An 86-year-old solo yachtsman who disappeared in Bass Strait was sailing a 60-foot vessel that had obsolete safety equipment and was “too much for him to handle”.
A coroner has ruled Stanley William Wood, whose body has never been found, likely fell from the boat on December 26, 2020, and died between then and the 31st.
He was en route from Eden in NSW to Deal Island, about halfway between Victoria and Tasmania, as part of a journey that began in Cairns.
In findings published this week, Coroner Simon Cooper determined Mr Wood was not secured to the yacht by a tether and it was unlikely he was wearing a personal flotation device.
“If he had been wearing (one), then he may have survived long enough to be rescued after he entered the water,” Mr Cooper wrote.
“In addition, there is no evidence that he owned or had registered a personal locating beacon and certainly one was not activated.
“If Mr Wood had a (beacon) with him when he entered the water, then there is a reasonable possibility that he may have survived whatever mishap befell him.”
Mr Wood bought the yacht, named Munyana, for $261,000 after selling his home on Tasmania’s east coast in 2020.
The boat was not registered and the safety equipment was all obsolete.
There was evidence Mr Wood had difficulty with Munyana’s auto helm, the VHF radio and the sails, and had run it aground twice entering ports on Australia’s east coast.
A marine surveyor who examined the boat after it was recovered said its hand flares, portable fire extinguishers and life raft were out of date.
The surveyor described Munyana as a “large and heavy vessel” and its operation offshore single-handed would “tax the fittest person” in the best of conditions.
“The vessel that Mr Wood was attempting to sail, ultimately unsuccessfully, single-handed from far north Queensland to Tasmania was evidently far too much for him to handle,” Mr Cooper wrote.
Mr Wood, who was born in America, was reported missing on December 31 by a friend, sparking a large-scale search.
The Munyana was found later that evening north of Flinders Island drifting with unfurled sails.
In his last-known phone conversation on December 26, Mr Wood told his friend the sea was getting rough and he was having difficulty maintaining control of the vessel.
Mr Cooper recommended all sailors carry a registered personal location beacon and wear a properly fitted flotation device.