Search on for Baltimore sailor reported missing at sea near Mexico

Kim Hairston

A sailor from Baltimore who was hoping to shatter multiple world records on his boat has been missing for nearly two weeks and was last heard from off Acapulco, Mexico, his brother and the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Donald Lawson, 41, an experienced sailor, set off from Acapulco on July 5 on his 60-foot racing trimaran, and “a storm knocked out one of the engines” on his vessel July 9, Quentin Lawson Sr., 39, his brother, said Tuesday.

Engine trouble prompted Lawson to change course and head back to Acapulco, his brother said.

His initial plan had been to travel from Acapulco to Central America’s west coast, through the Panama Canal and to Baltimore, his brother said.

Lawson's wife, Jacqueline Lawson, told NBC affiliate WBAL of Baltimore that he had no engine power after a storm and was relying on a wind generator. A few days later, she said, he lost his backup wind turbine.

Lawson's family last had communication from him July 13, when he was about 285 nautical miles from Acapulco, his brother said.

Quentin Lawson said data from his brother’s vessel, Defiance, showed he drastically reduced speed late July 12, when he was traveling with the wind at around 11 knots. But then he changed course and began traveling against the wind, and his speed reduced to 2.9 knots, Quentin Lawson said.

“I believe something happened at that moment,” he said. "It doesn’t make sense to turn out of the wind into the wind when you’re on emergency route to turn back.”

Petty Officer Hunter Schnabel of Coast Guard District 11, based in Alumina, California, said Tuesday that Mexico’s Maritime Search and Rescue unit was leading efforts to find Lawson’s trimaran.

Quentin Lawson said his brother, the founder of the nonprofit Dark Seas Project, had goals to break 15 world records, including becoming the fastest person and the first African American to circumnavigate the globe alone in a sailing vessel no longer than 60 feet.

He planned to do it in 70 days, much quicker than the American record of 105 days, Lawson told WBAL in April 2020.

The same year, he said he was trying to boost participation in sailing among Black youths.

He told the station that it was in a youth sailing program that he realized his dream.

“I went and asked the captain, ‘Hey, how far can you take on a boat like this?’" Lawson told the station. "He looked at me and said, ‘Technically, you can sail it around the world.’ And that’s when the light bulb went off. I said — at 9 years old — ‘I want to sail around the world.’"

Quentin Lawson said that the data from his brother's boat was troubling but that he was a sailor with decades of experience.

“I’m optimistic. But I’m a little afraid,” he said. “It’s just not like him to make that sudden movement.”