An American teenager's final family voyage before he started university struck apparent disaster when the schooner he was sailing on with his parents vanished on the Tasman Sea.
David Dyche IV, 17, his father, David Dyche III, 58, and mother, Rosemary, 60, have not been seen since May 29, when they and four others left the Bay of Islands for Australia on the 21-metre vintage racing schooner Nina.
On May 21, Dyche III wrote on his Facebook page that this would be his last trip with his son.
"Dave is leaving and going to college in the States in July. This is our last trip together crossing the Tasman Sea."
The Nina has not been heard from since June 4.
The Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) started a communications search on June 14, as well as daily aerial searches since Tuesday, but have found no sign of the vessel.
An extensive search was undertaken today along the northern west-coast of New Zealand, in an area where RCCNZ predicted it could be based on drift modelling.
"We tasked a twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft to search the shoreline and coast starting at Tauroa Point, along Ninety Mile Beach, north of Northland, and out to and around Three Kings Islands, but unfortunately there was no sign of the vessel or crew," said RCCNZ’s Mission Controller Neville Blakemore.
The aerial search yesterday focused on an area along 90 Mile Beach north to Three Kings Islands. This search area was based on a scenario that the Nina had run into trouble, forcing the crew to take to a lifeboat or cling to debris.
Blakemore said it held "grave concerns" for the crew but "remain hopeful of a positive outcome".
"We are concentrating our efforts now on liferafts and debris."
Three days before departure Dyche III wrote of his concerns with winds on the Tasman.
"The Tasman Sea is shooting gales out like a machine gun, living up to it's (sic) reputation. We are shooting at leaving out after the first one this week. No doubt we will be dancing with one or two of them."
The Nina was in good condition and could handle most weather conditions, Dyche's son, Kevin Donovan, said from Florida yesterday.
"The New Zealand search and rescue teams are trying their best. I still have hope they will be found alive."
Dyche III, the captain and owner of the missing yacht, is an experienced sailor who has captained boats all his life, Donovan said.
The Nina was built in 1928 for a race from New York to Spain.
Dyche III has owned it since 1988 and won many schooner class races around the world, according to a blog entry by Rosemary Dyche.
The family set off on their dream voyage in 2008, picking up crew along the way.
At last contact they were 370 nautical miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga travelling with three other Americans (aged 18, 28 and 73-year-old Evi Nemeth) and a 35-year-old British man.
Dyche III used to be a sailing teacher before turning to ocean cruising with his family, Donovan said.
The Nina was in good condition and could handle most weather conditions, he said.
Donovan spent three years from 1991 sailing from America to the Baltic sea and back on the Nina with his mother and stepfather.
The family trio aboard the yacht have been cruising the world for a number of years now, he said.
New Zealand search and rescue teams have been trying their best, he said, and he is still hopeful his family will be found alive.
'THE WEATHER'S TURNED NASTY'
The last that was heard from the crew was a text message saying "The weather's turned nasty, how do we get away from it?"
The message was sent to a meteorologist on June 4, six days into the Nina's expected 12-day voyage from Opua in the Bay of Islands for Newcastle, Australia, and about 370 nautical miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga
The crew's experience ranged from a professional sailor and the captain, to another man on the boat who had no boating experience, according to the RCCNZ.
RCCNZ was contacted by concerned family and friends and started a "communications search" on June 14.
"In the event it sinks very quickly, it may have been trapped in the vessel, and we won't get a signal if it goes under water any depth at all," Rescue Co-ordination Centre co-ordinator Kevin Banaghan said.
The emergency beacon, located in the cabin, was likely to be a hydrostatic release beacon, RCCNZ said yesterday. This meant it would either need to be manually released, or it would go off when it got wet.
He said the estimate of a 12-day trip was "very ambitious" given the weather conditions, especially given they had been asked to wait out the storm. The Australian Maritime Authority did not expect them to arrive before June 25.