Ken Barnes put his Newport Beach, Calif., house on the market to buy a sailboat for a voyage around the world. He sold his successful pool-maintenance...
Ken Barnes put his Newport Beach, Calif., house on the market to buy a sailboat for a voyage around the world. He sold his successful pool-maintenance business to finance the adventure.
He wrote before embarking that the journey would set him apart from those bound by the constraints of everyday life — families, debts, careers, “but mostly fear, not of what they want to do, but of what the consequences in their lives will be if they attempt it.”
The man who gave up nearly everything in his quest to become the first American sailor to circumnavigate the globe in a solo, nonstop voyage beginning from the West Coast now has lost his boat — and perhaps his best chance to realize that dream.
Barnes, 47, was rescued by a Chilean fishing boat early Friday about 500 miles off South America’s turbulent Cape Horn after three days adrift in his storm-shattered boat. The trawler was expected to reach land Sunday, and Barnes will be flown by helicopter to Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city. Family members said they expected him back home by Wednesday.
“It was wild inside the boat,” Barnes said from the Polar Pesca I, the boat that rescued him. “From the moment I decided to take the trip, I took a risk.”
Barnes said his 44-foot Privateer, a steel-hulled ketch that cost nearly $250,000, was a total loss and had to be scuttled.
Pictures taken from a military aircraft before the rescue showed Barnes wearing yellow foul-weather gear and waving from the helm. Two broken masts lay in front of him, with torn sails hanging over the bow.
On Tuesday, a storm with winds of 108 knots and 45-foot waves had snapped the masts and sent 3 feet of chilly ocean water into the Privateer’s cabin and engine, destroying the electrical and steering systems.
For three days, news reports and Web sites relayed developments in the rescue operation, including satellite phone calls by Barnes and Internet postings by Donna Lange, another solo sailor who was 150 nautical miles from the Privateer. She steered her 28-foot sailboat into the storm in an effort to reach Barnes, but was thwarted by the wind and waves.
Several other would-be rescuers, including a 570-foot cargo ship and a Chilean naval vessel, experienced similar problems.
“The climate was very, very bad, some of the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Ivan Valenzuela, the Punta Arenas naval chief who organized the rescue effort. Barnes “encountered the perfect storm. That’s the only problem he had.”
By early Friday, the waters had calmed and the air temperature was 46 degrees, giving a near-perfect weather window for the rescue.
After Barnes was brought aboard the Polar Pesca I, two paramedics examined him, bandaged a wounded leg that Barnes said had been cut to the bone and administered intravenous antibiotics.
Barnes took a hot shower, changed into fresh clothes and downed some Chilean tea, chicken soup and bread. He called his family shortly before 5 a.m. Friday.
They gathered around a speakerphone in the Newport Beach condo that Barnes shares with his girlfriend. His static-filled voice filled the room.
“I love you. I’m on the fishing boat headed for Punta Arenas, and I’m OK and everything’s OK,” he said.
Relatives and friends said they never understood what drove him.
“To me, what he did was a horrible risk,” said his father, Ken Barnes Sr. “Why he was willing to assume the risk that he has assumed, no one will ever know but him, and I’m not so sure even he can answer that question.”
In 1898, American Joshua Slocum was the first person to sail solo around the world. In 1969, Briton Robin Knox-Johnston completed the first nonstop circumnavigation in 312 days. Several extreme-sailing enthusiasts have accomplished the feat since then, shaving a few minutes or seconds off the latest record.
Barnes began sailing as a child in a 8-foot, single-mast Sabot in Long Beach’s Alamitos Bay near his Southern California home.
He graduated to 22- and 26-foot sailboats and worked his way through a degree at Long Beach City College by house-sitting huge yachts at the Long Beach Marina.
Barnes crewed on a luxury yacht while in his early 20s, but returned to shore to start a family and had three children in the span of two years, said his sister, Teri Ashurst.
As a young man, he didn’t join clubs or sports in school and had few close friends. His mother, June Dee Linn, said her son worshipped solitude. When his three children were young, he craved silence so much that he forbade them to talk in the car and sometimes wore earplugs at home.
He worked for six years for his father in the insurance business but couldn’t stand being cooped up inside. “I could see the misery in his face every time he walked in with his necktie up to here and his suit,” his father said.
Barnes eventually settled on pool maintenance, teaching himself the trade and refusing to hire employees because he valued his independence, his mother said. As a result, he often worked 12-hour days, starting at 3 a.m.
Before Barnes set out on his quest, he freed himself of those obligations. He waited until his twin 21-year-old daughters graduated from fashion-design school, sold his house and got rid of his pool business in September.
Relatives are grateful to have Barnes back on land and are eager to keep him there.
“He can sail, but he’s not doing this again,” said Cathy Chambers, his girlfriend of five years. “He attempted it, he tried it, but after what I know now — no way! His life is too important.”