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36’ Shuttleworth Trimaran

In 1990, after the successes with Damiana, I had John Shuttleworth design Nai’a, (Dolphin in Hawaiian) an all-out 30’ carbon fiber racing trimaran, with a 50’ wing mast. I sailed Nai’a for the Save The Dolphins Project of Earth Island Institute, with their name on the mast, dolphin graphics on the spinnaker, and “Save The Dolphins” on the outriggers.

Nai’a—Capsize In First Race
Nai’a was very fast and easily over-powered, and on her first race in summer 1992, capsized running down the coast south of San Francisco, chasing Aotea, the 40’ trimaran and transpacific record-holder. I and the crew were rescued and the boat towed in. I had Nai’s rebuilt and lengthened to 36’ for more stability, but in the end, it still wasn’t enough!

Nai’a—Capsize In Transpacific Record Attempt
After completing the Single-handed Transpac to Hawaii on Nai’a in 1996, I was ready to go for Peter Hogg’s 34 day 6 hour solo record to Japan. The sail was a protest of the drive fishery dolphin slaughter in Japan, and the February 1997 capture of five orcas by Taiji fishermen (the “Taiji Five”). I set sail on Nai’a from San Francisco on April 23, 1997.

On day 30, we were well ahead of record time, with under 300 miles to go to the finish at Misake, near Tokyo Bay. We had sailed through several low pressure systems, and had one more to go with winds due to pick up, but were running comfortably under full main and spinnaker in about 15-18 knots of wind. I felt confident, had my smaller sails laid out to change down to, and went below to rest.

But I fell asleep for about an hour, and woke up feeling Nai’a had picked up speed in the freshening breeze. Just as I was coming up to get the spinnaker down, Nai’a surfed down a wave and stuffed her bow, pitch-poled and capsized. I dove back inside the cabin, and was soon standing on the cabin roof in water to my crotch. I got my emotions under control and went into survival mode. I opened the escape hatch and got out with my emergency bags, cut loose the life raft, inflated it and got in. I activated the EPIRB (emergency radio beacon), and within two hours a Japanese search and rescue plane was over-head.

With a hand-held radio I made contact with the plane, and was told we were too far out for a helicopter rescue, that a ship was being diverted to pick me up. Japanese search and rescue did a very professional job—contacted my coordinator and parents in California and circled over-head until the Century Highway No2, a car carrying Japanese ship arrived during the night to pick me up.

I spoke to the captain of the ship on my radio and was told he saw my lighted raft and they would put a life boat over to come pick me up. I was relieved that the huge ship would not have to come close for the pick-up. But to my horror, by mistake, the ship drifted down on me and I was pinned against the side of the ship in the raft. I panicked and didn’t know what to do but scream in the radio to back away. I heard the captain say he couldn’t hear me, that my batteries must be dead. Eventually, the ship pulled away, and after about an hour of dealing with engine trouble on the life boat, I was picked up and taken aboard the ship. I arrived two days later in Yokohama on board the Century Highway No2, grateful to be alive, but with nothing but my sailing gear. By then Nai’a had drifted away, making it too difficult to organize a salvage effort, so I let that go.

Nai’a—Found On Midway Atoll
One and a half years later, I got a call from the US Coast Guard saying Nai’a had been found washed up on Midway Atoll, which some years before had been transferred from the military to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge, with a pod of spinner dolphins living in the lagoon.

I flew out to see Nai’a, and was granted an hour to see her and pay my respects. She was on the beach still upside-down, but with her outriggers broken off, laying next a highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal. I crawled inside her and took some pictures, and left her there to be eventually chain sawed up and cleared off the beach by the wildlife service. The irony of Nai’a sailing to save the dolphins, and finding her final resting place in a wildlife refuge for dolphins and seals is very touching.

Nai’a on one of her first sails with spinnaker up under the Golden Gate Bridge

Nai’a capsized near Santa Cruz, California

Nai’a after being lengthened to 36’

Michael on the bow of Nai’a

Michael on Nai’a at the start of transpacific record attempt, April 23, 1997.

Nai’a under spinnaker during Single-handed Transpac 1996.

Michael with captain of Century Highway No2. Life boat that rescued Michael is behind them.

Nai’a on beach next to Hawaiian monk seal—Midway Atoll

Michael coming out of Nai’a escape hatch—Midway Atoll


Dolphin Spirit Project

A project of the International Marine Mammal Project of
Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133
phone: (415) 788-3666