Possible clue in yacht's disappearance

MISSING: From left David Dyche IV, 17, Rosemary Dyche, 60, David Dyche III, 58, cruising on the Nina.
MISSING: From left David Dyche IV, 17, Rosemary Dyche, 60, David Dyche III, 58, cruising on the Nina.

A piece of wood with the letters "ina" on it has given families of the missing American yacht Nina hope the mystery of its disappearance may be solved.

But now the piece of wood, seen recently on a Queensland beach, has been lost again and families concede it could equally have come from a sign with the word "China" or, more likely, "marina", on it.

Seven people were aboard the 85-year-old American-flagged schooner when it sailed from Opua in Northland on May 29, bound for Newcastle, Australia. It was last heard from on June 4 during storm in the Tasman Sea.

LOST AT SEA: The Nina and her crew.
Bringing home the Nina and her crew/Facebook
LOST AT SEA: The Nina and her crew.

A massive New Zealand-led search found nothing and was called off, but families of the missing continue to look.

The parents of crew member Danielle Wright, 18, Ricky and Robin Wright of Louisiana, say they have spent US$500,000 (NZ$620,000) of their own money in private searches out of Norfolk Island, Lord Howe Island and now Queensland.

They posted on their Facebook page that the wood with "INA" on it was found at Waddy Point on Fraser Island, 240 kilometres north of Brisbane. A fisherman reported the "broken" piece to them.

Last week they searched the area without success.

Last night they told Channel Seven's Today Tonight they believed the boat was still afloat and its crew living off fish and rainwater.

But they wanted to check the report of the piece of wood.

If found, Ricky Wright said "that will be the end".

His wife added: "We will know she sank [and] we're not looking for a boat."

Channel 7 said they found the beach area littered with wood, but nothing with the letters on it.

The family have appealed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to put out a daily alert to merchant vessels and aircraft to be on the lookout for the Nina. The authority has declined.

The Wrights say they know of seven boats that have drifted from around Norfolk Island to Australia's eastern coastline.

Nina's fate is disputed in sailing circles.

Critics claim it would have failed the standard "Cat-1" inspection Maritime New Zealand imposes on all locally flagged vessels leaving the country. Foreign-flagged boats are not required to undergo inspection.

Nina had a large amount of sail - although its last message said they were under bare masts in a storm - but critics say it may have become "hogged" with age, meaning the centre or keel bent upward. Its sheer lines indicated the yacht's back may have been broken.

Fairfax Media