A 25ft yacht which disappeared whilst sailing from the UK's south coast to Ireland as part of the Jester Baltimore Challenge fleet has been found, but solo skipper Duncan Lougee was not aboard.
The missing Jester Challenger folkboat Minke has been located in UK waters, 70 miles north west of Trevose Head, Cornwall, but single-handed yachtsman Duncan Lougee was not on board.
It follows an appeal for sightings of Duncan when Minke did not arrive in Ireland on 22 June as expected, having departed from Plymouth, Devon on 18 June.
All other Jester Challengers who set sail from Plymouth and Pwllheli, Wales, have arrived at Baltimore in Ireland or retired to another port of their choice.
A spokesperson for the Irish Coast Guard said: “I can confirm the yacht has been found, but the captain wasn’t.”
Yesterday afternoon, MRCC Dublin was advised of a possible sighting of Minke approximately 75 miles south east of Ballycotton, County Cork. The Waterford based Coast Guard helicopter R117, which was conducting a search in the vicinity, was immediately tasked to the scene.
A crew member from R117 boarded the vessel and conducted a visual check. Unfortunately the missing skipper was not onboard. R117 then departed the scene, as the vessel was positioned in the UK search and rescue region.
A spokesperson for the Jester community said: “After five days of intense search of the Celtic Sea and its periphery by the UK and Irish coastguards, and after five days of intense anguish for Duncan Lougee’s family and friends, Minke was finally located yesterday afternoon.
“She was drifting at a point 75 miles south-east of Ballycotton on the County Cork coast, at a mid-point of the Celtic Sea that in fact put her within the UK jurisdiction. After an initial investigation by a helicopter from the Irish coastguard, the UK authorities took over, sending a helicopter and a lifeboat to retrieve Minke.
“Duncan, tragically, was no longer on board. When and how he had become parted from his much-loved Minke is yet to be determined. The investigations of the UK coastguard and the Devon and Cornwall Police continue. In the meantime the Jester Challenge community holds firm and sends its full support to Duncan’s nearest and dearest.”
Extensive searches for Minke involved Falmouth Maritime Coastguard Agency and the Irish Coastguard, including a fixed wing search of the area between the Scillies and Baltimore.
Everyone involved was perplexed by the absence of any sign of Minke’s position, as Duncan was carrying both an Emergency Position-Indicating Beacon (EPIRB) and a personal locator beacon (PLB), neither of which were activated.
Conditions in the Celtic Sea have generally been benign throughout the last week, further contributed to the puzzle.
Spokesman for the challenge, Roger Taylor said previously: “This is a particularly difficult time for Duncan’s partner, who is showing great fortitude during the wait for some firm news and the thoughts of all the Jester Challengers, past and present, are with her.”
He added: “The Jester Challenge has a large community of followers with 178 skippers having participated in challenges. The whole community is shocked and numbed by the disappearance of such an experienced fellow-sailor.”
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What is the Jester Challenge?
The Jester Challenge is an opportunity for skippers to test their boats and their seagoing mettle in a supportive and non-competitive environment. It is not a race in any way, shape or form.
Every two years a group of singlehanded sailors heads for Plymouth to sail across the Atlantic. The Challenge in 2024 will see them head off to the Azores and 2026 will likely see them making a full Atlantic crossing to Newport, Rhode Island.
In the intervening odd years there is a less challenging passage to Baltimore in Ireland.
Skippers can make stopovers in other ports or harbours if they so desire, and there is no stigma attached to retiring from the event. Each sailor takes full responsibility for him or herself, their boat and the equipment they carry.
There is no entry fees and virtually no rules, although there are guidelines.
This year’s 250-mile Jester Baltimore Challenge saw a total of 43 yachts take part, the main fleet from Plymouth and another 14 from a simultaneous start in Pwllheli, Wales – the biggest Jester fleet of all time.
PBO’s Jake Kavanagh had a long interview with Duncan before he left, and said “both man and machine were in top shape”.
Sailing community appeal
In a Facebook post appealing for sightings, Duncan is described as “6ft 1in, white male with glasses, late 60’s. Probably wearing Musto oilskins with waterproof Dubarry boots. Fit healthy individual.”
The last sighting of Minke was near Helford River 1400 Monday 19 June 2023.
Minke is a 25ft fibreglass folkboat with a white hull and white sails. Her sail number is FB597.
Duncan was expected to arrive in Baltimore, Ireland on 22 June, or 23 June at the latest.
Fiona Gordon-Clarke said ‘on behalf of the family’: “We are just desperate for any information however small.
“Duncan is an experienced yacht broker, boat builder and sailor with many miles of sailing including single handed crossing Atlantic, 3 x trips from Plymouth to Azores and back.
“He has even done this trip to Baltimore in Ireland before.”
‘No new searches planned’
In a statement, the Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that the missing yacht Minke by the Irish Coast Guard, around 70 miles northwest of Trevose Head, Cornwall, stating: “It appears that no one was on the vessel and therefore the boats skipper, 70-year-old Duncan Lougee from Colchester, Essex, remains a missing person.”
Detective Inspector Daniel Massey said: “Yacht Minke has been brought to shore and is currently docked in Padstow Harbour. We continue to liaise with partners including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Marine Accident Investigation Branch, and the Coroner’s Office in relation this matter.
“Whilst Mr Lougee remains officially a missing person, responsibility of searches in open water sits with the Coastguard. However, yacht Minke has been missing since it left Plymouth on Sunday 18 June, and initial enquires appear to show no fresh entries in the ships journal for at least nine days.
“Therefore, due to the potentially vast and prohibitive area of search at sea, at this time there is currently no new searches planned by Coastguard.”
A spokesperson from HM Coastguard said: “Extensive searches were carried out and coordinated by HM Coastguard and the yacht found. The search was terminated once it became clear that the period of survivability had passed.”
DI Massey added: “This matter will remain under review and if any fresh information comes to light, this will be assessed accordingly. We have informed the family of these initial updates and our thoughts are with them at this time; the family of Duncan Lougee have asked for privacy.”
You can find the latest updates on the Jester Challenge blog