By Zoe Simmons
Heart-warming footage has gone viral after the ashes of a granddad-of-six who always wanted to be a sea captain were set sail from Australia on a miniature boat – to reach his Yorkshire birthplace.
Great grandad-of-13 Norman Sanders, who lived in Canberra, Australia, died in Sutton, New South Wales on October 15 last year aged 89 but tragically never got to fulfil his lifelong dream of sailing the seven seas.
The boat-mad retired coal miner and former RAF aircraft mechanic hired a houseboat every year and spoke of having his own vessel many times but was never able to.
So when the time came to scatter the ashes of dad-of-three Norman, who was originally from South Kirkby, West Yorks, and moved to Australia in 1986, his family spent hours hand-crafting vessel ‘S.S. Norman’ in the hope it will carry his remains 10,586 miles (17,037km) across the Pacific Ocean back to British shores.
Last Saturday [Jan 20] the family gathered at Corrigan’s Beach in the small town of Batemans Bay, on the New South Wales coast, to say their goodbyes and send the small vessel on its voyage.
Their images and video of their final goodbye and appeal for other seafarers to help Norman on his way have since gone viral, racking up more than 12,000 shares in 24 hours.
The boat was spotted sailing near Montague Island, approximately 37 miles (60km) from Corrigans Beach, on Sunday [Jan 21] and Norman’s relatives have asked anyone who spots the vessel on its travels to send them photos or set it on its way if it is stuck.
Norman’s daughter Jan Pearson, a single mum-of-two and carer, said: “When we picked dad’s ashes up, we didn’t just want him sitting around the house in the urn.
“Dad would love that he’s finally the captain of his own boat.
“He’d think he’s top dog, sailing the seven seas in his own little vessel.
“It means the world to do this. This was my dad’s dream, and I’ve dreamt with him my whole life.
“I can’t comprehend this is real and how amazing people have been about it, and the beautiful things they’ve written.
“They don’t even know us or Dad. It’s meant the world to me.
“And at the end of the day, even if he doesn’t reach the destination, and he sinks, he’ll go down like a true captain: with his ship. Either way, he’s fulfilled his dreams.”
Jan, who also grew up in South Kirkby and moved to Australia in 1987, said from a young age her father always loved the idea of sailing and owning a boat but never did because he ‘wasn’t a flashy guy’.
When they lived in the UK, once a year her parents would hire a houseboat to take them on a trip along canals and waterways and this was where Norman’s dream of being the captain of a boat stemmed from.
As a youngster Jan would even sit on her dad’s knee and ask ‘where are we going to sail this time?’ and they would plot different places they could visit via the ocean.
Norman and his wife Theo left the UK to begin a new life in Australia in 1986 after their middle daughter Gail moved Down Under in 1982.
After moving to Australia, every year since 1987 the family would make the trek down to Batemans Bay in New South Wales and before they’d even unpacked they would go to the marina and pick a dream boat they would fantasise sailing the world on.
And Jan said every year on Norman’s birthday when relatives asked him what he wanted he would reply ‘oh, just leave a boat parked in the driveway’.
After Jan had a sailing boat made of flowers created to rest on Norman’s coffin before his cremation, her daughter Kara Heinl thought of the perfect way to scatter her grandfather’s ashes.
Kara said it took three different boats and many months of late nights to perfect a design and source the perfect materials to craft a small sailing boat which would carry her grandfather’s urn.
After numerous designs, timber, a lot of trial and error and help from husband Paul, 43, the ideal vessel was eventually created.
The family wrote heart-felt messages on the boat’s sails, with varying messages of love and wishes to sail in peace.
Since they posted images and videos of the boat setting sail to Facebook, the poignant post racked up more than 12,000 shares within 24 hours.
Hospital admin worker Kara, 33, from Canberra, said: “We have a pool at home and if it wasn’t floating, Paul would fix it up again.
“Grandad’s death impacted us deeply. I think we all lost a piece of us with him. It’s been hard to get that piece back.
“Just hearing that voice would brighten your day.
“In my dreams, I’d love someone to message us and say he’s arrived in England.
“We’re looking forward to going on this journey with him. It’s great for us, because it’s something for us to hold onto.
“With everybody’s help, I’m sure we’ll get him home.”
Kara has set up a Facebook page for the public to share sightings of Norman and his boat. She is asking people to look out for him and if they see the boat stuck to send him on his way.
For more information: go to https://www.facebook.com/Captain-Norm-Sails-Home-914066305428114/