Sunglasses and hats missing from a catamaran may hold the key to the three men missing from their yacht. Cosima Marriner reports.
AMID all the wild conspiracy theories floating around the ghost ship Kaz II, searchers are contemplating a simpler, yet far more chilling explanation for the disappearance of three sailors off the Whitsunday coast.Perhaps they ran aground on a sandbar near George Point, from where the 9.8 metre catamaran last made radio contact on a Sunday evening in mid-April. The skipper Derek Batten and his crewmates, brothers Peter and Jim Tunstead, jumped into the warm Coral Sea waters to try to push the boat free. A gust of wind came up, carrying the Kaz II away before they could scramble back onboard, leaving them stranded.
This could explain why the Kaz II was found three days later drifting 60 nautical miles off Townsville, its engine still running but with no sign of the crew. It could explain why the only items missing from the boat were three pairs of sunglasses and two hats, why T-shirts and towels were left neatly folded on the deck, and why down in the cabin, laptops, mobile phones, wallets, watches, cameras and a Sunday paper were still spread out on the table.
"It looks like they've just stepped off the boat," Jim Tunstead's daughter, Keryn Grey, told the Herald.
Yet, like all the ghost ship theories that have become dinner party fodder around Airlie Beach, this one still lacks evidence to substantiate the hypothesis.
Indeed, three weeks into the search for the Kaz II crew, new information and theories continue to emerge, which may yet help the families and police solve the mystery. The Herald
can reveal how problems with the boat's navigation system had forced the sailors to turn back and how after 11 hours at sea they were only 2½ hours sailing time from their departure point.
For more than six months a picture of Kaz II held pride of place on Jim Tunstead's Perth kitchen table, a constant symbol of the "trip of a lifetime" he was about to embark upon. He and his brother Peter were going to help their neighbour Derek Batten sail his boat from Airlie Beach back to Perth. They would spend six to eight weeks hugging the coast all the way around the top of Australia, mooring somewhere new each night.
"He was so excited," recalls Ms Grey. "They'd been planning this for months and months. [He'd been looking forward to] not working, just fishing, sitting around bullsh*onet*ting and joking with Uncle Peter."
But Ms Grey refused to look at her father's beloved picture of the Kaz II. She had serious misgivings about three men aged 56, 63 and 69 taking to the seas in a boy's own adventure.