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Tall ship sailor swept overboard

Laura Gainey was washed off the 180-foot PictonCastle when it “took an unusually large sea”

Laura Gainey was washed off the 180-foot PictonCastle when it “took an unusually large sea”

A 25-year-old trainee was washed off the aft deck of the 180-foot tall ship PictonCastle late last year in 40-knot winds and seas of more than 20 feet. After an extensive three-day Coast Guard search, Laura Gainey, daughter of hockey great Bob Gainey, was presumed dead.

“The ship took an unusually large sea, washing Laura from the deck where she was,” says Picton Castle Capt. Daniel Moreland in an interview with Soundings. Moreland wasn’t on board at the time of the accident, which occurred Dec. 8 about 500 miles off Cape Cod, Mass. A sail training ship, the three-masted barque ( ) had set out in late November from its home port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and was headed for Grenada when the young sailor was swept overboard. “The captain and crew responded immediately with deployment of gear, stopping the ship, activating alarms and signals, commenced a search, contacted me ashore, and contacted the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards.”

Gainey, who wasn’t wearing a PFD, was on the aft shelter deck area, “a very difficult place to get washed from,” Moreland says. “We don’t know precisely what she was doing at the time. She was off watch.” Gainey went overboard in the Gulf Stream, Moreland says, and estimated water temperature was about 70 degrees.

Moreland, who is 52, has an unlimited U.S. Coast Guard master’s license and has been with the PictonCastle for 14 years, including four circumnavigations. The captain on board PictonCastle during the voyage, Michael Vogelsgesang, also is a fully licensed master mariner, says Moreland.

Using C-130 aircraft, U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard personnel reportedly flew 3,175 square miles searching for Gainey, assisted by the PictonCastle, the tanker Mindanao, and the 300-foot container ship Strong Patriot. The search was called off on the evening of Dec. 11.

“We wish to sincerely thank all the people who have been involved in the search for our darling Laura,” the Gainey family says in a statement. “Their extensive efforts and their tremendous support throughout this ordeal will never be forgotten.”

Authorities from the Cook Islands — a cluster of islands northeast of New Zealand where the Picton Castle is registered — hired a retired U.S. Naval Reserves captain to conduct a preliminary investigation into Gainey’s death. The investigator met the PictonCastle to interview the crew once the ship arrived in Grenada Jan. 3.

Gainey was the second-youngest child of Bob Gainey, a hall-of-fame player and executive vice president and general manager of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Gainey spent his entire playing career with the Canadiens, from 1973 to 1989, and helped the team win five Stanley Cup championships.

“She was very dedicated, hard-working and was loved by her shipmates and me,” says Moreland, who had known Gainey for about nine months. “She was extremely keen to make this voyage after her experiences sailing with the ship from Cape Town [South Africa] to Nova Scotia in the ship’s fourth world voyage this past spring. She was a fun, strong and passionate person.”

Soundings covered the PictonCastle’s first circumnavigation (1997 to 1999) in a series of periodic dispatches written by then-crewmember Kristin Ellison.