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Woman Says Ordeal at Sea Taught Her to Enjoy Life at Its Fullest

September 2, 1989

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A woman who survived two weeks adrift in an open raft said Saturday she now realizes ″life can be taken away at any time,″ and she’ll rearrange her life for more leisure to indulge her love of the outdoors.

Janet Culver, 48, who spent the last month recovering from dehydration, exposure and undernourishment in a hospital in Hamilton, Bermuda, arrived Saturday in New York aboard the Royal Viking Star cruise ship.

Six weeks ago, she and Nicholas Abbott, whom she was considering marrying, left Bermuda in a 37-foot sailboat bound for Greenport, N.Y. The sailboat sank in the Atlantic and Abbott, 50, was lost at sea.

″It has made me rearrange my priorities,″ Ms. Culver said in a telephone interview shortly after her return home to Passaic. ″I’m going to spend more time doing the things I want to do in life instead of putting them on a back burner because I realize life can be taken away at any time.″

Ms. Culver said she planned to spend the next few weeks resting at her mother’s home on Long Island in New York and healing from skin grafts to remove ulcers caused by friction from the raft.

She will also mull over several movie and book offers she’s received to recount her ordeal.

Ms. Culver, said she would return to work as a legal secretary at a law firm as soon as she is well.

But she is considering changing careers and rescheduling her life so she can spend six months of the year doing volunteer work, enjoying nature, cycling, and pursuing her favorite hobby - trout fishing.

″The time I″m going to be taking off for myself will be really to enjoy nature and the outdoors,″ she said.

During her two weeks in the raft, Ms. Culver never doubted she would return home, she said. She attributes her survival to her good eating habits and physical fitness before leaving for the trip.

She said Abbott became covered with sores, could not sleep and began seeing double, she said. By the seventh day in the raft, he had become depressed and lost hope of being rescued.

On the tenth day, he took off his clothes and told her he was going for a swim and might not come back.

″He was in a great deal of pain,″ she said. ″He said life was not worth living in that state.″

Abbott, an avid sailor, invited Ms. Culver on the trip to see if they were compatible enough to marry. It was her first real sailing experience.

Initially, he became impatient with her when she failed to follow orders quickly enough, she said. He also was irritated when she became seasick.

″He gained more respect for me on the raft ... seeing I wasn’t afraid,″ she said. ″He said I was the right person to be with in this situation.″

Their sailboat, the Anaulis, sank on July 16 when a line fell overboard and became entangled in the sailboat’s propeller. The couple started the engine, thinking it was in neutral, but it lurched into gear and the force ripped a hole in the stern, she said.

The couple survived the first week on crackers, cooked fish, cold cuts, nuts, water and soft drinks they had brought with them in the lifeboat.

When their supplies ran out, Abbott caught fish with a home-made harpoon and they collected rain water. When it didn’t rain for four days, they survived by drinking their urine.

Ms. Culver was rescued July 30, about 450 miles southeast of New York, by a Rhode Island couple and a group of students tagging turtles and sharks from their 54-foot sailboat, Jeronimo.

Ms. Culver said she does not fear going sailing again.

″The experience was not a frightening experience,″ she said. ″It was just a matter of endurance.″