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Answers lost at sea in Foxy Lady book

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A still from the New Zealand movie Brother Number one, released this year.

In August 1978, the Foxy Lady, a small sailing craft crewed by Canadian Stuart Glass, New Zealander Kerry Hamill and Englishman John Dewhirst, entered Cambodian waters and was apprehended by Khmer Rouge naval henchmen.

The trio of young adventurous sailors subsequently disappeared forever from western world view.

The details surrounding the fate of the three young sailors is known to most people who have a rudimentary grasp of recent Cambodian history.

Glass was killed when Khmer Rouge gunboats opened fire on the boat. Hamill and Dewhirst were taken to the mainland and imprisoned at the notorious Tuol Sleng S21 jail-cum-death-camp, a former high school in the suburbs of Phnom Penh where terribly harsh lessons in a demented new world order were administered.

The duo suffered awful privations until eventually “smashed” or killed,  and it is believed their bodies were burnt to avoid any identification.

On July 14 this year, The New Zealand Film Festival launched with the screening of Brother Number One, a New Zealand documentary on the torture and murder of Kerry Hamill.

The film was directed by award-winning filmmaker Annie Goldson (Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, An Island Calling), and shot by Academy-award winning director of photography Peter Gilber.

It follows the journey of Kerry Hamill’s younger brother, Rob, ironically an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, who travelled to Cambodia to retrace the steps taken by his brother and John Dewhirst.

Around the same time as that film was being launched in New Zealand, a book attempting to document the fate of the third passenger on the ill-fated Foxy Lady, Canadian Stuart Glass, was launched in Canada.

The book, Foxy Lady – Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yachtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea, (Key Publishing House, Toronto), is written by fellow Canadian Dave Kattenburg, who is described on the back cover as an “investigative journalist” as well as university science courses teacher, and social issues radio producer.

This adequately written book attempts to chronicle both the potted history of the Khmer Rouge regime and its notorious Tuol Sleng or S21 prison, and  an account of the final days of the trio, centering mostly on the  travels and travails of Stuart Glass in the years leading up to his dramatic death.

Of the Khmer Rouge and S21, nothing new of significance is revealed in this book, though the author’s reactions while touring the remains of the prison have some interest.

Kattenburg also gives a convenient-to-read summation of what is known about the experiences Hamill and Dewhirst endured at S21, including the writing of rambling, bizarre, almost comic book “confessions” about spying missions that were  supposedly undertaken for the CIA.

But of the fate of the young sailors, nothing new is revealed.

Sure there were some interesting insights into the life of young Stuart Glass, a “gentle giant” who travelled the hippie trail and did six months prison time in 1973 in the British nick, Wormwood Scrubs, for smuggling a small amount hash from Morocco.

The book gives some insight into the feelings of Glass’s family and friends, but it bogs down into rehashing minutia in the face of not being able to uncover anything new, or anything approximating a truth that had not been revealed.

The essential weakness of this book is that Kattenburg is faced with recounted tales by people connected to this saga in some way that have become distorted over time, and that as three decades have passed, any scintilla of reality or revelatory exposition has disappeared into the winds of time like wisps of smoke from the bodies that were burned at S21.

Even Kattenburg’s attempts to determine whether or not Glass and perhaps his cohorts were on a drug smuggling mission were inconclusive.

Hence, toward the end of the book, the possibly frustrated author falls into the trap of trying to project what happened by writing that Glass could have done this, or that the trio probably would have done this or felt this way.

Still, all in all, the book is worth a read.

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