search of food Selkirk would routinely outrun the expedition’s trained hunting dogs and take down wild animals with his bare hands like some kind of insane nature-hating Middle Linebacker. Since all Selkirk had to read on the island was the Bible and two books on Navigation, he was an amazing pilot and route-finder, and the expedition that brought him aboard actually ended up circumnavigating the globe - sacking and plundering Spanish and French ships and settlements along the way, of course. During the journey, Selkirk was promoted to second-in-command and fought bravely in a number of engagements, so when the expedition put into port in England in 1712 laden with gold and silver from the Spanish Main, Selkirk’s share ensured that he would be a wealthy man for quite some time.
Alexander Selkirk survived four and a half years on a deserted tropical island with nothing more than his wits, determination, and balls-out animal-tackling ability standing between him and a horrible, painful death. His amazing story was the foundation for Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe, and his legend stands as a testament to how badass human beings can be when you put us on an island and make us fucking fistfight nature all damned day just to stay alive.
The Life and Adventures of Alexander Selkirk
The Traveling Historian
The Real Robinson Crusoe
The Complete List
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