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Lost at sea for three months on a sailboat without a mast or power, Tony Sin turned to what he had to stay alive: beef bouillon cubes, salad oil, instant flour and obsessive fantasies about feasting like royalty.

It was just enough to keep him going. Barely.

Rescued 700 miles northeast of Honolulu by a British-flagged cargo ship last month, Sin, a former Press Democrat copy editor, was near death.

His emaciated form was down from 145 pounds to about 89. He was dangerously dehydrated.

"I couldn't even talk at that point," Sin, 53, said last week, two days after flying north from Panama and making his way to Santa Rosa. "I couldn't tell them who I was. The only thing I was able to ask - and I don't know why - was, 'Where are we?'"

The answer was about 2,000 miles from his departure point of San Francisco Bay and aboard the M.V. Clementine, a 600-foot freighter hauling sand to Florida, nonstop from Japan.

Sin had been at sea for 100 days, having set out for Hawaii and a new life.

But stormy seas swamped his batteries and weakened the mast on his 30-foot Islander until, barely a week into his voyage, it simply fell over, taking the radio antenna attached to it.

Sin considers his rescue three months later - adrift in the Pacific, surrounded by hundreds of miles of empty sea - "a minor miracle."

He had no working radio or signaling beacon onboard his boat, the Accent. He hadn't shared the details of his trip with anyone, so no one knew he was in trouble. He didn't have the proper tackle for ocean fishing.

Sin, so frail in the last days of his journey that he left his sleeping bag only to bail out the boat for maybe an hour each day, said he remembers hearing the Clementine's blaring horn but didn't trust his ears.

"Strange things happen when you're out at sea and you're alone," Sin said, recalling how he sometimes awakened to the smell of fresh donuts or heard the gentle steps of nonexistent cats.

But seeing the huge ship out his porthole, he knew he somehow had to get on deck before its captain turned the boat around, thinking no one was aboard.

Sin had reason to be fearful. He'd encountered a different freighter about two weeks earlier. It made a wide turn in his direction, then acknowledged his boat with a blow of its horn and just kept going.

On both occasions, Sin managed to crawl on deck and set off emergency flares. On Feb. 21, he fired his last three, and the Clementine crew noticed.

Using a harness, they hauled Sin up the side of the ship. Sailors salvaged a suitcase and three other bags from the Accent, recovering Sin's digital camera and his passport.

Everything else Sin owned was left behind.

All that remained of his food stores were a few bouillon cubes and some water.

The Clementine dropped him off in Panama 12 days later and about 25 pounds heavier from a diet long on scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Back in Sonoma County, still trying to regain his strength and figure out his next move, Sin says he never planned to return.

Having quit The Press Democrat in May, he tooled up and down the coast in his secondhand boat for six months before leaving San Francisco Bay on Nov. 14 in a rush to embrace his new life at sea.

A few stray belongings remained in the Santa Rosa apartment he'd abandoned without notice or making his last rent payment, his apartment manager said.

The Mazda Miata he said he'd never gotten around to donating was left, top down, at the Richmond marina where he took a berth for a month and then left, owing money, according to personnel there.

Sin acknowledged he pretty much "dropped everything" before his departure but said he would pay people when he can. He was eager to make for Hawaii and wherever the Accent took him after that, figuring he'd pick up occasional freelance travel writing assignments for income.

He calculated that the first 2,400-mile leg of his trip should take 20 days and he had food enough for six weeks on board.

But Sin, returning to a hobby from his younger days, had a spotty sailing record.

Found in foul weather off the Mendocino Coast last spring without a radio or emergency locator beacon, he was warned by Coast Guard officials to get both, a spokeswoman said.

The next day, Coast Guard personnel ordered him off a private mooring buoy near Tiburon.

Then in September, a friend reported him missing, prompting a three-day search up and down the California coast. Sin was located, anti-climactically, still in port in San Francisco, the Coast Guard said.

Two months later, after departing for Hawaii, Sin found himself beset by storms that battered the Accent, apparently weakening its stepped mast.

One day he "heard this grinding sound, and something fell into the water, and I came out and the mast was lying down."

The radio antenna also was lost when Sin had to cut the mast and mainsail away to prevent it from capsizing the boat.

About the same time, waves coming over the side repeatedly flooded the cabin, overwhelming the battery system that started the boat's 60-horsepower engine.

Initially, Sin was able to recharge the batteries using solar panels on the boat. But the batteries, drowned multiple times, finally wouldn't recharge.

Forced to improvise, Sin jury-rigged a sail using the jib sail and boom, turning it vertically. He decided the winds favored a bid for Hawaii, rather than a retreat to California.

He tried to follow contrails from passing jetliners, assuming they were probably bound for or coming from Honolulu. At night, he lashed the tiller to keep him steady ahead, but he woke not really knowing in which direction he'd been going.

As the days went on, Sin passed the time reading two versions of Homer's "Iliad" - one in verse, one in prose - but became increasingly focused on food, taste-testing the multiple bottles of hot sauce he had onboard, and reading and copying recipes from his many cookbooks into his journals.

"All I did was dream of food. I mean, I had magnificent meals right here in my head," he said, pressing his index finger to his temple.

He constantly recited in his mind the things he would do differently "next time" and dreamed of what he would do once on land, until finally he scolded himself: "You idiot, you're not going to get home."

At one point - his digital camera puts it at Dec. 19 - he photographed himself at the steering wheel: a record for whoever might find the Accent and "wanted to know who was on this boat."

Sin said the ordeal has made him fear neither sailing nor the sea - though he's unlikely to attempt such a long solo voyage again.

"I mean, the worst thing that could have happened was I could have died," Sin said. "But I survived, so I'm not afraid of it."