Robin Wright has never let herself feel the thorough, purging grief over the loss of her daughter, Danielle, who with six other sailors disappeared off the coast of New Zealand two years ago.
Danielle is everywhere, her mother said last week: at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette spring graduation in May, which Danielle would have been a part of; at Danielle’s 21st birthday party May 18, held at the Wright home in Lafayette and attended by Danielle’s friends; during visits by middle school twins whom Danielle and Robin baby-sat when the girls were babies.
“Those girls might be the closest I ever get to having grandchildren,” Wright said.
Six months ago, Wright sold her car and started driving Danielle’s 2011 Hyundai Genesis coupe, which had been parked under the carport for a year and a half.
“Danielle’s all over the car,” Wright said. “She fusses at me when I grind the gears. … We talk about her all the time. She’s everywhere. There is no forgetting.”
Danielle was Ricky and Robin Wright’s only child, a 19-year-old psychology major at UL-Lafayette. Danielle was home-schooled at a family farm in Greenwell Springs before the family of three moved to Lafayette for the start of Danielle’s first year at the university.
In May 2013, after completing her sophomore year, Danielle flew to New Zealand to board the sailboat Niña, the only Louisianan on the boat. The 70-foot schooner was owned by a family the Wrights had befriended while sailing in the Caribbean when Danielle was in her early teens.
The last time Wright heard from her daughter was in a May 2013 phone call from New Zealand — before Danielle set sail.
“She said, ‘Happy Mother’s Day. I love you. Gotta go. My phone’s dying,’ ” Robin said, recalling their last conversation.
The Niña set sail May 29, 2013, from the north New Zealand port city of Opua for a 20- to 40-day voyage across the Tasman Sea to Newcastle, Australia, near Sydney.
A few days later, one of the crew used a satellite phone to contact a meteorologist for instructions on how to sail around a fierce storm that came up. On June 4, someone on the Niña sent a text — which wasn’t recovered for months — that told of shredded sails and bare masts.
The six aboard the Niña have not been seen or heard from since. New Zealand search officials concluded the Niña sank, taking with it all of its crew members.
Robin and Ricky Wright made no such quick conclusions. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own search over tens of thousands of square miles of the Tasman Sea. Ricky Wright even earned his pilot’s license.
But exhausted and just about broke, the couple ended their search in early 2014.
Although there is a sliver of hope that some or all of the crew survived — there are stories of mariners lost at sea for months or years only to wash up alive on some tropical shore — Ricky Wright has accepted that his daughter might never come home.
“I realize that if they’re (the crew) not alive right now then Danielle is in heaven with her savior,” he said. “She would want us to go on with our lives.”
At a tournament at Le Triumphe Golf and Country Club last month, Ricky Wright sponsored the third hole in Danielle’s honor. The tournament was a fundraiser for a family involved in a tragic car wreck in May 2013, right before Danielle flew to New Zealand.
Ricky Wright also has stayed in touch with Texas EquuSearch, an organization that led the search in 2013 and 2014 for the Niña.
For Robin Wright, time has not blunted the ache of losing her daughter, nor has it extinguished her hope of getting Danielle back.
“I do think that at some point, if she doesn’t come back, I will go through the grieving process,” she said.
Late last year, Robin Wright purchased a Dippin’ Dots ice cream business in Baton Rouge. The ice cream parlor was one of two Dippin’ Dots locations that the former owner wanted to sell. To find a buyer, the owner contacted Ricky and Robin Wright, who operate a Sunbelt business brokerage in Lafayette.
Robin said she found a buyer for one of the shops, then went ahead and purchased the other one for herself.
“I probably did buy the Dippin’ Dots to have something else to focus on,” she said.
Months after she bought the business, Robin Wright discovered that Danielle was a big fan of Dippin’ Dots, and had “liked” the business on Facebook.