‘I want to do it again’: the octogenarian Japanese sailor on the joy of crossing the Pacific alone | Japan

Kenichi Horie has made so many epic voyages across the world’s oceans that at first he has trouble remembering the exact number.

“It must be around 10 a.m.,” he told the Guardian in an interview at his home port, Shin Nishinomiya Marina, near the western Japanese city of Kobe.

He, however, remembers virtually every storm, meal and satellite phone conversation of his last adventure – an 8,700 km voyage across the Pacific that made him the oldest person to have sailed the world non-stop by himself. largest ocean in the world.

We meet a week after guiding the Suntory Mermaid III – a 5.8m-long (19ft) yacht customized to fit her small frame – through the waters off the Kii Peninsula in the west of Japan, 69 days after leaving San Francisco and six decades after leaving. first crossing of the Pacific.

The 83-year-old, who said it took his legs a few days to get used to being back on solid ground, is modest about his achievement and almost dismissive about the dangers he faced.

“The weather was bad at times, but I wouldn’t describe it as awful,” says Horie, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt that reveal stiff, tanned limbs, his mop of white hair partially obscured by a baseball cap. .

The Japanese Kenichi Horie on his boat in Osaka Bay. Photo: 180313+0900/AP

He had, however, battled harsh conditions, including a storm that arrived shortly after leaving San Francisco, and confessed in one of his online diary entries that he was “fed up.”

While on-board technology has improved beyond recognition since he made his first transpacific trip – from Nishinomiya to San Francisco in 1962, when he was content with a kerosene lamp and an x-ray – her routine remained unchanged.

On his recent crossing, he woke up at sunrise and ate a breakfast of fruit before planning conversations with his family and weather updates with his support team. “The yacht moves all the time, of course, so I don’t have a long sleep, just for short periods. There’s always something I have to do – it’s a 24-hour job,” he says. he, adding that his biggest fear was falling asleep and missing his daily satellite phone call with his wife, Eriko.

“If I call later than expected, she is worried that something will happen to me. But she never asked me to stop taking these long trips.

He finds an escape from the loneliness of life at sea through reading, and always includes two books – accounts in Japanese by his fellow maritime adventurers Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus – in his onboard collection. “They inspire me,” he says.

It’s a habit that has served him well. In 1962 Horie, then an auto parts salesman, became the first person to cross the Pacific solo and nonstop, arriving in San Francisco without a passport or money. He was arrested but was quickly released after the town’s mayor, George Christopher, granted him a visa in recognition of his achievement. His ship, The Mermaid, is now the main attraction of the Maritime Museum of San Francisco.

In the years that followed, he completed three circumnavigations of the globe, including a non-stop solo trip west. And he made several crossings of the Pacific, including one in the smallest yacht in the world and another in a boat made entirely of recycled materials.

Less resilient souls would struggle to cope with endless hours spent alone in a vast ocean, but Horie used the time productively. “I like to be alone with my thoughts,” he says. “I think about the yacht and how I could refine the design of my next one, or I fantasize about my dream boat. My recent trip was nonstop, so I thought it might be a good idea to stop in Hawaii next time.

Its small size – it measures only 1.52 m (5 feet) – makes life easier in the confines of a cabin. “Yes, it’s a small space, but remember, you’re constantly moving around and looking at the night sky and the ocean. You get a sense of freedom from that.

Although he’s well into his ninth decade, Horie says any thought of retirement comes and goes as quickly as an ocean gust. “I plan to continue, even though my wife and I both get along,” he says. “I’m healthy now, and if it continues, then yes, I will. But at my age, there are no guarantees. I want to sail back across the Pacific, but who knows. It might be my last time.

His age, he adds, is only important for headlines and chroniclers of humans’ endless fascination with crossing Earth’s most inhospitable oceans. “I’ve done a lot of trips across the Pacific, but my age only really mattered this time because I set a record,” he says. “The most important thing is to decide what you want to do and then enjoy doing it. For me, age is not a factor.

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