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Sailor `knew the risks'

`I lost the boat, but my life has been preserved. And I'll take that,' says Ken Barnes of Newport Beach, now aboard a trawler headed for port.

January 06, 2007|Garrett Therolf and Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writers

PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE — Aboard a Chilean fishing trawler 500 miles offshore, rescued Newport Beach sailor Ken Barnes began recounting over a scratchy radio connection his harrowing three days alone near Cape Horn on his disabled 44-foot ketch.

"I really haven't had a chance to put this whole experience in perspective," Barnes said from aboard the Polar Pesca I, a 200-foot boat carrying a 35-member crew. "I'm just taking one step at a time. I knew the risks.

"I'm feeling fine," he added. "It's always nice to see that the sailing and ocean community is one. They saved my life."

Barnes spoke with The Times over a radio connection at the office of Ivan Valenzuela Bosne, a captain in the Chilean navy and maritime governor who coordinated the rescue effort.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 31, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Rescued sailor: Articles about sailor Ken Barnes in the California sections of Jan. 6 and Jan. 8 said the city of Punta Arenas, Chile, is the southernmost in the world. It is the world's southernmost large city. Also, the Jan. 6 story said it is about 3,000 miles from Santiago; it actually is about 1,340 miles from the Chilean capital.

Barnes said he scuttled his boat, the Privateer, so it would not present a hazard to other vessels.

"The boat is about 3,000 feet underwater," Barnes said. "I already put a quarter-million dollars into it and it would have taken a million dollars to recover it" -- an estimate confirmed by search and rescue officials in the Chilean navy.

Barnes, who left Long Beach Harbor in October, was attempting a solo, nonstop voyage around the world, which he believed would be a first for a West Coast sailor.

Earlier Friday, Barnes discussed his ordeal with local reporters in Punta Arenas.

"I knew what I was coming into when I came down here," Barnes said. "Anyone who sails these waters knows the risks that they are taking. When they come down here and take the risks, well, it's going to go one way or the other.

"In my case, it kind of went halfway. I lost the boat, but my life has been preserved. And I'll take that."

Barnes is scheduled to arrive Sunday in Punta Arenas, a city of 120,000 on the shore of the Strait of Magellan. Advertised as the southernmost city in the world, it draws travelers from around the world to visit nearby Tierra del Fuego and the wilderness of Patagonia. From Punta Arenas, it's expected to take Barnes two or three days to travel back to Southern California.

During the rescue, which took place at 6:48 a.m. local time (1:48 a.m. PST), photos taken from a military aircraft showed Barnes wearing yellow foul-weather gear and waving at rescuers from the helm of his boat.

Two broken masts lay in front of him, with torn sails hanging over the bow. Four rescuers in an inflatable boat launched from the trawler pulled alongside the Privateer and helped Barnes, 47, on board.

They returned to the fishing boat, where crew members lowered a rope ladder and brought the shivering Barnes aboard.

"Es nuestro!" a crew member cried into a ham radio. He's ours!

Punta Arenas naval chief Valenzuela said Barnes experienced tough conditions, including 3 feet of water inside the leaking boat.

"The first thing he said is that he was so grateful for the rescue," said Valenzuela, adding that the sailor appeared nervous and disoriented when the fishing vessel approached.

"You can imagine why, given his experience," he said. "He had only slept about two or three hours each night" since his boat was damaged.

On Tuesday, the Privateer ran into a storm that generated winds of 108 mph and 45-foot swells.

"The climate was very, very bad, some of the worst we've ever seen," Valenzuela said. Barnes "encountered the perfect storm."

The sailor was in his cabin when a particularly strong wave hit, snapping the Privateer's masts and puncturing the boat's bow. Water rushed in, destroying the electrical and steering systems. Barnes' right thigh was badly cut by something that fell on him as the boat was tossed about.

"The boat was dying," Valenzuela said.

A duty officer posted at the Chilean navy's office in Punta Arenas noticed Barnes' distress signal at 9 p.m. Tuesday local time (4 p.m. PST). Valenzuela ordered both the Polar Pesca I and a 570-feet Spanish cargo ship named Algarve to head toward him. The rescuers faced financial losses because of the detour -- the fishing boat's load of cod spoiled during the search, and the cargo vessel lost $50,000 a day, Valenzuela said.

"It was a sacrifice, but someday someone will be making the sacrifice for them," Valenzuela said, noting that neither vessel would be compensated.

For the next three days, news reports and websites relayed to a worldwide audience the latest developments in the rescue, including satellite phone calls from Barnes and Internet postings from Donna Lange, another solo sailor who happened to be 150 nautical miles from the Privateer. She steered her 28-foot sailboat into the storm to try to reach Barnes, but was thwarted by the wind and waves. Several other would-be rescuers experienced similar weather problems, including the cargo ship and a Chilean naval vessel.

By early this morning, the waters had calmed and the air temperature was 46 degrees, giving a near-perfect weather window for the rescue before another storm pounded the region.

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