A Caribbean man who survived nearly a month adrift at sea on little more than a bottle of ketchup is looking forward to a new and much-needed treasure courtesy of Heinz.
Elvis Francois, 47, was the focus of a viral social media campaign put on by the ketchup maker. The company wanted to track down Francois and help him celebrate his safe return home, after surviving nearly a month at sea on nothing but ketchup and seasonings, by gifting him a new boat. The company had trouble finding him until their viral Feb. 14 post helped track down the Dominica native.
Despite the worldwide search involving the Dominica government, the Colombian Navy and several Francois impersonators, the real Francois was found by Emo News reporter Emerline Anelm two weeks later.
“I didn’t have a phone at the moment, so I asked her to get in contact with them for me,” Francois explained.
Francois said he has had several meetings with Heinz representatives. He was a bit coy in revealing specific details of the meetings, but he confirmed a new boat with updated navigation features was in store.
“One similar to what I lost but more equipped,” Francois said of the new boat. He also hopes his new vessel contains solar panels for unlimited power and security cameras.
Francois has spent many years on boats, fishing and working on the water since he was 15 years old.
His 24 days adrift across the Caribbean Sea from Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean to roughly a thousand miles west near Colombia was a different kind of maritime experience for the 47-year-old.
He was with two other men the day his boat drifted away. Just prior to sailing away, Francois said the two other men went ashore as he continued making repairs on his sailboat. The boat was not tethered or anchored while near shore.
“We had no anchor so we could not anchor,” Francois said.
Francois said before knew he was adrift, he was a quarter mile from shore. The engine on the boat was not working and his cellphone reception was ineffective.
Realizing his situation, Francois went into survival mode and focused on food and being rescued.
“I had to think of all different means and ways, so I can have access to certain things. I had to think about what I’m going to eat, what I’m going to eat and much more,” Francois said.
He said he tried eating seaweed, but it was too strong, so he scavenged his boat to discover ketchup, garlic powder and Maggi seasoning cubes.
“It was a bottle of ketchup, a full bottle…it lasted me 15 days,” Francois said.
As he survived on limited food, he also worked tirelessly to be rescued. He would use a mirror to flash at airplanes flying overhead. He used a marker on the boat to spell out “help” and tried sparking a fire to send a distress signal.
“I worried I would die of hunger but not really afraid of being on the water,” Francois said.
His dramatic rescue mirrored scenes from a lost-at-sea film as he flashed a mirror at an airplane flying overhead. The mirror’s reflection proved successful as the airplane began to circle around his location at sea.
“This plane was passing, and it saw me and my boat that had ‘help’. The plane contacted a nearby Coast Guard ship, and they both were coming toward my direction. I knew something was happening,” Francois said of his impending rescue.
After being rescued, he was checked out by a medical team before being sent back to Dominica. His story already started to circulate on the island before he made it back home. He said his family and friends were aware of his situation before he could tell them after his rescue.
“I wasn’t the one to really explain to them because Emo News already explained it,” Francois said.
Kraft Heinz told Atlanta Black Star in a statement the company will support him and his family.
“Through the power of social media Heinz’s IG post reached 4.8 million people and garnered more than 4K likes – a record for the brand), Elvis was located in the Caribbean on the island of Dominica,” Ali Lieberman said in a statement.
“Heinz and Elvis are working out the logistical details of gifting him his new boat,” Liberman added.
Francois is grateful for Anelm for helping share his story and connecting him with Heinz.
“It’s amazing I’m getting the opportunity to be a part of this amazing story. I truly hope this deal with Heinz truly comes true,” Anelm said.