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In Tribute to Japanese Sailor Lost at Sea

Makoto Namba On behalf of AmericaOne, I would like to extend our sympathy to the family and friends of Makoto Namba, skipper of the Nippon Challenge. Namba was lost overboard on April 23, 1997, while racing from Hong Kong to Osaka, Japan, on board the Corel 45 Escape-One.

Namba was known to all of us, through the Nippon America's Cup challenges of 1992 and 1995, as a true gentleman and great sailor. His competitive but friendly presence will be sadly missed.

A 20-foot wave reportedly washed him overboard during the second leg of the Hong Kong-Osaka Race, during which the winds were in excess of 30 knots and seas were 13 to 16 feet. He was not wearing a lifejacket. Patrol boats from the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency searched for 72 hours in rough seas without success. He was 46 years old.

— Paul Cayard

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A letter to AmericaOne from the Nippon Challenge

On behalf of Nippon Challenge America's Cup 2000 Chairman Tatsumitsu Yamasaki, I would like to thank you for your kind words of sympathy about tragedy happened to our dear teammate Namba. Your heartfelt condolences are passed on to his family and to the members of Nippon Challenge.

It has been almost one week since the incident had happened and all of us here in Japan are still in a state of shock and sorrow. It is still very difficult for us to believe this had actually happened. Unfortunately, as of this date, we still have not found him nor any sign of him.

The coast guard searching operation concluded last Saturday. However, many volunteers of Namba's friends and Nippon Challenge members are still conducting the search. A few of former Nippon Challenge crew members (Ken Hara, Nagao, Toru Kikuchi) was sailing with him, and I must say they have not slept more than 4 hours a day since last Wednesday to be out on the sea for the search.

For your information, I have attached brief report on the incident. Again, thank you very much for your heartfelt support.


Emili Miura
on behalf of Tatsumitsu Yamasaki
Nippon Challenge America's Cup 2000

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Report on the Accident

  • April 23, 1997, at 8:11 p.m. local time
  • SSE 30 miles offshore of Japan's Muroto peninsula (Kochi Prefecture). (32 45 733 N, 134 25 766 E)
  • Weather conditions
    Wind angle   50-60 degrees
    Wind speed   above 30 knots
    Wind direction   90-100 degrees
    Wave   4-5 meters
    Current   2~3 knots
  • The accident happened while Namba was competing in the Hong Kong - Osaka "Sail Osaka '97 Race," an event organized to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Osaka port. He was skippering the Corel 45 Escape-One, (13.86 m, 6.7 tons, built in the USA in 1997), which had a crew of 12.

    Escape-One left the port of Kagoshima on April 22 at 11:00 a.m. heading toward Osaka to finish the race. At this point, it was leading the fleet of 40 competing yachts.

    At 8:11 p.m. April 23, Namba was at the helm when an unexpected huge side wave (approximately 6 meters high) struck the yacht while it was sailing on the port tack. The yacht heeled over from 30 to 60 degrees, and his body flew over the wheel. For a few seconds he held on to the leeward pulpit, then fell into the sea in the Tosa Bay area.

    Prior to the incident, there had been a sudden change in weather conditions, and the wind and waves were building when Namba was about to finish his watch. Unfortunately, he had already taken off his life harness when the side wave struck.

    Immediately after Namba went overboard, the team threw both a life pole and buoy, switched on an EPIRB, sent out a May Day signal to the Japanese coast guard, and marked the position on the GPS. The extensive search was conducted throughout the night by four coast guard boats, Escape-One and other nearby boats competing in the Sail Osaka event. It was followed by a daylight search from both the sky and sea.

    The coast guard called off its search operation after 72 hours, but the privately organized search group of former Nippon Challenge members and Namba's friends continued to search for several more days.


    Born in Kyoto, Japan - November 20, 1950 - 46 years old

    President of Namba Sailing Planning

    Namba was the most well-known professional sailor in Japan. He began his sailing career during his university years at Kyoto Sangyo University. After graduating, he worked as a sailmaker for several years and continued his yachting.

    In 1987, he joined Japan's first challenge for the America's Cup, Nippon Challenge America's Cup 1992. Initially as a coach for newly recruited crew members, and then as main-sheet trimmer in the 1992 America's Cup on board Nippon. In the 1995 America's Cup, he was skipper and navigator for the Nippon Challenge.

    Namba was the first and is still the only Japanese skipper to reach as high as ninth place in the World Match Racing Conference ranking. That was in 1991. In 1996 he played major role for finishing second on Team Aoba in the Mumm 36 class.

    Aside from competitive sailing, he organized the Umimaru campaign in 1996 to sail around Japan to promote yachting to the Japanese public. He also did a series of coaching seminars and lectures about sports throughout Japan.

    He is survived by his wife, Mikiko, and a son, 16-year-old Gaku, who live in Kyoto.

    This report and profile are courtesy of the Nippon Challenge.


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