Second chance

Troy Driscoll (left) and Josh Long stand at the spot where they launched their boat on Sullivan's Island five years ago. The two were lost at sea for a week before being rescued off the coast of North Carolina.

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND -- Five years ago today, Josh Long and Troy Driscoll set off on a fishing trip that should have killed them.

For six days, the teenagers drifted far out to sea on an unmasted 15-foot sailboat that was far from seaworthy. They had no food, no water and no cell phone. One of the boys even ate a jelly ball pulled from the water in a wild attempt to fill his empty stomach.

On the sixth day, arguably just hours from death, they were picked up by a returning fishing boat seven miles off the coast and 100 miles north from where they put in.

Today, they represent new lives. Driscoll, 20, is a North Charleston firefighter. Long, 22, has a wife and 2-year-old son. He's in the National Guard and hopes to become a police officer one day.

They also have different views of returning to the sea. Driscoll has vowed to never go past the Charleston Harbor jetties on

anything smaller than a mega-yacht. Long hopes one day to retrace the drifting path they took, but only in a fully outfitted sea-cruiser.

For a week in spring 2005, the search for the missing boys captivated the coast as odds grew strong there was no way the pair would be found alive, if at all.

"I wrote myself off out there, too," Long said when he returned to their departure point on Station 30 last week. "I knew I was dying."

But on Day Six, a returning fisherman eyed a bobbing craft with two lifeless, sunburned and dehydrated lumps on board. Their survival was so extraordinary they became instant celebrities, telling their story in magazines and newspapers, even to Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

A docudrama of their journey recently ran on the "I Shouldn't Be Alive" series aired by the Animal Planet TV network. The segment, though, wasn't completely accurate. It was filmed in New Zealand (where the production team is based) and featured tropical scenery.

One obvious error was the boat used in the TV version was a steel-hulled open boat unlike the 15-foot sailboat the two had towed to the water's edge.

Also, the actor who played Driscoll "was eating a different species of jelly fish," he said.

The pair was paid $1,300 each for taking part in the show.

Today the two grown adults say their lives are remarkably adjusted. They don't have recurring nightmares and really only talk about their experience when somebody else brings it up.

"I tell the guys I'm glad I'm back so they can rag on me," Driscoll said of the fire crew at a North Charleston firehouse off Cross County Road, where he's stationed.

Their story has been told many times before, but on the day the pair left Station 30 for what was supposed to be a short trip, the wind was heavy and the National Weather Service had issued a small-craft advisory. Their plan was to take the sailboat a short way out and return home in a couple hours. But events quickly got out of hand, and the current sucked them out to sea.

Soon one mistake compounded another. Night fell. Rain fell. Days passed. Their fishing tackle went overboard. Sharks fluttered around them. The Coast Guard suspended its search for the boys after three days.

Part of the confusion in the search was that the pair had drifted north, far beyond the search grid where they were expected to have gone. Before they ultimately were rescued, each made a pact with God.

Five years later, both treat life like they've been given a second chance. "The biggest thing is the closeness you have with your family, that's what sticks with me the most," Long said.

Driscoll said life is even more precious based on what he's seen as a firefighter, responding to auto accidents and other fatal mishaps. "I know it can be taken away in an instant," he said.

The boat that the two used was recovered and is sitting stored and safe on dry land. Both also have gotten tattoos on their arms. The designs include a cross and the trip's duration dates: 4-24-2005 to 4-30-2005.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or skropf@postandcourier.com.