An emotional cruise across the Pacific Ocean on a Super Yacht
|Word Count 1,992
It is February 2001 and the motor yacht Sea Turtle is cruising from Tahiti to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal. They were at the halfway point of their cruise when their captain, Justin, decided that a couple of hours of relaxation was needed to break up the monotony of the crew's sea faring duties.
"Let's take advantage of this lovely weather. We will keep one person on the bridge, one in the engine room and the rest of us will meet at 1500 on the aft for a couple of beers and some snacks."
"Sounds good to me." Trevor was Justin's First Mate, and best friend. They had been at sea together for nearly twenty years.
Sea Turtle is a 300-foot private motor yacht. Because there was no owner or guests on the yacht there was only the bare minimum of twelve crew. Just enough to navigate and operate the engine room and two crew members working in the galley.
At 1500 Justin picked up the phone on the bridge and called the engine room. "Okay Frosty, you can kill the engine for an hour or so. We'll have a relaxing hour on the aft."
"Okay Justin, see you there." Frosty was the opposite of his nickname. A warm generous man with no bad words for anyone.
The crew were already gathered on the aft deck when Justin got there.
Trevor handed him a beer. "Is it okay if the crew go for a swim?"
"Sure, as long as they follow all the safety procedures."
Before he finished his sentence there were splashes into the ocean.
Denise was the first into the water and started swimming around the yacht. At twenty-two she was the youngest member of the crew. A bright and breezy redhead who was always laughing and looking forward to arriving at their next destination.
Pete worked in the galley with Denise, they were almost like brother and sister. It was rare to not see one without the other. He jumped into the water. When he surfaced the water glistened on his bronzed bald head. Water squirted out of his mouth into Denise's face.
She laughed and pushed his head back under the water. He resurfaced and they laid on their backs in the water. The yacht was only twenty-five feet away, but it felt like they had the ocean to themselves.
After a couple of minutes Denise broke the silence. "I went up to the bridge last night for an hour. Justin was telling me that the Pacific Ocean covers over 60 million square miles."
Pete was treading water. "Yes, there's not much chance of bumping into anyone out here."
Then he started laughing. "Have you thought about what could be below us right now?"
She thumped him on the shoulder. "Crap Pete you really know how to spoil the moment. You've freaked me out." As she swam back towards the yacht, she had all kinds of sea monster thoughts running through her head. And the sound of Pete laughing behind her.
They climbed back on board. Denise grabbed two beers out of the ice box handing one to Pete. "This is the life Pete; I can't wait to tell my family about this day."
"Yes, your three years sailing the seas has certainly been a good life experience for you."
They sat until the sun started to go down. Pete heard the yacht's engine starting. "Sounds like we are on our way again. Are you coming to watch a movie in the crew mess with me?"
Denise stretch out on the deck. "No thanks, I'll just stay here and watch the sunset. I might get to see a "Green Flash""
"Yeah, I've told you before that they don't exist." He tapped her on the knee. "Okay, if I don't see you through the week, I'll see you through the window."
She gave him one of her lovely smiles. "You're goofy. Sure, thanks for everything Pete."
Pete walked back down the deck toward the crew mess. Something didn't feel right but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Morning Justin, I brought you a cup of tea. How did your watch go? Did you see any traffic?"
"Morning Trev, thanks. No, I didn't see anything." He held the warm cup between his hands.
"I don't think we've seen any other vessels for a few days now."
Trev stood on the bridge next to Justin looking out at the miles of ocean. Just looking at the emptiness could be quite hypnotic.
Pete arrived on the bridge breaking the peaceful moment.
"Justin I can't find Denise. She is usually in the galley, to make the bread with me, by 0700 but I haven't seen her."
Justin put his cup down, "Have you checked her cabin?"
"Yeah, she's not there."
Justin picked up the phone and called the engine room. "Frosty, I'm going to reduce speed to a couple of knots. Denise is missing and we need to do a full search of the boat to try and find her."
"Okay, I'll send one of the lads up to help with the search."
After over seeing a full search of the boat Trevor returned to the bridge. "We can't find her Justin. It's a horrible thought but I think she must have gone over the side. Pete was the last one to see her yesterday at 1800. She stayed on the aft deck to watch the sunset."
"Okay, it's 0900 now so we have to retrace our course to the point where we were at 1800 yesterday. We've been doing an average of 13 knots so she could possibly be 195 miles away. It will take us 15 hours to get back to that point. Which means it will be dark when we get there."
