Saito- san 71, home after 233 days alone at sea

Posted: Jun 07, 2005 05:56 pm EDT

At age 71, Minoru Saito from Japan has become the oldest person to do a solo, non-stop circumnavigation without stops. On Day 233, Saito-san returned to his starting point 4 km west of Misaki Port, to a hero's welcome. It has been a true ocean odyssey between the old man and the sea.

Cold in only a t-shirt

Foul weather cost him jib damage, the new weather fax system was busted, and the fridge was also out almost immediately after he set off. Frigid temperatures didn't deter him, "it is a little cold outside the cabin in only a T-shirt," but rough seas took their toll: "Have not slept more than 2 hours at a stretch since leaving Japan, but although short of sleep, otherwise feeling well," he reported.

There was much talk about food: Alfa rice, "Arufa" rice, "Borijji"s cold cereal, corned beef, potatoes, pumpkin and squash ("Japanese squash is easily rotten though tasty. On the other hand, Australian squash lasts a long time, about half a year though the taste is not as good as Japanese squash. Japanese pumpkins taste better than American or Australian ones, but they are harder and keep longer, though they are not so tasty.")

Damages and tech failures

New tech was a hassle; "transmitting images is more difficult than taking the helm," he reported. But he fixed the engine, only to get knocked down twice early January. The boat got serious damage: "Bare pole, running with wind vane since Auto helm doesn't work due to strong waves; rudder jumps up and sensor is not working well. Wind gauge at top of mast seems to have broken when boat was knocked down. "

Communications of both satellite phone and Fax were not smooth. Saito was cold, and his foot frostbitten, the Satellite phone became unusable after passing 50S, radio conditions were poor, and icebergs arrived. A water leak broke out in the centerboard case. Saito was able to repair the mainsail, climbing on the boom and making repairs.


Just at the end, worst disaster of them all: Saito's liquor ran low. Late May, only four cans of beers and one bottle of whisky remained. But today, at last - home, and a smashing success. Saito even caught up with another Japanese sailor; Kenichi Horie, who embarked 15 days prior to Saito - on a new boat!

"71" Saito chose the name "Challenge-7" for his race for several reasons. This voyage was his seventh globe-circling, single-handed quest. Also, Saito is now 71 years old, which was also the race number carried by Shuten-Doji II, his sailboat for all three BOC and Around Alone races in which he competed. In fact, "71" remains inscribed on the hull.

Minoru Saito from Japan became the oldest person at age 71 to do a solo, non-stop circumnavigation without stops. He left Japan October 16, 2004 on his boat Shuten-dohji II (translates "Drunken child" but commonly referred to as "Shoot your dog"). With more than 240,000 cruising and racing miles of his own, Saito is one of Japanese top yachtsmen. He completed the Around Alone (formerly the BOC Challenge) three times, the last in 1998/99 and this will be his 7th trip overall.

Saito has typically provided most of his own financial support for his voyages from his life savings after retirement. The modest sailor was not well-known in Japan, but he won special recognition as embodying "The Spirit of Around Alone" at the closing ceremony of the 6th Around Alone Race in 1999 in Charleston SC.

This time around, Saito was met by a huge crowd of press, as he sailed into his home harbor.


Image of sundown, the TSPS burgee and Japanese flag, and Saito sporting a new goatee at the press conference, courtesy of TSPS. (click to enlarge)