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Rally participant lost at sea entering the Bahamas

by Sail-World Cruising on 20 Nov 2010
Laura Zekoll - lost during rally .. .
Laura Zekoll from Atlanta, Georgia was not found by a search and rescue mission after being washed off a liferaft near the Bahamas. Steve Black, owner of Cruising Rally Association(CRA), last week had announced that Laura was the subject of a search and rescue mission by the US Coast Guard and the Bahamian Defense Force.

While the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for the Atlanta sailor, family and friends packed a midtown church last Tuesday night praying for her safety. Zekoll's friends made a plea to the Coast Guard to resume the search.

Zekoll was sailing with three others from Virginia to the British Virgin Islands in the 21st Annual Caribbean 1500 Rally. The 46-year-old woman was lost at sea after the sailboat she was on crashed into a reef. The boat capsized off the coast of the Bahamas.

'Basically they were hit by a giant wave, smashed into a reef,' said friend Meredith Jordon. 'They got into a life raft and were again swamped by a wave. That's the last time Laura was seen.'

It was dark, around 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening. Richard and Debra Ross, the owners of the vessel Rule 62, who are from Atlanta along with the other crew member, were airlifted to safety after their emergency signal was received by the coast guard. The U.S. Coast Guard searched more than 1,500 square miles. The search was called off Tuesday morning.

The news of the search was received by CRA mid-day on Sunday, November 14, 2010 from boat owner, Richard Ross. The emergency contact information for Laura Zekoll, was communicated to the Coast Guard who notified her contact that a search was in process. The notice of the search was shared with the fleet on Monday morning, during the radio check-in at 07:00 hours AST (Atlantic Standard Time).

Skipper Ross, also from Atlanta, had communicated earlier that they had made a decision to leave the fleet and divert to the Bahamas. During the radio check-in on Saturday at 19:00 hours AST, Richard reported a position near the Bahamas. According to the satellite transponder provided by the CRA to each vessel in the fleet, Rule 62 had stopped moving when the transponder reported at 20:56 hours AST Saturday, November 13.

Black, in his announcement, said, 'with great sadness, we report that Rule 62, a Jeanneau 46DS, was swamped while attempting entry into the Bahamas. Richard and crew including Laura Zekoll were washed overboard and recovered. The life raft was launched. Richard, Debra, Laura, and a fourth crew member, David Sheppard from Ellsworth, Maine 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 boat is currently on a reef in the Bahamas. Richard and Debra Ross and Sheppard were airlifted to safety after their emergency signal was received by the Coast Guard.

When the sailing vessel Rule 62 washed onto the reef, it had been part of a fleet of 65 sailing vessels, the majority of which were still at sea. The fleet had departed Hampton, VA on November 8, 2010 in route to the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Eleven other boats left Hampton VA in the Bahamas Class headed for Marsh Harbor.

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