By this time all the crew, apart from Frosty in the engine room, had made their way to the bridge. They all wanted to know how they could help.
While Justin entered what had happened in the ships log Trevor designated watch duties for the rest of the day. Every crew member would look for Denise while there was daylight.
At noon, Pete was handing out sandwiches to the crew as they scanned the empty ocean. He handed Justin his snack. "I feel as though it's my fault Justin. I left her on the aft. I should have stayed with her."
"Don't do that to yourself Pete. We have all spent time on the aft alone. None of this is down to you."
"Okay. Do you think we will find her?"
"I think you already know the answer to that Pete. Let's try and stay positive eh?"
It was just before midnight when they arrived at the GPS position where they had last seen Denise.
Frosty came on to the bridge. He was as tired as the rest of the crew. "Justin, I know this is a long shot. But can I suggest that we turn off the engine and generator for a short while. If Denise is in the water around here, she could be shouting us, but we wouldn't hear her because of the engine and generator noise."
"Okay Frosty, anything is worth trying at the moment. Find as many flashlights as you can and let's go into silent mode."
Ten minutes later the yacht went silent. The crew cast their flashlights over the water and listened.
Justin remembered what an old sailor had told him years ago about how the silence of the ocean could be deafening. He would give anything to hear Denise shouting right now. The thought of her out in the water sent shivers up his back. He murmured to himself, "Crap, I don't want to get to Panama without you Denise. Please let us find you."
After twenty minutes of complete silence Justin called to Frosty. "Okay fire up the generator again. We need to have our navigational lights on."
Trevor came on to the bridge to find Justin. "We have about five hours until daylight. Why don't we try to get some sleep before then?"
"Yes, I'll stay here, you take over from me about 0300. Is that okay?
Trevor rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. "Sure, anything will be worth it if we find her. See you in a couple of hours."
Daylight broke and the crew of the Sea Turtle resumed their quest to find their friend Denise.
There wasn't much conversation. Every now and again Pete would bring drinks and snacks and ask if they had seen anything.
Every time the answer was negative. Trevor got excited once, "I think I can see something." All the binoculars pointed to where Trevor was indicating. It turned out to be a plastic container.
For twelve hours they searched. Justin had been on the ships radio to see if there were any ships in the area that could help with the search, but there were no vessels within a two-hundred-mile radius.
They were losing daylight and Trevor put his arm around Justin's shoulders. They were quiet for a few minutes then Trevor broke the silence. "We're not going to find her, are we?"
Justin grabbed his friend in a big bear hug. "How can we leave her mate?"
Tears were running down his cheeks. "How can we go back and tell her family that we lost their little girl?"
Justin was crying as well, "We have done everything that can be done in the situation."
They broke out of their hug and wiped their faces.
Justin spoke first, "Right, we will get back on to our original heading to Panama. Tonight, we will cruise very slowly. At daybreak we will all get together and discuss what has happened and how we go from here."
That night the crew slept in shifts. Even though it was dark they still held out hope for finding Denise. Frosty refused to sleep, "We have to find that lovely little girl." His head told him that she wouldn't be found but his heart gave him hope.
As the sun winked above the horizon on the following morning the crew gathered on the aft deck. Some had coffee mugs a couple had bottles of water.
Justin spoke first. "This is not a sentence that I want to say." He drew a big breath. "It's time that we stop our search for Denise and continue on our journey to Panama."
He had to put his hands in his pockets to hide them shaking.
"Please give me your thoughts."
Pete was the only one to speak. "We haven't mentioned this yet, so I'll be the first to say it. Maybe she never had an accident and fell overboard. Maybe she decided to go into the ocean of her own free will. If that's what she did then my heart breaks that I wasn't there for her. I didn't sense anything wrong. She was as cheerful as ever." His voice broke as tears ran down his face.
Justin took over, "This is a situation that none of us are professionally trained for. Yes, it would have been good if I had had the chance to get Denise help if she needed it but now, we must think about where we go from here. Denise might have felt that she was alone and needed help. Now we must make sure that we deal with her loss as a strong group of friends. We will each have times alone to think about losing Denise, but I think we need to stay together as a group and help each other in any way we can."
Pete stood in the middle of the group. "Let us all join hands, close our eyes and remember Denise for a minute."
The gentle sound of the ocean lapping against the hull of the yacht mixed with the sobbing of Frosty.
None of them were looking forward to arriving in Panama