A 77-year-old Kiwi man died after a freak accident while sailing with his wife and friends on a catamaran off the Greek coast.

Bernard Emerre was in a coma for 41 days after slipping and hitting his head. He died on December 1.

His widow Andrea is battling to get his ashes home three weeks after his death.

Speaking to the Herald from Germany, where she is staying with friends, she said that in early October, the couple, who lived in England, set off from Athens to go island-hopping in a catamaran for two weeks with friends from New Zealand and Germany.

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However, on the second day, her husband slipped and hit his head.

"Bernard, being a good Kiwi, wasn't wearing any boat shoes and slipped and fell on his head and he was complaining about headaches basically the whole two weeks. However we had a former doctor on board and we had checked his pupils and they were always normal."

On their last day, they were heading back to Athens when they were hit by a sudden and very violent storm.

"We tried to secure the boat and bring the sail in, which was ripped within seconds. We were all totally wet and soaked with rain so I went inside to change my clothes. Bernard stayed outside and was spewing over the catamaran. [He came inside] and he wasn't feeling too well and had massive headaches so we got him to lie down.

"Then he fell asleep but in fact he probably slipped right into unconsciousness."

As well as sailing, Bernard Emerre, pictured with wife, Andrea, had a love of chocolate and golf. Photo / Andrea Emerre
As well as sailing, Bernard Emerre, pictured with wife, Andrea, had a love of chocolate and golf. Photo / Andrea Emerre

He never woke up.

They took him to a nearby island where there was a small medical centre. He was eventually operated on but it would prove fruitless. He died, 41 days later, on December 1.

Emerre was born in Motueka and after graduating with a Bachelor of Dentistry from Otago University, he began working in his home town. But he soon outgrew it and moved on to work in various countries around the world - Canada and the United Kingdom. He also volunteered as a dentist on the Gaza Strip.

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The Emerres had sailed together since meeting in the early 90s, including around Europe, although it wasn't uncommon for Bernard Emerre to undertake solo trips, including from Tonga to New Zealand. He even took up paddleboarding and surfing in his late 60s.

Bernard Emerre, right, with friend Henry Zelas, on a catamaran in Poros, Greece. Photo / Andrea Emerre
Bernard Emerre, right, with friend Henry Zelas, on a catamaran in Poros, Greece. Photo / Andrea Emerre

"When he was in the water he was in his element," his wife said.

They returned to New Zealand in the early 2000s and he worked as a dentist in Newmarket for 10 years before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. They then moved back to the United Kingdom and were living in England.

Life since his death had been a struggle and had been compounded by the fact she couldn't get his ashes home due to, what she claims, is Greek bureaucracy.

Confusing matters was that he was travelling on his English passport, and not his New Zealand passport, and she felt she wasn't getting adequate support from the British Embassy.

Greece had effectively shut down now for the festive period, so she, together with Bernard's son, Robert, would travel to Greece early in the New Year to finally bring his ashes home.

"Bernard is part Ngati Porou so I think it would be best if we could bring him back home to New Zealand."

Bernard had wished that his ashes be spread off the coast of New Zealand, and Andrea Emerre felt the ideal spot would be around Abel Tasman National Park.