Minoru Saito, 77, nears finish of his 3-year, 28,500-mile 'wrong way' voyage


Neither a midnight mishap at Cape Horn, two massive earthquakes, two destructive tsunami, two surgeries, five typhoons, nor even three more birthdays, have deterred a resolute yachtsman who flatly declares: "I never give up!"

Supporters and well-wishers will greet the legendary Japanese sailor Minoru Saito as he returns Saturday to Yokohama. He's finishing his record 8th solo circumnavigation, this time the "wrong way" – against the spin of the Earth, and contrary to nature in ways that even the 77-year-old Saito could ever anticipate. His 56-foot sailboat, Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III, has put more than 28,500 miles (53,000 kilometers) under her keel in a drama-filled voyage that started 1,080 days earlier.

He meant to finish in about a quarter of that time, telling supporters before he left Yokohama in October 2008 that he hoped to make his fastest circumnavigation ever, in "about 287 days." His sailboat acquired for the trip is steel-hulled, longer at the waterline thus potentially faster, and well outfitted for the journey against the spin of the planet and thus against prevailing winds, weather, currents, and even Southern Ocean icebergs. Plus he had done it the other way seven times before in his 35-year sailing career and knew what was ahead of him.

Everything went well enough until he reached Cape Horn. He made his fifth solo rounding of "The Horn" on a morning so gentle it seemed more like a day-sail in Tokyo Bay – until the weather broke and he was pushed backward by a fierce 3-day gale. He found that he had no steering and no use of the propeller, caused by a trailing halyard that had washed overboard at midnight in 50-kt winds and 9-meter seas. Faced with certain destruction, Saito was able to cajole a tow from a ship captain who had been dispatched by the Chilean Coast Guard to take him off and leave Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III to founder.

The epic story continues from there, as he over-wintered in frigid southern Chile, undergoing an emergency operation for a hernia, later narrowly missing an earthquake in Chile, then a year later an even more destructive earthquake in far-off Japan that sent waves washing into the Honolulu marina where his boat was undergoing repairs. While in Hawaii a motorist absent-mindedly turned as Saito used a pedestrian crosswalk, sending him back into an operating room for repairs to an injured knee. Police judged the motorist at fault.

Finally able to depart Hawaii in May, he crossed the Pacific to the Japanese island of Chichijima, where more repairs were done. He waited out four passing typhoons, and then a fifth typhoon directly hit the island. That one, named Talas, forced him to spend a solid week on board making sure his lines stayed safely secured to a big-ship mooring far out into the harbor. Even Coast Guardsmen staffing a station on the island were impressed by his fearless dedication witnessed through binoculars from shore. "He's the talk of the island, and many of the fishermen here are concerned about him," a senior officer told Saito's shore crew in Tokyo.

Saito will be 77 years, 8 months, and 10 days old when he returns on Saturday, completing a voyage that promises to secure his standing as the world’s oldest and most-accomplished single-handed circumnavigator. He’ll be able to claim circumnavigation records for most (8), oldest (77), and oldest to complete a westward “contrary” route. He already holds the Guinness Book world record as the oldest sailor at age 71 to complete a non-stop, unassisted solo rounding of the globe.

Fittingly, he returns on a three-day holiday weekend set aside for honoring the elderly of Japan.

Arrival time & place: 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept 17, at Minato Mirai Pukari Pier, Yokohama

© Japan Today

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This man is amazing. Hats off to him!

I wonder how much money these journeys cost him. It can't possibly be cheap.

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This is the kind of hero Japan needs. I wonder if he wants to be Prime Minister.

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Wow...very cool. I hope he has a lot of video of this feat.

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ItsMe - He is obviously sponsored. The name of the boat has "BMW" in it. I'm sure that he also got money from whichever Japanese channel will put on a big 2 hour special about his journey.

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Oh to have life of some people! 3 years off work...

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@David Fulvio : Obviously he's sponsored...And if it wasn't for his previous journey on his boat, he would have had a much harder time getting must you attempt to blow the salutes from others to someone who has clearly earned it..Did you even read the story or follow the story outside of JT.

Comments like this always ruin for the rest...Not mention ItsMe was hinting some additional sarcasm... Does it really have to spelled out...JEEZE! Comments like this remind of people who ask what time it is when the clock is right in front of them...OMG!

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Go Saito san go!! Hope that there are throngs of people (and media) there to welcome him home when he arrives.

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@Asagao, anyone can take three years off work. It's just that most people won't. You have to be willing to take the leap.

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A great mentor for younger people. Another great mentor and yachtsman is Kenichi Horie.

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at 77-years, he must have "retired" some years ago?

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Awesome feat! What a great accomplishment! 'the biggest sin is to lead a boring life' Well done Sir!

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But he put the life of others, for example the chile coast guard at risk.

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BTW, why is it 'the wrong way'? It should be at the least 'the hard way' shouldn't it?

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I bet his English is top notch on the ship to shore radio , bet he can make tea in gale force winds , Bob Dylan should sing about this guy

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Truly amazing and a 1080-day trip! Wow! I'm at a loss of words but I know someone who won't be, just as keika1628 suggested ;)

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Well done! Minoru Saito

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The reason it is called "wrong way" is sort of an inside joke among circumnavigators.

Literally several score of solo sailors have succeeded going eastwardly, with the spin of the Earth, because it is considerably easier. Not nearly as many have gone in the opposite direction because of the much greater stress on the boat and the skipper.

So if you go against the arrow on a one-way street, you are going the "wrong way!"

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would love to buy him a beer and have a yarn.

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I'm glad he made it. I've been following his adventures in the sailing rags for years now. Glad to see he hasn't given up.

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What a great story.

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Truly inspirational! I agree with Moondog - most of us don't dare take leaps. Mostly we just watch with a bit of envy the few who do. Congratulations, Saito-San! Well done and welcome home.

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Minoru Saito San - may you continue with fair winds in your sails. I am so glad you are closing in towards Yokohama Harbour, we are thinking of you in Chile and find your hard work and strong spirit admirable. Wishing you well and a speedy return. Rose & Pablo.

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Hi, Rose:

You guys were instrumental in getting him safely away from Cape Horn.

He told me today that the only time he truly feared for his life was when Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III was being pounded by the other fishing boats for 9 months in that tiny unprotected harbor in Punta Arenas.

His only relief was your and Pablo's kind hospitality.

Much thanks again, Rose.

Best to you and Pablo.

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To anyone wondering about that, Google the Saito 8 blog and type "Rose" into the search engine.

She and Pablo were fabulous!

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