Solo-Sailing To Save The Taiji Dolphins

(Originally published at

You have to admire California-based solo sailor Michael Reppy, now in his 60s. He wants two things in life: first, to set the singlehanded transpacific record from San Francisco to Tokyo; and second, to help stop the Japanese drive fisheries (made notorious by the film, “The Cove” ) that slaughter thousands of dolphins every year.

Lots of would-be record-setters link (sometime in the most casual of ways) their attempts to environmental causes, but Reppy has been singularly dogged in his efforts to both set the record AND call-out the Japanese on their brutal, annual dolphin drives. He’s about to set on out his fourth attempt on the record—set by Bay Area singlehander Peter Hogg at 34 days, 6 hours—on his 43-foot trimaran, Dolphin Spirit.

Hogg laid down that mark in 1992, besting a time set by the legendary Eric Tabarly in 1969. And Reppy has been trying to better it ever since.

It’s certainly been an exciting campaign. His first attempt, in 1997, in a 36-foot Shuttleworth-designed trimaran, ended in classic solo-sailing multihull fashion, which is to say with a spectacular pitchpole within days of Tokyo and the record. For that attempt, Reppy partnered with Earth Island Institute to draw attention to a pod of killer whales captured by the Taiji drive fishermen.

Thirty days into the journey, as Reppy ripped along at 18 knots through squally weather 300 miles from Tokyo, he was anticipating a big press turnout to mark his imminent record. With a gale forecast, he wanted to make as many miles as he could before dropping his spinnaker. When he finally came on deck after a nap to drop it, he was a few minutes too late. As he stepped into the cockpit, the tri took off on a wave, stuck a bow in, and cartwheeled. Reppy dove back into the cabin and called for rescue. Eighteen months later, his tri turned up on the island of Midway. Bummer.

He made his second and third attempts in 2000 and 2001 in the classic Warren Luhrs Open 60 Thursday’s Child. Ironically, he lost a chunk of rudder to a whale on the first voyage and came up short thanks to light winds on the second. Now, he’s back with the speedy Dolphin Spirit, planning to set off in April. His hope is that, since the success of “The Cove,” the tide of sentiment in Japan is turning against the cruel drive fisheries. He’s again promoting Earth Island, this time their Save Japan Dolphins initiative.

Reppy wants that record. But he also wants the big press conference in Tokyo he was denied when he pitchpoled in 1997. He knows there’s only so much a foreigner can achieve in Japan, but there’s no questioning the sincerity with which he’s doing his part to stop the dolphin slaughter. “Japanese media: that’s the whole ballgame, because for years and years they would not report on it,” he tells me. “There isn’t much of an environmental movement in Japan, and that’s what we’ve been trying to help develop.”

Any sailor who’s seen the beauty and grace of dolphins playing in a bow wave, or marveled at their intelligence and, yes, humanity, has to be rooting for Reppy and the dolphins of Taiji. So I’ll be following this one with more than casual interest. You can too, and also learn a lot more about Reppy and his solo-sailing advocacy at the Dolphin Spirit website. And our friends over at Pressure Drop have also posted a nice video interview:

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