Millionairess died after buying £30k yacht and sailing it in treacherous waters
7th March 2019

A millionairess died after she bought a £30,000 yacht and tried to sail it home alone the next day through some of the UK’s most treacherous waters, an inquest heard.

Ona ‘Mary’ Unwin, 65, purchased the lavish boat while on holiday with her husband but had no idea how to sail it, an inquest heard.

After taking just two lessons, she sneaked out of her hotel room at night to embark on her ill-fated solo expedition around the coast of Cornwall.

Mary ignored repeated warnings that it was too dangerous and continued out to sea despite scraping a third of her 30ft yacht along the harbour wall as she left.

The mother of four also smashed into a fishing vessel and made a series of other rookie mistakes.

She was seen sailing with the fenders still attached and was travelling on the boat’s small motor instead of using the sail as she had been unable to hoist it.

She also refused to wear a life-jacket claiming she didn’t need one as she could swim.

Despite a large scale search her body was never found and nearly seven years later she has now been officially declared dead by a coroner.

The inquest heard that it was likely she struck rocks and drowned while attempting to sail from Falmouth, Cornwall, back to Instow,Devon, a route that would have taken her via Land’s End.

But when she arrived in Mousehole she crashed her yacht into a fishing boat owned by Finbar Jones who then went over to confront her.

He said in a statement read at the inquest in Truro, Cornwall, that he realised Mary had little to no boat handling skills and was concerned to learn of her plans.

He said: "I was standing by the Ship Inn and looking out to the harbour.

"I saw a yacht come in and it struck my boat.

"I was a bit angry and went down to my boat.

"I looked at the yacht and I could see a female, she said she was on her own.

"She said she had just bought the boat and motored the yacht from Falmouth to Mousehole.

"I’m aware that the motor on that boat was just for getting out of harbours."

Finbar said that Mary’s boat didn’t have any fenders and was scraping against the harbour, but she didn’t have any to put out.

He then asked Mary what type of keel her boat had, as the harbour at Mousehole dries out at low tide and is unsuitable for certain boats.

But Mary said she wasn’t sure, and that she would be sailing out of the harbour at night – before low tide.

Finbar recommended that the journey wasn’t safe and that she should head to Newlyn where she could dock for the night for just £20, but Mary said she couldn’t afford it.

Finbar’s statement continued: "A friend of mine called Bill Johnson came down and I explained that she was planning to take it up to Bideford.

"I thought she might listen to him, Bill was talking to her for a few minutes.

"We insisted that she shouldn’t leave, it was obvious to me that was was inexperienced.

"But she insisted and said it was just like driving a car at night.

"She seemed of sound mind but was obviously inexperienced.

"As she left the harbour she managed to scrape about one third of the boat on the harbour wall.

"The sea was flat and calm, our concern was not the weather .

"She was about half a mile away from the harbour and I could see she had two fenders dragging in the sea – these should have been pulled in before she left the harbour.

"This was the last time I saw the boat and the female."

Mary, a former saleswoman and mystery shopper, of Bideford, Devon, was married to Carol Unwin and had four children from a previous marriage.

In a statement read to the inquest Carol described his wife as being very strong willed.

He said the pair had decided to buy the boat on Friday, October 11 2012 before retiring to a hotel.

He said he woke up alone, and later received a phone call from Mary saying, ‘guess where I am?’

He added: "Our marriage was good, Mary was a strong individual who didn’t mess about.

"I thought she was fabulous. She could be difficult but never with malice."

The inquest also heard how Mary had attempted the journey with no lifejacket, and when offered one had refused it and said she didn’t need one because she could swim.

Giving evidence at the inquest, DC Martin Hearn from Devon and Cornwall Police said she had undertaken two sailing lessons shortly before she set off.

He said that the instructors were able to assess Mary’s skill in sailing, rating her between a crew member and a day sailor – not capable of solo sailing.

He also said that one instructor suspected that Mary wasn’t listening to his advice, and that she couldn’t hoist the main sail.

Speaking at the inquest, he said: "She left Mousehole on Saturday October 13 and at some time after that, probably that night in darkness, she has struck rocks some where between Land’s End and Sennen.

"It was such a dangerous thing to do.

"The Seagair would have broken up and Mary Unwin would have drowned."

DC Hearn said that during his investigation he had spoken to fishermen and RNLI crew members who were familiar with the sea conditions in that area.

He said that they reported they would never consider sailing through that area alone at night.

Stephen Covell, assistant coroner for Cornwall, recorded an open conclusion.

He said: "I accept that the evidence shows the boat founded on rocks off the coast between Land’s End and Sennen.

"The particular circumstances in which Mary died are unknown.

"There are a few details that can be said and I am satisfied that she is deceased.

"She was someone who strong willed and unrealistically thought that she could sail the boat from Falmouth."

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