1) Is there any situation where you are lost on what to do?
After so many years sailing there are still many surprises but mainly you just identify what the problem is, then apply your knowledge and instincts on the best solution under the conditions you face. When my finger was broken by a winch in the 1998 Around Alone Race I wrapped it up, then did everything one handed until I finished the final leg about 2 weeks later, crossing the Atlantic Ocean that way. I had no other choice… I never give up.
Another time, in 1994, I was capsized in a gale on the approach to Cape Horn and the boat was upside down and filling with water. That was one time I thought my life was over. But another big wave knocked Shuten-dohji II back over again and I could make repairs and continue the race. Again, there was nothing else I could do. I was very sad to learn my friend Harry Mitchell died that day about 200 miles away in the same gale. I have said that it must have been his spirit that helped right my boat.
2) What is your motivation for continuing to sail around the world?
When I was a child my brother and I had TB and a few years later my family home was destroyed in the bombing of Tokyo during WWII. I was in a hospital for TB patients for almost a year and fully recovered, but my life seemed very, very bleak. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I even considered suicide when an older friend told me “If you are going to die anyway, why not do your very best with the one life you have?” I don’t know why, but that gave me a 180-degree different outlook about what to do. So I started challenging myself – first as a rock climber, and then as a racing sailor. After his advice I never felt sorry for myself again.
3) Do you ever feel lonely, being alone all the time?
Sailing gives you such a great feeling, whether with others or by yourself. I never get bored or lonely. There is just too much to do. I love the voyage but I also love coming to port and being with other sailors. We have a special bond -- so you never feel alone on the water but you can make good friends whatever port you go to.
4) From the tone of your daily log, you sound like a very optimistic person, is that how you carry on your daily life in the boat?
As I said, I never give up. You can’t, when you are five hundred or a thousand miles out to sea. So you know that however hard the situation is, after a while the gale will pass or you will have figured out a solution to whatever the day’s problem is. On my 7th solo circumnavigation I lost my engine in the second month, but I figured I could still go the rest of the way under sail alone. Later a hole in my centerboard casing, right where I could not reach it, meant pumping for maybe an hour total every day for about five months. But there was no choice… I could not stop or the entire 233-day voyage would not count [as a non-stop unassisted circumnavigation]. But as long as the boat could continue I knew I’d be OK.
That trip all my fresh food went overboard when my electricity went out and I had no refrigeration. But I had very good Japanese pumpkins and plenty of rice and instant noodles. For vegetables I grew daikon [radish] sprouts and they are really tasty. I lost weight but it was not that big a problem. The worst thing was a throbbing toothache that kept coming back.
Funny thing but even though I had problems like that it was my easiest circumnavigation because it was non-stop, and I wasn’t racing. It was pretty relaxing except the last day, which was the longest because I was so close and the wind really got weak.
5) What is your greatest fear when sailing?
People ask me that a lot, and I know it may seem strange, but I never get afraid. It’s just exciting, no matter how bad the sea conditions get. I just think, “OK, sea, come on!”
6) Who/What do you miss when you sail?
Hmmm… I do miss my friends and I had a lady friend I thought I might marry but she died in a sailing accident in Hawaii while I was on the 1990 Around Alone race.
I love listening to opera [Luciano Pavarotti is his favorite] and I really miss a cold beer! This time, on Challenge 8, I will have an iPod with me and, I hope, a working refrigerator.
7) Can you really put down all your materialistic luxuries for the sake of sailing, like eating better food instead of canned food and instant noodles?
I do like to eat but on the water I don’t really miss it. Easy-to-prepare foods are best. Even simple foods like pumpkin can be delicious when you don’t have much else.
Sailing is the most wonderful thing you can do, so there isn’t really anything better. People are different and each has their own ideas about what they prefer to do and enjoy. For me it is sailing. I’m always ready to go.