Des Moines businessman Nixon Lauridsen is the plaintiff in an unusual lawsuit over the sinking of his $10 million yacht. The misfortune occurred on the evening of May 18, 2014, just as the 90-foot-long vessel was being launched for the first time in a small seaport north of Seattle.

Witnesses described the yacht, which sank in shallow water at Anacortes, Wash., as top-heavy. Local news reports said it immediately began to roll onto its side in shallow water, prompting several workmen to rush to the engine room to adjust the ballast.

The sinking happened so quickly that the men ended up being trapped and having to be pulled to safety. Police had to use an ax to chop out a porthole to rescue one of them, but no one was seriously injured, news reports said.

Lauridsen’s lawsuit seeks treble damages, fees and costs from four insurance companies that had insured the boat for $10 million, but which have refused to pay for what Lauridsen’s lawyers say is a total loss.

The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has not yet issued a report.

Lauridsen is perhaps the metro area’s most successful, least well-known business leader. His Ankeny-based Lauridsen Group, which is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, owns several businesses around the world that develop, manufacture and market animal-based proteins for use as human and animal health supplements as well as for biopharmaceutical research.

The sinking-boat lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, provides an unusual look into Lauridsen’s normally private life. About the only place his name appears publicly here is in Republican campaign contribution lists or as a benefactor of the Des Moines Symphony and Metro Opera, or when he bought the former Hubbell estate on Cassidy Drive in Des Moines in 2008 for $2 million.   

I tried unsuccessfully to interview him a couple of times about his businesses in the early 2000s. His operations use cutting-edge science to create human and animal health supplements, much like Kemin Industries in Des Moines and Diamond V Mills in Cedar Rapids. The main difference is Kemin and Diamond V focus on plant-based products, while Lauridsen, whose family history involved dairy operations, focused on animal research involving cows.

One of his businesses, named Proliant, began manufacturing protein supplements to boost human immune systems in 2002. The protein came from cows’ blood. That product had difficulty getting traction because it came to market at the height of the mad cow scare.

Nonetheless, the Lauridsen Group and Proliant have continued to push forward and from all appearances have very successful operations based in Ankeny.

Which brings us back to his yacht. The failed launch took place on a Sunday evening, which seems like an odd time for a manufacturer to put a new boat in the water.

The lawsuit doesn’t blame anyone for the failed launch. Its claim is with the insurance companies, which have not yet responded in court.

If you read between the lines of the lawsuit and news reports, you can get an idea of what happened. 

Online commenters at the time focused on the yacht’s design. One noted that new yacht owners often request granite countertops and marble and tile bathrooms, which  “throw the center of buoyancy and stability out the window.”

The lawsuit does not mention what amenities Lauridsen’s yacht had, but it does say change orders during construction pushed the original price estimate of $5,293,400 up to $10,926,000.

It also notes that there were several delays between Sept. 30, 2011, when Lauridsen signed a contract with New World Yacht Builders, and May 18, 2014, when the boat was launched and immediately sank.