The Around Alone's Japanese skipper and third time entrant comments on leg one.

Minoru Saito has been here before. The 64-year-old Class II skipper from Tokyo and his slim 50-footer Shuten-dohji II (whose namesake is a horrible if mythical Japanese monster) could’ve easily negotiated the approach to Cape Town without charts. Early this morning, at 0205 GMT (4:05 a.m. local time), Saito crossed the finish line off the cape city for the third time in his Around Alone career, having participated in the event’s 1990-91 and 1994-95 editions. His time of 55d/09h/50m/22s was three-and-a-half days quicker than last time, but several hours off the personal best he recorded his first time out. It didn’t matter. Saito’s stated goal for Leg 1 was to arrive before the cut-off deadline of November 28, one week from today. Race rules stipulate that all boats must cross the finish line before or on that date to be eligible to continue on Leg 2 of the race to Auckland, New Zealand, which begins here on December 5. “I am very happy to be here,” Saito said. “Now I can be continuing the race.”

Saito’s journey had its ups and downs. He arrived in Cape Town on the tail end of a spanking southeaster. But by the time he reached the finish line, it was a drifter. “Not so bad, not so good,” he said of the weather. In the grander scheme of things, both his autopilot and his wind vane ceased to function properly, forcing him to spend long periods at the helm. In fact, he said, “After equator, steering no good. Almost all hand steering.” Saito, of course, has already proven that he can sail around the world. He’s returned with a broader mission. First, he wants to sail his two-hundred-thousandth mile. Second, after his 65th birthday on January 7, he’ll be the oldest Around Alone skipper ever (should he go on to finish the race). Finally, he is anxious to return to the Southern Ocean, and pay homage there to his old mate Harry Mitchell, who was lost at sea in the last race. “I like Southern Ocean,” he said. “I don’t like the doldrums, but I am happy in Southern Ocean.”

With Saito in Cape Town, three sailors remain at sea. The first, Robin Davie, is making his rudderless way in and should arrive early next week. But Neil Hunter, who had 793 miles to go at 0944 GMT, and Fedor Konioukhov, with 956 miles ahead of him at 0553 GMT, may be in danger of missing the November 28 deadline. Konioukhov’s troubles were compounded yesterday when he collided with a whale. “I was steering for two hours with the boatspeed at 14- to 15-knots and decided to make some coffee,” he wrote. “I reduced sail and went [down below] and started to undress my wet clothes. Suddenly I felt strong hit but no noise. I realized that in a huge ocean I managed to find a whale. Actually there were two hits, first boat hit a whale, then in a couple of seconds whale hit a boat.

“I rushed outside to see my guest,” he continued. “It was a blue whale, much bigger than my boat. I was lucky that I did not hit him [square on], I just touched him alongside. I was looking on this whale until something reminded me–how is my keel doing now!? (Konioukhov had experienced keel problems earlier on the voyage.) I carefully check all the bolts…they didn’t move. Everybody knows that I am not a racer,” the longtime adventurer added. “A couple of days before the start one skipper in Class I promised me a lot of new experiences from being in the race. I definitely don’t need that kind of experience. I don’t know why I took all the bad stuff in Leg 1. Maybe not all [over] yet…”

Konioukhov then excused himself from his letter, explaining that he had to get back to the helm and push on for Cape Town. The self-acclaimed “non-racer” is playing a game of beat the clock.