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Journey's final stop

A skipper lowers his sails on a worldwide voyage that was undertaken to raise cancer awareness and research money.

During the last weeks of an around-the-world sailing journey to raise money for cancer research, crew member Carly Croner received an e-mail.

Back at home in Brisbane, Australia, her father's kidney cancer had recurred.

"You don't realize what cancer is and how it affects people until it affects someone close to you," said Croner, 19. "It meant so much to be part of this operation."

Late Sunday afternoon, Croner and the rest of the crew of the Neil James docked at the St. Petersburg marina to conclude its worldwide voyage. What began as a nine-month tour to raise $1-million for the American Cancer Society ended up taking two years and falling short of its fundraising goal.

The Neil James is named after the father of skipper Scott Peterson, whose dad died of cancer in 1994.

What the effort, called Operation Tradewinds, lacked in funds, it made up in spreading the word about fighting cancer, organizers said.

"The world is a good place," said Peterson, the mastermind behind the trip and captain of the vessel, who quit his job as a pilot to sail the boat around the world. "Everywhere I went, once people heard what we were doing, they wanted to help."

Look no further than his boat for proof of that. The sails were donated by a company in the United Kingdom, and engineers in South America helped rig equipment for the rough waters. "I could just go on and on," he said.

The 51-foot vessel has battled more than crowded gatherings of children, where the crew would make presentations about cancer and the fight against it. Besides storms and even a couple of encounters with ill-tempered, modern-day pirates, the Neil James survived an earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

Peterson was the only crew member to make the entire trip.The size of his crew fluctuated between one and seven.

He left St. Petersburg on April 25, 1999, and sailed south through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Caribbean Sea, where a storm tore the boat's head sail and forced an unscheduled stop in Grand Cayman.

The boat went through the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean, where the crew battled storms until they reached Croner's hometown of Brisbane.

They waited several months to allow the South Pacific cyclone season to pass before beginning the journey's second leg. This portion of their trip turned out to be the most adventurous _ and the one reporters ask about most often.

That's because they were pursued by pirates and endured an earthquake while on an island in the Indian Ocean.

"What we do know is we were chased down by pirates, and we managed to discourage these people from boarding our boat," said Peterson, who also broke some ribs during that part of the journey and had to wait more than two weeks before making it to a hospital in Tahiti. "There was a lot of screaming and yelling."

Peterson would rather talk about the people he met than the ones he almost did. He and other crew members gave presentations to children in places such as Sri Lanka and Spain.

"I had no idea people were going to embrace Tradewinds at this level," said Peterson, who plans to return to his job as a pilot but also hopes to keep "Operation Tradewinds," which has a Web site at www.operationtradewinds.com, active in some way.

The journey's true mission comes back to people such as Croner. On Sunday, the 19-year-old Australian woman who had wanted to return home as soon as she heard of her dad's relapse was with the rest of the crew when it sailed into St. Petersburg.

Beside her was her dad, who had persuaded her the trip was important enough to see through and then decided to join up with the boat in Key West for the final portion of the journey.

He will now return to Australia for a bone marrow treatment that has been developed in the past six months. The research for it was made possible by people like his daughter.

"I wanted to finish this trip," Carly Croner said.

How to help

Donations can be sent to American Cancer Society/Operation Tradewinds, P.O. Box 22283, Eagan, Minn. 55122-0283.

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