Survival Story: Sailor Describes Stranding Ordeal

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," January 9, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Days ago, we were all on the edge, wondering if someone could get stranded — someone could get the stranded sailor Ken Barnes before it was too late. He was 500 miles off the coast of South America, de-masted, no steering, and his boat was taking water. Well, he's back. He's safe, and he's here with us in his first interview since he was rescued. Ken Barnes, that stranded sailor, badly injured, but nonetheless a very lucky guy — he joins us with his girlfriend, Cathy Chambers, from Newport Beach, California.

Ken, it's very nice to see you, nice to see you with Cathy, as well. Cathy's has been on our show, so it's good to see both of you.



VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Ken, let me ask you the question I'm sure has gone through your mind, but your family will probably have a stroke when they hear it. Are you going to get back in that sailboat and complete that adventure?

BARNES: Not that particular sailboat, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not that sailboat but a sailboat.

BARNES: No. To complete that particular journey? I don't know, at this point. It took a lot to get to this point financially, mentally, and a lot of work. And to get back to that point, at this point, it's so far away, I can't even see it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, take me back to October 28. That's when you set out on this journey, is that right, Ken?

BARNES: October 28 was the day that I left.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where were you intending to go? What was the route?

BARNES: The route was down around Cape Horn and over to New Zealand and then back up through the South Pacific to around Hawaii, around the Pacific High, and back down to home.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was the goal or the adventure? What were you trying to break? What record?

BARNES: The — that particular around the world non-stop single- handed had never been done from the West Coast, to the best of my knowledge, and so that was the attempt.

VAN SUSTEREN: Cathy, what did you think about this adventure before he left?

CHAMBERS: Well, he warned me from day one when I met him almost five years ago, and I thought he was such a great guy that, you know, I just — I was hoping maybe, Well, maybe he'll change his mind, but I'd still be supportive even if he didn't, so I stuck with it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Between the time of October 28, Cathy, and shortly after New Year's, did you stay in contact by satellite phone with Ken, I mean, so you could pretty much track where he was?

CHAMBERS: What happened is, we e-mailed at least once a day through Sailmail, and then we also talked every Sunday. I would call him at noon every Sunday, so we were able to talk. And there was maybe only one Sunday out of the time from the 28th to around the 1st that we were not able to talk on the phone.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, when did that storm start?

BARNES: That particular storm started, well, gradually, from the first I saw it was approaching, and that was just the beginning of another storm. So they kind of come one on top of the other down there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was the — I sort of — doing research, and it seems like New Year's Eve was rather the — was a particularly difficult time in terms of the storm. Is that when the storm was really hitting you?

BARNES: New Year's Eve? No, more — it came about more on the — right around the 1st, the eve of the 1st. About midnight the 1st, it started coming pretty heavy.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You're in a 44-foot — you're in a 44-foot catch. Describe the — describe the weather. Describe what it was like to be on that boat.

BARNES: That particular storm started out just like any others. The weather's coming in in a circular motion clockwise, and it's coming in from west to east. So I'm getting winds more out of the northwest first, and then as the low center approaches, the winds are getting stronger. And with any low down there, the strongest winds are going to be on the northwest — I'm sorry, northeast, all the way through the northwest. The northwest winds are going to be the strongest, unless you're real close to the center of the low.

And so the winds just progressed, just kept getting stronger and stronger. And the longer a low pressure system spins down there, the more the waves build. And so they just kept building and building and building. And that was basically where I was at. It was just — it was another storm, and it was getting windier and the swell were building and building. But you know that they're going to pass. You know that you've got a certain amount of time and the low is going to pass you by because it's traveling a lot faster than you are.

VAN SUSTEREN: At some point, you were demasted. About when did that occur, if you even can keep track of time?

BARNES: Yes. That occurred right after I made my last progress position at about — it happened between 3:00 and 4:00 on the 2nd, PM on the 2nd.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did the boat — didn't the boat at one point — it didn't do a 360, but at least at one — how far over did it heel or go over?

BARNES: Well, it did do a 360, but prior to that, it went over a couple of times to where the windows were under water on the port side. I was on the starboard run.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. When the boat did the 360, describe it, you know, for the rest of us, who have not gone through that experience. You're down below. Everything's closed up?

BARNES: Correct. Yes. It's kind of dangerous if you're up above in situations like that because if something like this does happen, you're going to be in a more dangerous situation than being down below. Everything was locked up. I was down below, kind of wedged into a certain area, with my feet propped up, with my back to one portion and my feet propped up on another.

