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Rescued O.C. sailor effusive with thanks

In southernmost Chile, he recounts wild waves, unforgiving wind and setbacks that stopped just short of disaster.

January 08, 2007|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE — Newport Beach adventurer Ken Barnes Jr., whose three-day rescue at sea held a worldwide audience rapt, stepped onto land Sunday for the first time in 72 days and arrived here in the world's southernmost city offering the first detailed account of his ordeal.

But first, a lean and grizzled Barnes gave an emotional thank-you to Chilean naval officials who coordinated his rescue by the crew of a cod fishing trawler that plucked him from his 44-foot ketch, which had been crippled by a major storm and was slowly sinking about 500 miles off the coast.

"They are in one of the most dangerous sea areas in the world, and their response has to be 100% all of the time, and it is," said Barnes, 47, who planned to present a cake to the rescuers.

In Punta Arenas, where many of the European-flavored plazas and streets are named for maritime heroes, the story of a former pool maintenance company owner with a dream to sail around the world alone has been front-page news and a source of enchantment. Hotel operators and restaurateurs in the city were heard anxiously discussing his situation and hoping he would be their guest.

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' story also resonated throughout South America, attracting dozens of reporters to Punta Arenas for his arrival.

In a news conference Sunday at a naval hangar, Barnes talked dispassionately about his three days at the mercy of the ice-cold Pacific in a sailboat with both masts torn off, no engine, no electricity and no steering system.

He said he was surprised by the storm because he had already conquered patches of severe weather since he pushed his vessel, Privateer, out of Long Beach Harbor on Oct. 28 with hopes of circling the globe.

As he neared South America's Cape Horn, he said, the storm seemed to first develop as others had before. But the low-pressure system stalled right in his path.

"I had to keep going and happened to go right into it because it wouldn't get out of the way," Barnes said. "It just wouldn't move. It just camped out."

As time went by, Barnes found himself surrounded by howling winds and white-capped waves.

"When the wind gets to a certain speed," Barnes said, "you have to continue [forward] or you have to go into survival mode ... closing everything up ... hoping for the best. It wasn't to that point yet."

The storm grew more ferocious, with 109 mph winds creating waves 30 feet high.

"When you are finally in it, you have to deal with that," Barnes said. "There is no getting away from it, especially in a 58,000-pound boat. There is no speed. You deal with what is."

Until the last moment, he thought he could.

"The gusts of the winds, the break of the waves, the size of the winds, the angle of the waves: Everything came together to conspire against my plans all at one time," he said.

With Barnes inside the cabin, the boat rolled 360 degrees, which tore away his two masts, disabled the helm and radar equipment, and broke the deck and port hatches, which allowed water to flood in.

Barnes said he stayed unemotional, forcing himself into an almost hypnotic state to remain focused on makeshift repairs to keep the boat afloat, even as he came face to face with his own mortality.

"With the breaching of the hull, if I had rolled again, it would have been too late," he said.

As water slowly rose in the cabin, Barnes issued the satellite distress signal that launched the international rescue effort, which itself was hampered by the storm.

Three days later, the Polar Pesca I fishing boat rescued the sailor from a craft on which he had spent $250,000.

Early Sunday morning, he was dropped off on Isla Desolacion, where the navy maintains a lighthouse and landing pad at the western edge of the Strait of Magellan.

Vincent Campos, a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Chile, was aboard the helicopter that ferried Barnes the remaining 125 miles to Punta Arenas.

As a welcoming token, Campos brought M&Ms for Barnes, who had subsisted on Pop-Tarts and granola bars while he awaited rescue.

Upon Barnes' arrival at a naval airstrip outside Punta Arenas, the 20-minute news conference was held. Barnes was then taken by ambulance into the city, along a road where snapdragons are blooming in the Chilean summer.

At a city hospital, doctors asked that he be held overnight for observation, in part because of a wound near his ankle. Barnes said it was not serious. He plans to leave today and return to John Wayne Airport on Tuesday morning.

Even in a town accustomed to maritime adventurers, observers in Punta Arenas were surprised to hear one of Barnes' replies from the news conference.

A reporter asked Barnes if he wanted to do the whole trip again.

He said, "Oh, yeah."

*

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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