On the night of June 12, a sleek gray whale jumped more than 12 feet out of the water off Baja and smashed into a 50-foot sailboat heading toward Northern California.
The casualties of the encounter were the boat, called Reflections, and 67-year-old Max Young's lifelong dream to sail around the world.
The whale destroyed the boat's tower, its tail bending the TV and Internet antennas supported by stainless steel. Young, who was sailing alone, thought he still could complete the 540 miles to San Francisco.
But the boat's directional aids told him otherwise.
"I had two chart plotters, and they said I was heading south," he said in his Natomas living room Sunday afternoon, after having flown into Sacramento International Airport from Panama late Friday. "I wanted to go north. I thought (the collision) must have damaged the autopilot head."
He then went below deck to assess the damage and found 2 to 3 feet of water, which had soaked his mattress. At first he thought the water came from the whale pushing the boat down, so he tried to pump it dry. But the water never subsided, and try as he might, Young couldn't find the leak's source.
"I had to come to the conclusion: 'I do not know why water is coming in,' " he said. "At that point, I really don't know what more I could have done."
He reluctantly sent out a distress signal. A large freighter headed for Panama responded, traveling 5 1/2 hours to pick him up. When an exhausted Young saw the freighter, he said he thought, "I wish they'd sent something smaller."
He had to scale the side of the freighter weighted by a soaking full-body float suit on a ladder. As soon as he made it to the ship's deck, he collapsed.
"The next thing I know I'm in a stretcher, but you know, I was fine," he said. "I was just tired."
A crew member took pictures of the sinking boat. One picture showed Reflections seemingly following the freighter, as if the sailboat wanted to come along. Young said he felt horrible when he saw the picture.
Young treasured the Perry 47/50 that he and his family had owned and worked on since 1987. In his odyssey, he lived on and sailed the vessel for a dozen years.
At age 3, Young first sailed out to sea on an 8-foot plywood boat with his father, a commercial fisherman. He fell in love with the ocean.
Nine years later, he decided he would sail around the world someday, telling his father he wanted to see Christmas Island, which his father had flown over during World War II.
"I'll never forget the look my father gave me," he said. "He was thinking, 'Oh, there's something wrong with this kid.' But this dream was driving me in what I did in life."
He became an educator in Antioch, but knew he could not afford the trip on a teacher's salary. Young saved enough money by buying real estate, fixing up houses and apartments, and selling them.
Finally, on May 8, 2000, Young started his journey from San Francisco and sailed to Hawaii with his son, William, and crew. For other legs of his trip, Young sailed with other crews, including family members. Sometimes he sailed alone.
During his quest, Young encountered two sets of pirates, two deadly storms, a slew of customs officials to bribe, and finally the whale that cut short his journey.
He never panicked.
"The last thing you want to do is get frazzled," he said. "You've got to think about what advantages you have."
Near Malaysia, he said, he could tell pirates were deciding whether to leave him alone or ram his vessel midships. Young calmly maneuvered Reflections so its bow faced the pirate boat's bow.
"It was like chicken," he said. "And they were chicken."
He survived another encounter with Somali pirates.
But after his fateful brush with the whale, Young said he is anchoring himself on land.
"At first, I thought, 'I'll get myself another boat, finish the miles,' " he said. "But later, something clicked. You can only push your luck to a certain point. And I don't know if I want to go out there again."
Young said he was befriended by Sanjay Kumar Singh, captain of the Panamanian freighter that rescued him. They talked about climbing Mount Everest together, but it doesn't seem like Young will be off to another grand adventure anytime soon.
His wife, Debra, firmly rejected the idea. For now, he only wants to spend time with his family.