The Ghost Yacht


When maritime authorities boarded the 10-meter sailing boat, 88 nautical miles from Townsville that day, they didn’t expect to find such a serene scene. The yacht’s engine was running, a table was set for dinner in the living quarters, and a laptop was open and turned on. On deck, fresh laundry was hung to dry, lifejackets stored, and fishing lines bopped instinctively in the drifting ocean. But the boat was eerily empty, without a sign of the three men who had set out to sea just a few days earlier.

Indeed, five days before the baffling discovery of the Kaz II, 25-year sailing veteran Derek Batten and his neighbors, brothers Peter and James Tunstead, had set out on what was supposed to be a six-week trip around Northern Australia. Though Peter was a poor swimmer, with the weather forecast clear, and all safety precautions in place, the trio didn’t about the possibility of not coming home.

In a video found on board, the three men seemed jovial despite the increasing choppiness of the sea. Derek is at the helm and Peter on one of the boat’s stairways, fishing. It appears none of them are wearing a lifejacket. Immediately after discovering the abandoned ship, Australian authorities called on a massive search in the area around the Great Barrier Reef where it was found. Nine planes, two helicopters and four rescue boats were brought in to find the three men, but again, there was no sign of them. It was as if they had simply vanished into thin air.

At the time of the discovery, the theories about the crew’s disappearance included the financial (faking their death to collect life insurance money); the absurd (they had been abducted by aliens); the sordid (pirates kidnapped them); and the downright ridiculous (the crew had stumbled across a rift in time that had swallowed them whole).

Unfortunately for amateur sleuths everywhere, the official cause of the disappearance was banal at best. The crew had simply been maladroit. According to the state coroner, on April 15, 2007, one of the Tunstead brothers attempted to entangle a fishing lure that had been caught in one of the ship’s rudders. The rest of the events, he surmised, must have happened quickly. The brother in question—possibly the one with the poor swimming skills—fell overboard, and without missing a beat, his brother went in after him, trying to rescue him. Seeing his friends in distress, Derek Batten would have rushed to the side of the boat but a change in the wind’s direction would have caused the boom to swing and knock him overboard.

And just like that, they were totally screwed. With nothing to hang on to or hoist themselves up with, the unfortunate men were unable to climb back on board. They perished within hours, becoming lost at sea forever, like so many before them.

—Alix / @alixmcalpine

Artwork by Richard Colman

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