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Survivor of Sea Ordeal Tells of Fears for 5 Sons

Times Staff Writer

A San Diego man, rescued in the Pacific after drifting in a sailboat for a month with his five sons, said he had feared his children would “starve to death before my very eyes.”

Clint Fleishour and the boys, who range in age from 8 to 17, were picked up late Thursday night by a Navy tugboat that came across their 33-foot sailboat 550 miles northeast of Honolulu. The Fleishours, whose Hawaii voyage was ruined by a squall that damaged their sails and threw them off course, had been without food for eight days, without water for five.

“It was a nightmare and at times it seemed there was no hope. I prayed a lot,” Fleishour, 49, said in a telephone interview from Honolulu on Tuesday. “I was fearing my kids, my babies, weren’t going to make it. I thought they would starve to death before my very eyes.”

Nonetheless, the unemployed construction superintendent said the ordeal has not dimmed his love of the ocean: “I want to buy a new boat,” he said. “So do the boys. They’re anxious to go fishing already. But they won’t go on any long trips.”

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Although two of the boys had grown extremely weak and were treated for dehydration and malnutrition, neither required hospitalization.

The family’s saga began Sept. 12 when they set sail from San Diego on their boat, the Paloma, anticipating a two-week journey to Honolulu. Fleishour, an experienced sailor who was raised in Hawaii but who has lived on the mainland for the last 31 years, had sold all his possessions to buy the vessel and return home.

“We didn’t like San Diego,” said Fleishour, who managed an apartment complex here. “The kids were afraid to go to school because of all the gangs and the drugs. So we all decided to pack up and head West.”

Things went awry, however, just three days into the journey, when a storm tore the mainsail and set the boat adrift. After repairing the damage, Fleishour put the vessel on course again. But it was then becalmed for three days in a tricky sailing area known to boaters as the “Pacific Eye.”

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“We finally got some wind, but then we lost it again and drifted for another three days,” Fleishour said. That pattern continued, and gradually the family’s food and 40 gallons of water ran out. At that point, they were about 900 miles from Hawaii, he said.

“We caught some fishes--five fishes in 17 days--and were able to trap some rain on a plastic tarp,” he said. “It was rough. We had nothing to eat the last eight days.”

Thursday night, just before 11, Fleishour spotted the Narragansett, an ocean-going tugboat that was towing a barge through the area. He flashed an SOS with his mast lights and, after an agonizing hour, the tug’s crew finally spotted the Paloma and motored toward it.

“It was like an angel coming down,” Fleishour said, recalling his reaction when he saw the vessel approach.

The family was fed soup and ham sandwiches and were taken to Honolulu, where they are staying at a United Way shelter. Fleishour, who was forced to abandon the Paloma at sea, plans to “find a job and keep raising my kids,” the custody of whom he won after a divorce five years ago.

A Navy spokesman at Pearl Harbor said the tug’s medical officer reported that two of the children were spitting up blood when they were rescued and that the youngest was lucky to be alive.

The officer estimated that without food or water, the boys--Ignacio, 17, Martin, 15, Kazan, 13, Clint, 11, and Rocky, 8--would have survived another 10 days at most.

Meanwhile, two sailors who ran into a storm themselves after sharing food and water with the Fleishour family in the Pacific were rescued by the Coast Guard on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

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Coast Guard spokesman Scott Hartvigsen said the two men aboard the sailboat Early Light reported Monday the vessel was disabled about 60 miles northwest of Maui.

According to AP, on Oct. 7 the men gave their fishing gear and some food and water to Fleishour, who knew the men only as John and “Stretch.”

“They weren’t in any trouble at all when we saw them,” Fleishour told the wire service.


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