June 10, 2007



Shiraishi credits sailing career to mentor Tada


Published in The Japan Times
“Ask yourself when you last spent a single day with no human contact — then multiply this by 100!” — VELUX 5 OCEANS pre-race press release.

This was the challenge faced by eight extraordinary sailors during their around-the-globe competition, the VELUX 5 OCEANS, from October 2006 to May.

Kojiro Shiraishi, a Tokyo-born, Kamakura-raised sailor, completed the 48,280-km (30,000 mile) odyssey in 118 days, 1 hour, 42 minutes, reaching Bilbao, Spain, aboard Spirit of Yukoh in second place behind Bernard Stamm of Switzerland, who got there 15 days earlier.

There were only two stops along the way: Fremantle, Australia, located on the nation’s west coast, and Norfolk, Va. In between, the sailors braved the conditions — isolation, storms, winds, heat, cold — all the while managing themselves and their 18.2-meter (60-foot) yachts.

To reach Perth, Western Australia, the sailors traveled south beyond Africa’s southernmost tip and then headed east toward Western Australia. From there, they sailed westward, passing South America’s Cape Horn and then traveling north past countries including Argentina and Brazil before reaching Virginia. The journey’s final leg was a straight shot across the Atlantic Ocean to the northern Spanish city.

“Sixty-foot yachts are normally racing by a crew of 10-15,” a VELUX 5 OCEANS press released stated. “Sailing on one’s own is the ultimate test for the individual sailor.”

The journey began on Oct. 22 in Bilbao and officially came to an end May 6 in the same Spanish port city, where VELUX 5 OCEANS race director Dave Adams made these remarks about Shiraishi at the Palacio de Congresos y de la Musica:

“They should be extremely proud of him in Japan and I know his mentor Yukoh Tada would be extremely proud. He was fantastic and we all wanted this result for him, his family and supporters.

“I first met him in this race in 1990 when he was shore crew for Yukoh Tada. Koji has stepped up to the mark and he should walk away with his head held high.”

The VELUX 5 OCEANS, also dubbed the Ultimate Solo Challenge, began in 1982. It was previously known as the BOC Challenge and later called Around Alone.

Tada, a well-respected yachtsman in Japan, was employed as a taxi driver and also spent time as a musician and poet. He won his class in the 1982 BOC Challenge, and then became Shiraishi’s mentor in 1986.

“I was so impressed by what Tada had done that I went to look for him,” Shiraishi, who turned 40 in May, told The Sunday Times of London. “I just got the phone book, found his house and knocked on the door.”

It was a life-changing encounter.

A graduate of Kanagawa Misaki Fisheries High School and Yokohama National University’s education department, Shiraishi worked closely with Tada and observed the master’s seamanship techniques and life lessons.

“Tada-san didn’t necessarily teach me everything about sailing,” Shiraishi told reporters. “Instead the invaluable lessons I learnt from him were to hold on to my own identity, always enjoy life and care for my closest friends and family. I learned ‘how you can enjoy your life.’ Yukoh Tada was a cheerful, warm man that could be described as a ‘spring wind.’

 Tada committed suicide in 1991 in Sydney after withdrawing from the BOC Challenge.

Shiraishi never forgot his master. He was on board Tada’s 15.2-meter ship on the long, hard journey back to Japan. And then he fixed it up (it had been capsized six times during the BOC Challenge) and renamed it Spirit of Yukoh in Tada-san’s honor.

In 1993-94, Shiraishi embarked on his first solo journey around the world. He completed the nonstop trek, which covered 46,115 kilometers, in 176 days, becoming the youngest sailor in the world to circumnavigate the globe.

Clearly, Shiraishi’s sailing career is a tribute to Tada.

Consider: the pupil placed fourth in the Around Alone’s 40-foot class competition in 2002-03, his second solo journey around the world.

“The best inspiration I have had during the race was Yukoh Tada and I wouldn’t be here without him,” Shiraishi said.

What Shiraishi referred to as Oriental ideology — “what I can always do is . . . be calm, wiping away things I should not think (about)” — helps guide him on the open seas.

He added: “In solo sailing, I think it is important to maintain a constantly optimistic attitude: keep yourself emotionally stable — not too happy, not too sad and not too angry.”

On his Internet home page, Shiraishi details his involvement with the Wish Achievement Project and is an advocate for better education in Japan.

Outside the classroom setting, he embodies the qualities of a classic hero.

But he refused to take all the credit. Sponsors, shore crew, publicists and others all play vital roles for these costly adventures.

“I believe the team work is absolutely critical. Getting the right blend of people that can work together happily is a great achievement,” Shiraishi said.

Learning to excel against Mother Nature — man’s toughest opponent — is a remarkable accomplishment, too.

“Everybody has his or her own dreams, and when you talk about where you get the power to pursue your dreams, when you come up with a dream from the center of your heart, it will never disappear,” Shiraishi revealed at a recent news conference in Tokyo, where DVD highlights of the VELUX 5 OCEANS race were shown.

“Now I would like to educate more Japanese about sailing and teach young Japanese to sail and to achieve their dreams,” he said.

He’s already set a great example.