by Des Ryan
They lived a sailing life, even owned and operated a sailing business, then sailed off from Australia's Whitsundays inside the Great Barrier Reef to live and sail in the waters off Malaysia. So how did experienced sailor Carmel Brookes, from Brisbane in Queensland, come to fall off her boat in comparatively calm and pleasant waters and be lost to the sea, her body never found?
Carmel Brookes disappearance
Many cruising sailors confess to having nightmares about being in the water and watching their yacht sailing away without them. It's a nightmare that makes you clip on, and when alone on board, have your inflating life jacket on as well. How could such an experienced sailor fall overboard, as reported, while on a night watch, 53 nautical miles from Phuket?
But she did and now her grief stricken partner is sailing their boat, Moondancer, back to Penang, after the search was called off for locating her body.
Carmel, 60, and her partner Dr Gerry Goeden were business partners in the sailing business Whitsunday Escape and lived in Airlie Beach on Australia's golden sailing area behind the Great Barrier Reef for about ten years. In 2007, they sailed to Penang in Malaysia where they settled.
On the night of February 2 this year, the couple were sailing on their 47 foot yacht 'Moondancer' from Langkawi to Phuket and were off the coast of Trang. Gerry, a marine biologist, had been engaged in a coral reef project at the Andaman Resort in Langkawi. But when he awoke to take over from Carmel, who had been doing the night watch, she was nowhere to be found.
After a week, the search for Carmel was called off. Friends of Dr Goeden, a marine biologist, described how the rescue systems were 'very different' with no shore bases monitoring emergency radio channels. There is apparently no such thing as volunteer radio systems or Coast Guard the language differences made communication very difficult if not impossible.
Dr Goeden is currently sailing 'Moondancer' back to their home of Penang where they have lived in their apartment for the past five years. Carmel was a former member of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs.
If any good is to come from these tragic incidents it is to remind all long range sailors to clip on at all times and have strict rules about sailing the boat alone while your other crew is below sleeping. You only need to slip once...