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— On another map Reid seems to detect how much traffic the fishermen might have encountered on their voyage. "Not much," he says, "and it's going north and south." I tell Reid that the men reported seeing ships off in the distance and airplanes in the sky, but only one ship ever saw them. Its crew apparently thought they were working and sailed on.

Reid agrees with Men's Journal that, had the fishermen started drifting from the coasts of Panama or Colombia, they would have encountered stronger currents just below the equator. "Then," Reid tells me, "one might expect their speeds to have been higher, and the trip would have taken less time." The journey still would have been astonishing, however. A Central American sojourn would have allowed the fishermen to spend time on land, perhaps picking up drugs, before starting out and eventually drifting straight westward. But in the absence of evidence, Mexican authorities never prosecuted them.

I ask Reid if any of the great voyages of discovery approximated the Mexican fishermen's trip. "I suppose the first one to have sailed that route was Magellan," he says, "who first came through the Straits of Magellan and up the coast of South America. I don't know how far he came north before he turned west. But he did go on a course not very far from the equator, eventually north of it, all the way over to the Philippines. That was, I guess, the first European voyage in that area."

Did Magellan keep records? "To some extent, yes," Reid tells me. "At that time, though, they could not determine their longitude, only their latitude." (Determining longitude required the invention of a seaworthy timepiece, which occurred about 200 years after Magellan's voyage.)

Today, do mariners use global positioning devices like those found in cars? Says Reid, "Ships were the first to use global positioning. Once people discovered how cheap it was they began putting it in automobiles."

Since Mike Guy's January article, two others about the fishermen's ordeal have appeared. In its February 19 issue, the New Yorker ran a story by Mark Singer called "The Castaways." Singer, with 11,000 words, provides a much more sympathetic account than Mike Guy's, using great detail from the fishermen's own words. He writes, for instance, that midway through the trip, when the castaways surmised how far they had traveled, they hoisted a sail made from blankets to travel even faster. They believed that by doing so they might reach China. Singer also gives a riveting account of the men collecting rainwater to drink and eating raw fish, sea turtles, and sea birds. According to the survivors, the two men who died could not bring themselves to eat the raw meat, retching every time they tried it.

On February 11, Christopher Goodwin wrote in TimesOnline an article called "The Men Who Came Back from the Dead." Goodwin's account emphasizes the religious belief of Salvador, the oldest and most resourceful of the lost men. Salvador's faith became more intense after their small boat survived during bad weather in December 2005.

After the castaways got back to San Blas, Joe Kissack, who works for a small book publisher in Atlanta, went to Mexico and acquired the movie rights to their story. Immediately he gave each of the men $10,000 and promised them much more after the movie comes out. But Salvador and Lucio, one of the other men, began using the money to drink heavily. " 'He says he drinks so much,' " Goodwin reports Lucio's grandmother as saying, " 'because he suffered a lot and he can't forget what happened.' "

Goodwin, who downplays the possibility that the fishermen were drug runners, then quotes Kissack: "It is a story about faith and hope and survival, a story that can inspire millions, and bring them to God." But Goodwin thinks that the fishermen are now experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. "The tragedy of the three Mexican fishermen is not what happened on their terrible voyage," he writes. "It is that those who have been most involved with them since their return -- such as the voracious Mexican media -- have ignored the men's suffering for their own ends."

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