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Novice Sailor Loses Boat, Drifts for 20 Hours Clinging To Seat Cushion

August 3, 1993

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Twenty hours spent adrift in the Gulf Stream with only a small cushion to cling to left a novice sailor with a gift for understatement.

″I’m a survivor,″ John Kalmer said Monday.

Kalmer, 52, acknowledges a string of bad judgments left him bobbing in the Atlantic, unable to get back into his sailboat after diving in for a cool dip.

An admittedly inexperienced sailor, Kalmer set out Sunday with two friends on The Gusto, a 24-foot sailboat he bought just two days earlier.

They ventured out although the boat lacked required items such as a radio, emergency supplies and even an anchor. To make matters worse, the motor quit.

Kalmer tried to climb back into the boat after his swim, but realized he couldn’t do it without a ladder and cut his leg in the process. His two friends didn’t know how to sail, so the boat drifted away.

They threw him a seat cushion as the gap widened.

″I kept telling him, ’Hold on, John,‴ said Amy Reese, 24.

Caught in the Gulf Stream, which moves north from 3 mph to 5 mph, Kalmer said attempts to swim to shore throughout the night proved futile. Three thunderstorms passed over, kicking up 5-foot waves.

″Shark bait, I figured,″ Kalmer said. ″But I don’t know what was worse, worrying about the sharks or all that lightning.″

He was rescued early Monday by a fisherman about 65 miles from where his ordeal began. His friends and The Gusto were found soon afterward.

Kalmer was hospitalized with severe dehydration and sunburn, but he and his friends say their sailing days aren’t over.

″I’ll go again,″ said Mike Humes, 32. ″I’ll make sure the boat has all the necessary equipment and an engine that runs.″

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