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Modern Sea Mysteries- Solving the mystery of Jure Sterk

by Nancy Knudsen on 22 Nov 2009
Jure Sterk at the mast SW
'I went out on deck and there she was, just drifting along. Her mainsail was set but it was in tatters.' What happened to Jure Sterk? Was he the victim of foul play? or did he fall overboard? why was the dinghy missing? What is the real story of this Slovenian sailor who was on his last leg to become the 'oldest circumnavigator in the smallest engine-less boat'?

72-year old Jure Sterk left Tauranga, New Zealand, in December 2007 on his sailboat 'Lunatic Piran'. His boat may have been small, but his ambition was large - a non-stop circumnavigation. However his story had not begun there, and was already a testament both to the sailor's doggedness and his love of the sea.

He had actually left Europe three years before - on the 5th September 2004 - in an effort to circumnavigate without making landfall. Each time he experienced problems with the boat and was obliged to enter ports for repairs.

However, finally he set sail to the East from New Zealand and his plan was reportedly to sail via Cape Horn, north around the Azores, back around Cape of Good Hope, around Tasmania, across the Southern Ocean, around the bottom of New Zealand and back to Tauranga.

In the beginning of this year Jure was on his last leg to New Zealand.

He had kept contact with amateur radio enthusiasts, but was last reported in early January 2009.

On April 30, the RV Roger Revelle, out of San Diego, CA, USA was enroute from Durban, South Africa to Freemantle/Perth, Australia on an oceanographic research cruise and was at Latitude 32-18.0S, Longitude 091-07.0E,, when the 2nd mate sighted the drifting boat.

An oceanographer crew member picks up the story:

While steaming at 12 knots toward our next station, the ship unexpectedly stopped several miles before the station. We were wondering what the occasion was, did someone hook a tuna finally? I was in the lab running nutrient samples when my lab partner from the other watch came in and said that we had found a sailboat with no one on board.

I went out on deck and there she was, just drifting along. Her mainsail was set but it was in tatters. She had a white hull with white sails. To my mind she was quite small, maybe 30 feet? She was floating high in the water, certainly she was watertight and not sinking. Her hull was very heavily fouled with marine growth; it was obvious she had been out here for a long time.

There was a fishing pole rigged over the side although no line in the water. There was a line over the side trailing aft. Her hatch from the cockpit into the cabin was open but everything seemed in order, no water in the cockpit or obviously in the cabin. Her name was partially visible on her stern, 'Lunatic Pirate', but no home port or nationality.

She was a very sad, melancholy looking craft.

What happened to leave her drifting out here, alone. Where was her crew? Did they abandon her, thinking she was in trouble? Did they get knocked overboard by the boom? Slip and fall overboard and weren't able to swim fast enough to catch her again?

It made me very sad to see her like that. It was just so emotional to see her, to be faced with what must have been some sort of tragedy at sea. I felt, and still feel, like I did when I saw a man get hit by a car while crossing the street. Sort of overwhelmed by it all. Everyone I talked to seems to feel a lot the same, it hit us all.

The first mate said that he could see a log book in the cabin so a Jacob's ladder was put over the side and someone went onboard and retrieved the log book and several other items. The last entry in the log book was from January, 2009, she may have been drifting out here since then?

Interestingly, there were several large fish swimming about the boat, anything floating in the sea seems to attract them. I was told there were two mahi-mahi and one wahoo. I saw one fish, no idea what it was.

I am sure the idea of pirates went through a lot of minds, certainly it occurred to me.

I went on deck after we were underway again and I saw her off the stern, it was so sad, just watching her 'sail' away, all alone again.

Enough to make me cry. I didn't take a picture of that, I think I'm glad.


However, the story is not ended, and the mystery may have been cleared by another cruising sailor, Peter, on his yacht Coconut, who was sailing in the Indian Ocean.

He writes:
'I was sailing my small yacht 1000 miles behind Juri (also heading East)and had daily radio conversations with him.

'The plan on the day of his accident was to get in his dinghy and clean his rudder and trim tab as the fouling had reduced his speed to 2-3knots. His forestay was broken some time previous and his main had been reduced in size as it was torn.

'His plan was to get some more speed and to clean up his steering system. The weather on the day I lost radio contact was as good as it gets down there and he had been waiting for that break in the weather.


In the end of the world
A poem by Jure Sterk

Roaring sea
screaming storm
running mountains
bloody smoky battle field.

In the salty fog hidden
black rock from the sea
worst of the worst
the terrible cape, Cape Horn.

Vale Jure Sterk, a true adventurer and cruising sailor

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