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Motor Yacht ‘Nakoa’ Aground in Maui Freed, Then Sinks

After breaking free from a mooring and drifting onto the rocks in a marine reserve in Maui more than two weeks ago, a nearly 100-ft motor yacht was finally extracted from shore by a salvage team, but sank a short time later in open water.

Prior to the sinking of the Nakoa, a 94-ft, 120-ton 2004 Sunseeker 94, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement that the salvage operation in Honolua Bay “would end in one of two ways: either with the yacht towed all the way to Honolulu, around 90 nautical miles away, or she would have to be scuttled en route due to numerous holes along her hull,” Boat International reported.

Clearly, it was the latter.

The Boating and Ocean Recreation division of the DLNR reported that Nakoa was scuttled in 800 feet of water. “It had taken on water, was listing starboard and riding bow high after being pulled free by a tractor tug early this afternoon,” the DLNR stated in a press release.

There were three salvage attempts to free Nakoa from her resting place in Honolua Bay, a protected marine reserve; the first attempt was hindered due to inclement weather. “It was a very complex mission. The weather had to be just right. The tide had to be just right, but this was a perfect day,” Hawaii Public radio quoted the DLNR as saying.
© 2023 DLNR

After Nakoa went aground in early February about 700 feet outside the Honolua-Mokulēʻia Bay Marine Life Conservation District, around 470 gallons of petroleum products and 14 marine batteries were recovered from the yacht, “with helicopters transporting 55-gallon drums of fuel from the boat to a staging area where it could be disposed of,” according to Boat International.

But there was clearly spillage in the wake of Nakoa’s grounding, as seen in photos. The DLNR found damage to around 30 coral heads and live rock. The Nakoa was one of two luxury yachts owned by Noelani Yacht Charters, according to Hawaii Public Radio. The DNLR said that the owner could face “hefty penalties because coral in this area is protected by State Law.”

Clearly, there is some work to be done by lawyers and bureaucrats.

This was a bad end to a bad situation. It does seem as if there’ll be hell to pay.

The Nakoa’s grounding raised the ire and righteous indignation of people in the boating world. Check out Letters in the April issue of Latitude 38 to hear from Latitude Nation, including one marine salvager in Hawaii who described the perils of the industry.

“A tremendous amount of respect is owed to all those that chose to stick their neck out rendering assistance to the Nakoa yacht. I have seen how all too often marine salvage ends up being a thankless job in which one has to drop everything else at a moment’s notice while taking on massive liabilities doing work that is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting,” said David Demarest, the manager of Giraffe Maui Marine Salvage & Supply, LLC.

Megayacht Nakoa
Shortly after publishing, local master Laser sailor, Chris Boome, sent in this shot from his recent trip to the Plantation Golf course at Kapalua. He swears he’s innocent. There was a ‘hole in one’ megayacht which may have left with more holes than the golf course. 
© 2023 Chris Boome

“There are ways to skillfully minimize the high risk of personal injury, death, or substantial environmental harm while conducting a marine salvage operation, but as things currently are, all the substantial time and money, along with wear and tear on gear, oftentimes end up being put out in good faith only to have an owner and/or their insurance company refusing to appreciate, let alone pay for, services rendered in a timely manner.”


  1. Spencer Covey 1 year ago

    If only they had a can of Flex Seal!

  2. Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

    Amateur recovery from start to finish! Ask any salver in Alaska and they will say the operation from start to finish was poorly planned, horribly activated and the end result was predictable weeks ago . Now it’s cleanup time and perhaps a thought to how this could have been avoided !

    • David Demarest, Manager of Giraffe Maui Marine Salvage & Supply, LLC 1 year ago

      I greatly appreciate Tim’s coverage of this important issue, and I respect Ken’s deep frustration at how the salvage effort turned out.
      Despite not being involved in the salvage, it still weighs on me to have personally assessed the scene on the evening of Day 1 and on Day 2 only to strongly believe there was no way I could offer to help without becoming enmeshed in a massive lose-lose situation and likely years of litigation. I don’t personally know enough critical facts as they were known throughout the process to fairly judge the salvage effort of the Nakoa grounding at Honolua Bay, especially given the tendency of hindsight being 20/20. But with that said, what I do know is timely action by salvors on Maui is all too often actively punished by vessel owners and/or their insurance companies implementing what amounts to a “Deny, Delay, Defend” strategy to avoid timely payment of clear liabilities.
      The ongoing case Demarest v. Alfouadi, Hawai’i District Court Case Number 1:22-cv-00064 involves an environmental salvage and wreck removal my team conducted over a year ago for a State Farm insured vessel in which a claim was not even opened until well after the filing of the case…
      I find it untenable some vessel owners and their insurance companies choose to squander the most critical time of a marine incident attempting to negotiate down their liabilities instead of working towards what is truly everyone’s best interest.

