ST. GEORGE'S, BERMUDA, AUG. 15 -- Blind sailor Jim Dickson reflected today on two days of fear at sea and nights when he lay coiled in the fetal position in his bunk, with a death grip on his inflatable life raft.

"During the gale I'd have given five years of my life just to push a button, have the boat sold and be back on shore. I said, 'I'll cane chairs, anything, just get me out of here,' " he said.

But today, with his mildly battered 36-foot sloop Eye Opener lying safely alongside the St. George's Dinghy Club dock and his gear strewn around to dry, Dickson said he's itching for more time on the rolling wave.

The bearded, 41-year-old Washingtonian is seeking to become the first blind person to sail solo across the Atlantic. But he recalled the horror of the last 10 days as his carefully laid plans came unraveled, until he lay 600 miles out to sea, drifting at the mercy of tropical storm Arlene's 50-knot winds and 15-foot seas.

Dickson said today that the anticipation of the storm was worse than the reality. If he can get broken equipment fixed or replaced quickly and the weather is fair, he hopes to leave by the end of the week to continue his 2,800-mile journey from Portsmouth, R.I., to Plymouth, England.

Big ifs, he conceded. "If the boat isn't ready, if I don't have a spare SatNav {satellite navigation system} and automatic pilot, or if there is a tropical depression coming, this camper ain't going out," he said. And with hurricane season approaching, any delay could spell postponement until next year, he said.

But Dickson lashed out at nationally syndicated columnist William F. Buckley Jr., also a sailor, who maintained in a column Thursday that Dickson had no business at sea with his handicap and that if he does succeed he will have only "pulled off a stunt."

The column sparked sharp reaction from the handicapped community, and today Dickson joined in. "Buckley always felt sailing was just for the rich. Now he thinks it's just for the rich and able-bodied," Dickson said. "He has a macho problem with someone blind entering his bull ring.

"I have a question: Has he ever sailed 650 miles alone at sea, or heaved-to for two days in a storm? If he hasn't, then who is he to criticize? It's a cheap shot," said Dickson. "His idea of sailing is to hire a crew and push the buttons."

By contrast, Dickson said his experience was a test of adaptability as one after another of his technological aids gave up the ghost.

Four days and 300 miles out to sea, he lost his automatic steering gear, he said, and four hours later the talking SatNav refused to give him audible positions. Before he was assisted into port here Friday evening, the mechanical self-steering gear also broke, the radar quit, his sails were torn and the man-overboard gear was washed away when the boat was knocked flat by a breaking wave.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, after he had decided on the unscheduled stop in Bermuda for repairs but before the bad weather hit, shore support notified him by radio that a hurricane was headed his way.

It was later downgraded to a tropical storm, but "I knew panic quite well for a long time," said Dickson, who had never been alone on the open ocean and who had only about 250 hours on Eye Opener before leaving Rhode Island. "I went into a frenzy. I was terrified."

In fact, his experiences sound like a primer in the value of experience in a boat before heading to sea.

It took Dickson, who had never practiced motoring in his boat, two days to figure out after his steering gear broke that he could simply lash the tiller in place to steer a course while under power.

He spent a day in a panic when he saw with his extremely limited vision some blips on the radar screen, which he assumed were ships bearing down. A passing tanker finally explained by radio that the blips represented mild squalls.

When his engine oil pressure warning sounded, he realized he had never added or changed oil on the boat, and when he set the sea anchor for the storm, it was the first time he had ever handled the gadget.

"If I knew on Aug. 4 what I know now," Dickson conceded, "I'd never have left Portsmouth."

Yet he intends to go on, if possible. Why?

"I went sailing because it was going to be fun," he said. "I met some great people and had some great experiences. But the last 10 days were not fun. I feel you sometimes have to get back on the horse that threw you and find the fun."

Dickson's mother Vera, who came here to greet him, said, "He'd be the same with or without a handicap. People climb mountains, people go hang-gliding. That's the kind of person Jim would be if he weren't blind."

Dickson has tested his limitations since losing his sight to retinitis pigmentosa at age 7. As a boy he insisted on riding a bicycle, his mother said, and later he took up skiing. "I said all along, 'I wish you wouldn't, but if you choose, I trust your judgment,' " she said.

"Thank God my brother had the parents he did and not William F. Buckley for a father," said Dickson's sister, Mary O'Callahan, "or he really would have ended up caning chairs."

Dickson reckons repairs and replacements will cost several thousand dollars. The St. George's Dinghy Club has scheduled a fund-raiser barbecue Tuesday.

Meantime, as something of a Bermuda celebrity, he and his retinue are staying free of charge at the St. George's Club Mediteranee, where good times are organized with an almost warlike fervor.

It is a long way from the storm-tossed Atlantic. For the moment, that appears to suit Dickson just fine.