Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Published on November 24th, 2015

by John Clarke, The Observer
The signs posted in the New York eateries, Garden Deli in Greenpoint and Miyako in Williamsburg, were straightforward: BROOKLYN SEA CAPTAIN SEEKING CREW. Specifically sought were a dozen mature, dedicated and compassionate individuals with some skill or trade—a cook or carpenter, for example—to help crew a 160-foot clipper on a two-year voyage around the world, promising “the adventure of a lifetime.”

2015-11-24_10-02-57What the flier failed to say is that the 87-year-old sea captain, Van Vollmer, and his media-averse twin brother, Carl, would require the crew to unceremoniously dump their bodies in the ocean when they die. “I don’t intend to return,” Mr. Vollmer said.

The plan, said Van Vollmer, who now lives with his brother on a boat docked at Evers Marina in the Bronx (both brothers were married years ago: Van is divorced, Carl is a widower) is to leave shortly after a planned bon voyage party this week at Cantina Royal, a Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg. They’ll pick up the ship in St. Marys, Ga., sail it to Florida for some minor boat work and crew training, and then sail south.

“We’re going to Havana to party for Christmas,” Mr. Vollmer told the Observer. He is the only one of the twins who will do interviews. “Maybe we’ll even invite Raúl Castro to come visit us. He’s a Communist. Why the hell not?”

The next stop is Panama City for New Year’s Eve, he said. After that, it’s through the Panama Canal and out to the Pacific Ocean, with stops in Hawaii and at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. They then head up the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea to explore the Greek Islands. At some point along the voyage, over the next couple of years, the Vollmers expect they will die. And when that happens, a legally binding agreement will require the crew to pitch their bodies overboard.

“This is my swan song,” Mr. Vollmer said recently, speaking by phone. “It’s time to move on. Life is a fleeting experience. My brother and I are extremely healthy, but it doesn’t mean anything. All of our peers are dead. Everyone we’ve known or done business with over the years is dead.

“We’re going to die,” he said. “Instead of looking for a nursing home, we were looking for a ship.”

His outlook on the adventure and burial at sea is clear-eyed and pragmatic. “Put us on a plank and dump us in the water,” he said. “Just let us go over the side, like all the old sailors did.”

Surprisingly, more than 200 people responded to the fliers since they first started appearing in August. – Full story

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