Hope lost for round-the-world sailor

Last updated 13:11 04/02/2009

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A geriatric round-the-world sailor who set off from Tauranga to sail around the world 14 months ago is presumed dead after his nine-metre yacht, Lunatic, was found abandoned off West Australia.

There was no sign of Jure Sterk, 72, of Slovenia, on board and amateur radio operators have been unable to contact him since January, the Slovenia Times reported.

Mr Sterk, started the voyage – to be his second trip around the world – in Tauranga, on October 25, 2007.

He had an eye on two world records: the oldest man to sail non-stop around the world, and to do it in the smallest boat without an engine.

He had previously sailed around the world over three years from 1991, stopping off in many countries along the way and writing four books about his adventures.

He resumed sailing in 2004, but a Slovenian website later noted: "He always experienced problems. Mainly the problem is the boat and equipment."

After Mr Sterk left Tauranga, his boat's water maker failed after about 350 nautical miles and he turned back, into a storm, sparking a Coastguard search.

Early last year he was reported to have survived a big storm rounding Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America.

But after getting past the Cape of Good Hope, at the tip of South Africa, something went wrong as he headed back towards New Zealand.

On January 3, an Australian ham radio operator told the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) that Mr Sterk had ceased communication, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

On Boxing Day, he had notified another Australian radio enthusiast that he had encountered bad weather, but was not in a distress situation, AMSA spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said.

At the time he was 1900km from the Western Australian coast, and heading towards Albany, she said.

But after communication ceased in early January, AMSA sent out a broadcast to all shipping to be on the lookout for the nine-metre yacht.

"On January 26 we had contact from a merchant vessel the Aida saying that they had come across the Lunatic and it appeared to be abandoned and had bad storm damage," Ms Jiggins said.

"They believe that the vessel had been abandoned. The vessel also was supposed to have a small emergency vessel on the back of it, and it was gone as well.

"We're not sure what has happened."

With the abandoned vessel so far from the coast a search-and-rescue operation was impossible, Ms Jiggins said.

Slovenian authorities had been notified of Mr Sterk's disappearance and presumed death.

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- NZPA

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