By Lucy Chabot Reed
Capt. Christopher Hezelgrave, skipper of the 137-foot (42m) Royal Denship M/Y Unforgettable, has died of the COVID-19 virus. He was 60.
Born in New Zealand and with a British passport, Capt. Hezelgrave had about 30 years experience in yachting and on commercial vessels, including motor and sailing vessels in charter, regatta and private use. Educated in Australia, he studied as a shipwright and marine engineer, and carried the MCA Master of Yachts 3000gt. He also raced sailboats professionally for 12 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“He loved teaching,” Unforgettable First Mate Marco Stegmann said. “We have two newer guys on the crew, and he’s in the crew house with them, explaining charts, telling them what it’s like to be at sea. … He was really good; it was a pleasure working with him.”
Capt. Hezelgrave always tried to fully understand a situation and think outside the box when it came to solutions, Stegmann said. “And he’d force us to do the same. Why are things happening the way they are happening?”
In his most recent position with M/Y Unforgettable for the past seven years, Capt. Hezelgrave was also manager of the vessel, which has extensively cruised the U.S east coast, Caribbean south to Grenada, Panama, and Colombia.
“I strive at all times to provide a professional, reliable and fully comprehensive service as captain and in all associated aspects of yacht and crew management,” he stated on his profile.
The yacht is at Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale in the midst of a full paint job, mechanical maintenance including on the azipods and hydraulic system, teak deck refurbishing and other mostly exterior projects, Stegmann said. The work has faced several delays since the yacht entered the yard in February, adding to the stress Capt. Hezelgrave was going through, he said.
Capt. Hezelgrave went to a South Florida clinic a few weeks ago with back pain that wouldn’t go away after an incident onboard in early July. It was recommended he get an ultrasound, then he returned to the crew house where he and the crew lived while the yacht is in the shipyard.
“Then he started coughing and feeling worse,” Stegmann said. “He called the clinic again and they told him to come in for a COVID test.”
That was a Monday. That Wednesday night, July 15, he learned his test was positive. He continued to feel worse, Stegmann said, and on Saturday, July 18, he went to the hospital.
Eventually Capt. Hezelgrave was placed on a ventilator. He died this past Monday morning, Aug. 10, in the hospital.
“He was a little stubborn sometimes, but he was quite a fighter,” Stegmann said. “He was active and very fit; he loved sports. He was healthy. Everything went really quick.”
Although they all lived together in the crew house, Stegmann said none of the other crew have contracted the virus. They tested immediately after Capt. Hezelgrave received his positive test, and again after he left the house. All negative.
“We still don’t understand it, how he could get it,” Stegmann said. “The weird thing is, he had the most chance to get it from us. There are a lot of contractors on the boat, and they are all very strict with the guidelines. But we had much more interaction with people than he did. … He hardly left the house. He was working like crazy. The plan for the project is 30-40 pages. He was super busy, working seven days a week.
“Even when he was in the hospital, he would answer questions about the boat,” he said. “It’s all he thought about. He wanted to get the project done and get back to sea.”
Capt. Hezelgrave spoke five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. And he loved mingling with the local cultures,trying his tongue with the regional dialects.
“With this yacht, we cruise a lot,” Stegmann said. “Chris always loved to get with the locals, speak with the locals, the Patois, Creole. He enjoyed different cultures.”
He gave back to the industry in numerous ways, by being a mentor to his crew, by attending at least two Triton From the Bridge captains lunches to share his knowledge, and being open and honest about an incident where the vessel lost control and hit a dock in the Bahamas.
“We are dealing with it,” Stegmann said. “We’re staying busy and that’s keeping our minds busy. It’s a crazy yard period so it’s good that we are busy. … We don’t feel unsafe. It doesn’t matter where you are on this planet. You can catch it anywhere.”
Capt. Hezelgrave is survived by his partner, Yvonne van Gemert, and two adult children, who all live in Europe. When home, he enjoyed family life, meeting friends, riding his motorcycle and paragliding, according to van Gemert. His funeral will take place at his home in Southern Germany.