Boat builder Benni Winding wanted to spend his dying days at sea -- the salt spray prickling his face, the wind billowing the sails as he steered his dream ship around the globe.
But the voyage that was to be his last instead saved his life.
Dying of a bad heart, unable to get his insurance to cover a transplant, Winding, and his wife, Annie, sold their Mission Viejo, Calif., condo and bought a 44-foot ketch, which they named for their favorite beer, Carlsberg. They set out in 1989 from Newport Harbor to accomplish their dream: to sail around the world.
"If I was going to die, I thought, why not go out having a good time?" said Benni Winding, 57. "One last sail out in the blue."
Along the way:
Winding experienced congestive heart failure, and his lungs filled with fluid. He landed in a Cuban hospital.
The couple sailed into Hurricane Hugo, and saw the storm hurl other boats into the air, cut them in two and strew them in trees like broken kites.
They lost their sails in a maelstrom in the mid-Atlantic, where nightmarish waves crashed over the boat and tossed them 30 feet up and down.
They drifted into the doldrums, a place of no wind. Their engine failed, and they were at the mercy of the current.
They made it to Europe, where transplant surgeons gave Winding a teenager's heart.
The story begins at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif.
"Doc, if I'm going to die, I want to die on my boat," Winding told his cardiologist, Richard Caso.
Caso had discovered that health insurance would not cover the heart transplant his patient needed to survive. The doctor had exhausted all the other options for funding the procedure, which can cost upwards of $200,000.
"Benni, you're crazy. What if you get sick?" Caso said.
But Winding wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. So Caso reluctantly handed his patient a sack of medication and bid him bon voyage.
The Windings set out at noon on Feb. 5, 1989, from the dock at the American Legion Post in Newport Beach.
By April they'd made it to Acapulco, where Winding's heart failed, his lungs filled with fluid and he became violently ill, weak and vomiting. He flew back to Orange County, where Caso admitted him to the hospital.
Caso said Winding's case was unusual: Winding was in great physical shape, and his arteries weren't clogged. The problem appeared to be a rare virus that debilitates the heart muscle.
A few weeks later, Winding felt well enough to continue the journey. They sailed down the coast of Central America and, in June, through the Panama Canal.
Summering in Jamaica, they took on board as crew an Orange County doctor friend, Philip Radovic. He wasn't much of a crew member; he had never sailed before. But he was to prove invaluable because he spoke Spanish. The Carlsberg was sailing near Cuba in August when Winding fainted and began to lapse in and out of consciousness.
Winding radioed the U.S. Coast Guard. It offered a helicopter, but Winding feared he wouldn't be able to afford it. So Radovic negotiated with Cuban authorities to check Winding into a hospital in Santiago de Cuba.
Annie Winding, who works in hospitals as a physical therapist, said the Cuban hospital "was like crossing into a different time zone -- like going back 40 years."
Benni Winding said: "I was dead scared."
Winding's heart was not to blame for his illness. He had been taking the wrong dose of medicine. After a week in the hospital, he recovered enough to tour Cuba for a week.
In September the Windings bid goodbye to Radovic and sailed on to St. Thomas. There, fellow boaters alerted them that a hurricane named Hugo was heading their way. The Windings anchored in a mangrove swamp with about 350 other boats.
"The weather got totally calm, hot and humid," Benni Winding said. "No wind. No nothing."
The next day, the U.S. Navy clocked the wind at 218 knots.
"It took boats literally out of the water and put them on top of each other. They were up in the trees ... all over," he said.
The Windings strapped themselves into their safety harnesses, donned diving masks to protect their eyes from the pounding rain and began working their anchor line to keep the boat in position.
"We planned that we'd leave the boat if it really hit hard, but it was too late," Annie Winding said.
"It was our home," Benni Winding said. "We had to save it. We couldn't just leave it. We knew if we had to, we could jump into the mangroves and hold onto a tree."
For 24 hours, the hurricane stubbornly whirled over the swamp.
When the storm cleared, about 250 boats lay smashed in that swamp alone, and 1,000 boats in the surrounding area were destroyed.
During the hurricane, they had become close friends with another couple on a chartered boat. They asked the couple to join them in crossing the Atlantic.
The sail progressed smoothly north until mid-May, when, south of Newfoundland, the Windings encountered a storm that made Hurricane Hugo look like a splash in a wading pool.
The waves bounced the Windings up and down "like the roller coaster at Magic Mountain, except there's no way to get off," Benni Winding said. Winds ripped half the sails and carried a few away.
When the storm subsided, they sat on deck and stitched their sails together.
Then they sailed into the doldrums, a region of dead calm. Discovering that their water pump had blown, leaving their engine unusable, they sat while the current carried them slowly toward the Azores.
Benni Winding's health continued to decline, and he checked into hospitals in the Azores and England. Finally, in July 1990, he sailed through the English Channel and up to his native Denmark. There, doctors told him he would not survive two more months unless he got a new heart. He was lucky: Danish doctors had just begun a heart transplant program.
Because Winding had retained his Danish citizenship and had paid about 65 percent of his income in taxes to the country's socialist government for 25 years, the heart transplant would cost him nothing.
There was a problem -- Winding's blood type, B positive, is shared by only about 3 percent of the world's population. The transplant would require a heart from someone with a compatible blood type.
"I was waiting and waiting and waiting and nothing happened," Winding said. "Then one day we were sitting with some friends in a restaurant and the beeper went off. Annie called the doctor, and I called for a beer."
But it was a false alarm -- the beeper had gone off accidentally.
By April -- when Winding should have been dead for six months -- doctors decided they had to hook him up to a heart-lung machine if he was to survive.
But on May 1, the date Winding was to be put on the machine, a heart that matched his type was donated.
"They'd only tell me that it was a female heart, and it was young," Winding said.
For a week after the nine-hour operation, Winding felt terrific. Then he got pneumonia. He fought off the pneumonia, only to get a blood clot in his right lung. Surgeons removed half of the lung.
In all, Winding spent 100 days in a hospital bed.
That was seven months ago, and the Windings returned recently to Orange County. By jet.
"We had to sell the boat," Winding said. "We still don't know how much longer I have on this Earth, and I don't want to put Annie in a bad position if we're out at sea."
He did not make it around the world. But he had, nonetheless, one last adventure.
"I've learned through all of this that it really doesn't matter to rush and rush and rush and do the rat race," he said. "It doesn't bring you anyplace."