Danielle Wright and David Dyche, two homeschooling teens, were sailing with five other shipmates from New Zealand to Australia last June when the schooner they were on disappeared. Since then, Ricky and Robin Wright of Lafayette, Louisiana, have been hoping and praying for a miracle that their daughter and the rest of the crew would be found alive and well.
Danielle Wright, an only child, was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. An avid reader, hiker, photographer, and anime fan, she fell in love with the ocean as a young teen when her family went sailing in the Caribbean. Danielle’s father told 3KATC.com: “She’s like a fish in the water. Danielle is a trained diver. She knows how to sail and work the rigging. She’s a good first mate. She’s always been my first mate when we’ve gone on sailing vacations.” In a biographical page at nina7.org, Danielle’s mother described her daughter as follows:
“Danielle was always a precocious kid, and not because I home schooled her, although I would love to take credit. I knew she was smarter than me when she was 3 years old. At 2, she just jumped in the pool and started swimming without lessons. She was reading at 3, started piano lessons at 4, and completed first grade before her 5th birthday. We moved to a small farm when she was four, so she grew up surrounded by animals with abundant opportunities to learn and explore. At 6, she could climb the tallest trees, milk the goats, and take care of feeding the animals. Her real passion was horseback riding, and by age 8, she could grab a handful of mane and swing herself up on her horse, Copper, and take off at break-neck speed. When Danielle was 13, the three of us decided to do something really shocking; we sold everything we owned in order to take a 2 year sabbatical in the Caribbean aboard a sailboat. We love sailing, and Danielle has been sailing with us on family vacations since she was 9 months old. Well, it took more time than expected to sell the farm and buy the boat, and we didn’t leave for Panama, where our boat was docked, until the day after Danielle’s 15th birthday.”
Upon arriving in Panama, the Wrights met the Dyche family. The Dyches were from the Florida Keys, but were living aboard their 70-foot vessel Nina, a 1928 mahogany schooner that was once the flagship of the New York Yacht Club. Ricky and Robin Wright befriended David and Rosemary Dyche, and Danielle became friends with David Dyche IV, a teen boy near her age.
The two teenagers had a lot in common. David was an only child, too, and had been homeschooled by his mother since he was 13. “He’s a bright kid, an expert yachtsman and he has been to many more places and seen more things than other kids his age,” family friend Pat Dunn told the Miami Herald.
The elder Dyche’s work as a sea captain for the Edison Chouest Offshore marine transport company allowed him to take extended leaves. Five years ago, the family set off on their dream to circumnavigate the globe. Their plan was to take a trip around the world in stages. Whenever Dyche had time off, he would take his wife and son on another leg of their adventure, homeschooling young David during their travels.
While the Dyche family proceeded on with their journey, the Wrights decided to reduce their planned two-year voyage to fourteen months because Danielle missed her friends, Facebook, and the Internet. They moored off the tropical coasts of Aruba, Colombia, Venezuela, and Grenada before heading back to the states.
Back at home, Danielle received her high school diploma at age 16, attended South Louisiana Community College, and enrolled as an honor student in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she sang in the UL Choir. Although Danielle loved English, her major was psychology with a minor in criminal justice. As much as she enjoyed travel and adventure, she also wanted to help people.
The Dyche and Wright families continued to keep in touch. In May 2013, the Dyche family invited Danielle to come along as part of the Nina’s crew for a trip from New Zealand to Australia. This was going to be the last leg of their voyage before David Dyche IV flew back to Florida to start college. The timing was just right for Danielle to go after finishing her sophomore year at UL. Danielle’s parents surprised her with a plane ticket as a special birthday present. Randy Wright said that his daughter was a free spirit who looked forward to traveling on her own as a sign of independence and adulthood.
The Nina set sail from the port city of Opua, New Zealand on May 29, 2013. There were seven people on board: Captain David Dyche, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, and their son David, 17 (soon to be 18); Evi Nemeth, 73; Kyle Jackson, 27; Matt Wootton, 35; and Danielle Wright, 19. Sydney is 1,000 miles west of Opua, but because of ocean currents and wind direction, the schooner had to sail north at first. The crew was last heard from on June 4, about 370 nautical miles west of New Zealand during a storm in the Tasman Sea, in a text message that read: “storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles.”
After receiving no further signals from the Nina, Ricky Wright realized that his daughter might be in trouble. But officials wouldn’t launch a search until the ship’s arrival in Australia was overdue. The Rescue Coordination Center of New Zealand (RCCNZ) started their search on June 26. On July 5, RCCNZ called off the search after finding no sign of the ship or its crew, saying the schooner was likely hit by a rogue wave and went down with all hands on board. “Given there was no debris, that would further suggest the boat sank,” said Nigel Clifford of Maritime New Zealand. “But it is a really big ocean. A really big ocean.”
No SOS messages were ever received from the Nina, and the emergency beacon was never activated. It’s possible that a lightning strike could have knocked out the ship’s engine and communications capabilities, leaving the crew powerless against the ocean currents. The Wrights believe an image that turned up on a satellite photo from September 16, 2013, which shows a shape similar to the Nina in the water, could be proof that the Nina did not capsize or sink, but was adrift at sea. If the Nina was still afloat, the occupants could survive with their onboard provisions, rainwater and fish to sustain them.
“We cannot assume the boat sank without evidence,” Danielle’s mom told the Associated Press. The devoted parents, owners of Sunbelt Business Brokers, temporarily moved to New South Wales, Australia, to spearhead their own search. The couple spent about $600,000 of their personal savings and donated money (from fundraisers, friends and family) on private planes. They also enlisted the help of Texas EquuSearch and the Tomnod crowdsourcing platform for satellite imagery searches. Danielle’s dad even received a pilot’s license in order to conduct his own flights over the Pacific. Without power or sails, the Nina could have drifted anywhere.
Throughout history, thousands of people have been lost at sea, never to be seen or heard from again. However, there are a handful that manage to survive against all odds. In an editorial at gCaptain.com, sailor Tim Payntor told of the Tasman’s notorious reverse circulating currents. “The Tasman Sea is famous,” he wrote, “for trapping boats and sailors for up to a year before spitting them out on Australian and New Zealand beaches.” Ralph Baird, a volunteer with Texas EquuSearch, thinks it’s entirely plausible that the Nina‘s crew is still alive. “Yachtsmen have been at sea for three years and lived off the ocean,” he said.
Robin Wright declared, “God’s grace and unfailing love and guidance has kept us strong and determined. We know that Danielle is in God’s hands, and that He’s providing for her and keeping her safe.” With the June 4 anniversary of the Nina’s disappearance soon approaching, Danielle’s mom recently posted on Facebook: “Ricky and I are wrapping up our visit to Australia and New Zealand in the next 2 weeks. It’s hard to even think about coming home without Danielle, but we’ve done everything we know to do to search for Nina.”
Still, Danielle’s mom is eternally hopeful. The South Pacific has hundreds of uninhabited islands, far away from shipping lines and aircraft flight paths. Robin Wright tearfully told the Mail Online, “I live every day with a picture in my mind of Danielle and the others living in their own little community on some remote island, having learned how to fend for themselves, catching fish and living off rainwater and coconuts.” She wrote on her Facebook page, “We know they can survive whatever the Tasman throws at them with God’s hand of protection covering them. Please keep all the family members and the crew in your thoughts and prayers as we continue to wait for our loved ones to resurface.”