Saturday, June 18, 2005
Plucked From the Sea.....Still a sailing success!!
Plucked from the sea SR sailor calls it quits after 9-year journey ends in rescue just short of home port Saturday, June 18, 2005 By BOB NORBERG THE PRESS DEMOCRAT 'Coutesy photo' Will Peterson moves belongings off his boat June 11 after the Navy came to his aid 800 miles west of San Diego. Peterson was on the last leg of a nine-year journey when the mast of his boat broke in rough weather and he was set adrift. Zoom Photo | Buy Photo ? SAILOR'S SOJOURNS In the Kama: Mexico, Hawaii, the Marquesas, French Polynesia, the Society Islands, New Zealand and the kingdom of Tonga In the Kamera: Mexico, the South Pacific, Asia, around Africa, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean and Brazil Will Peterson, who has spent almost half his life sailing the world, is back in Santa Rosa after being plucked by a Navy destroyer from his sinking sailboat a week ago. After nine years at sea, Peterson was within 10 days of reaching San Francisco when one mast broke in a stiff wind and the sails on another were ripped, leaving him adrift in the Pacific Ocean. "Technically, I circumnavigated the world. I crossed my own track right here," Peterson said, pointing to a spot in the ocean near Acapulco on a pilot's chart. "But I feel sick because I didn't get back to my home port. The idea is to get to your home port. Spiritually and emotionally, I didn't make it." Peterson, who returned home earlier this week, stands because his back hurts and waves his hands as he talks excitedly about his travels. He's barefoot, blond scraggly hair and a full beard frame his sunburned face and around his neck hangs a piece of green jade. "It was a going-away gift from the Maoris in New Zealand," he said of the jade. This trip was his fourth ocean voyage and, Peterson says, his last. "I am a beached sailor," Peterson said. "At 56, to build a boat and start over again ... I don't know if I have the energy." Peterson is a fifth-generation Sonoma County resident, a descendant of Andrew Jackson Peterson, who arrived in the Russian River Valley and founded a 1,300-acre ranch near the Wohler Bridge in 1843. A 1967 El Molino High School graduate, Peterson served three years in the Army, stationed in South Korea, was an art major at Santa Rosa Junior College and ran an art gallery in his family's Victorian home before the sailing bug hit. "It was 1976 when I got interested in sailing; a lady took me sailing while I was on vacation in San Diego," Peterson said. "I got addicted in the military to traveling, and I got the idea I could travel around the world by boat." His first oceangoing boat was the 24-foot Kama, which he built over two years in the barn of the family home, starting with a ferro-cement hull that was going to be discarded by a Guerneville cement company. In 12 years, he took the Kama on three voyages, working his way around the world by chartering the boat, teaching sailing, being a diesel mechanic and, after the boat was damaged off California, being a harbor patrolman in Monterey while he was making repairs. Peterson clicked off the places he visited in the Kama: Mexico, Hawaii, the Marquesas, French Polynesia, the Society Islands, New Zealand and Tonga. "Out there is the freest lifestyle in the world," Peterson said. "You get up when you want, you eat when you want. If you don't like where you are, you pick up your hook and move." In 1990 in Tonga, however, he hit a reef that sank the boat. "I made a small mistake in navigation and clipped a reef and ripped the bottom of the boat right out," Peterson said. "You could see the ocean through the bottom of the boat." Peterson salvaged his gear, sold it and took a plane back to Santa Rosa, where he got a job as a security guard. His next boat, the Kamera, a 40-foot ketch built in 1957 in Newport Beach, was spotted by two cousins at the Richmond Marina. "There were no masts or rigging, the woodwork was popping out, it was a derelict, but it was still floating," he said. Peterson was surprised when the owner, a Lodi exotic car repair shop owner, offered to give him the boat if he promised to repair it and sail it around the world. The restoration, undertaken at the Petaluma Marina, took two years and cost $20,000, Peterson said. In October 1996, Peterson took off on his final voyage, which took him to Mexico, the South Pacific, Asia, around Africa, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean and Brazil. Last Friday, on the final leg home, 38 days after traveling through the Panama Canal and after completing the circumnavigation, disaster struck. "I was in the pilot house, it was about 9 p.m. and it sounded like a cannon went off," Peterson said. The bow spar had broken in 12-foot seas and 25-knot winds, taking down the 60-foot front mast, which smashed his dinghy, the life raft, the rigging and life lines, and putting a hole in his cabin. The second mast was damaged, the sails ripped and the boat was taking on water. "The mast started doing the horizontal mambo on the deck, smashing everything," Peterson said. "I knew I had to get an ax and wire cutters and get out there and do damage control." Peterson said he knew he was in serious trouble. The mast and rigging were blowing around and damaging the boat. To remove it was dangerous; to leave it would surely end up with the boat sinking. "I thought I was going to die that night," Peterson said. Peterson activated his emergency radio beacon and spent almost four hours clearing off the deck. At daybreak, a Coast Guard C-130 plane from Sacramento spotted him, 800 miles due west of San Diego, and shortly after he was picked up by the USS Chung-Hoon. Back in Santa Rosa now, he's not sure what he'll do, but he said he doubts he will go back to sea. "After 25 years, it's enough," he said.