The Incredible True Story of the Young Girl Who Was Orphaned at Sea

Throughout history, people have had a fascination with the sea. The infinite power of the ocean inspires a mixture of fear and longing that is as familiar to as many today as in the days when mariners believed its depths held mysterious creatures, from terrifying leviathans to alluring mermaids. And the sea has always been a source of commerce and pleasure, plied by merchant fleets and pleasure cruisers alike. And why not? Who wouldn’t dream of sailing a boat across the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean?

The idea fills our heads with images of azure waves and longing for the sensation of dipping our feet into the warm salt water as the tropical breeze blows through our hair. But for all its beauty and allure, the sea can also be a source of terror. And some of the most horrific stories of murder and survival have happened on isolated ships in the middle of the ocean. But stories of survival at sea can also offer hope and redemption- examples of people who fought against all the strength of nature and lived. And in 1961, a young girl named Terry Jo Duperrault found herself at the center of just such a story.

Julian Harvey
Julian Harvey. Vintage.es

Terry’s story began with her father, Arthur, an optometrist from Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose youth serving in the Navy during World War II left him with a life-long dream to escape the frigid climate of the Great Lakes and sail the tropical waters of the Caribbean. In November 1961, Arthur gathered his wife Jean, his son Brian, and his two young daughters, Terry Jo and René, and drove down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There he planned to rent a sailboat and spend the winter in the Bahamas, where he and his family would sail from island to island, snorkeling and gathering seashells rather than bundled up against the frozen winds of Green Bay.

Arthur soon found the perfect boat, a sixty-foot, two-mast craft called the Bluebelle. The Bluebelle seemed a perfect home for his family for the next few months, so Arthur closed the deal and began looking for a captain to pilot her. And he soon came upon the perfect candidate, decorated pilot Julian Harvey who had served and won medals in World War II and Korea. Along for the ride was Harvey’s new wife Mary Dene.

Together the Harvey’s and Duperrault’s weighed anchor and set off for the what Arthur Harvey described to a customs official when they called into port at the Bahamas as “a once in a lifetime vacation.”
Over the next few days, the Bluebelle sailed along the island chain of Bimini, stopping at tiny villages and taking in the sun and the water. That Sunday night, the boat pulled to a stop near a place called Sandy Point, where the family enjoyed a meal of chicken cacciatore and turned in early, planning a return to the States the next day. And for 11-year-old Terry, it would be a night that changed her life forever.