I feel I have been part of a sequence of events that although just coincidence, is noteworthy because the alignment of the circumstances lead me to have a wonderful and memorable encounter in the town of Whangarei in New Zealand.

 On Thursday 28th January 2010 my daughter asked me to visit her in the North Island of New Zealand. I purchased an air ticket online and having completed the booking I followed my usual habit of visiting various blog friends. I read this  story posted by Slamdunk on that same day.

 The posted story

“In 1993, Michael and Judith Sleavin, originally from Tacoma, Washington, along with their two young children, set sail on a dream trip around the world. The family voyage was expected to take five years aboard their 47-foot boat, the Melinda Lee. Three years into their journey tragedy struck. On November 24, 1995 at 2 am, a large South Korean cargo ship loaded with timber and steel, altered its course without warning and crushed the Sleavin’s boat near the coast of New Zealand.

 In a few brief moments, the family’s vessel sunk into the darkness-—carrying their nine-year old son Ben to his death. The mother, Judith, received a near fatal head injury and lost feeling in her body from the waist down. Father Michael was able to begin inflating a small dinghy, and help Judith and seven-year old daughter Annie aboard before the icy ocean water enveloped them. The panicked family yelled at the South Korean vessel for help, but, reportedly, instead of assisting the injured three, the large commercial vessel quickly sailed from the scene. It was thought that the crew was afraid of the consequences of the collision, and as a result, they decided not to notify anyone.

 Hours later, the group struggled to stay afloat in the partially inflated raft. Several times, the trio was flipped into the water, but each instance, Michael was able to regroup everyone at the craft. Finally, a rogue wave crashed into the family, knocking their little Annie away from the boat. Michael jumped into the rough ocean in an effort to save his daughter, but both drowned.

Judith’s inspirational tale of 44 hours of survival—-alone in a sinking raft, suffering hypothermia, with limited mobility and a brain injury—-is told in a book released in 2009 entitled Ten Degrees of Reckoning  “

 I was unaware of this story but like many others who saw the posting I was moved by it and found it difficult to get the tragic images out of my mind. I thought Judith Sleavin must be an extraordinary woman.

Judith Sleavin now lives in New Zealand in the town of Whangarei on the North Island and is the Owner/Managing Director of a business involving flame worked glass beads. She also sells Venetian glass and associated paraphernalia for glass artists. Her designs of beaded jewellery incorporate the dramatic tones and colours of the Pacific Ocean and are just beautiful.

How do I know that the jewellery designed by Judith Sleavin is beautiful? Well I am in the Annie Rose gallery and gift shop in the Town Basin of Whangarei and I’m standing in front of the showcase containing the display of the ‘Ten Degrees of Reckoning’ borosilicate pendants.

 It is just after midday on Tuesday the 2nd of February 2010 and at that moment Judith Sleavin walks into the gallery. She had come to her shop to meet with my self and a friend Catherine Wells from Auckland. We greet and introduce ourselves and talk about her jewellery and of course the tragedy. She is gracious and joyful and proceeds to show us around her purpose-built studio and gallery and the stunning glass bead collection. She was also kind enough to give us a flame working demonstration. Judith used an Italian glass rod and glass torch to create a beautiful glass bead of opaque and coloured glass.

In general, I think I am a happy person. I love my life, and most of the time I feel fortunate. Judith Sleavin reminded me that each of us has the spirit to survive and as her poem in her book says “I promise to fill my life with love.” She does just that and I was lucky to have a little bit of that love rub off on me, thank you Judith.



  1. What a heartbreaking story. I don’t know how poor Judith manages to wake every morning with so much tragedy in her past.
    And how can people on that ship be so cruel? It’s unconscionable.
    It looks like Judith has found love in her artwork.

  2. Wow Sean–super post! I did not know that she had relocated to New Zealand either until reading one of my post’s comments.

    Thanks for offering this additional personal insight to go with her amazing story.

    I’ll link this over at my place.

    Enjoy your time there and I hope you don’t have any airline trouble on the return flight.

  3. EMAIL FROM Karin

    “Lex read out loud your last blog and he bought the book – what a terrible experience it must have been. I just hope that the 3 years they were on the yacht made up for a lot of precious moments to cherish. ”



    Judith Sleavin

    Hi Sean, I did read your blog, yesterday. Thank you for writing so beautifully, with sensitivity and insight. I really appreciate it.

    I enjoyed meeting you and Cathie, hoping to see Cathie again in a class, maybe??? Don’t be a stranger, possibly our paths will cross again.

    Warm Regards,


  5. Inspiring, and beautiful. How often we learn from other’s experiences! Thanks to you, Judith’s story will now stay very close to my heart. And perhaps, even give me strength when I need to be reminded what we are capable of.

  6. Thanks Sean for ‘relaying’ Judith’s story … I will track down the book.

    We all have a story in us, but Judith’s is one that goes from great heights (embarking on the journey) to great depths (the tragedy of losing all her immediate family) to great heights (embarking on a new life).

    I think it’s wonderful that she resides in New Zealand as that is the closest she can be to Ben, Annie, and Michael.

    • Hi, thanks for dropping by……just went to your blog……… lovely and so personal…the good thing about blogging is that you can have conversations with your mask off……… I really enjoyed yours.

  7. I have been so moved since I finished Ten Degrees of Reckoning. I am just in awe of Judith’s strength, and so inspired by her determination. What a beautiful woman. I can realate to the pain she has felt and the beauty that New Zealand offered with its healing powers. (a beautiful land full of lovely people) I wish for her happiness and peace.

    • Hi Dee, Thanks for dropping in…………I’m so glad you enjoyed the story of Judith………….I feel blessed to have met her and to have spent time with her……….she truly is a remarkable person.

  8. I hope you don’t mind me posting on here.

    I recently read the book about the Sleavin family tragedy while away in France with my husband and new baby daughter… needless to say I found it deeply moving. In part because of the loss but also because of the injustice of it all.

    My parents (who are both from England) actually met while living over on the North Island back in the 70’s and we also went on our honeymoon to NZ three years ago. It has a very special place in my heart, but even more so now I know of Judith’s incredible story. I cannot imagine what she has been through but I am completely in awe of her ability to find meaning in her life having lived through such a tragedy…

    Recognising the fragility of life makes me hold my daughter a little bit tighter and perhaps makes me more attentive to all those moments with her I could so easily miss and not be paying attention too.

  9. Hi Sean, I am producing a short slide show/video with Judith Sleavin about her studio, and I wonder if I could use images from your blog. Pls email me at mk(at)bullseyeglass(dot)com, so I can provide details. Lovely blog post. She is inspiring in her warmth and courage –Mary Kay

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