ST. GEORGE'S, BERMUDA -- Blind sailor Jim Dickson is a brave and remarkable man, but it's clear now his scheme to sail across the Atlantic alone is ill-timed, and he ought to reconsider.

Dickson was assisted into port for emergency repairs here Friday after electronic gear betrayed him 300 miles into his 2,800-mile journey from Portsmouth, R.I., to Plymouth, England. The 41-year-old Washingtonian wants to be the first blind person to make a solo transatlantic crossing, and he may continue the journey late this week if repairs are complete and the weather cooperates.

Dickson claims he's after two things -- to enjoy himself sailing and to demonstrate how independent handicapped people can be with the help of modern technology. So far he's managed neither, and the prognosis isn't good if he presses on.

His first 10 days at sea were the farthest thing from fun, Dickson admits, as he went from one bout of terror and anxiety to another. And if he demonstrated anything about equipment and independence, it's the capricious unreliability of modern technology under stress and his own reliance on others to see him through a crisis.

Dickson has been accepting congratulations for weathering a nasty storm and for navigating 350 miles to Bermuda after his satellite navigation system and automatic steering gave out four days into the voyage.

But the real story of how he got to Bermuda after the electronics quit is one of muddling through with a lot of help from his friends. Much of the time he was motoring, not sailing, as he was guided along a course by supporters on shore.

His 36-foot sloop Eye Opener is equipped with an Argos automatic tracking device, which radioed his position to satellites passing overhead. After the SatNav quit, he found out where he was by radio-telephoning supporters on shore who periodically dialed up the Argos information and advised Dickson which way to steer to get near Bermuda.

His radio advisers -- particularly Paul Petronello of Tillotson-Pearson Yachts, which built and rigged Eye Opener -- also tracked Tropical Storm Arlene and told Dickson how and when to batten down in preparation for it.

When the storm's 50-knot winds abated, Petronello, who by then had flown to Bermuda, boarded a pilot boat that went 28 miles to sea to intercept Eye Opener. In order for Dickson to motor into port to make repairs, he needed a guide to take him through reefs around the island.

With 10-foot seas and 30-knot winds with which to contend, Petronello took some risks. Conditions were too rough for a direct boarding, and Dickson couldn't see to catch a line from the pilot boat, which Petronello might have swung across on.

In the end, Petronello climbed into a small inflatable raft that was drifted out behind the pilot boat on a 100-yard tether. When the tiny raft came close enough in the turbulent seas, the pilot-boat skipper gunned his engine, the inflatable banged alongside Eye Opener and Petronello jumped in -- a tricky and dangerous maneuver.

But Dickson insisted Saturday that "it wasn't a rescue. This was how we planned to deal with it, and we did."

One key problem that convinced Dickson to pull into Bermuda for repairs was the broken SatNav, which stopped giving audible signals to tell him where he was.

But in port this weekend, the man who fixed it said the problem was "operator error." Dickson had failed to dial the correct instructions into the equipment to get his audible signals, said electrician Mac McGrath.

If little of this sounds like an example of a handicapped person handling difficult physical, emotional and intellectual problems independently at sea, there's a good explanation.

As bright and bold as Dickson is, he imperiled himself and his mission by storming out to sea ill-prepared. When he left Rhode Island, he never had been on the ocean alone in a boat before, never had weathered a storm, never tested or worked on much of the equipment he relied on and had only about 250 hours practice time on the boat.

It's now fairly clear that he's capable of proving what he set out to prove and achieving what he set out to achieve, if he'd just given himself time to master his equipment. But he did not.

As veteran single-handed ocean racer Francis Stokes put it, "Whenever your preparations for going to sea are poor, the sea worms its way in and finds the problems." That it did, and when things broke or went awry, Dickson wasn't experienced enough to deal with them and had to call for help. Adaptability is the mark of a true seaman. Dickson, for lack of experience, didn't have it.

His relative helplessness in the face of technical breakdowns and a moderately bad storm left him open to the criticisms that inevitably developed -- most notably columnist William F. Buckely's assertion that the ocean was no place for a blind man to be and that Dickson should try something more suitable to his handicap.

Having sat with Dickson on his boat and watched him scamper agilely around the deck, having observed his quick grasp of matters nautical, I'm convinced that Buckley, who never met or even conversed with Dickson, is dead wrong.

With reasonable time and practice, sailing at the proper time of year, Dickson, I believe, could take Eye Opener across the ocean with seamanlike skill and grace, making his point so effectively even Buckley would have to concede it.

But Dickson plunged in too fast.

If he chooses to continue this voyage now, chances are he'll survive, and he could very well make his destination. So many people are watching that the likelihood he'd be lost at sea is remote. He has a good boat that's proved its worth in hard weather.

But the season is wrong. Stormy weather is coming, and Dickson should know by now that he needs more experience if he's going to sail well in hard conditions.

Stokes, a key member of the team that advised Dickson on whether or not to go and who gave a grudging go-ahead three weeks ago, said that "in retrospect, Jim was putting too much faith in all these {electronic} systems. There was a lot of wishful thinking.

"But it's a great thing to cross an ocean," Stokes added. "It was not my business to stand in his way."

Here's hoping Dickson indeed crosses his ocean, but stands in his own way until he's ready to do it right.

Which would be next year, and no sooner.