Several weeks ago, I heard some very distressing news. During the worst days of Hurricane Mitch, the sailing Schooner Fantome, flagship of Windjammer Cruises, was lost at sea with all hands on board. The skipper, after hearing the forecasts of the impending storm had dropped off all the passengers safely in a port in Mexico and then headed back out to sea to weather the storm ; away from the lee shore. Unfortunately, the forecasts underestimated the severity of the storm and the vessel apparently foundered and sunk. The last radio contact from the Fantome reported that they were in 60 foot seas and clocking winds in excess of 120 Knots. As was to be expected, everyone is suing the Windjammer Cruise Line; sighting poor judgment on the part of the ship's master. It really doesn't matter that he did the proper thing by trying to weather the storm safely away from dangerous shores. Certainly, had the Captain been correctly advised as to the intensity of the storm he could have made the proper judgement not to jeopardize his crew and remain secure at the dock. I guess hindsight, even through binoculars and radar at sea, just like everywhere else, is 20/20.
Besides the loss of a marvelous ship and it's crew, this tragedy
touched me in a more personal way. Two years ago, my wife and
I spent our honeymoon sailing on the Fantome. This proud and majestic
Four-master was a throw-back to the time when schooners reigned
the oceans. As a young boy, I read And dreamed about sailing on
such a schooner. Standing in line with my mates, hauling on a
halyard To raise one of the many great canvas sails. Feeling the
great boat lift and gallop on the waves with the Wind abeam. Everytime
we raised the sails on the Fantome, they played "Amazing
Grace". I started doing
The same thing on board my Morgan 41' ketch . Everytime we raised the main, I played the same version Of "Amazing Grace" and for a short moment the coast of Somer's Point, New Jersey became Playa Del Carmen and over the horizon was Cozumel, not Atlantic City. One of the great moments for me on board The Fantome occurred one cloudy night. The skipper was on radar watch and invited me into the Navigation room. He offered me a mug of coffee and a fresh Cuban cigar. We swapped sea stories, Comparing who had seen the tallest wave or been in the worst weather. Since we both had been delivery Captains, we had seen our share the ocean at it's worst. (and at it's best). The moment surpassed even my Wildest childhood dreams. I can still taste and smell the coffee and cigar in my mind. I close my eyes and Feel the gentle roll of this great ship. It reminds me how fleeting these important moments are in life. It reminds me of how lucky I am that my boyhood dream came true that night in Mexico. It reminds me of How quickly the warm and loving hand of nature can turn angry and violent. Just like the master of the Fantome, I can do everything by the book to protect myself, my family and my ship .and still go down. The loss of this incredible vessel reminds me how precious and momentary life really is. My heart goes Out to the families of the crew. My sincerest feeling of commiseration goes out to the Windjammer Cruise People who probably had no part in the tragedy, but will suffer through the loss nonetheless. And to the Fantome I say, lie in peace my friend, on the ocean floor, knowing that the hearts and minds of everyone Who sailed on you are with you tonight.
To everyone who has shared in Ask the Surveyor over the past
year, I send you wishes of fair skies,
Gentle breezes and a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.