And it happened in a flash. It happens — it happened like lightning. All of a sudden, you're getting a picture of water rushing into the boat, and it's over. It's done. And then it's a matter of taking a look around and seeing what happened. And you don't see any of the damage occurring, but then all of a sudden, you open your eyes and things are just a nightmare inside the boat. But it's already happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the keel rights you, luckily. The weight of the keel.

BARNES: I'm sorry?

VAN SUSTEREN: And the weight of the keel rights you right back up. Cathy, I take it had you no idea until you got the phone call on the morning of the 2nd that he was going through this — this — I guess best described as a hell at sea.

CHAMBERS: Well, actually, what had happened is on the 31st, we talked on the phone. He had warned me there was some weather. I got an e-mail on the 1st telling me, you know, some of the details, that he probably wouldn't be able to e-mail me on the 2nd because he couldn't get a signal out, and so on. And then I actually found out originally when I was at work at FIDM, the fashion institute.

I was sitting in my office. And in all of our offices, we have basically just, you know, clear glass. And so when I got the call, finally the third time, people could see the look on my face and immediately came in my office, started making phone calls, you know, to the embassy, to the Coast Guard. And Ken said — you know, I finally got the third ring or the third call, and he said, you know, Get me off of here. I've, you know, alerted the EPERB. And you know, I basically, you know, started making calls, and the Coast Guard actually called me.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what did he actually — when the phone — when you picked up that phone, what did Ken say to you?

CHAMBERS: He said, I've alerted the EPERB. Call the Coast Guard. Well, I didn't have to call the Coast Guard, they called me within five minutes of that EPERB being set off.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so when was then the next time that you two were able to talk?

CHAMBERS: Probably about a couple hours later.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, what was — I mean, what was it like? I mean, I assume that you were hoping that someone was going to show up and take — you know, and rescue you. But at this point, you've been de-masted. I take it — did you engine — did you have any power or any steering?

BARNES: The problem was that batteries had flown through the deck and were in the sink, at last one bank of them, and the others were shorting out. So I couldn't start any engines. And if I did, I didn't know if the motor mounts were still in place and if the shaft was going to be crooked and cause a leak or a problem there. So I wasn't too interested in starting up the engine, at that point, to do anything. The main thing was just assessing the damage and trying to deal with that as I saw it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was there any structural damage so that the boat was taking on any water?

BARNES: The boat took on water initially, when it rolled. And the structural damage was the hatch on the deck. When the boat rolled, we blew the masts off the boat. I had a dingy, a hard dingy, on the deck because I normally wouldn't put a hard dingy on the deck, but because the expanse of the deck is so far, I wanted something to stop me from going all the way across. So I left it on for this trip. It was tied down pretty securely. And the dingy was ripped in half. It was a fiberglass dingy. Half of it was gone.

So there was a lot of light coming in the boat that normally wasn't there. That alerted me to go check the hatch. Also, I saw water coming in that hatch when we rolled, just kind of out of the corner of my eye, and went and put my head through the hatch and noticed that the hatch was still there but the dogs (ph) were gone that lock it down. And the rest of the top of the boat was pretty much in shambles, at that point, so...

VAN SUSTEREN: We talked to your family, you know, when the rescue — when the search was looking, and the rescue, as well. And we can sort of understand how time was passing for them. How about for you? Was time passing very quickly because you were busy trying to do things to save yourself, or was time dragging as you're waiting to be rescued?

BARNES: Initially, the storm hadn't reached its worst point when this happened. The low was still coming towards me, the center of it. So I knew things were going to get a little bit worse before they got any better. So at that point, it was just a matter of securing the boat as best as — as best as possible, closing the hatch as it came open. There wasn't anything I could do to lock that particular hatch that had flown open.

There wasn't anything that I could do, at that point, to get rid of the masts that were hanging off the side of the boat. But that was one of the reasons that I went with a steel boat in the first place because in the event that something like this did happen — if it was a fiberglass boat, you've got to get rid of the masts or they — you know, there's a good chance that they'll pound a hole in the boat, if it's fiberglass or anything structural that's not steel.

So they had to hang there for about a day until the storm passed and I could get up there with some bolt cutters and get the masts cut away. But basically, it's a matter of just dealing with what have you to deal with at that particular time. And so time passed relatively quickly initially, and then started to slow down considerably after that, which was fine with me because the storm was passing.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Ken and Cathy, both stand by. We'll take a quick break.

And coming up later: An Amber Alert issued for a 13-year-old boy, an A student. He's vanished, and tonight police may have new information. We've got it all. Stay with us.

