Skip to main content
Publish date:

Waterlines: Down With His Ship

Eric Thiriez in a characteristic pose aboard Alegria, offering food to people

Eric Thiriez in a characteristic pose aboard Alegria, offering food to people

Thanks to my long connection with this magazine I’ve had many opportunities to sail with some exceptional people. One of my more memorable outings came 18 years ago when I was sent down to Colombia to sail in La Ruta de Morgan, a local event that saw a modest fleet of boats racing some 400 miles from Cartagena out to the western Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia. My skipper—commanding a well-worn Jeanneau Sunkiss 47 named Alegria—was a warm, very friendly French expatriate named Eric Thiriez.

Eric was a great skipper, a great sailor and a great human being. He’d built up a very successful business in Colombia making floating pumps he sold all over the world, but there was nothing cold or calculating about him. He had boundless energy and enthusiasm, and I was amazed during our race when he not only stayed on deck through most of our two nights offshore, but also did all the cooking. In the best French tradition, it was very fine cooking, too. Even more amazing was the way he nurtured his young son Massimo, who had Down’s syndrome and made him an integral part of our crew.

Eric was also a great tinkerer and was proud of the massive fold-down bowsprit he’d built and installed on Alegria. Somehow when first deploying it we managed to lose our anchor overboard, trailing it behind us under full sail at the end of 200ft of rode. Through the long ordeal of recovering it (without stopping the boat) Eric maintained his cool and called for a happy round of beers when we finally succeeded. In spite of dragging that anchor for several miles and later blowing up both spinnakers we had onboard, we were second over the line, just minutes behind the lead boat, on the long leg from Cartagena to San Andrés.

Having nothing but fond memories of Eric, I truly was gutted when I recently learned he was lost at sea some 50 miles from Cartagena a few years ago. This was on Friday, April 7, 2017, when Eric and three crew were only 12 hours into a passage to the Dominican Republic aboard Saquerlotte, a 52ft aluminum cutter Eric had purchased and sailed home from Europe six years earlier.

One of the surviving crew, Roberto Reyes, told me the first sign of trouble came around noon that day, less than three hours after Saquerlotte left Cartagena. There was a large noise like something had hit the bottom of the boat, but there was no sign of anything going wrong, so the crew forged ahead, sailing north in a fresh breeze. Four hours later they noticed a small pool of water in the galley on the lee side of the boat but thought nothing of it. Two hours after that, a little after sunset, the water had risen to knee level.

The crew searched frantically for the leak, found nothing and decided to head back to Cartagena. On turning the boat around, however, there was another large noise under the hull, and soon the water in the cabin had risen to chest level. Around 2100, one member of the crew made a satellite call to a family member, describing the situation and the boat’s position. By 2200 the boat was sinking.

There was some problem deploying the liferaft, and the crew had to abandon ship with only life-vests to sustain them. Eric, however, never got clear.

“That thing went down like a rocket,” Roberto told me. And Eric, then in his 70s with limited mobility, went with it. “I could see his face looking up to the surface, looking at me, and then he completely disappeared in the bottom of the sea,” Roberto recalled.

Roberto and the other two crew, Frank Camacho and Luis Miguel Herrera, thank goodness, were picked up by the Colombian navy the following day. But nothing of Eric was ever seen again.

It’s possible it was Eric’s penchant for tinkering that did him in. Though Saquerlotte had served him well through many long passages, he couldn’t resist modifying her and had replaced her fixed keel with a retractable one, a very ambitious project. It’s easy to say any real sailor would like to go out this way, doing what they love. But for those who truly appreciated Eric, his family especially, it is a small consolation. 

September 2021



Point of SAIL: Bluewater YouTuber Sam Holmes

In this episode of Point of SAIL, sponsored by West System Epoxy, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Sam Holmes, a solo-sailor who has not only logged some serious bluewater miles but brought thousands of fans along for the ride through his many disarmingly unpretentious more


Racing is Back

For all that the pandemic turned the world upside down, the summer of 2020 proved to be a surprisingly good one for sailing. Sales of boats—both new and used—went through the roof, and sailors everywhere found ways of getting out on the water, either alone or with friends and more

05 Alex Thomson leans - credit ALEX THOMSON RACING copy

Alex Thomson Won’t Compete in Vendée Globe

Veteran British solo-sailor Alex Thomson has announced he won’t compete as a skipper in the 2024 Vendée Globe. However, he isn’t ruling out returning to the race in 2028. Thomson has competed in the IMOCA circuit for 19 years, including five successive Vendée Globe’s with two more


Kiteboarder Sets New Jamestown Record

Rob Spets is the new record holder for the around-Jamestown circumnavigation aboard his foiling kiteboard Skellinger. His lap took 50 minutes and 48 seconds, improving the previous record set by Jason Carroll by 1 minute and 14 seconds. Spets completed the course in an 18-knot more


Bill Tilman’s Simple Sailing

Like an ostrich on a bad day, I’m head-down in the lazarette of Nellie, my Beneteau First 42, dealing with the propane tank. My wife taps me on the shoulder, and I rise to see a pair of foiling catamarans accelerating onto their carbon-fiber wings. As the blood drains from my more


Olympic Sailing: Where to Now?

It’s official, not only is the United States no longer an Olympic power when it comes to sailing, it’s fast beginnings look like an also-ran—albeit an also-ran with loads of potential. What other conclusion is there to draw from the fact that for the second time in three more


Return of the Annapolis Boat Show

After a hiatus in 2020, the United States Boat Show in Annapolis, Maryland returned in full force last weekend. “Pent up demand” was the name of the game for visitors and exhibitors alike. Queues to get in each morning stretched around the block, and the docks were congested more


Sailing Hall of Fame Inducts Class of 2021

This weekend, the National Sailing Hall of Fame has inducted eleven new members to make up the class of 2021. “The remarkable achievements of this year’s class exemplify excellence and an unwavering dedication to our sport,” said National Sailing Hall of Fame president Gus more