He got his sea legs before he was even born. Alexander "Al" Waigandt's life began on a ship in port in England in 1924. Adventure has followed him ever since.

As a young boy, living in New York state Waigandt's mother would give him 25 cents a day for school, 10 cents for the subway and 15 cents for lunch.

"In those days, you could get a piece of pie and a sandwich for 15 cents."

The water lured him in at the age of 13. Waigandt worked as a deck hand on a 97-foot yacht. He made a decent wage, which was promptly turned it over to his mother.

"I worked on the yacht because I couldn't get a job on a U.S. ship," he said.

When he turned 16, he enrolled in a New York sailing school.

"It was the only school in the country for training sailors, officers, captains, right down the line," he said.

Searching for parts to work on, Waigandt went to the local steamship company to pick up anything they would part with. Ropes, a steam engine from an old tugboat, anything he would could get his hands on. He even persuaded a local trucking company to transport the goods to the school.

Upon completion of the program, Waigandt received his academic diploma with the regency exam and his seaman papers.

The sea would continue to beguile him.

"I couldn't join the Navy because I was color blind," Waigandt said.

So, following in his father's footsteps, he registered as a Merchant Mariner during WW II. At the age of 16, Waigandt was "signing articles," a term for signing the ship's contract. At the time of signing, the men were never told they would remain civilians.

"My dad and his father joined," he said, adding, "I'm third generation."

Waigandt's first voyage was on the S.S. Ballot, operated by Lykes Steamship Company. He quickly became a junior assistant purser, working for the captain, handling the financial aspects of the ship - typing, payroll, ships store and such.

During peacetime, the Merchant Mariners was non-profit and belonged to the Department of the Treasury, and operated as a commercial enterprise. But during World War II, they became a fighting force, under the Department of Transportation.

The second ship Waigandt was assigned to was the S.S. Daniel Huger.

Waigandt was a purser when a multi-plane air raid pierced the ship's hull, spilling thousands of tons of gasoline, in the port of Bone, Algeria. Flames 200 to 300 feet tall were showering the sky. Unable to extinguish the flames, the ship was abandoned.

Along with three other men, Waigandt volunteered to return to the ship to help contain the flames. The fire threatened to ignite hundreds of tons of additional barrels of fuel.

Fate smiled upon Waigandt. The surviving crewmembers boarded four lifeboats, but because they were not tied together, the boats separated. Some men did not make it.

Waigandt said there was "no concept of time.

"You're living for the second you're alive. ... We would punch the men who slept to keep them alive."

They remained in the freezing water for three days before being rescued.

"God was on our side that night."

Waigandt received a Distinguished Service Medal for his heroic efforts.

The sea still called out to Waigandt and he continued his service.

On board another ship in the Suez Canal, a speedboat came flying by. The canal was only 190 feet wide. Veering away from the on coming vessel, the ship hit a sand bar. Soon after, a battle ship approached, the biggest one they had ever seen.

"Is anyone from Pensacola?" a voice called from the other ship.

Two thousand men shouted in reply. They later learned the voice from the battleship was the Commander-in-Chief, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was headed to San Francisco, California.

Waigandt retired as a Lieutenant Commander.

Today, Waigandt is still a large, formable man with steady blue eyes. Since retiring, he has been a chauffeur, licensed pilot and business owner, among other things. He received his B.S. in Engineering in 1960. Waigandt and his wife of 33 years, Norma Jean, also foster handicapped adults. Between the two of them, they have five children of their own. They have lived in small and large homes, plus on a 47-foot boat for eight months.

"I like change, to do new things," he said.

Hesperia has been home since 1988, when it became a city. A twin fin boat sits on a cradle in the back yard. Waigandt has been refurbishing her for several years now. His office is filled will photos, metals, mementos and two computers. Two Great Danes and a Pomeranian complete the household.

"Time marches on," said the sailor.

Sharon Strickland can be reached at 956-7827 or at sharon@hesperiastar.com.