A Visit to Crusoe’s Island

In 1704, a 28-year-old Scottish sailor named Alexander Selkirk found himself in a fix. He had taken up privateering—piracy with an official seal, in other words—and had spent too much time cooped up on a galley with an irascible captain of the sort Geoffrey Rush so ably portrays in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. Grievance boards and human-resources departments being nonexistent in that line of work, Selkirk made a potentially catastrophic decision: when he was demoted after a squabble with the captain about the seaworthiness of their ship, which was apparently riddled with shipworms, he asked to be put ashore on an island (pictured here) far away from anything in particular, 400 miles west of the port of Valparaiso, Chile, in the Juan Fernandez archipelago. Though remote, the 36-square-mile island contained large stores of sweet water from which passing ships would replenish their supplies, and Selkirk apparently figured that it would not be long before another ship came along.

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Robinson Crusoe's Island, Chile. Photograph [c] by Leonardo Ramirez