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Solo sailor dodges other boats, East Coast storms

A Gulfport resident and survivor of cancer is almost halfway through a four-month sailing journey to Maine.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Alder Allensworth, spreading hope on her single-handed sailing journey up the Atlantic Coast, on Sunday reached Hilton Head, S.C., just ahead of a thunderstorm.

photo
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Alder Allensworth sails out of St. Petersburg in April in Prevail, which has now taken her to South Carolina. She plans to reach Maine in August in a journey to inspire others who have weathered accident or illness.
Piloting a 12-foot dinghy, the Gulfport resident at times has battled rough seas, engine trouble and loneliness. But people's help and close-up views of nature have buoyed her spirits as she nears the halfway mark of her four-month voyage.

"Sometimes it gets very scary and lonely out there," Allensworth wrote in an e-mail after finishing a windy, choppy leg into Miami.

Allensworth, 42, left St. Petersburg on April 11. A survivor of cancer that took her left eye, Allensworth wants to inspire other victims of accident or illness to live their dreams.

After speaking to civic clubs and organizations for disabled people in 30 to 40 ports, she expects to sail Prevail into the harbor at Camden, Maine, sometime in August.

Sailing Alternatives, which teaches the sport to both disabled and able-bodied people, organized what it calls the "Passion for Life" expedition.

Neighborhood Times last caught up with Allensworth on April 26, just after she reached Flamingo on Florida's southern tip.

Here are some of her adventures since then, as gleaned from her e-mails:

Leaving Key Largo for Miami on April 27, Allensworth ran into choppy water in Barnes Sound and had to sail for shelter.

After the sun warmed the land and winds died to a manageable level, she made up for lost time and reached Miami about 6:30 p.m. Friends met her in the channel and guided her to a dock, where she heard cheering.

At first she thought the cheers might be for her. But Miami's City Hall was just a block from the dock -- and the tumult came from a crowd that had just learned Miami's city manager had been fired during the Elian Gonzalez episode.

Approaching Titusville May 9, Allensworth used the boat's engine to dodge storms and boat traffic. Titusville reported golf ball-size hail. After she stopped to gas up, the engine wouldn't restart. A spark plug change didn't help.

A bridge she needed to pass under wouldn't open during motorists' rush hour, so Allensworth made an emergency docking at a retirement mobile home community. There, a retired school system maintenance supervisor, Jim Dan, offered help. It began to pour rain and Dan and his wife, Ruby, offered Allensworth dinner and a place to stay the night.

She bailed rainwater out of the boat, and Dan took the engine apart to fix it.

"I can't believe all the nice people I have encountered. This trip was meant to be," Allensworth wrote.

By the next morning, the engine was repaired and Allensworth sailed for New Smyrna Beach, then to Daytona, where she did a telephone interview with WTSP-Ch. 10. She saw manatees in the yacht basin, noting that "The female is bigger than my boat."

The 40-mile leg from Daytona Beach to St. Augustine took 111/2 hours. Allensworth tried to help a fisherman release a sea turtle snagged in his line, but the line broke before the turtle could be set free.

In St. Augustine, a friend arranged a room at a Hilton hotel for Allensworth. "I never had roughing it so good," she said. Some repairs were made to the boat.

And Prevail designer Chris Bauer suggested a depth finder "so I won't use my rudder as one. I do like my shortcuts," Allensworth wrote.

Sailing the St. John's River near Jacksonville, Allensworth had to maneuver around tugs, freighters and tankers. After speaking to some youngsters from Girls Inc., she reached Fernandina Beach and later, Georgia.

"I was singing Sweet Georgia Brown and dancing in the cockpit all the way to St. Simon's Island. It took me close to six weeks to get out of Florida. Talk about a slow boat."

She noticed a marked difference between Georgia and Florida marshes. "Wide lazy rivers and big sounds to cross. Very little boat traffic. . . . The marshes here are as desolate as the Everglades."

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