Japan’s Minoru Saito, 77, completed his eighth solo sail around the world on Saturday, Sept. 17, breaking his own world records. This time it was for a far more difficult “wrong-way sail” that took him against the prevailing currents, winds and the rotation of the earth.
When he arrived in Yokohama Port — which he had departed in September 2008 — he beat his own record as the oldest person to sail solo around the world and for the most solo voyages around the world. This latest three-year voyage was his eighth.
“I’ve returned alive,” said Saito, smiling, after he hugged a friend who boarded his boat upon his arrival at Yokohama Port’s Pukari Sambashi Pier.
Saito had planned to return to Yokohama in 2009 on the 150th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama Port with a new Guinness World Record for being the oldest person to sail solo around the world with no port stops along the way. He had set the record at age 71.
His 56-foot steel-hulled sailboat, Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III, logged over 28,500 miles in a tortuous, dramatic voyage that lasted 1,080 days, about four times as long as the 287 days he had originally planned when he set off. The voyage was meant to test his 35 years of sailing experience — and it did that to the uptmost.
A smooth journey turned into a nightmare as he was rounding Cape Horn at the tip of South America. A fierce gale pushed him back for three days and crippled the boat’s steering and propeller at midnight amid 50-knot winds and 30-foot waves. Saito got a tow from a ship captain who had been dispatched by the Chilean Coast Guard to take pick him up but abandon his boat. During his long winter wait in frigid southern Chile Saito for his boat to be repaired, Saito underwent an emergency hernia operation.
A year later, while his boat was being repaired again at a marina in Honolulu, it was hit by a tidal wave from the tsunami generated by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. While waiting for the repairs in Hawaii Saito was hit by a car while walking on a crosswalk. He was forced back into the hospital for surgery to repair his knee.
He left Hawaii in May and made it across to the Japanese island of Chichijima for more repairs to his boat. He also had to wait out four passing typhoons and was hit by a fifth named Talas. Saito was forced to spend a week on board to make sure the boat stayed safely tied to a big-ship mooring far out into the harbor.
“He’s the talk of the island, and many of the fishermen here are concerned about him,” a senior Coast Guard officer told Saito’s shore crew in Tokyo after watching his valiant devotion to the boat.
Saito is 77 years, 8 months, and 10 days old.