NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. – Kenichi Horie made headlines in Japan in 1962 by sailing solo across the Pacific to San Francisco without a passport, and continues to record stunning seagoing achievements, including this summer, at age 66, completing his second round-the-world voyage via Cape Horn.
But half a century since he first took up yachting as a high school student, Horie, who has become a national icon, is still chasing his dreams and is readying for his next challenge.
“I’ve already started planning for my next trip in three years’ time,” he said in an interview with Kyodo News at Shin Nishinomiya Yacht Harbor in Hyogo Prefecture.
The details will not be revealed until next year, but Horie hinted that “the voyage will be completed by the time the 2008 Beijing Olympics begin.”
Recalling his 1962 trans-Pacific adventure, Horie said, “Back then, Japan was still in the era where work was everything in life and the Japanese public could not understand why and how a person could go sailing in a yacht like that.
“When I returned, everybody asked me why I sailed across the Pacific.”
Horie, his hair now silvery gray and his small form tanned by years at sea, said, “You know, even now, the only real purpose is that I want to go yachting and I want to enjoy it. When you like something, just like falling in love with someone, there is no reason to explain why.”
In June, Horie completed an eight-month nonstop voyage around the world, becoming the second person ever to circumnavigate the globe solo in both an easterly and westerly direction.
In 1974, he was the first Japanese and the fourth person ever to successfully complete a westbound trip. He also sailed around North and South America between 1978 and 1982.
In the diary he kept on the 1962 voyage to San Francisco, published in Japanese and English under the title “Alone in the Pacific,” Horie described how it was impossible for him to obtain a passport from the government at a time when Japan was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II and severe restrictions were imposed on overseas travel.
Horie was prepared to be arrested and deported when he reached San Francisco. “Even so, I wanted to do it and so I went without one,” he recalled.
At the time, U.S.-Japanese relations were rocky due to massive protests in Japan against the bilateral security treaty with Washington. Horie, however, ended up being granted honorary citizenship upon his arrival, thanks to San Francisco Mayor George Christopher.
Horie was a first-grader when Japan surrendered in 1945. As one who lived through the war years, he feels there is a slight difference between himself and the postwar generation.
“I raise the Japanese Hinomaru flag on my yacht and people think I’m a rightwinger. There used to be more yachts bearing the Japanese flag, but now it feels as if you can’t raise the flag anymore,” he said.
“I like my country. I want to have pride in my identity as a Japanese and I think we all should,” he said. After all, it is the international standard to fly the country flag on one’s ship when sailing in the open sea.
Starting in the 1990s, Horie began experimenting with various kinds of recycled materials in building his yachts.
In 1996, he sailed across the Pacific in the solar-powered Malt’s Mermaid built from recycled aluminum beer cans, and three years later, on the Malt’s Mermaid II made of beer barrels. In 2002, he sailed on the Malt’s Mermaid III made of recycled whiskey barrels.
“I am not trying to start a movement to protect the environment or anything like that. I just hope that by using recycled materials on my yachts, more people will become interested in conservation,” Horie said.
In his latest circumnavigation, the 13-meter Suntory Mermaid was made of recycled aluminum and polyester fiber. The 4.7-ton yacht used solar cells to generate electric power.
“Having sailed all around the world, it is a pity I have to say that the dirtiest water is in Osaka Bay,” Horie said. Osaka is his hometown.
“The waters near the equator were the most beautiful because there was coral and the weather is nice. It was nice in the Antarctic Ocean, too, but it’s too cold there,” he said laughing.
“In past voyages, I used to see a lot of flying fish. They’d jump into my yacht and I’d have a feast of grilled fish with salt,” he laughed. “I rarely get that anymore.”
Technological progress has also had a significant impact on Horie’s journeys.
Back in 1962, he only had a transistor radio and was unable to contact his family to let them know he was safe while at sea. By the 90th day of his voyage, his friends in Japan had filed a search request with police.
“Since then, I’ve been armed with an amateur radio. Now my yacht is equipped with a satellite phone and I can even use the Internet,” Horie said.
“The solo voyages are still lonesome, but the loneliness is different now that I can always be in contact with people,” he said.
The latest journey was also Horie’s first cruise around the world using the global positioning system. “Of course, I’m still confident that I can sail around the world without GPS, but it’s so convenient that having tried it once, there’s no return,” he said laughing.
For his 1962 voyage, young Horie spent five years planning and saving up money from part-time jobs to realize the trip. Nowadays, he is backed by major beverage maker Suntory Ltd., which has been sponsoring his adventures since 1992.
With his onboard Internet connection, Horie has been exchanging e-mails with Japanese students while he was at sea since 1999. During his 250-day voyage this time, he swapped e-mails with some 850 children at six elementary schools and constantly updated the public about his voyage through his Web site.
“I hope the young generation will take up the challenge to turn their dreams into goals, because through challenging oneself, one can see many new possibilities,” he said.
In his memoir of the 1962 trip, Horie revealed that he was not particularly immune to seasickness. As a well-weathered yachtsman for half a century, he has a small piece of advice.
“It’s all right to get seasick. You’ll get used to it after a few times and paradise awaits you from there onward! Just take up the challenge and don’t run away.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.