COMMENTS & CURIOSITIES:Dry land is much safer

Big news from Chile. Not that we get a lot of news from Chile, but this is especially big. Newport Beach marathon-sailor Ken Barnes, who was stranded hundreds of miles off the southern tip of Chile on a solo round-the-world adventure, has been found and rescued safe and sound, pretty much.

Barnes was doing something most of us think about now and then but seldom do — living the dream. In his case, the dream was not only sailing around the world alone but being the first to do it from the West Coast heading eastward. Most people who have the sail-the-seven-seas dream want to chuck it all and sail to Tahiti with someone, but if you want to go it alone and try it from west to east, why not? I think that when you get the urge to climb Mt. Everest or sail around the world in anything smaller than the Queen Elizabeth 2 you should take two Advil and lie down until it passes, but that's just me.

Ken Barnes' round-the-world voyage may have been a dream, but it was by no means spur-of-the-moment. He is an experienced sailor who has spent some 15 years preparing for this with a 47-foot boat, Privateer, that was fully equipped with techno-stuff and stocked with everything you would or could or even might need for a relaxing six-month cruise in the open ocean with no one but sea things around.

Barnes set out from Long Beach on Oct. 28 after a send-off party with family and friends that included a few Christmas gifts to take along since Santa does not have the time nor the energy on Christmas Eve to find boats in the dark off the coast of Chile. Things went well, although a little more slowly than planned. Barnes kept in touch both by satellite phone and e-mail updates, which were posted on a website for anyone who wanted to follow Ken's excellent adventure wave by wave.

On Tuesday, as Barnes neared the tip of South America, a.k.a. Cape Horn, things went south, so to speak. Cape Horn had the same message for Barnes that it has had for sailors for the last two or three thousand years: "You want to get past me? Bring it on, dude."

Before long, Barnes and Privateer were being tossed around like a cork in a Jacuzzi by howling winds and waves estimated by a Chilean naval officer at 40 feet. If you live in a two-story house, run outside for a second and look at your roof. A 40-foot wave is twice that high just before it drops tons of water on your head.

On Tuesday, Barnes used his satellite phone to call his girlfriend, Cathy Chambers, back in Newport Beach, who could tell right away that her normally calm, collected and confident partner was none of the above.

The connection didn't last long, but it was long enough for Barnes to shout that both masts were down, the engine was kaput-nik and Privateer was taking on water — none of which sounded good.

Chambers called the U.S. Coast Guard posthaste, who in turn called whomever one calls in Chile when both masts are down, the engine can't manage a single "putt" and there is a lot of water where there shouldn't be any. The search was on, and the Chilean navy was leading it, on the water and from the air, as they tracked the distress signals from Barnes' emergency transmitter.

As often happens, salvation arrived in the form of a passing ship — a 200-foot fishing trawler called Polar Pesca 1 — at the stroke 6:48 a.m. Friday local time, 1:48 a.m. our time.

The sea was still surly and the rescue, which had to be accomplished from a small inflatable launch, was interesting.

When he finally reached terra firma, Barnes told a Los Angeles Times reporter by phone, "It's always nice to see that the sailing and ocean community is one.

"They saved my life. I lost the boat, but my life has been preserved. I'll take that."

Ironically, last Sunday it was the captain of a Costa Rican fishing boat who would have been thrilled to see someone on a grand adventure come along. Gregorio Collado Taylor and his four-man crew set out from the small fishing village of Playas del Coco and were blown out to sea by fierce winds — six weeks ago. They survived on rainwater and by catching fish — something they were good at — and sea turtles. On Sunday, a Polish cargo ship spotted their boat and notified the Costa Rican coast guard who rescued the men 115 miles and 6 weeks from where they should have been. Capt. Taylor, who lost 55 pounds during the ordeal, says he will never return to the sea — not because he's afraid but because he believes God saved him so that he can spread the word that miracles do happen. You shouldn't have much trouble signing up Ken Barnes, captain.

So there you have it. Hoist that sail and head straight for the horizon if you must, but I still recommend two Advil and lying down until it passes. Easier, cheaper, and you won't drown.

I gotta go.


  • PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at


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