Thursday, March 16, 2017

Death, Rituals, and Technology

Bethany Smith - photo credit Facebook page

Yesterday tragedy struck the cruising community here in the Caribbean as we woke to learn of the death of Bethany Smith.  She died when she fell to her death from the mast of the mega yacht she was working on in Jamaica.   She was just three days shy of her 19th birthday. 

We met Bethany and her family our first season in Trinidad.  SV Cape – David, Sarah and kids Bethany and Bryn are seasoned cruisers having set off many years ago from the UK.  Bethany and Bryn did most of their growing up on sv Cape.  I believe they moved aboard when Bethany was 9.  They are a musical family and that is how we got to know them at the weekly jams in Trinidad.  David plays bass, Bryn guitar, Sarah sings and Bethany plays/played flute.  *It is so hard to change tense now when referring to Bethany.  David, Bethany and Bryn are from Wales.  I remember Sarah and Bethany would sometimes sing an ancient Welsh song as a duet at the jams.  I don’t know what it was about but it was sad and beautiful.

Cruising kids are unlike land kids.  They are mature, smart and worldly while possessing an extraordinary openness for adventure, exploration and fun.  Bethany was no exception to that.  We were not around her a tremendous amount because she was doing teenage things – studying for exams, hanging with friends, texting with friends, reading, listening to music, sailboat racing at TTSA, etc…. Soon enough Bethany was off to make a life for herself.  She traveled to Dominica to help with hurricane relief, hitching a ride here and there on various boats headed to Grenada, Bonaire, and such.  Then she was off to test the waters of the crewing life in the French Med.  I think she was 17 at the time.  What were you doing at 17?  I was an idiot teenager in high school doing nothing important.  Eventually, Bethany landed a paying position on a beautiful mega sailing yacht.  She was 3 months shy of her 18th birthday, quite an accomplishment as most mega yachts will not take crew unless they are 18.  But Bethany proved to be an able bodied crew.   We all followed along on her adventures through Facebook and via her proud family.  She was living life!  She was young, working hard on a glamorous mega yacht, posting pics with other young fellow crew members in exotic ports around the world!  It was terrific to watch her coming into her own, living life to the fullest.  We saw her last year when she came home for a quick 10 day visit.

The cruising community is small, very small.  We meet fellow cruisers in a particular anchorage or harbor.  We become hard and fast friends.  Really fast.  Much faster than on land – cruisers somehow cut out all the extra bullshit when becoming friends.  We have to, ours is not a normal life.  We are oddballs living an abnormal life.  No one else understands this life but other oddballs.  And then BOOM - just like that, we sail over the horizon in different directions.  Sometimes we see each other again, and sometimes we do not. 

Technology has really helped cruisers stay in touch not only with those back on land but with each other.  Each morning I/we check into the SSB Coconut Net.  I hear our fellow cruising friends checking in from various locations all up and down the island chain.  I know where they are because of this.  However, I have also been online already that morning via smartphone, checking in with several others prior to that morning net.  Bethany’s mom Sarah and I often chatted via FB Messenger or Whatsapp in the mornings.  Just a quick message to say “Hello.  How are you?  How are the kids?  What country is David working in these days?  How is the boat coming?” 

As much as I complain to all of you (dear readers) about Internet connectivity issues, and as much as I DO NOT like Facebook – finally joining when we moved aboard - technology has allowed us to stay much more connected than in previous years.  I now know this connection also includes grieving together.  As the sun came up and the sad news spread about Bethany via technology, we all sat stunned in our individual little boats as quiet tears flowed in nearly every anchorage over her death.  She touched SO many lives.  Everyone handles the shocking news of death and the subsequent grieving in different ways.  For many/most, the need to be with family/community is an important part of that.  Technology allowed the cruising family/community to grieve together yesterday.  By late morning the pictures and stories of fun memories with Bethany started appearing and we could all add a faint smile along with our tears.  The cruising community is nomadic; we are spread out around the world.  However, in less than a day, cruisers whose lives were touched by beautiful Bethany were able to give their condolences and grieve together.  It quickly became apparent that she was liked and loved by all those that she came in contact with.

We will continue to mourn together through technology until we can hug in person.

One final note, in my grieving yesterday, technology allowed me to get to know Bethany even better.  I looked back through her Facebook page and read her blog postings.  The first thing that jumped out at me from her blog was the motto if you will.   Right there on the homepage it said Live life for today, you never know what tomorrow will bring.”  As I read through the various blog postings, it became apparent that Bethany did live her life.  It is unfair that she died….NO, IT SUCKS that she died.  However, it seems even in the short 18+ years she lived, she lived more than many people do in a long lifetime.  And that makes me smile a little as well. 

RIP Bethany Smith      
Bethany Smith - photo credit Facebook

Bethany's blog
There is a GoFundMe started by our good friend and fellow cruiser Willie Haskins to help the family pay for the extrodinary expenses so they can be together during this difficult time as well as ehlp with the final arrangements for Bethany.


  1. Lovely post. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend and such an exceptional young woman. Just think of all she would have accomplished! I hate this for you and all the other cruisers who knew Bethany.

  2. Beautifully written, a kind tribute.