    • Dick Joslin 1 year ago

      What went wrong in your opinion.
      Could the boat have been saved if approached differently.

    • Dick Joslin 1 year ago

      See above. Put wrong website.

  3. Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

    As above

    • Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

      It definitely is a roll of the dice ,and the larger the value the more tenacious an insurance company can be .it’s been 17 years since I lost my cal -29 and the circumstances were for more tragic . But Parker salvage and my insurance company couldn’t have worked together more smoothly . It certainly helped to have an adjuster who was a fellow sailor.

    • John Grosseto 1 year ago

      A salvage operation in Hawaii is complicated by the lack of resources on neighboring islands to deal with larger vessels. Oahu does, but the trip takes hours and the conditions can be difficult at times. Time is of the essence for grounded vessels and one thing can be done within the first day to minimize damage. Basic seamanship says to set anchors to windward to keep the vessel from moving to shore and shallower water. A vessel this size should have had at least two sets of anchors, chains and rope, and a dinghy to accomplish this basic task. Knowing the Island people. no doubt there are people that came to the aid and would likely assist. If that was done perhaps the salvors the next day would be only faced with patching and pumping flooded compartments or using airbags or similar devices to float the vessel off the rocks.

      In the case of Nahoa, in his own words, the owner said he had no idea of what he was getting into, that sure sounded like he had virtually no experience and this situation was more than he could handle. Some people learn the hard way

  4. John Grosseto 1 year ago

    The State will no doubt pay for another expensive Salvage and Wreck Removal as the owner did not put work in hand. If rumors are true, he violated a policy warranty that the vessel had to be operated by a licensed captain. One thing I learned in my role as a marine insurance broker, make the first salvage effort the best you have as the vessel dies with every tide cycle. After the first failed effort the salvage became a wreck removal and scuttling at sea was the only option.

  5. Brad Smith 1 year ago

    I followed this from the beginning. I think at that time it was made clear that there were no resource available on the island or any where near to handle this sort of thing.

  6. John Grosseto 1 year ago

    I am a retired Commercial Marine Insurance of some 40 years (30 years in Hawaii) and participated in more vessel sinkings and grounding than I can remember. The first rule of law at the time of the casualty is to ‘act as a prudent self-insured (remember the Insurers do not put work in hand). Hire an experienced Marine surveyor and they will know the best salvors, who will be hired under your name and proceed to mount their best effort knowing that time is of the essence. At the same time contact your insurers, they will either accept your choice of surveyor or hire their own. In a large casualty, you can expect daily briefings involving the owner, surveyor(s), Harbors, Fish & Game, and the Coast Guard. This detail might not apply to yachts but the same principles apply to the responsibility of the owners to respond. Not to toot my own horn, but by placing the vessel insurance through a local Marine Insurance broker, who can use his resources and give advice, a lot of the mistakes made can be eliminated.

  7. Bronson Spencer 1 year ago

    I would think they would have had pumps that could have kept it afloat. Some inflatable pontoons? I’m definitely not an expert but play one on the intrawebs

    • John Grosseto 1 year ago

      With the wreck so close to the beach and aground over much of the hull, there was likely no way to patch it sufficiently for it to withstand a tow supported by float bags and pumps. If Nakoa was a steel hull she would have likely survived two weeks but being fiberglass, it was likely a constructive total loss (cost to repair the vessel more than the insured value) at its place on the beach. I think the tow ended as planned with the State who has paid the bill so far, happy to see the vessel off its shores.

  8. Gary Engle 1 year ago

    The boat owner violated every rule in the book, from mooring overnight at a 2 hour day use only mooring; failing to anchor; failing to have a licensed captain on board; failing to know and/or implement proper protocol once the event occurred; and probably more. He has already thumbed his nose at the notion that he will step up to his financial responsibility. Is it even known if he has insurance? If so, what is the likelihood it will even approach the financial consequences of his reckless conduct? Can criminal charges be brought? Can he be precluded from ever owning another boat? This is outrageous!

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