Theo Mavromatis always felt most at home on the sea.
Mavromatis had come to America from the harbor town of Alexandroupolos, Greece, where he’d been drawn to the sea since he was a child. Later, among family and friends, he would fondly recall his early attempts at sailing.
“As a teenager, he’d made a simple sailboat by himself, by hand,” said his daughter, Anna Mavromati. “And he had to make it a couple times to make sure it would stay afloat. He went out with his sister, I think, the first time, and they were dumping buckets of water out of it to keep going…and then he made it again, and he actually got it more stable and got it to work. He had lots of sailing stories.”
“I always keep thinking if he’d come back he’d probably have some wild story about this race,” she added. “He always had stories about races, about what happened, what they had to deal with along the way.”
Mavromatis was the owner and skipper of the Aegean, the 37-ft. sailboat that was shattered in mysterious circumstances early Saturday morning while competing in the Newport Beach to Ensenada Regatta. All four crew members are believed to have perished; Mavromatis has not been found, but the bodies of his three mates have been recovered.
His daughter, Anna, who is a graduate student in the creative writing program at Long Beach State University and at 24, the oldest of his three children, said the family is declining to discuss the circumstances of the tragedy while they await the results of an investigation. But she said that even through the pain, his children and wife Loren are able to derive some comfort from the fact that Theo died at sea, doing what he loved to do.
“Of course if I had it my way, he’d be home by now,” she said. “But he did love the sea, and he loved sailing. It’s something me and my Mom have been talking about; he was doing what he loved, and there is a comfort in that. Also, a few years ago my parents had a discussion about how they would want to treat each other’s burials when the time came for that, and my Dad always said he wanted to be cremated and scattered at sea. So he loved the sea – that is where he would want to be. There is some small comfort, or some small level of peace, that you can get out of that thought.”
Mavromatis only lived away from the sea when he first came to America. His parents had sacrificed so that he might obtain a good education, and he attended Purdue University in Indiana, where he would meet his future wife. He graduated as an engineer, and as he surveyed the United States, he saw only three places that were suitably warm and – most crucially – in proximity to the ocean: Florida, Hawaii, and California. He and Loren moved to Redondo Beach, where first he worked for Hughes and later Raytheon, where he was still employed up until last week. He also was an independent consultant.
The Aegean was his pride and joy, and he not only was aboard the sloop as much as possible himself, but he took anyone who would go out sailing with him. His daughter said that many of her friends considered her father their friend, after they’d shared adventures at sea aboard the Aegean, and his open-hearted Greek hospitality in its galley. Each year, he assembled a young crew for Pirate Days at Catalina Island, and thoroughly embraced the role of pirate captain.
“He loved being the captain of that boat,” Anna said. “In a way, if he was around to hear the story, in a weird way he might be proud of it, or think it was cool. He would be like a pirate…There is definitely a sense of peace that you can get out of that. There is something that isn’t completely awful about it, in a way.”
But the family, though not commenting on the specifics of the accident, wants to make one thing very clear – Theo and his entire crew were experienced and vigilant sailors who never for one moment took the ocean lightly. He had been sailing for most of his 49 years, and his crew – including his brother-in-law, Joseph Stewart – all were disciplined former military men. Their practice was always to have at least two men on deck.
“These guys knew what they were doing,” Anna said. “There are people who enter this race or who take really big sailing trips who don’t know what they are doing or are drunk or who do things like that, and most of them end up okay – I mean, I’ve never heard of something like this happening. But there are people out there who are not experienced or who might have messed up, but that is not the case with these guys. They’ve been doing this exact race for years.”
“They were very careful, very safe, and very experienced…they never had any real problems before. So to have the impossible happen, that is why it was so unbelievable – it just didn’t seem like something that could have happened to them, let alone should have. But it did.”
Theo Mavromatis is survived by his wife, Loren; his daughters Anna, 24, and Cristi, 21; his son, Xan, 11; and two sisters. Services are pending.