Laura Zekoll, 46, was lost and is now presumed dead after a Jeanneau 46DS named Rule 62 that was sailing in the Caribbean 1500 rally between Hampton, Virginia, and Tortola, BVI, foundered on a reef in the Bahamas on Saturday, November 13. Details are still sketchy, but the most recent published report has it that Rule 62 diverted to the Bahamas after Zekoll and another woman aboard became chronically seasick.
Rule 62 was one of 65 boats that departed Hampton in the Caribbean 1500 start on Monday, November 8, which was delayed a week because of Hurricane Tomas. The crew aboard consisted of Zekoll and owners Richard and Debra Ross, all from Atlanta, Georgia, and David Sheppard, of Ellsworth, Maine.
Conditions between Bermuda and the southeast U.S. coast were reportedly strong with a high sea running, and after the start Rule 62, as well as other participants, announced they were diverting to other destinations. By Saturday evening Rule 62 had reached the barrier islands east of Great Abaco Island. The tracking feature on the Caribbean 1500 website shows the boat was headed straight for the North Bar Channel off the north end of Lynyard Cay when for some reason it swerved south and went into the reef instead.
According to 1500 rally organizer Steve Black:
“With great sadness, we report that Rule 62, a Jeanneau 46DS, was swamped while attempting entry into the Bahamas. Richard (Ross) and crew Laura Zekoll were washed overboard and recovered. The life raft was launched. Richard, Debra, Laura, and a fourth crewmember, David Sheppard, entered the life raft with life jackets on and attempted to row it to safety. The life raft subsequently overturned in swells. Richard, Debra, and David were separated from Laura and washed up on the beach.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, the Bahamian Defense Force and the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association searched for Zekoll for three days, but with no luck and eventually called off the effort.
Cruiser bulletin boards across the net have been alive with commentary, and several have strongly criticized the attempt to enter the inlet after dark. Very large swells—conditions described locally in the Abacos as a "rage"—were reportedly running at the time.
Laura Zekoll, by all accounts, was a pretty amazing lady. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution she lost partial use of her right arm in a motorcycle accident at age 16, but overcame this disability to become an avid sailor, hiker, airplane pilot and softball player. She was CEO and founder of a successful computer firm and was active with several non-profit groups.
Earlier this year the World Cruising Club (WCC), which runs the famous ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) between the Canary Islands and St. Lucia (as well as several other events), announced it would be acquiring Steve Black's Cruising Rally Association, which runs the Caribbean 1500 rally. At a press conference last month, WCC principals Andrew Bishop and Jeremy Wyatt said they would observe the operations of the Caribbean 1500 this year before making any decisions as to changes they might make.