American schooner Niña is officially lost at sea

Earlier this month, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) called off its search for 70-foot American schooner Niña, last heard from on June 4.
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 Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Earlier this month, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) called off its search for 70-foot American schooner Niña, last heard from on June 4.

On the night in which the Niña was last heard from, conditions in the Tasman Sea were rough: 26-foot waves and 50 mph winds with up to 68 mph gusts. Passenger Evi Nemreth sent New Zealand meteorologist Bob McDavitt a text message asking, “Any update 4 Niña? … Evi.” She made a call soon after saying, “The weather’s turned nasty, how do we get away from it?”

It was later discovered that 18-year-old American crew member Danielle Wright sent an undelivered text message using the boat’s satellite phone on June 4 that read, “THANKS STORM SAILS SHREDDED LAST NIGHT, NOW BARE POLES. GOING 4KT 310DEG WILL UPDATE COURSE INFO @ 6PM.”

Seven people were on board Niña, owned and skippered by David A. Dyche of Panama City, Florida. Dyche, 58, was traveling with his wife Rosemary, 60, and his son David, 17. Americans Evi Nemreth, 73, Danielle Wright, 18, and Kyle Jackson, 27; as well as Briton Matthew Wootton, 35, were also aboard when Niña lost contact.

Niña, built in 1928 and purchased by Dyche in 1988, left Opua in the Bay of Islands for Newcastle, Australia on May 29. She was equipped with a satellite phone, a Spot satellite tracking personal tracker and an EPIRB. In her final days, distress signals weren’t transmitted from either device.

News of the missing boat reached the RCCNZ on June 14, initiating an extensive search of New Zealand’s waters. The efforts included a search area of 737,000 square nautical miles; about eight times the size of New Zealand and also the largest search ever performed by the RCCNZ. Visual and radar searches began on June 25, including aerial checks of nearby shores with a fixed-wing aircraft. A helicopter was sent out on June 29 to fly from Port Waikato to New Plymouth looking for a liferaft or crew. On July 6, the search was called off. RCCNZ’s Operations Manager, John Seward, said, “The search has been extremely thorough and we are confident that had the yacht or liferaft been within those search areas, we would have found them.”

As a sailing ship, Niña was something of a cruising icon. She was designed by Starling Burgess and built by Ruben Bigelow in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the 1928 race from New York to Santander, Spain, her first win of many. Niña was the first American boat to win the Fastnet Race, and then went on to win the 1929 race from London to the Chesapeake Bay. Niña won several races between 1934 and World War II, when she was briefly retired. In 1962, at 34 years, Niña became the oldest boat to win the Newport to Bermuda Race. After Dyche took ownership, Niña won the New York Mayor’s Cup in 1989 and the Schooner class at Antigua in 1994. The Dyche family dreamed of circumnavigating and had previously cruised her in the Mediterranean Sea and Caribbean Sea.

Check back in August, when SAIL will reveal the full investigation into the disappearance of Niña.

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