Nina, a 70-foot schooner that was a racer, a flagship, a training vessel for aspiring mariners and the unrequited love of so many sailors, went missing with seven people aboard.
John Rousmaniere remembers the last time he saw Nina in top form. It was 1962, and it was dazzling its way to Bermuda, leaving a bunch of younger and sleeker challengers in its wake.
It already was a rare craft, a mahogany schooner racing across the ocean against a pack of sloops and yawls. It had been 15 years since it was the flagship of the New York Yacht Club, but the yacht was still turning heads with its sails billowing out from its wooden masts.
“It was really dramatic” to race against Nina, Mr. Rousmaniere recalled a few days ago, as news of the vessel’s disappearance spread. “It’s a tragedy that she’s been lost.”
The 70-foot schooner left New Zealand in late May, bound for the west coast of Australia with seven people aboard, including a family from Florida who had sailed it around the world for more than four years. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, those on the yacht included the family — David Dyche, 58; his wife, Rosemary, 60; and their son David — Evi Nemeth, 73; and a Briton, Matthew Wootton, 35. A 28-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman, identified by her father as Danielle Wright, according to the Australian newspaper The Age, were also aboard.
The last known communication from Nina was on June 4 when it was caught in a severe storm. A text message released on Thursday, which had been sent by satellite phone from the vessel to a meteorologist, said, “THANKS STORM SAILS SHREDDED LAST NIGHT, NOW BARE POLES,” and indicated that information about its course would soon be updated. No such update ever came, and the BBC reported that rescuers called off the search for the yacht last week.
Aerial searches of a vast expanse of the Tasman Sea yielded no sign of the schooner or any of its passengers. Leaders of the search said they believed it sank suddenly in the storm, leaving no time for the crew to deploy lifeboats.
If Nina did sink, it would spell the end of a long, eventful life that took the yacht from its creation on Cape Cod to New York City, to Bermuda and back many times, across the Atlantic to Europe, to Florida and, finally, to the South Pacific. Along the way, it was a racer, a flagship, a training vessel for aspiring mariners and the unrequited love of so many sailors.
“She represents the end of an era,” said Nick van Nes, whose father, Hans, owned Nina for more than 15 years. “You rarely see so much love and loyalty going into a boat.”
Mr. van Nes, 68, recalled that when his father was looking for a place to keep Nina after leaving the New York area for New England, the schooner was embraced wherever he took it. “He sailed into Vineyard Haven, and the owner of the shipyard said, ‘You can dock here anytime as my guest. I’d be honored,’ ” Mr. van Nes recounted on Friday from his home on Martha’s Vineyard.
Nina was built in 1928 on Cape Cod, designed by William Starling Burgess for its first owner, Paul Hammond. The schooner immediately shocked the yachting world in July 1928 by winning a race from New York to Santander, Spain, and capturing a cup offered by the queen of Spain.
A month later, Nina won the Fastnet Race off the coast of England, and its competitive credentials were established.
In 1935, DeCoursey Fales, a banker who was a member of the New York Yacht Club, bought Nina. When Mr. Fales was elected commodore of the yacht club, whose headquarters are in a Beaux-Arts landmark building on 44th Street in Manhattan, Nina became the club’s flagship.
Mr. Fales lovingly maintained Nina and raced it aggressively, Mr. Rousmaniere recalled. He kept the vessel at a boatyard at City Island, which then was a haven for racing yachts.
He made sure to keep Nina stripped down to its fighting weight.
“Day races, Bermuda races, overnight races, he kept at it,” Mr. Rousmaniere said.
By 1962, when Nina should have been well past its prime, Mr. Fales entered it in a Newport-to-Bermuda race against a pack of yawls and single-masted sloops. With the wind just right to take advantage of the schooner’s big sails, Mr. Fales sailed Nina to an unexpected victory.
“It was a very popular win because the boat was so handsome,” Mr. Rousmaniere said.
The health of Mr. Fales, who was 74 when he won the race to Bermuda, soon began to fail, but his enthusiasm for racing Nina did not. Mr. van Nes recalled seeing Mr. Fales strapped into the helm when he no longer had the strength to keep his balance on Nina. He died in 1966 while the boat was racing to Bermuda.
After his death, Nina passed from one owner to another, briefly belonging to the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. By 1975, the schooner had been sitting idle at a marina in Stamford, Conn., for a few years during a dispute over payment for repairs.
Mr. van Nes said he encouraged the marina’s owner to auction off Nina, because he wanted the vessel for himself. At the time, he was charging tourists and workers on Wall Street $3.75 for a 45-minute lunchtime cruise from Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan. There was so much demand for a short jaunt in the harbor, he was certain he could use another schooner there.
Mr. van Nes persuaded his father to bid up to $75,000 for Nina, promising to repay him over several years. Hans van Nes won the auction with a bid of $49,700, but Nina had the same effect on him that it had on so many other sailors.
Mr. van Nes never owned Nina because his father would not give it up. He took the schooner to Massachusetts and sailed it with a group of friends on regular trips from New Bedford to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and back, Mr. van Nes said.
“He just absolutely loved the boat, and everybody he sailed with loved it, too,” Mr. van Nes said. His father eventually sold Nina to Mr. Dyche, the Florida resident who was sailing the yacht when it disappeared en route to Australia last month.
Mr. van Nes confessed that his own sentiments toward Nina were so persistent that about a week before he heard of Nina’s disappearance, he had searched online for information about its whereabouts. Wistful, he said, he found a YouTube video of the Dyche family happily sailing it across the Atlantic, bound for Ireland. The schooner was still a sight to behold.
He recalled that Olin Stephens, one of the most successful designers of racing yachts in history, once told him that Nina was the only yacht that looked great from any angle. Try as he might, Mr. Stephens told him, he had never been able to match Nina in the looks department.
“That was always a great tribute to the boat,” Mr. van Nes said.