Deborah Scaling Kiley

Deborah Scaling Kiley (January 21, 1958 – August 13, 2012)[1] was an American sailor, author, motivational speaker and businesswoman. She was the first American woman to complete the Whitbread Round the World Race, and famously survived a boating accident in 1982 off the coast of North Carolina, which became the subject of TV, books and films.[2][3]


Deborah Scaling Kiley was born January 21, 1958 in Throckmorton, Texas. She took up sailing at an early age and began working as a crew member on yachts. In 1981, she became the first American woman to complete the Whitbread Round the World Race, working as a cook on the South African Xargo.[4] In October, 1982, she was hired to crew a 58-foot sailing yacht called the Trashman for a routine Maine to Florida transfer.[5] From Maine they stopped over in Annapolis, Maryland and left for the next leg when the boat was overtaken by unexpected heavy weather in the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina. The Trashman foundered in 40–50' seas and sank. The five crew members gathered on an 11-foot Zodiac, and began to die: two drank sea-water, became delusional, left the Zodiac and were eaten by sharks; and the third had an agonizing death from infected wounds suffered during the sinking. Five days after the sinking, Kiley and the other surviving crew member were rescued by a passing Soviet cargo ship and presented to US authorities.

The shipwreck was transformative for Kiley who went on to write a popular account of the incident called Albatross: The True Story of a Woman's Survival at Sea (1994) which was made into a TV film, Two Came Back, and profiled in the episode "Shark Survivor" on the Discovery channel series I Shouldn't Be Alive (Ep. 1, Season 1). She became a motivational speaker, appeared on Larry King Live (CNN), and published another book in 2006 about lessons for surviving.[2]

Deborah Scaling Kiley died August 13, 2012 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she had recently moved.[1] Her 23-year-old son John "Quatro" Kiley IV died in a drowning accident in 2009; she was survived by her daughter Marka Kiley.[1]


Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 "Obituary". Star-Telegram. August 21, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  2. 1 2 Larry King (April 27, 2006). "CNN Larry King Live: "I Shouldn't Be Alive"". CNN. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  3. John Blake (September 8, 2008). "Miraculous survivors: Why they live while others die". CNN. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  4. Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Chapter 11 "We're All Going To Fucking Die!", W. W. Norton & Company, 2004
  5. Deborah Scaling Kiley (November–December 2001). "Lost at Sea". National Geographic Adventure. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
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