by Elaine Lembo
Thanks to Heinz, we’ve heard plenty about the Ketchup Boat Guy. Back home on Dominica, especially in his village of Anse du Mé, 47-year-old Elvis Francois is also known as the down-and-out fisherman whose luck finally changed for the better. A lot better.
In late February, the Caribbean Compass caught up with a relaxed, refreshed Francois for a Zoom interview arranged through the island’s Emo News. Seated comfortably on a sunny porch, his state of wellbeing was a far cry from the dehydrated soul who was plucked from a dismasted sailboat to safety aboard a cargo ship after drifting solo more than three weeks across the Caribbean Sea.
Upon rescue and medical examination by Colombian officials, Francois (now) famously uttered that he survived on ketchup, garlic powder, and Maggi bouillon cubes.
News that ketchup saved his life — sort of — ignited a viral social media storm, otherwise known as an impromptu corporate marketing campaign by behemoth Kraft Heinz, the American multinational food company.
The company’s mid-February search for Francois via Instagram reached 4.8 million people and garnered more than 4,000 likes – a brand record. It also helped Heinz, which in top-flight marketing gimmickry publicized its intention to buy Francois a new boat, get in touch with the news outlet, which then arranged for contact with the fisherman, who at that point had been safely returned to his island nation community. Media hordes — the BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC among them — followed, interviewing Francois nonstop through early March 2023.
“After thousands of messages, hundreds of news stories, and countless leads, ELVIS HAS BEEN FOUND. Thank you, Internet, you helped #FINDTHEKETCHUPBOATGUY” declared Heinz’s marketing department via Instagram.
Accompanied by editor Kim Jospeh of Emo, Francois, who at press time was communicating with Heinz about his new boat, shared with the Compass what happened, how he survived, and how he got back home.
Living aboard the 35-foot monohull in St. Maarten after fire destroyed his home — twice — on Dominica, Francois had pushed off after dropping friends ashore. They were helping him work on the boat, whose problems ranged from a broken mast to a malfunctioning engine. It also leaked. Once the boat started to drift, Francois, more a powerboater than a sailor, lost cell service.
Hours turned into days, then, horrifically, weeks. Between bailing out the boat, ducking below to shield himself from the sun, trying unsuccessfully to catch fish, and straining the lone container of contaminated water aboard to make it potable, Francois waited for rescue. He rummaged around for supplies, which were spare – no VHF, no flares, no working battery, no fishing pole — just garlic powder, bouillon and ketchup.
CC: Did you plan on eating ketchup for 24 days?
CC: How did it taste?
EF: Well, good.
CC: Is ketchup high on your list of foods you will never eat again?
EF: No. I will keep on eating it. Because it is a good product.
Francois, who’s now about 20 pounds lighter thanks to the ordeal, says he enjoys using ketchup as a gravy with biscuits. He also enjoys bananas, and though he hasn’t participated in sports lately, plans to return to running and boxing when he’s not out catching fish. The father of three also hopes the notoriety he’s gained will shine a light on his community and Dominica in general.
“I feel great about it,” he says.
Watch an excerpt of the video interview with Francois here:
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