Maiden voyages go from proud to tragic - Soundings Online

Maiden voyages go from proud to tragic

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Two boaters on opposite ends of the country die sailing the vessels they’d recently built themselves

Two boaters on opposite ends of the country die sailing the vessels they’d recently built themselves

Two maiden voyages aboard homemade sailboats proved fatal in November and December. One incident occurred on New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain and the other happened on Lake Michigan, off Milwaukee.

On Dec. 8, Coast Guard officials found the bodies of Frank Andrew and Gretchen Life, three days after local police discovered Andrew’s 18-foot sailing dory, Fox Feathers, capsized on Lake Pontchartrain. Andrew and Life, both 39, were married in July 2002 and moved to Gretna, La., about two years ago.

“A cold front blew into the region [the day after they set off], which kicked up the wind and waves,” says Coast Guard spokesperson Kyle Niemi. “It got pretty rough.”

When officials found Fox Feathers, the boat had sustained damage to the mast but did not show signs of a collision, Niemi says. Andrew was wearing a PFD but Niemi could not confirm whether Life was. Andrew began building Fox Feathers, the third boat he had built, in 2004 and documented his progress on his Web site, www.oneluckyguy.com. (At press time, the Web site was no longer accessible.)

“This obviously isn’t the ending we desired,” Niemi says. “At the very least, families can have some closure about it.”

Nearly one month earlier, on Lake Michigan, sailor Jeff Waldman, 56, of Glendale, Wis., fell overboard during the maiden voyage of the 35-foot sailboat he had built and named Dandelion. Waldman, who was not wearing a PFD, was trying to untangle the boat’s rigging when a wave hit the boat, sending him into the 55-degree water, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Coast Guard and Milwaukee Fire Department officials searched the lake for two days but were unsuccessful in recovering the body. Waldman’s wife, 18-year-old son and a friend were on board at the time of the accident.