- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Federal and state officials yesterday continued an aerial search over the Chesapeake Bay for missing newspaper publisher and former diplomat Philip Merrill, whose sailboat was found adrift hours after he was scheduled to dock.

Officials say the engine was running and Mr. Merrill’s wallet was on board when the 41-foot boat, Merrilly, was discovered 25 miles south of Annapolis near Breezy Point in Calvert County.

Mr. Merrill, 72, is known in Washington journalism circles as the mercurial publisher of Washingtonian magazine as well as the Capital newspaper in Annapolis and five other newspapers in Maryland. His name graces the University of Maryland’s journalism program. His service to Republican presidents includes stints as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels and, until last year, as head of the Export-Import Bank.

“It’s my understanding the boom was secure and the vessel was under power,” a Coast Guard official in Annapolis said of Mr. Merrill’s drifting sailboat.

The sails were down when the ship was escorted to land, but it was not clear whether they were lowered by those who found the craft.

The Coast Guard began the search at 6:30 p.m. Saturday after Mr. Merrill’s wife, Eleanor, reported that he was several hours overdue, Coast Guard Senior Chief Steve Carleton said.

Small-boat advisories were in effect Saturday, and Bay waters churned in the afternoon with whitecaps and waves up to 4 feet, with winds that gusted at times up to 30 knots.

The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary divided manpower yesterday to patrol the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Swim and continued the search for Mr. Merrill by air with the assistance of the Air Force’s auxiliary Civil Air Patrol and Maryland Department of Natural Resources aircraft.

The small-boat advisory remained in effect yesterday, with diminished winds but a swift current.

“We’re still searching; there is no indication we are going to suspend it,” Chief Carleton said.

One boater who set sail at 5:30 p.m. Saturday said conditions at the time were “not bad.”

“It felt like the wind was blowing maybe 15 to 20 knots, and the waves were about 2 feet,” the boater said. “It was entirely manageable; it was not a huge problem out there.”

“It’s terrible,” he said about the missing sailor.

Water temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay are warm enough that Mr. Merrill could have survived a spill if he were wearing a life jacket. However, reports indicate that Mr. Merrill customarily did not.

“We don’t always find them,” said one Coast Guard member, who explained that an engine running with the sails down could indicate that Mr. Merrill was experiencing heavy winds.

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