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Va. couple sailing to Portugal go missing after boat damaged in storm

Yanni Nikopoulos, left, and Dale Jones were reported missing June 20 while sailing from Virginia to Azores, Portugal. (U.S. Coast Guard)
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The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the whereabouts of a Virginia Beach couple who did not return home days after they were expected to come back from a sailing trip to Portugal’s Azores islands.

Yanni Nikopoulos and Dale Jones, both 65, were reported missing late last week by Jones’s daughter, who said she had not heard from her mother since she told her on June 13 that rough weather had damaged their boat, the Coast Guard said in a statement Tuesday. The two were heading back to Hampton, Va., the Coast Guard said.

The couple, who were about 460 miles from Virginia Beach at the time, did not have a set return date but were anticipated to return Monday, Jones’s daughter told the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Connie Terrell told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the Coast Guard does not have reason to believe the couple is in distress but is investigating to determine where they might be now. She said the Coast Guard Fifth District has reached out to other counterparts including the Azores, Bermuda, Canada and Coast Guard First District, which covers New England, to see whether the couple has turned up in another jurisdiction. But a formal search has not been initiated because the potential search area at this time is so vast, Terrell said.

A voice mail left at a number listed for Jones’s daughter was not immediately returned Wednesday.

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Weeks before the trip, Jones posted a video showing the couple on the boat during an unexpected rainstorm.

“It came out of nowhere! The wind was so strong it leaned the boat to port side,” Jones wrote in the May 16 caption. “I guess it’s a little taste of what to expect on occasion.”

And it came out of nowhere! The wind was so strong it leaned the boat to port side. I guess it's a little taste of what to expect on occasion

Posted by Dale Evelyn Jones on Monday, May 16, 2022

Nikopoulos and Jones departed June 8 from Old Comfort Point Marina in Hampton and set sail for the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean known for dolphin and whale watching. Five days later on June 13, the couple communicated that their vessel, Kyklades, had sustained damage and that they were returning home, the Coast Guard said.

On Friday, Jones’s daughter contacted the Coast Guard, saying she had not heard from her mother since that communication and she was concerned.

Terrell said the reported damage was to a sail. She said the couple had a backup sail, but “we’re not sure whether they were able to make repairs out at sea and continue on to the Azores or if they turned around and went farther north.”

Although there has not yet been a formal search for the sailors, the Coast Guard Fifth District command center issued an urgent marine information broadcast to alert boaters in the area who might have seen them and also deployed two HC-130 Hercules search-and-rescue aircrews, one of which was on a routine mission but kept “a sharp lookout” for them, Terrell said.

In addition, the Coast Guard is tracking their cellphone and radio pings while working with its counterparts to narrow down a search area for the aircrews, Chief Brian Gainey, command duty officer, said in a statement.

“In situations like this, where there are so many unknowns, our coordination efforts need to cast a wide and intentional net,” Gainey said. “It’s a lot of detective work, but it’s all in service to finding these two individuals and bringing them home to their families.”