A Sailor's Survival Story

Ken Barnes was living out his lifelong dream of sailing around the world and it seemed like his goal was at hand until last week when a storm nearly cost him his life.

Ever since he was 10 years old, Barnes, 47, loved the solitude of sailing. He decided to try to become the first American to sail around the world from the West coast solo and non-stop.

"You've got to live life, you've got to do what you need to do. You're only going around here once," he said.

After years of planning and selling his home and business to raise money, Barnes set out from Long Beach, Calf., on Oct. 28 in a 44-foot Ketch. On Jan. 2, the violent storm stopped him 500 miles off the tip of South America.

"When you've got all three of those things — wind, angle to the sea and a breaking wave — happening at exactly the same time, it's not much you can do about it," he said.

With broken hatches and masts, Barnes was forced to wait three days for rescuers to reach him. Barnes said he was completely alone in the cold and dark and felt a terrible sense of urgency to get himself to safety.

His girlfriend, Cathy Chambers, said when she spoke to him that she heard fear in his voice. She was worried that he wouldn't survive. Chambers said the most frightening time was between midnight on Tuesday and 5 a.m. the next morning because it was the longest time the two had ever gone without speaking.

"I just didn't know if he was alive," Chambers said.

He was plucked out of the sea by the Chilean navy and a fishing trawler. He said he saw a light on the horizon and a P3 aircraft coming towards him when he was floating with no idea in which direction he was heading. He made it home safe, but had to leave his boat behind.

Barnes said surviving has made him appreciate his friends, family and loved ones even more, but he said he is still ready to try completing the voyage again. Chambers said she would chain him down to prevent him from leaving, but would support him and give her blessing.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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