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October 28, 2012

Skipper who survived 'The Perfect Storm' urges extreme caution

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Ray Leonard knows a thing or two about monster storms. In fact, he’s the skipper of the Satori, the 32-foot sailboat that rode out THE perfect storm 21 years ago.

And if he had loved ones living in the path of Hurricane Sandy, which was barreling north from the Caribbean and already was responsible for dozens of deaths, he’d tell them to get out before they need to be saved.

“Don’t be rash,” the 85-year-old sailor said in a telephone interview yesterday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I would be sure that I had a vehicle that was pretty substantial. I would be sure I had a decent supply of fuel and water — and Graham crackers.”

Why Graham crackers?

“Well,” he said, “I LIKE Graham crackers. But you COULD have Oreos.”

People who’ve read Sebastian Junger’s 1997 best-seller, “The Perfect Storm,” or watched George Clooney in the movie version will know Leonard’s story.

On Oct. 30, 1991, Leonard and two crew members were several days into their voyage when they were caught in the confluence of three weather systems.

They were about 60 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

One of the crew issued a mayday, and the three were plucked from the Atlantic Ocean by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The book portrays Leonard as “sullen and silent.” Leonard, who did not participate with the book or the movie, has always insisted that the boat, which later washed ashore intact, was never in any real danger.

“We were well able and braced for a storm such as that, the perfect storm,” the former research ecologist and college administrator said.

“I think we were in MUCH better shape than the Coast Guard.”

Leonard said if he lived in the area of Sandy’s projected landfall, his first instinct would be to “head to sea” — provided he had the right vessel, of course. But his advice to others would be to get out or be prepared to go it alone if you stay.

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