Fisherman becomes offshore undertaker

Capt. Doug Aries (no relation to the constellation of the same name) of Freeport, N.Y., owns two 70-foot wooden boats that he uses for charter fishing. But the fishing business isn’t always that good, so a few years ago he decided to get into the funeral business.He placed an ad in the local Yellow Pages under the name “Capt. Doug’s Burials at Sea,” and since then has performed more than 20 ash scatterings from the decks of his boats.

Mourners usually show up at the dock with a member of the clergy, along to say some final words, and an urn containing the ashes of a departed loved one. Capt. Doug takes the ashes about half a mile offshore and positions his boat in relation to the wind to prevent the vessel and passengers from being engulfed in a discomfiting cloud of ash. Then the mourners commence scattering. Prior to sailing, the family contacts the local office of the EPA informing them that ashes will be scattered.

Although Capt.Doug does “no-frills” funerals, here called that the most elaborate service to date involved an Asian family who, after scattering the ashes, “burned dollar bills, lit candles, and threw dead chickens overboard.”

Capt. Doug’s is not the only fishing boat providing these services. With 71,000 people in New York City dying annually andcemeteryplotsgetting expensive, more people are using cremation and sea-going ash scattering as an alternative method of saying good-bye to loved ones.

The Neptune Society of Medford, N.Y., is an organization that specializes in the scattering of ashes. They charge their members about $1,000 for a funeral. That price includes the removal of the body from the hospital, the filling out of all necessary paperwork, and the scattering of ashes. The fee doesn’t include cremation, which is about $200.

Occasionally boat captains are requested to perform “full-body burials.” These are more expensive and require different guidelines. The Coast Guard and the EPA have decreed that full-body burials must be done more than 60 miles offshore and in depths of at least 600 feet.

In the case of full-body burial, coffins have to be made of stainless steel, punctured with holes, banded with metal, and weighted down so that the remains sink to the bottom.

This is quite different from the traditional manner in which unlucky sailors were sent to Davy Jones’ locker. Horace Beck, in his book Folklore and the Sea, describes the method: “The body is washed, clean clothes are put on it, and it is carefully sewed up in a canvas shroud by the sailmaker. Weights are attached to the feet [in the old days it was a 12-pound shot], the corpse is placed on a platform covered with a flag, and the ship hove toThe body is then lowered over the side or slipped overboard feet-first.”

What Beck does not mention is the specifics of sewing of the shroud. According to tradition, the sailmaker sewed 12 stitches into the shroud and a 13th stitch was sewn through the septum of the deceased. If the body didn’t flinch or cry out when the nose stitch was administered, then the sailor was indeed dead.

Contributed by David Berson

By Ocean Navigator