In the recent film All is Lost, Robert Redford plays a captain of a small boat determined to survive after an accident leaves him powerless and alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Despite searing heat and devastating storms, he is finally spotted by a passing ship and saved from what had looked like certain death. The Indian Ocean was also the site of a nautical drama involving Slovenian captain Jure Šterk, but in his case, the story did not have a Hollywood ending.
Šterk was an accomplished sailor, no stranger to ambitious ocean crossings. He had already crossed the Indian, the Pacific, and the Atlantic Oceans – the latter eight times. In fact he had completed a solo circumnavigation of the world in the 1990s.
In 2007, at the age of 70, Šterk embarked on a new, non-stop round-the-world voyage aboard his sailboat, the Lunatic. He wanted to become the oldest sailor to make the difficult journey in the smallest craft. He would travel eastbound, beginning and ending his voyage in New Zealand.
By January 2009, Šterk had completed most of his voyage. As he was approaching the Australian city of Perth from the west, he was in constant radio contact with other ships. But suddenly, his voice vanished from the airwaves. His sailboat never made it past Australia.
On April 30, almost four months later, the crew of the RV Roger Revelle, a research ship based in San Diego, noticed a small sailboat 500 miles southeast of Šterk’s last known whereabouts. It was the Lunatic, covered in marine growth, without its dinghy, and with torn sails, but still watertight and essentially seaworthy. Šterk, however, was nowhere to be found.
The crew of the RV Roger Revelle found Šterk’s official log in the Lunatic’s cabin. The last entry was dated January 2, the day after Šterk made the last know radio contact with nearby vessels. What had happened to Jure Šterk? Was he forced to abandon his trusty sailboat? Could he have been, as some aboard the RV Roger Revelle feared at the time, the victim of piracy?
The answer will forever remain a mystery, but some clues did emerge in the months following Šterk’s disappearance. Another sailor in the area, who had been in daily communication with the Slovenian sailor, remembered that Šterk had been planning to board a dinghy so he could clear his partially clogged steering system. If Šterk had fallen from the dinghy, this would also explain why the Lunatic’s dinghy was missing. Meanwhile, Šterk’s own diary indicated that he was planning to climb the mast – always a potentially dangerous undertaking -- the very day contact with him was lost.
Whatever happened that January day, it is clear the indefatigable Slovenian sailor found his final resting place in the ocean that he loved so much – a sea that had ultimately given him the immortality that only true legends of the sea can hope to attain.