Misfortune or Murder at Sea?
Back in the spring of 2017, Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellman, both in their early 40s, were supposed to be enjoying a belated Caribbean honeymoon aboard the 37-ft catamaran Surf into Summer. They were headed back to Florida on the final leg of that cruise when, in the early hours of May 15, something went terribly wrong.
According to Bennett, he was asleep below when, sometime after midnight, he felt the boat hit something. He bolted topside but could not find his wife, he said, and the boat was starting to sink. He set off his EPIRB, and, a few hours later, Coast Guard searchers found him in the boat’s liferaft with a few belongings.
A four-day search turned up no trace of Hellman. But it did turn up the boat a few miles away. It was suspended just below the surface, rig still in place and a reefed main still up. Coast Guard divers went down to take a look. They found no damage to either hull that you would expect from a collision. There were, however, indications that “holes had been made from the inside,” suggesting Surf into Summer might have been scuttled. They also noted the escape hatches at the aft ends of both hulls were open.
Things got weirder from there.
Among the items Bennett took into the liferaft with him was a stash of gold and silver coins. Those turned out to be part of a cache of coins worth about $35,000 that had been stolen from a St. Maarten-based charter boat that Bennett had been working aboard earlier in the year. Authorities later searched his house in England (he holds dual citizenship in Australia and the UK) and found the rest of them.
For that crime, Bennett was sentenced to seven months in prison in Florida.
While he was serving that sentence, the Coast Guard and FBI continued the probe into the disappearance of his wife. And the evidence continued to mount that something more sinister than a collision was going on. The couple had been having disagreements over money and the fact that Bennett wanted Hellman and their then 9-month-old daughter to move to Australia. Hellman, a real estate agent in Florida, didn’t want to go.
Finally, in February of this year, the FBI charged Bennett with second-degree murder, alleging that he staged the ‘accident’ to hide the homicide — actions that would have allowed him to receive the insurance money for the boat, as well as Hellman’s Delray Beach home and her money.
Bennett, who is still being held in prison in Florida, will go on trial in December. His daughter, now almost 2, is believed to be currently living with Bennett’s parents in England. The beacon that the Coast Guard placed on Surf into Summer stopped transmitting, and she is presumed to have sunk.
Finn-Filled September in San Diego
Not one but two Finn regattas were held in San Diego over the last few weeks. The Finn Pacific Coast Championships was on September 15-16, and the Finn Masters North American Championships were held from September 21-23.
The Masters had a 33-boat fleet, and were technically for sailors age 40 and over, but there were two "kids" out there — Eric Anderson and William Alexander — mixing it up with the old guys.
Designed in 1949, the Finn was conceived by Swedish canoe designer Rickard Sarby to be the "monotype" dinghy at the 1952 Olympic Games, but it’s been an Olympic class ever since, according to finnclass.org. The Finn has also seen some famous names in its ranks, like Sir Ben Ainslie. And don’t forget the legendary Paul Elvstrom, who reputedly toned his quads for hiking out by reading newspapers while perched on the edge of his bathtub. "Whatever else [Sarby] was thinking on that day, he cannot have imagined that sailors across the whole world would still be enjoying and racing the same design 60 years later," the Finn website said.
For results from the Pacific Coast Championships, click here. For results from the Masters, click here. Special thanks to Casey Allocco at SDYC Communications, whose Finn-filled pun we borrowed (OK, stole) for our headline.
Sailors Missing After Leaving California
In mid-August, the Coast Guard started seeking information about Gerald "Storm" Talifero and his son Adagio. The duo are believed to have left Santa Barbara — or perhaps San Diego — in a 30-ft sailboat with plans to sail to Hawaii. They reportedly had plane tickets for a return trip on September 1.
Adagio’s mother, Jinjee Garrick, is worried sick. "I was told that they might go sailing. That’s all that I was told. Other family members were told that they were sailing to Hawaii," Garrick told NBC San Diego.
In September, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office opened a missing persons investigation for the father and son, in cooperation with the Coast Guard. "In June, 68-year-old Gerald Talifero and his 14-year-old son Adagio, presumably set sail from the area of Goleta, California, to Hawaii. It is believed Gerald and Adagio were possibly going to make a stop in San Diego before heading to Hawaii," reported edhat Santa Barbara. "The trip to Hawaii was only meant to last a few weeks and to be one-way, since the pair had airline tickets. Neither Gerald nor Adagio showed up for their return flights, nor does it appear the flights were ever rescheduled."
NBC San Diego reported that Gerald and Adagio met owners of a boat from Washington and "together they were going to sail 200 miles out to sea. If no one got seasick, then they were going to go on to Hawaii, but if anyone did they’d make a stop in San Diego to drop them off and continue their trip."
There were also reports that Adagio was "missing," or not seen with Gerald in the days before their departure. Garrick told NBC San Diego that "people thought it was odd because [Gerald] always kept Adagio very close. They thought it was odd that he would leave Adagio on the boat with people who weren’t even close enough to be known to friends and family."
If you have any information about this case, please call the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s office at (805) 681-4100.
Aquatic Park Closure
Today and tomorrow, part of Aquatic Park will be closed to marine traffic while an "assessment of the vessel mooring system is performed," park officials said. The closure will be from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.