Yet this was not the most harrowing experience for a long-haired adventurer who rarely expresses emotion while recounting his adventure.

"The whole trip was scary," he says, almost dismissively, during an interview last week in Puerto Vallarta, where he had stopped for repairs. "Broken forestay . . . broken boom . . . broken tiller . . . the rogue wave off Grenada that broke over the back of the boat at 2 a.m. and took out all the electronics. . . . "

Laurence can vividly recall "four specific times that we've been put to our knees in prayer."

One involved his son's passage through the treacherous Torres Strait between Australia's Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea in early September. The passage boasts a vast maze of reefs and requires constant vigilance to negotiate.

But there was casual Zac, reeling in a fish, when the satellite phone slid into the cabin sink and delivered a false signal relaying his position as 100 miles off-course, on a dry reef.

Laurence and his wife, Marianne, tried frantically for 20 hours to reach their son and verify his position. They had begun to request a search-and-rescue mission from Australia when, about midnight in California, a message relayed via high-frequency radio appeared on their computer screen:

"Hi mom, I'm OK."

Even more intense, for Zac, was an ordeal hundreds of miles into the Indian Ocean in November. Windswept waters had reached 15 feet and gale-force gusts blasted Intrepid.

The forestay rigging, which holds the forward sail and helps secure the mast, tore loose and the drum used to furl the sail banged errantly, smashing parts of the bow and threatening to bash a hole in the boat.

The forestay also supports the mast, so Intrepid was at extreme risk. With the drum loose, Sunderland could only partially furl the forestay's Genoa sail, which whipped violently in the wind, tearing at lines. He worked feverishly through two days and nights atop a slippery deck and secured the situation as best he could.

Then he collapsed and awoke later to discover that the storm had cleared.

Laurence had flown to Mauritius to greet his son with spare parts for Intrepid. When the boat hobbled into port, he recalls, "it looked like a dog that had been in a fight and had come up second-best."

Of Zac, his father says: "He looked drawn and worn-out, relieved to see a familiar face."

The fourth incident occurred before Sunderland crossed the Panama Canal into the Pacific in early May. Freighters were lining up for passage appointments and Intrepid was a speck amid steel-hulled giants. One freighter ran without navigation lights and the sailor could not determine which direction it was traveling.

He spent all night trying to avoid colliding with or being swamped by the 300-foot vessel. At one point before dawn, the frustrated mariner shone his spotlight at the freighter's deck and issued a prolonged, one-fingered salute.

Then he threw up over the side. It was the closest he'd come to losing the boat.

Sunderland's journey has not been one long nightmare. There were exhilarating times at sea when he and Intrepid galloped swiftly like man and horse.

He received a colorful native greeting at Majuro in the Marshall Islands, his second stop after Hawaii, and along the way he met fellow cruisers and remained in contact with them there and beyond.

He was welcomed with tremendous hospitality in almost every port, testament to the tight-knit nature of the global sailing community.

But he also witnessed poverty and civil unrest. After Majuro, he sailed 2,380 miles to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. It's among the world's most dangerous cities. Sunderland describes the yacht club as an armed fortress for the wealthy few and shakes his head while recalling how he was escorted to the market by two guards wearing bulletproof vests and toting AK-47s.