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Not the outcome I had imagined

Published on August 7th, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I didn’t know of Donald Lawson before 2020, but in a story from US Sailing, he spoke of 12 records he planned to break, ranging from shorter point-to-point courses such as New York to Miami to the circumnavigation record.

Record-breaking statements get attention, and Lawson wanted attention. In a 2022 story by US Sailing, his aspirations had grown. He was now looking to break 35 sailing records over the next ten years in a soon-to-be-announced trimaran.

That announcement came a couple months later when he acquired the ORMA 60 Trimaran Mighty Merloe in San Diego. Mighty Merloe was well known on the California offshore circuit, having set the Transpac Race elapsed record in 2017. It seemed like a massive leap at the time, as this was no ordinary boat which needed significant training to master.

This was April 2022, and it did not take long for social media to capture mishaps as Lawson conducted a west coast tour to San Francisco, furthering the goals of his Dark Seas Project to develop, educate, and diversify the sport of sailing.

This elite trimaran was oddly pulled up on a beach in San Francisco Bay for boat work, and odder yet to see it aground on an offshore island due to anchoring difficulties. There were collisions with UFOs too. Each time I checked in with Lawson, he responded promptly and with optimism, yet his timeline for record-setting kept slipping.

His plan to set a solo and nonstop around the world record, with a start date in February 2023 from Honolulu, had come and gone. I was losing confidence in his explanations, and feared he was using this tremendous boat, the pursuit of records, and his African American race for notoriety. In a February 2023 report, he spoke of setting 15 to 18 world sailing records by 2028.

But when January 2023 Facebook photos showed the boat in Mexico with torn sails and hull damage, Lawson noted how the boat was being serviced in Acapulco to “focus on reliability and improved distance versus 2 to 3 days which was typical for her.” He also said the repairs and upgrades should take two weeks, with immediate plans to test again with another passage. That was January 30th.

His Facebook updates would note how problems persisted, and he finally left Acapulco on July 5, 2023 to sail solo to the Panama Canal and ultimately Baltimore, MD to prepare for a singlehanded world record attempt for circumnavigation on the trimaran this fall.

But when communication was lost on July 12, and he had covered less than 300 nm in a week, a search found his capsized boat on July 25 with no sign of Lawson or his life raft. He allegedly had an EPIRB which was never triggered. Active searches for Lawson by the Mexican Navy and US Coast Guard have been suspended.

Through all his bluster and self-promotion, this was not the outcome I had imagined. Did he not recognize his limits? Did he not sufficiently understand the boat? Was he financially stable?

“The boat was the best ORMA 60 ever built,” said Artie Means who was navigator for the Transpac record, “but not designed for the ‘average’ sailor. It was delicate. In my opinion Mr. Lawson had zero chance of setting any records himself, and very little chance of even completing a passage on such a complicated yacht with so little training.”

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