Gerald and Carol Hardesty's spirits were, not unnaturally, high as they set about their seaborne adventure to cross the Atlantic at the start of this month. The epic voyage, from the coast of Newfoundland to the Irish shores, was to be undertaken in their Alabama-registered yacht christened, by a cruel twist of fate, Happy Ending.
On Saturday, 13 days after leaving port, Happy Ending was spotted drifting more than 600 miles off the south- west coast of Britain by an American container ship. There was no sign of life.
Despite the mountainous Atlantic waves that were buffeting the mastless yacht, the US ship, Sealand Quality, manoeuvred to within boarding distance as an RAF aircraft circled overhead.
With a show of courage commended by colleagues, the ship's chief officer leapt on to the deck of Happy Ending. Below he found the body of a man identified as Mr Hardesty. He could have been dead for two or three days. There was no sign of external injury on the body, nor any sign of his wife.
Because of heavy seas, the body could not be transferred to the container ship, which was also unable to attach a towline to the yacht. The officer, after making his grim discovery, made a prompt exit. 'The chief officer did not want to hang around on board a deserted yacht with a dead man in bad weather,' a coastguard spokesman said.
Happy Ending then drifted out of sight along with possible evidence that may help to solve the riddle of what happened to its crew. Coastguards, who yesterday requested assistance from shipping to help them relocate the yacht, are pinning their hopes on finding something in the log to help them unravel the mystery.