Dekker returns to N.J., cites electronics failure

August 02, 1993|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Hank Dekker, the Californian who was attempting to become the first blind person to sail alone across the Atlantic Ocean, came ashore here at 7 last night, some 25 hours after he notified the U.S. Coast Guard that he had become a hazard to navigation.

Dekker began his sail on Thursday at Cape May, N.J., shortly after 11 a.m., and by 11 p.m. Friday had logged just less than 200 miles in his projected 3,400-mile trip to Plymouth, England.

"I was having a fine sail," Dekker said at the Coast Guard Station in Atlantic City, N.J. "It started off in light winds, but then I really got the boat going.

"But about 11 o'clock [Friday night], I went to turn on the diesel engine to charge the batteries . . . and the minute it started, everything blew.

"No lights, no radio, no Global Positioning System, no electronics at all."

Dekker said he believes that faulty installation of a single sideband radio completed at Cape May on the day of his departure caused the electronics to fail.

"I said, I am in a bind because these are busy shipping lanes out here," Dekker said. "And I made the decision to go back to Cape May and have repairs made."

Although Dekker had lost his electronic navigation systems, he started back using dead reckoning, a basic measurement of time, speed and distance.

"Yesterday [Saturday] afternoon, I was 5 making good speed, averaging about 10 knots or 100 miles in 10 hours, and I became becalmed," Dekker said.

"And the only thing I could think of to do was to call the Coast Guard and tell them I am a navigational hazard.

"So I activated the Argos alarm."

The Coast Guard, which monitors the Argos satellite rescue system, picked up Dekker's signal at 5:45 p.m. and dispatched a patrol boat and rescue helicopter to the scene.

The helicopter located Dekker at 7:43 p.m., some 110 miles offshore, and the cutter Point Jackson arrived at Dekker's position between 8 and 8:30 p.m.

Initially, two coast guardsmen were put aboard to help Dekker sail in. A leak was found on the center line of the hull, however, and pumps had to be brought aboard to keep the 30-foot sloop afloat.

The leak, described by Dekker as a 3-inch wide crack, also apparently was caused by a through-bolt backing block installed along with the radio.

"It is good in a way that the electrical system blew," Dekker said, "because in another 800 or 900 miles, I would have been in a much worse situation than I am today."

The hull crack is toward the stern, in an area that could have been hard to find, according to the Point Jackson's commanding officer.

"He eventually would have noticed the leak," said commanding officer Eric More. "But he wouldn't have found it until it got to the point where it might have been a little late."

Dekker said he still intends to sail the Atlantic, but he may have missed his best window of opportunity this year.

"I am definitely going to go to England," he said. "We will have to evaluate how soon we can have the boat repaired and what it is going to cost.

"But I want to go right now. Put some [patching] on that crack and let's go, right now."

Marc Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, which is sponsoring Dekker's trip, said yesterday that Dekker's trip is not yet over.

"It is not a failure until the captain quits, and Hank hasn't quit," Maurer said.

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