Informative – entertaining – amusing – uplifting? What sort of tone should a blogger strike when hammering out his or her opening words? How about sad – or tragic – or even grim?
Let me explain. With the intention visiting a local chandler to buy some hose we needed, I was chugging ashore in the Caribe inflatable recently when I spotted the yacht shown above – a 40ft sloop named Vamp. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that she makes a sad sight. The sails have been blown to shreds; the GRP topsides have been scored by any number of encounters, either with rocks or other floating objects. At the time of writing she is lying to a mooring buoy close by the waterside base of Grenada’s Coast Guard.
It seems that in mid-April this year the boat had been reported by a group of divers as ‘drifting’ a few miles south of the island. There was no-one visible on deck. The Coast Guard were alerted and set out to investigate. On boarding Vamp they found a partially decomposed body and a passport in the name of Bernd Fritz Ottogottel, a 62-year-old German national. How long the boat had been drifting and the precise cause of his death is either unknown or has not been widely confirmed. The last recorded sighting of Vamp was in the Canary Islands; and the yacht's deterioration suggests that the boat had drifted untended for most of its unmanned voyage.
By an odd coincidence, a little over a year earlier, another solo German skipper, one Manfred Fritz Bajarat, was found dead aboard his yacht Sayo about 60 miles off the Pacific islands of the Philippines. His mummified, astonishingly intact body, was found sat at the chart table with a radio set close by. First appearances suggested he had died some weeks earlier but later tests indicated it could have been as recently as only about a week before. An autopsy disclosed a heart attack as the cause.
Hauntingly, a message penned to his wife who had died of cancer two years before was found nearby. It included the words:
"Thirty years we've been together on the same path. Then the power of the demons was stronger than the will to live. You've gone. May your soul find its peace. Your Manfred."
Of course, the sea has always provided the backdrop for sad and often unimaginably awful events. Yet it has the ability to almost instantly self-heal, thereby obliterating the scars of even the most savage encounters. Whereas, for instance, there are still visible signs to be seen in the fields of Flanders to remind us of the dreadful horrors of trench warfare during the First World War; yet there is no such indication of the scores of merchant vessels and warships which, bound for Murmansk while taking supplies to beleaguered Russia some two-and-a-half decades later, sank in the Arctic Ocean leaving no trace of their loss.
'Going out with the tide' was how death at sea was often defined. Yet man, the species, has never been deterred. Indeed it seems that we remain spurred by all that vastness. The sea's inscrutability is part of its allure. In the challenges against the oceans – the largest battlegrounds on earth – some will succeed and some will fail. But is that really true? It could quite easily be argued that just by testing ourselves against the sea we will all have succeeded in our own way.
As I’m sure Bernd and Manfred would have agreed, there's only one way to find out.