Originally created 05/14/98

Man boats up coast in search of investor



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- William Demers navigates without a compass, binoculars or charts. But he has his eye fixed on the northern horizon and on his goal: to keep a small telephone company afloat.

The Hollywood, Fla., man has traveled more than 600 miles up the Intracoastal Waterway in his 1,500-mile mission to attract an investor for Telenet of South Florida, which lost a legal battle with BellSouth.

"I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody as far as my courage or ability to complete this," Demers said Tuesday as he docked a 14-foot dinghy at The City Marina here. "My hope is that along the way, someone out there will take a look and say hey, this company must be really worth something if this man is willing to risk his life for it."

Demers left Miami on April 29; his destination is Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where his 88-year-old mother and children are waiting.

Demers has worked three years for Telenet of South Florida, which leased telephone lines from BellSouth to provide customers service at a lower cost. The company charged a flat rate per call, rather than minute-to-minute charges.

After a long legal battle that BellSouth ultimately won, the company decided to lease lines from another company, but progress was stymied by a lack of funds. Demers estimates start-up costs at $250,000.

"I'm doing all this to save a company that I really care for and believe it is a stand against big companies that think they can push us little guys around," he said.

Charleston is the seventh stop on a journey that began with a budget of only $2,000.

The mission was nearly swamped May 7 in Isle of Hope, Ga., when the boat's transom was cracked. Demers had only $250 left for food, fuel and repairs.

A local man volunteered to fix the boat for free, and Tuesday Demers set out for Charleston.

Demers suffers from three illnesses, two of which are life-threatening under stress or overexertion. After docking at the marina, he went to Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center for a blood transfusion.

"My doctor and family were against me doing this because all know that it is a serious risk to my health," Demers said. But "they all know that once I put my mind to something that there is no stopping me, and I'm more than willing to risk my life for this."