Annapolis Publisher Is Still Missing

By Ray Rivera and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 12, 2006

Philip Merrill, the firebrand newspaper publisher and diplomat known for his devotion to journalism and the environment, remained missing yesterday after his sailboat was found drifting alone Saturday in strong winds in the Chesapeake Bay.

Family members, friends and longtime employees of Merrill's Annapolis-based publishing empire, which includes Washingtonian magazine and the Capital newspaper, held on to dwindling hopes yesterday as searchers looked for him late into the night in the waters about 20 miles south of Annapolis, where his 41-foot sailboat, Merrilly, was found unmanned Saturday evening by a pair of passing Jet Skiers.

Well after dark, Maryland authorities announced that the search would be suspended at midnight and would resume this morning.

Throughout the day, crews from the Coast Guard and the Maryland Natural Resources Police used small boats, helicopters and a C-130 aircraft to search an area roughly 25 miles by 8 miles, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Adam Mach.

Merrill, 72, has been an avid sailor since age 7, when he began swabbing boats in exchange for sailing lessons. ESPN sailing analyst Gary Jobson frequently sailed with Merrill and said it wasn't unusual for him to go out alone.

Jobson said Merrill has owned the craft for about two decades and could manage it alone well from its aft cockpit. But as winds surpassed 20 knots Saturday, the boat might have become a "handful," Jobson said. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a small craft advisory for the bay Saturday with 20- to 25-knot winds and 3-foot waves.

"That's pretty strong," Jobson said. "You'd want to err on the side of caution." According to the Coast Guard, Merrill left his waterfront home in Arnold, across the Severn River from Annapolis, about 2:20 p.m. Saturday. Merrill's wife, Ellie, contacted authorities shortly after 6 p.m. because her husband said he would be home by that time, Mach said. The boat was spotted roughly an hour later. Merrill's wallet was inside the craft.

Investigators believe he wasn't wearing a life vest, Mach said, because his wife told them he generally didn't use one.

Mach said yesterday that the length of the search would rest on such factors as estimated survivability based on water temperature. A small craft advisory remained in effect yesterday, and water temperatures hovered around 62 degrees.

The boat was found with no apparent damage, Mach said. "The sails were up, and the motor was on," he said. Investigators said they have found no evidence of foul play.

An account on the Capital's Web site said one of those who apparently boarded the boat found blood "in the back" of the craft. The account said he described the amount of blood as small, but he did not elaborate. In addition, the account in the Capital said the engine was off when the boat was found.

Family members said in a statement yesterday that Merrill "had sailed the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Adriatic Sea and often in adverse conditions without incident. . . . He just couldn't resist a sunny day with the wind at his back."

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