Sometimes when you hear of a cruising story that ended in tragedy, it makes you pause and you feel it as it hits a bit closer to home. There are loads of mishaps that happen out there and most of them never make it past the nets or a handful of personal sail blogs. Usually I pay attention to try and make note of what you can learn in terms of logistics. Then there are those that you immediately know are way beyond mere logistics.
I first heard of this one when was I was on the hard in Whangarei, New Zealand. The yard owner was telling me of a cruising couple on a budget who bought a low priced 30ft wooden ketch. They had it surveyed and the surveyor had told the couple not to buy the boat(one of the details was that the chain plates were moving). With the all too familiar enthusiasm, they went for it anyway. They worked on the boat and left New Zealand bound for British Columbia choosing the initially higher latitude route using the westerlies until below Tahiti and then heading straight north up to Hawaii and onward around the North Pacific high for their destination. Apparently their boom had snapped right before Tahiti and they continued with a couple of two by fours as splints. They made it to Hawaii but disappeared somewhere on the last leg to Canada.
Back in 2008 I searched the Internet for some account of the story and found their blog (since removed) with the comments on the final post being panicked concern from friends and relatives demanding that they contact them immediately. There were photos in the blog of the boat in the New Zealand yard in early 2007 almost in the exact same spot where Pelican was in early 2008. The yard owner confided in me that months after the couple were over due the parents still called him just to see if he had heard anything. Now, here in Hilo in 2013, it turns out that one of the local sailors that I have seen around quite frequently reintroduced me to the story again. He met the couple in late 2007 and had tried to talk them out of doing the final leg of their passage so late in the year (they left in October). He had offered them work and a place to stay for the winter here.
The youthful idealism, the bad decisions and the naivete about the reality of the ocean environment are all so glaringly obvious. Yet I can't write the story off. It feels like it has revisited me to remind me that the only way one can be safe is to not go at all...