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Survivor Smiling But Tired After 14 Days on Life Raft

August 1, 1989

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) _ A woman who survived the sinking of a sailboat and 14 days on a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean is alert, stable and expected to recover fully, a hospital official said Monday.

Her sailing partner Nicholas Abbott, who lived on the 37-foot Anaulis at the Harlem Yacht Club, is presumed drowned, said Coast Guard Lt. J.G. Matthew Wannamaker.

Abbott, 50, and Janet Culver, 48, of Passaic, N.J., went on the cruise to decide whether they would marry, said the survivor’s mother, Hannah Culver of East Quogue on Long Island.

Her daughter was rescued from an inflatable dinghy by the U.S. research vessel Jeronimo Sunday morning 450 miles southeast of New York, or about halfway between the city and Bermuda, Wannamaker said.

She was transferred to the Royal Viking Star, a cruise ship in the vicinity, for treatment by the ship’s doctor, according to Capt. Jacob Lothe, the vessel’s skipper.

″She was smiling but she looked very tired,″ he said after the boat docked Monday in Hamilton. ″She was dehydrated and her face was burned and puffy.″

Ms. Culver arrived at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital suffering from dehydration and exposure, said Hume Martin, the hospital’s executive director.

″She was started on intravenous and oral feedings and is under treatment for skin injuries which have resulted from her exposure to sun and sea water,″ he said.

″She is currently stable, remains alert, and it is strongly anticipated that she will make a complete recovery.″

He said Ms. Culver, a legal secretary in Hackensack, N.J., was not ready to comment on her ordeal.

The sailboat carrying Abbott and Ms. Culver sank on July 16, Wannamaker said. The Coast Guard had been searching for the pair since July 23 and had alerted vessels in the area to watch for them.

In New York, the Coast Guard issued a report based on information Ms. Culver gave authorities in Bermuda. It said the sailboat sank after packing material, used to keep water from seeping in around the shaft, blew out into the water when the shaft was engaged.

Ms. Culver told officials she and Abbott fled onto the dinghy with nothing more than a flashlight, a flotation device, a handheld FM radio, some cold cuts, crackers, peanuts and a half-gallon of water. They supplemented the food with fish, according to the report.

Ms. Culver told authorities that Abbott, apparently suffering from exhaustion and fatigue, climbed out of the four-person raft on Wednesday without a life jacket, according to Wannkamaker.

″He seemed disillusioned, maybe even slightly deranged, according to Ms. Culver,″ Wannamaker said.

Abott reportedly told Ms. Culver, ″I’m going for a swim, I don’t know if I’m coming back.″

When he got about 100 feet away, Ms. Culver heard him make choking noises, saw him with his head down in the water and his back and shoulders floating. He then drifted away.

The search for Abbott was suspended Sunday.

Hannah Culver said the trip was the first major sailing venture for her daughter, who had sailed only on inlet waters off Long Island.

She said Abbott had asked her daughter to marry him, but she did not want to agree until she determined whether she liked long sailing trips.

″She wasn’t sure she could survive sailing. She gets seasick. She said, ’If I can’t take it, I don’t want to hold him back,‴ Hannah Culver recalled.

″I can’t believe she was 14 days on that raft. How did she live?″ she asked.

Although Abbott was from New Jersey, he lived during the summer on his boat at the Harlem Yacht Club and contracted privately to transport pleasure yachts, said club officer Stephen Lippe. He also worked in Bogota, N.J., delivering packages for Lippe’s Econo Courier service.

Abbott was a ″very good sailor,″ Lippe said. ″I call him top grade, very experienced, very skilled. He knew celestial navigation ... and he did trips like this three or four times a year.″

Wannamaker said the Coast Guard had not determined what caused the sailboat to sink. There were no major storms in the area where it went down, Lt. Mike Fijalka said.

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