Then a wildfire in Malibu's. The blaze has left one of Hollywood's most famous stars homeless. Who? And could more fires be coming? That's ahead.


VAN SUSTEREN: An incredible story of survival and a rescue that had the world transfixed last week. Ken Barnes, lost, badly hurt, all alone, stranded and scared to death, no doubt, aboard his damaged sailboat. He's now back tonight, safe and at home in California. Ken Barnes and his girlfriend, Cathy, are still with us.

Cathy, was there — I imagine that there was a particularly low point, as you waited to find out, you know, when he would be rescued. I mean, when was that?

CHAMBERS: I heard from him on Tuesday evening at 12:15, and then I didn't hear from him again until 5:00 o'clock in the morning. And that was the lowest point of this whole ordeal. I mean, I was — one minute I was crying, the next minute I was reading, you know, verses from the Bible. The next minute, I was praying, you know, having a candle lit the whole time to just, you know, look — look to hope.

VAN SUSTEREN: So — and I take it no sleep, just almost pacing.

CHAMBERS: There was — from — well, before that, I had sleep Monday night, and that was — and I did not sleep until probably Wednesday for, like, four hours, if even that, Wednesday night.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Cathy, I suppose — I mean, the thing that we ought to acknowledge is that, you know, so many people were pulling for Ken. So many people helped the navy, the Chilean — I mean, there are an awful lot of people that were watching this and were helping.

CHAMBERS: I mean, there have been so many people, anywhere from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Chilean navy, the ham radio operators, the (INAUDIBLE) I mean, the P3 (ph) — P3, right? — the plane people, I mean, everybody, I mean, neighbors, friends. I mean, you name it, anyone — people were calling that I haven't heard from in 20 years, saying, What can I do?

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, when you were sitting on that boat, what was — when did you first see your rescuers? How do you describe that?

BARNES: Describing seeing them? I knew they were on the way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. I mean, like, how far off — you knew they were on their way. I knew that. But did you have binoculars? Did you spot them on the horizon? I mean, how did that happen?

BARNES: The plane flew over, and they were actually vectoring the boat into me. And the first thing that I saw was a light on the horizon, their fishing lights on the horizon. And there's a lot of light down at that latitude, so there's actually only about three hours of darkness. So I could get a pretty good view 360 on the boat, and the first thing that I saw was light coming from the boat on its approach.

VAN SUSTEREN: It was a commercial boat that picked you up? This wasn't a military, navy boat, was it?

BARNES: No. This was a commercial fishing boat about 200 feet long, steel, with a crew of about 45, I believe.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how was it spending time with this crew, as you made your way to shore? Because it took several — it took — how many days did it take to get to shore?

BARNES: It took about two days to get to shore. We were about 400 miles out or so, 400 or 500 miles, at that point, because of the drift. And the crew — the question was the crew (INAUDIBLE) I'm sorry?

VAN SUSTEREN: What was the crew like? When they — I mean, they must have been happy to rescue someone.

BARNES: Oh, the crew — the crew was fantastic. These guys, you know, they're — everybody — I was their top priority. They took me aboard, took real good care of me, had medical assistance, had — you know, they were ready with clothes. They were ready — one of the guys gave me his bunk only because the other one that they had available — I'm a little claustrophobic, so couldn't quite sleep in that. So I went back up into the wardroom, and one of the guys noticed me sitting there and said, Hey, take my bunk.

And you know, these guys were fantastic. They were — they couldn't have been better, couldn't have done a better job to keep me fed and happy and just comfortable. And anything that I wanted, they were ready to make it happen. They were great.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you disappointed, Ken, or are you relieved having survived something that could have taken your life?

BARNES: Kind of a combination of both, disappointed in the failure of the goal that I set for myself, knowing that the hardest part was going to be the first part, really, really wanted to get around the Cape. Once that was accomplished, I was at least going to get another several thousand miles out of the trip before I get to Snares (ph) at New Zealand and had the potential for more trouble. But relieved that I'm back with my family. I never gave any guarantees that I'd be able to accomplish this goal to anyone, but I did give some guarantees that I'd be back, and I'm glad that I had some help in that regard.

VAN SUSTEREN: Cathy, is there a way to describe how you feel after this ordeal?

CHAMBERS: A sense of relief, a sense of — I know that I still have my faith. And I'm very, very happy to see my boyfriend.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we are happy, as well. You know, we were all watching this as I think people were watching from all around the world. Ken, Cathy, thank you both very much, and good luck to both of you.

BARNES: Thank you, Greta.

CHAMBERS: Thank you, Greta.

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