by Kathleen Kaska
I work in an office with four amazing women and an equally amazing, but a bit gregarious, man. Most are permanent fixtures here at Cave Art Press, except for Margie Witthoft. She is working on a special assignment that brings her here from oceans away.
Margie lives in Melbourne, Australia and is in Washington State for three months to add the finishing touches on an adventure that began forty years ago. The gregarious gentleman is Don Douglass who, along with his wife Réanne Hemingway-Douglass, are the owners of the company. Before starting their publishing business, the Douglasses undertook an adventure few have ever attempted, they sailed the hazardous waters around Cape Horn.
On October 12, 1974, the Douglasses set out from Los Angeles Harbor in their forty-two foot sailboat, le Dauphin Amical. The plan was to circumnavigate the Southern Hemisphere with their crew of four teenage boys: Réanne’s fourteen-year-old son Sean, his fourteen-year-old friend Carl, and Don’s two sons, eighteen-year-old son Jeff and sixteen-year-old Michael. By the time they reached Acapulco in December to prepare for sailing to Easter Island, all four boys had jumped ship, leaving Don and Réanne to continue alone. The couple miraculously survived several close calls, including a pitchpole: the overturning of a boat as the stern pitches forward over its bow due to extremely bad weather. The near-fatal disaster occurred on February 25 as they entered the latitudes known as the Screaming Fifties. The le Dauphin Amical limped into Punta Arenas six weeks later on April 4. By the time repairs on the boat were made, Réanne’s sabbatical had come to an end and she had to return to California. Don was determined to continue the journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town, South Africa.
Margie and her companion, Trevor Dwyer, had been backpacking the Americas and were planning to return home. They were held up in Punta Arenas, waiting for weeks for the ferry to take them to Santiago. Impatient and anxious to escape their current living situation (a house rental with two terrorists from Mozambique), Margie and Trevor spent time on the dock, hoping for word about the ferry. The two couples met on the dock and after a quick interview, the next day Don invited Margie and Trevor to crew for him for the rest of the journey. Margie and Trevor knew nothing about sailing, but jumped at the chance for a new adventure.
Now, more than forty years later, Margie is here in Anacortes, staying with the Douglasses where she and Don are writing the next chapter to this sailing saga. Here’s Margie journal— reflection on making her decision to come to Anacortes, WA:
“I sat down the other day at my favourite village coffee shop, looking out at the ocean, when a cloud swept in over the sun, turning the sparkling blue of the sea into a darker gun-metal grey. I gasped as this colour that touched something deep inside me! A memory that was at once melancholic, yet filled with awe and respect for the young woman I had been, one who had the strength and naiveté to step from land and spend 400 days at sea on a 42-foot Ketch rigged sailboat, called the le Dauphin Amical.”
While waiting for this sequel, check out Réanne’s bestseller, Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare.
Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare is a compelling story of survival. Eight hundred miles northwest of Cape Horn the ultimate wave pitchpoled their sailboat and turned it into a leaking lifeboat. Pulling together, they struggled more than forty-two days to reach the coast of southern Chile while family and friends all but gave up hope. Cape Horn is the gripping account of one woman's courage, a couple's turbulent relationship, survival, and endurance in the seas off Patagonia.
by Kathleen Kaska
First Lieutenant Ken “Sorgy” Sorgenfrei unpinned his military wings and gave them to a farmer’s wife before escaping into the mountains near Grenoble, France. It was World War II and USAAF pilot Sorgenfrei had just completed what was supposed to have been his last bombing mission before returning home. After successfully releasing the bombs over the Munich railyards, Sorgenfrei’s plane was struck by German anti-aircraft fire, blowing out the nose turret, two of the plane’s four engines, and the electrical circuits, cutting off the oxygen supply.
Sorgenfrei and his crew of nine were a tightly-knit squadron who had trained together as USAAF pilots and were considered one of the best crews to fly the new B-24 bombers. Determined to fly out of enemy territory and into Switzerland, Sorgenfrei told his crew to lighten the plane’s load. They released the remainder of the bombs and dumped the machine guns, ammunition and any equipment they could spare. An hour later, one of the two functioning engines died and Sorgenfrei ordered his crew to bail out. He was the last to parachute and landed unconscious in a valley near Grenoble. He and his entire crew were rescued by the local villagers. The farmer’s wife to whom Sorgenfrei would eventually give his military wings was the one who found him and brought him to her home.
With the Germans searching the area for survivors, local Resistance members took Sorgenfrei, suffering from a badly sprained ankle and a concussion, and his crew to higher points in the mountains. They traveled up into the Alps and were eventually turned over to members of the Resistance de l’Oisans, then taken to an abandoned ski resort where the crew began working in an Allied field-hospital for the wounded.
Two weeks later, the Germans learned of the hospital’s location. The airmen evacuated everyone and moved higher into the mountains. When the Germans began to close in, the airmen hid the severely wounded in a rock cliff.
On August 22, a month after Sorgenfrei and his crew crash-landed, Allied forces liberated Grenoble. When the airmen returned from the mountain a week later, the villagers of Grenoble welcomed them as heroes. The hidden wounded were rescued. The entire hospital staff: two doctors, half-dozen severely wounded patients, one of the doctor’s wives, the fiancée of one of the wounded, and Sorgenfrei and crew had survived the ordeal.
In 1985, Sorgenfrei and some of the airmen returned to Grenoble to retrace their escape route from the crash site in the valley up into the mountains. At the end of their journey, the villagers who rescued them in 1944 gave them another hero’s welcome. An elderly woman walked up to Sorgenfrei. He was shocked to see her wearing his military wings. It was the farmer’s wife who had saved him on that fateful day.
After his discharge from the service, Sorgenfrei settled in Washington State and began flying for a commercial airline.
Ken “Sorgy” Sorgenfrei died suddenly on March 6, 2015 at the age of ninety-two.
John Kastien, a friend of Sorgy’s and a fellow commercial pilot, gave the following photo to Réanne just three weeks before Sorgy’s death. “Sorgy, as you well know, was a treasure to all of us who had the high honor to fly with him,” Kastien related.
To read more stories about heroic pilots who survived after being shot down over German-occupied France in WWII and about the French Resistance who rescued them, read Réanne Hemingway-Douglass’s The Shelburne Escape Line.