Robert Shaffer spent 30 years at the Associated Press in Cleveland, a distinction he feels "doesn't show much initiative," but since retiring last year he's done some exciting traveling.
Shaffer, 64, spent six weeks wallowing in the Atlantic in his homemade, 39-foot concrete sailboat this summer.
He was going from Jacksonville to Beaufort, N.C., but wound up dismasted, powerless and lost instead, drifting along in the Gulf Stream to a point somewhere between Nova Scotia and Bermuda, 385 miles offshore, before the Coast Guard rescued him.
Not that he ever sought or expected help. Twice during his aimless drifting he was intercepted by passing freighters, but each time Shaffer asked for his position, then told the captains that he and his dog, Sam, were fine -- and he waved them along.
He said he felt that he wasn't in immediate danger, didn't want to leave his boat and didn't want to bother the captains, who wouldn't tow his small boat anyway.
The Coast Guard pilot who finally located him asked by radio, "What assistance do you need?" Shaffer recalled. "I said, 'Mainly, I need someone to tell me how to get out of this mess.' "
It wasn't until the pilot suggested sending a cutter to tow him to safety that Shaffer said, "Hell, yes!"
Shaffer, who spent his final four years with AP in Washington covering the Ohio congressional delegation, was in town again this week, preparing to resume his curious journey as he heads south for the winter.
His yacht, Sham Rock ("What else would you call a green concrete boat?") was tied up at the end of the gas dock at Fort Washington Marina, where he was doing repairs and seeking crew.
Shaffer looks a little like Ernest Hemingway, with a shock of gray hair and a dapper mustache, but unlike the late author and adventurer he is slight of frame and gentle of demeanor.
And, in truth, his adventures thus far sound more like misadventures.
He was three days out of Jacksonville when Sham Rock's mast broke in half in the dead of night. While the vessel rolled in five- to eight-foot seas, he cleared the decks of debris, said Shaffer.
Meanwhile, he discovered that the boat was taking on excessive water, so he started the auxiliary diesel and flicked on the bilge pump.
But the bilge pump failed and the only replacement quickly followed suit. Before long Sham Rock was flooding and Shaffer was bailing frantically with a five-gallon bucket.
In the midst of the chaos he put the engine in gear to head the boat into the wind, but the propeller broke free of the drive shaft and spun uselessly.
With the engine disabled and the mast shattered, Shaffer was adrift in the ocean blue and sinking.
"I said, 'That's it, I'm going to lose her,' " Shaffer recalled.
But he found the leak and plugged it, and in that inauspicious fashion, in the gray light of dawn, his voyage at nature's mercy was under way.
He never did get the engine fixed nor enough sail up to make headway.
But nature was kind. Because Sham Rock was in the middle of the Gulf Stream, a natural current of warm water that flows north, offshore, from Florida to North Carolina, Shaffer was being borne away from the perils of an unplanned landfall. That was the good news.
The bad news was that after North Carolina, the Gulf Stream turns east and heads for Europe, more than 2,000 miles away.
Shaffer had supplies for a week and no charts of the waters north of Norfolk.
What is it like to spend six weeks helpless, lost in the Atlantic? Not bad, to hear Shaffer tell it.
He had plenty of rice, and dolphins (the fish, not the mammals) began turning up under the boat after a few days, seeking shelter from the sun. They were so unused to humans that when Shaffer dipped a fishing net overboard, they came up to see what it was like, and he had dinner in a swoop.
He had no idea how much fresh water he had aboard, so he dipped two one-gallon jugs out of his water tanks and decided to start worrying when he got down to the jugs. He never did.
And except for a rip-roaring storm off Long Island that lasted three days, the weather was kind. "I was blessed," said Shaffer. "Jeez, I couldn't believe it."
As for personal safety, "I never was concerned," he said. "My only worry was losing the boat."
The Coast Guard towed him into Nantucket June 30, 42 days after he departed Jacksonville. Since then he's picked up and installed a used mast and put the engine right.
The boat, which is white now instead of green, still looks a wreck, disheveled and full of the sort of junk a man has a hard time throwing away.
Shaffer said that in late June, toward the end of his weird journey, when he talked by radio with the crew of the freighter T. Akasaka and learned he was due south of Nova Scotia, he looked at a tiny map of the world and discovered, "I was a third of the way to Europe."
He thought briefly about resuming the assault on Europe when he got the boat fixed, but he decided on discretion. Last week he was preparing to head down the Intracoastal Waterway, with Beaufort again as his destination.
Back in the ocean, he said, and off to the Caribbean. "Motoring down the waterway is so boring."