by Des Ryan
In spite of fading hopes for the seven crew members of the vintage yacht Nina, missing in the Tasman Sea since June 04 and thought to have sunk, the family of one of the crew, British man Matthew Wootton, still hopes he will be found alive.
Wootton, from Lancaster, was on board the Nina, a famous 85-year-old schooner sailing from the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, to Newcastle on the New South Wales mid-north coast.
The yacht has not been heard from for three weeks, and New Zealand search and rescue services are scouring the area for any sign of the missing schooner or its crew.
Wootton, a Green party activist, had been traveling for about three and a half years – mostly in the Americas – and Australia was to be his last stop before heading home, his family said.
Wootton's mother Susan told the Daily Mail the family hoped the search for her son would continue, and criticised the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), which is running the search effort with help from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
'We are on the internet every minute of the day trying to find some news,' she said.
'We just want the New Zealand coastguard to keep on looking for the boat. They've only searched one third of the area they should be searching.'
Yesterday's (Monday's) search, building on the 500,000 square nautical miles already covered, concentrated on looking for a liferaft in an area off the extreme northern tip of New Zealand. The search was due to be called off for the day at 6pm local time (7am BST), RCCNZ told Guardian Australia.
'Then overnight the search and the results of the search are re-evaluated,' to make a decision on whether the continue the next day, an RCCNZ spokesman said.
The boat left Opua, on the east coast of the Northland area of New Zealand on 29 May and the last reported sighting was on 4 June. Ten days later RCCNZ initiated a search after concerns were raised by family and friends of the crew.
According to the Guardian, Wootton's family were made aware that he was on board the vessel only by people he had met while travelling, who became concerned when they heard the boat was missing.
Wootton joined the Nina's crew in New Zealand, along with the boat's owners David Dyche, 58; his wife, Rosemary, 60; and their son, 17-year-old David, who was due to start college in the US after this trip.
Wootton was known to be afraid of the sea, and of drowning.
He wrote extensively about his travels, including a creative writing entry from last July when he was travelling the Pacific Ocean on a freighter ship.
Wootton talked about his 'worst nightmare' of 'being overwhelmed by a tsunami'.
'But I can't help thinking I'm also just simply scared of death by drowning,' he wrote.
'Why then do I travel by freighter ship, why then do I want to sail across the ocean in a tiny sail boat?'
He said 'the sea still scares me', adding: 'As well it should. It is the only sensible reaction to be cautious of such a beast.'
The ocean could 'swallow this whole enormous ship' and 'not care', he said.
'Two miles deep in a matter of hours,' he wrote in the piece, entitled 'The Ocean'.
'The first mate assures me, helpfully, that yes, that could happen. Sometimes, they break in two, he says. And sink in minutes.'
The Nina carried a satellite phone and an emergency beacon (EPIRB), but the beacon was not activated. This, as pointed out previously by Sail-World, points to a catastrophic event which gave no time for its activation.
The last verbal contact from the vessel was a phone call made about 370 nautical miles west-north-west of Cape Reinga. from Nemeth to a meteorologist, Bob McDavitt, asking how to escape the bad conditions they had encountered.
McDavitt told Guardian Australia he suggested to Nemeth the Nina should 'tweak their position' to head south and then 'heave to'.
McDavitt said he sent a few more updates via text to the satellite phone, and the final contact from the Nina was a text message a day later.
'ANY UPDATE 4 NINA?.... EVI.'
It was the last known contact made by the Nina.
Five aerial searches have been conducted by RCCNZ based on various scenarios covering an area of 600,000 square nautical miles, as well as two aerial searches of the New Zealand shoreline looking for wreckage.