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Search for Laura Gainey suspended

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
LUNENBURG, N.S. (CP) - As hope that Laura Gainey would be found alive was all but extinguished Monday, her family, fellow crew members and a town with deep seafaring roots grieved the loss of a woman who loved her life aboard a three-masted ship.

In Portsmouth, Va., a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said their search for the daughter of Montreal Canadiens hockey legend Bob Gainey was suspended three days after a rogue wave swept her into the mid-Atlantic.

Petty Officer Larry Chambers confirmed that the tall ship Picton Castle would continue looking for its missing mate, but the coast guard's search aircraft had been called back to its base in North Carolina.

In Lunenburg, where two black pillars on the waterfront serve as a stark memorial to those lost at sea, postal carrier Nancy Rogers stood before the ship's home office and remarked on the sense of resignation in the historic community.

"I didn't have to know her, but she was a sailor. They all have the same heart. They go to sea, knowing that's what they want to be doing."

Less than two weeks ago, the square-rigged barque set sail from here for a six-month tour that would take it to the Caribbean.

Gainey, 25, was a member of the crew, a leading seaman with responsibility for certain watches and instruction of volunteer trainees.

She was standing in a protected area of the ship on Friday when the vessel was swamped by a huge wave.

When the crew realized Gainey was missing, they dropped radar deflectors and lighted buoys in the water.

She wasn't wearing a life-jacket, but the temperature of that area of the ocean - about 700 kilometres off Cape Cod - was hovering around 20 C.

A coast guard spokesman had said Gainey, a strong swimmer, could probably survive for about 36 hours.

However, after 70 hours in the water "the likelihood of survivability" would "diminish rapidly," Chambers said.

On Monday, the ship's despondent senior captain emerged to read a statement on behalf of the crew.

"They are tired and, like us, they are devastated," said a bleary-eyed Daniel Moreland, who was in the ship's home port when Gainey was reported missing.

"But they soldier on. They have a job to do. So do we."

The ship is mainly used to provide adventurous holidays for anyone over the age of 18.

Those who sign up for the six-month apprenticeship program learn to become qualified square-rigged seafarers.

A two week trip costs about $2,100. The current six-month voyage from Lunenburg to the Caribbean, which started Nov. 29, cost about $20,000.

Bart Sutherland, a former crewman, said he spent three months with Gainey earlier this year as the ship sailed from Cape Town to Lunenburg.

"When she arrived, I saw a wonderful, wonderful young woman with a tremendous zest for life," Sutherland said from his home in Victoria. "She was unbelievably happy to be on board the Picton Castle."

Though Gainey had struggled with drugs earlier in life, she never spoke of her troubles, Sutherland said.

Instead she focused on helping others.

"Every time she walked by the galley, she'd stick her head in to talk to Joe, our cook, and say, `Do you need a hand with anything?' She was always on deck. Always bubbly. She didn't let anything bring her down."

Sutherland stressed that Gainey had plenty of experience on a tall ship, having sailed on a similar vessel before joining the Picton Castle.

"She was definitely not a novice .. She knew her way around the ship. She had gone through many, many safety drills," he said.

"Safety is drilled into absolutely everyone onboard that ship. I know for a fact she was not careless. She would not have been doing something silly when the accident happened."

He stressed that it wasn't unusual for the crew to not wear life-jackets during storms, mainly because heaving seas are so common on the open ocean and the Picton Castle is considered a very stable vessel, even in rough weather.

As well, he confirmed that crew members would not use tethers to clip themselves to the ship, a practice that is more common on smaller vessels.

Transport Canada spokesman Maurice Landry said the ship, registered in the Cook Islands, isn't subject to Canadian safety regulations.

"We had no jurisdiction in regards to this incident," he said in an interview from Moncton, N.B.

He said Canadian regulations state that Canadian-registered sail training vessels should have lifelines available for use in heavy weather.

However, there is no explicit rule that states the lines must be used.

Landry said if a safety concern is reported, then Transport Canada can investigate. But he said no complaints have been raised over the past decade about the Picton Castle.

Doug Prothero, chairman of the Canadian Sail Training Association, said he doubted whether his industry group would investigate.

"In any industry you're in, you would reflect," he said from Lunenburg. "As far as an investigation, none that I can think of."

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