Boat of missing sailor Donald Lawson found off Mexico coast

Donald Lawson Image: Facebook/Captain Donald Lawson

The capsized boat of Baltimore sailor Donald Lawson, who went missing over two weeks ago in the Pacific Ocean, has been located off the coast of Mexico.

Lawson’s wife Jacqueline Lawson has confirmed to media that his vessel, an 18m racing trimaran named Defiant, was located by a Mexican Navy search team around 650km south of Acapulco in Mexico.

The navy’s maritime and search unit is still searching for the 41-year-old experienced sailor. Defiant was equipped with a survival suit, a small dinghy and a liferaft. The Mexican Navy has found the suit and the dinghy during its search, but the life raft is missing.

“I view this as encouraging news,” Ms Lawson says in a statement issued on Sunday (30 July 2023). “I believe Donald used the life raft when the Defiant became disabled, and that he is still out there somewhere.”

Donald Lawson is the chairman of diversity, equity and inclusion of US Sailing and — alongside his wife — the co-founder of the non-profit Dark Seas Project, which promotes diversity in the sport. He was attempting to shatter multiple world records, and become the first African American sailor to complete a solo, nonstop circumnavigation across the world on a sailboat no longer than 60 feet.

Before Lawson acquired it, the Defiant had previously set a speed record in a 2017 race from California to Hawaii. It has also been used as a training boat for the America’s Cup race, according to Jacqueline Lawson.

Speaking to NBC affiliate WBAL of Baltimore, his brother Quentin Lawson revealed that Donald Lawson had been hoping to reach the goal in 70 days.

Quentin Lawson says that his brother departed from Acapulco on 5 July 2023 aboard Defiant, when “a storm knocked out one of the engines” on 9 July. The original plan had been to travel from Acapulco to Central America’s west coast, through the Panama Canal and to Baltimore, his brother tells WBAL. However, engine trouble prompted the sailor to change course and begin heading back to Acapulco.

Jacqueline Lawson has confirmed to WBAL that he had no engine power after the storm and was relying on a wind generator. The backup wind turbine failed several days later. Lawson’s family lost communication with him on 13 July.

Data from the vessel shows that Defiant lost speed on 12 July, after changing course and starting to travel into the wind.

“I believe something happened at that moment,” says Quentin Lawson. “It doesn’t make sense to turn out of the wind into the wind when you’re on [an] emergency route to turn back.”

In a 2022 interview published on the US Sailing website, Lawson said that when he took up sailing, “I was the only African American I saw, but my passion, love and drive made me forget about issues or people who didn’t want me there.”

Jacqueline Lawson added that she and her family remained “hopeful and optimistic” that her husband would be found alive.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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