Dekker's goal: out in 2 weeks Beating gale winds is key to restart

August 03, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

If his 30-foot sailboat is willing, Hank Dekker will be on the high seas within two weeks, bound once more for Plymouth, England.

Dekker, bidding to become the first blind person to sail alone across the Atlantic Ocean, suffered a setback less than 200 miles into the 3,400-mile journey and had to turn back because of electronics failures Friday night and a three-inch crack in the hull.

"If I can get out in two weeks, I'm gone again," Dekker said yesterday at the National Federation of the Blind, the Baltimore-based organization that is sponsoring his trip.

Even if his boat can be repaired in time, a restart may be risky. Hurricanes and gale-force winds are common in the North Atlantic in September.

"I've got two books, one saying it's not a good idea to go in September, the other saying it's OK," Dekker said, making it clear he favors the second book.

He figures the trip will take between 23 and 30 days. If it appears the attempted crossing will be too deep into September, "it'll have to be next summer," Dekker said.

His sailboat, NFB 52, is out of the water at an Atlantic City, N.J., boatyard. Under repair are the electronics system, the cracked hull and the engine.

"The hull can be fiberglassed and the electronics are no problem," Dekker said. "The question is how much damage there is to the engine, because it was under water after the boat began to leak.

"Before I realized there was a leak, I might have gone on, but it wasn't wise to continue without running lights. I was in the middle of shipping lanes and there was a good chance I'd have been run down. And the vibration of the engine would have opened up the crack in heavy seas."

The problems, Dekker believes, were caused by faulty installation of a radio at Cape May, N.J., last Thursday, the day he departed. The leak apparently was caused by a through-hull bolt backing block installed with the radio.

"At first I was ready to kill the guy," Dekker said. "There were no

problems the day before I left. This didn't happen because I'm blind. It was a sighted guy who did the damage. But I'm not going to throw stones. It's behind me now."

The NFB is as determined as Dekker that he go on.

"This means a lot to blind people all over the country," said Eileen Rivera Forman, president of the NFB's Baltimore chapter. "Captain Dekker is an inspiration. This can break down barriers. Employers will gain new respect for the blind when it comes to hiring."

National NFB president Marc Maurer said, "We dream the dream he is dreaming. The trip has only started. This was merely the shakedown cruise."

The NFB vows it won't let the lack of money stand in its way, either. Maurer says $50,000 "has come and gone and if we're not close to $100,000, I'd be surprised."

NFB finance chairman Kenneth Jernigan admits the organization is "scrambling" for money for the venture, especially now for the unanticipated repairs to the boat.

"I estimate it'll be $150,000 before we're finished," Jernigan said, adding that donations will be accepted eagerly.

Dekker expects to spend the rest of this week in Atlantic City, "biting my fingernails," while the boat is being repaired. If he does complete the journey this year, he has a thought for an encore.

He'd like to drive 250 miles an hour on the salt flats outside Salt Lake City. He "hasn't worked on it much," but does have cars lined up.

Before Dekker can plunge into that venture, however, he'll have to earn some money. Or else "call my attorney and file for bankruptcy."

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