Dockside at 9:00 a.m. – The family and friends of the deceased begin boarding the Papagallo for the memorial service at sea.
There is a chill in the air as the marine layer is starting to lift. Cups of steaming coffee are served, some spiked with a generous shot of Crown Royal or Baileys. Photographs and mementos of the departed are placed throughout the salon, along with the flowers that later will be tossed overboard. On many occasions, a family member will create a time line of their loved one’s life to be shown on a laptop complete with their favorite music.
The mood is somber with the closest relatives of the deceased hugging and shaking hands with all those onboard. Everyone is assembled on the aft deck before departure for a short safety talk along with going over the sea conditions and explaining the location of the life saving gear.
The Captain gives the order to cast off the lines and with three short blasts of the Kahlenber’s, we back away from the dock for the three mile trip out to sea. Onboard a basket with a handle made of biodegradable material is provided for the ashes. A few rocks are placed in the bottom for ballast, then the basket is lined with banana leaves, Birds of Paradise frons or other suitable leafy foliage. Once the leaf liner is in place, the ashes are carefully deposited on top of the leaves keeping the ashes confined within the basket. Cut flowers are placed on top.
When the Captain reaches the three mile mark, he positions the boat with the ocean swell to our stern and holds station for the service to begin. At that point, all are assembled on the fore deck to share thoughts, stories, good times and prayers before releasing the ashes overboard. If there is an officiate, he usually concludes with a prayer. We have had bagpipers, military color guard, guitarist and singers of all types perform during the service.
A big mistake to avoid, when scattering the ashes, is tossing them overboard in the air or scooping them from the container releasing them over the side. There have been many horror stories of the ashes blowing back in people’s faces and adhering to the sides of the vessel only to be hosed off when returning to port. I think you will agree that isn’t a very dignified method for someone’s final farewell.
The beauty of the basket full of ashes is that all the ashes will make it to the ocean’s surface and sink to the bottom. We use a 14 foot line feeding half of it under the basket handle and gathering the other half at the top to act as a sling to lower to the ocean surface. Once there, we release and retrieve the line allowing the weighted basket to sink to the bottom. The flowers float on the surface as the basket continues to sink. If the sea water is clear, often times the ashes will be visible like gray ribbons in the sea 10 or 15 feet down. The Captain maneuvers the boat in a 180 degree turn encircling the flowers as the family says their final goodbyes and we head back to port.
The serving of food at a wake goes back centuries. Food is a universal language of sorts that brings comfort during stressful times and times when families grieve. On the Papagallo, we always serve a brunch type meal following every memorial service when we return to the harbor. This gives our guests a chance to share warm goodbyes before returning home.
The basket method of distributing ashes at sea works very well and can be accomplished on just about any size vessel. One of the keys is having a proper length line that can be used to compensate for the freeboard of the vessel. We have used this method hundreds of times on the Papagallo and our guests always comment how dignified the service was conducted.
With all the tears shed and Kleenex supplied, exhausted our guests depart. I watch from the deck as the group gathers at the top of the gangway for final hugs and farewells. All are a little further down the road in the grieving process. It’s a good feeling knowing we have done our job in providing a venue to assist them in that process. The scattering of ashes really represents a celebration of someone’s life spent here on earth. One fact remains that is undeniable; we will all take this last journey. For those who love the sea, the scattering provides a fitting farewell. Sooner or later they will take their place as a guest at Davey Jones locker escorted by the dolphins and whales.
The crew settles in to enjoy some of the buffet foods. Every service is a little different, but we all agree, each scattering touches everyone onboard.
1. Latitude and Longitude readings are taken at each scattering by the Captain and given to the family members so they may revisit the very spot where their loved ones rest.
2. On occasion, a family decides to use a bio-degradable container supplied by the mortuary. Those can be tossed overboard and within a period of time, the container will absorb the sea water and break apart. On one occasion, we tossed one of these over and watched it head to the beach in strong winds before breaking up. To me this method is not very dignified and is like throwing away a cardboard box at sea. I do not recommend it.