The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 36: The loss of a friend
Saturday, 10 June 2000
We're in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and there are many things to tell about the trip here, but there is something a lot more important on my mind.
Remember in Part 33, I described helping a sailing vessel that had hit a coral head, holed their hull and gone aground. Well, I hadn't mentioned the boat name, but it was the sailing vessel “Sea Lion” with Steve and Laura Gartner aboard. Steve is from Baltimore and Laura from Columbia, South America. We got to know them a lot better on the Rio over the last two months. They put Sea Lion up on the railway, west of Fronteras, and over about a month they did the repairs to the bow. They also took care of a number of below the water line issues including some repairs to the shaft (cutlass) bearing and new bottom paint.
They had sailed Sea Lion all around the Caribbean from the Bahamas to Venezuela and were heading home via Central America, Mexico and the Keys. I think Steve said that they had been cruising 5 years or more.
Steve and Laura dropped in at Suzannah's several times to talk to George on the sailing vessel “Sundee” and to us. They were both in their mid thirties I think. Their dinghy didn't have an engine so they mostly got around the Rio in a two person kayak. Both were in great physical shape and a happier couple you won't find.
A few days before we left the Rio, Steve and Laura came by to see us and returned some 3M 5200 adhesive I had given him for his emergency repairs. Steve and Laura were really excited about getting underway again and heading for the States. But first, Laura was going to visit her folks in Columbia for a few weeks. They both hugged us and again thanked us for helping them out on the reef.
The day we left Fronteras, Sunday, May 28, Steve saw Francesca going down river and called on VHF to wish us a good journey. Laura had already left for Columbia.
This morning, Saturday, June 10, we had poor reception of the NW Caribbean Net, but I heard that there had been some bad happenings on the Rio. I contacted a local boat that did get the news and they reported that while at anchor between Mario's Marina and Mango's Marina, s/v Sea Lion had been ransacked and Steve had been murdered. Shot five times. He was found yesterday apparently three days after it had happened. We also heard just a few minutes ago that Laura was back in Guatemala, but not yet to the Rio. We presume that George, on the s/v Sundee, somehow got word to her.
Joan and I are in shock. The worst has happened to some very nice people whom we were very glad to have known and who we had hoped to run into again sometime in some far away place. Over the months while we were on the Rio, security of personal affects was a daily topic of discussion. There had been half a dozen dinghies and outboard motors stolen and Eva, Suzannah's restaurant manager, had reported having her pocket picked. But that kind of thing is mostly a nuisance and generally avoidable if one takes the time to keep stuff secure. This, however, is in a totally different league.
Boaters are not allowed to have weapons on board in most countries outside of the US. Maybe it wouldn't have helped in this case, but if would be thieves knew that they might have to face a weapon there could be less of a problem. There would most certainly be less of a problem if countries like Guatemala paid more attention to the averting crime. Outside of a navy vessel on the Rio which engines can be heard ten miles away, the area is not policed. I seriously doubt that the Rio will recover from this incident anytime soon. Businesses, marinas and the local people will surely suffer from it. And of course we and the other cruisers who knew Steve and Laura will have permanently blemished memories of the Rio.
In Guatemala, we have met so many really wonderful people and had truly extraordinary experiences worthy of a lifetimes remembrance. This is a real shame and not representative of the wonderful Guatemalan people.
Sorry to send this. It is in remembrance of a free spirit, husband and good man. We are worried for Laura's welfare. If we find out more, it will be passed along.
Joan, Ben & Maggie