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Stranded sailor appeals for help

Stranded sailor: John Wilbourne at the Bermuda Sailors Home

An American sailor appealed for help yesterday to reunite him with his fiancée and young son after he survived a storm ordeal at sea.

John Wilbourne was forced to put into Bermuda after his boat suffered severe damage — and cannot afford to make the needed repairs to continue on his voyage.

He said: “My family are dependent on me. They need my leadership as a father.”

He said he hoped to have the boat ready to set sail in the next couple of weeks.

However, he explained that all his financial resources had been put into the boat for the trip south.

Mr Wilbourne said: “The money’s all gone.”

He said that he had found a used mainsail for sale, but that he could not afford to buy it.

Mr Wilbourne was bound for St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on a 34-foot sloop called Killick, where he was to begin work as a sailor when he was forced to run for port in Bermuda.

Money he earned was to be put towards a visa for his fiancée and airline tickets for her and their son to travel to St Thomas to be reunited with him.

Mr Wilbourne and a 21-year-old crew member set sail from Essex, Connecticut, this month after they got a favourable weather report.

He explained: “That didn’t work out well at all.”

Mr Wilbourne said the Killick was hit by “disadvantageous wind” from the outset and the boat was blown 300 miles north of Bermuda.

The 53-year-old said that the danger created by the adverse weather conditions was made worse by the inexperience of his crewmate.

He explained: “If it wasn’t for my quick thinking, we would have probably been dismasted and had a decent chance of being killed.”

Mr Wilbourne, who began sailing as a child, said the situation was “on the razor’s edge of being very, very serious”.

He added: “Seconds count on a sailboat. The boat suffered a lot of breakage, a lot of damage.”

Mr Wilbourne said he made the decision to run the boat’s engine while in the Gulf Stream to prevent it from getting pushed farther out into the open sea.

He guided the boat into St George’s nearly two weeks ago.

Mr Wilbourne said the Killick had sustained a broken tiller, torn mainsail, torn jib and broken furler mechanism.

Mr Wilbourne explained: “It’s got four serious issues, which I’m in the middle of trying to resolve.”

The boat was not the only thing damaged.

Mr Wilbourne explained: “I don’t think I’ve ever really been in such poor condition, physically.”

He said that cuts and rashes sustained on the trip had not healed because of the wet conditions.

He also suffered sprained fingers and an injured back.

Mr Wilbourne was put in touch with the Bermuda Sailor’s Home, on Richmond Road, where he has been able to “do some laundry, heal and make some international phone calls”.

Mr Wilbourne asked for any donations be directed to the Bermuda Sailors Home.

He added: “That would be very much appreciated so that I can be reunited with my family as soon as possible.”