After 60 days at sea in the Velux 5 Oceans, Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi is happy to be on dry land 16/3/07

Kojiro Shiraishi, onboard his Open 60 Spirit of Yukoh, crossed the finish line of leg 2 in the Velux 5 Oceans at 08:47 local time (12:47 UTC) yesterday, 15 March 2007. After 60 days, 6 hours and 47 minutes at sea and 15,113 miles of racing, the popular skipper from Japan arrived in Norfolk (Virginia, USA). It marks the end of a tough and frustrating second leg for the spiritual adventurer, which saw him plagued by problematic weather patterns and bad luck ever since he left Fremantle (Western Australia) on 14 January.

Shiraishi spoke from dockside: “I am very happy to be on dry land. Sixty days is a very long time to be at sea alone. It was a leg of patience from the start of the race when I had the high pressure in front of me. Patience, patience, patience. I crossed the Southern Ocean stuck in a high pressure system; it was not like the Southern Ocean you expect. But there was no major damage onboard so I am very happy.”

“Bernard Stamm did a great job tactically and with fantastic sailing skills and perhaps even a little bit of luck but I must congratulate him on a fantastic race. But I will retain my style to keep the boat safe and I won’t change that style.”

Kojiro Shiraishi looked in great shape, unlike his arrival in Fremantle, Western, Australia where the race had taken its toll to such an extent that Kojiro lost eight kilos in weight. He commented: “There was no wind so plenty of time to wash clothes, to eat and eat and eat!”

During the early part of the Southern Ocean leg Shiraishi witnessed an incredible sight: “For two days at sea the sky was lit with the lights of the Aurealis Australis (Southern Lights) and at the same time passed the McNaught Comet – it was unforgettable.”

The Second Leg

Only three days behind leader Bernard Stamm after the dramatic first leg, the Japanese hero is now over 15 days behind the defending champion from Switzerland. Although any hope of victory may now appear slim, the result still marks a monumental achievement for Koji, who has attracted followers and admirers in Japan and around the world with his captivating logs and pictures of life at sea and his assured performance in an Open 60 racing yacht.

Upon leaving Fremantle, Kojiro initially kept pace with Bernard Stamm’s Cheminees Poujoulat around Cape Leeuwin and across the Great Australian Bight, despite twisting his ankle and suffering from his usual seasickness. However, the approach to the first ice waypoint to the south east of New Zealand presented a huge challenge to both Stamm and Shiraishi, due to the large high pressure system sitting in their path.

Whilst Stamm chose to dive far south before riding the system north to clip the eastern-most point of the gate, Shiraishi could not risk the same manoeuvre and instead became parked up for many days, fighting to pass through the mandatory waypoint. Koji was forced to watch Stamm blast off into the distance towards Cape Horn as he waited for an opportunity. This weather system would effectively create the basis of the unassailable lead that saw Stamm arrive in Norfolk 3,000 miles ahead of the Japanese skipper.

This marked the beginning of a number of problematic weather patterns and conditions for the young adventurer, who was plagued by bad luck, high pressure systems and uncharacteristically benign conditions in the Southern Ocean. Having sailed in the wild seas of the Southern Ocean before in the Velux 5 Oceans, the Japanese skipper was amazed to encounter calm seas, light winds and clear skies. Frustration started to grow as he sat for days on end with no wind at all. Shiraishi set out to catch up to Stamm, but the Swiss skipper was untouchable as he continued to power his way towards Norfolk.

Shiraishi finally rounded Cape Horn after 30 days, the third time for Kojiro but his first time in an Open 60 yacht. Koji experienced very different conditions at the tip of South America than previously, with excellent night sailing conditions. It was certainly the right moment for the saké addict to open a special bottle he had saved for this famous landmark. Offering some of the traditional Japanese drink to the God of the Pacific, he then asked for a welcome from the Atlantic God, before offering some to Spirit of Yukoh and all the people supporting him in his race around the world.

As he entered in the Atlantic Ocean, Kojiro had to tack constantly to head north and continued to suffer from large pockets of light winds. The temperatures soon began rising quickly and the Zen master left his jackets and fleeces for his summer clothes. With the inside of the boat like a sauna and too hot to stay down below, Kojiro managed to spend time relaxing outside, reading Buddhist teachings and practising Iaido to keep him calm and maintain focus.

By the end of the leg, Kojiro Shiraishi finally caught some stronger, more stable winds to bring him home to Norfolk. In the final weeks, he celebrated the 16th anniversary of Yukoh Tada’s death, his great friend and past winner of the Velux 5 Oceans, who committed suicide during a previous race. In harmony with his mentor’s philosophy, Kojiro paid great respect to the elements, the competitors, the boat and his team, always trying to see the glass half full instead of half empty and aspiring to achieve the greatness of his sailing master.

The Velux 5 Oceans has seen Kojiro record a fantastic performance for a skipper competing for the first time in the 60 foot class. Kojiro only took ownership of the yacht months before the start of the race. His performance has been superb and an illustration of his seamanship skills and the professional organisation of his team, especially given the disadvantage of an older generation yacht without canting keel technology.

Australian Race Director, and previous race winner, David Adams commented: “I think that Kojiro did a very good job. The first thing that struck me when Kojiro crossed the line was how impeccable his boat looked. There was no damage, his boat was very well looked after and this said to me that Shiraishi was indeed an impressive seaman.”

Norfolk will play host to the Velux 5 Oceans throughout March and April as the other skippers arrive, with the yachts moored in downtown Norfolk at the waterfront marina in the heart of the city. The yachts will set off on the final leg of the round the world race to Bilbao on April 15, with a spectacular send off in Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay ahead of the start of the Azalea Festival (NATO festival) and the 400 year celebrations of the Jamestown landings.