The “Wrong Way Around”

Sailing west-to-east to circle the globe solo in a wind-driven craft is no small feat. Scores of adventurous sailors have achieved that dream, but only a handful have done it westward instead — the “wrong way around” — against the prevailing winds, currents, and waves. Captain Minoru Saito has been doing just that.

A westward solo circumnavigation of the Earth is the blue-water sailor's equivalent of an oxygen-less ascent of Mount Everest. Add frequent on-the-nose gales to make it interesting, against opposing currents that move with the spin of the Earth. Throw in the possibility of colliding with other vessels, icebergs, or lost cargo containers in the dark of night. Or losing your steering hundreds or thousands of miles from the nearest help.

If you have been following Saito on his now nearly three-year adventure, you know it's been that and more.

His boat became disabled not once but twice as he attempted — finally succeeding over 10 months — three separate passages of Cape Horn. On the first attempt, his rudder became jammed and unusable just past midnight in a 3-day gale. On the second attempt, his headsail was blown out.

As he waited on repairs, he was forced to over-winter in Chile just 600 miles north of the Antarctic ice pack.

1,000 miles later, the world's fourth-strongest earthquake on record struck barely 200 miles away from him in northern Chile, causing tsunami waves to sweep nearby fishing ports.

Along the voyage, his genoa headsail has had to be replaced twice and re-sewn once, and his headsail furler was replaced, also twice.

The boat's hydraulically assisted steering failed two separate times, forcing him to seek repairs first in Australia and again in the storied Galapagos Islands.

He nearly lost his mast on his first attempt to leave Hawaii, forcing his return and requiring him to over-winter there.

Meanwhile the toll has been hard on the skipper himself: He lost a dental bridge to a bone-hard biscuit, underwent abdominal surgery in Chile to repair a muscle tear, smashed his right hand, ripped a 6x1-inch gash in his right forearm, and became rail-thin after the Chilean winter living in a boat with no internal heating, no running water, and subject to constant bashing by other vessels in a crowded fishing harbor.

So, there’s little wonder that few single-handers attempt such a feat westward — and none even approaching Saito's age. When he finishes this voyage he will be well into his 77th year.

He already holds the Guinness World Book Record as the oldest non-stop circumnavigator. His next record might well be written this way on his return to Yokohama in September, 2011:
Minoru Saito crossed the finish line on his record 8th single-handed circumnavigation, making him the oldest sailor to complete a solo circumnavigation at age 77 and 8 months, the most number of times (8), and the oldest solo sailor to complete a westward circumnavigation, going the “wrong way around.”


Sailing Route at a Glance

Departure date

October 2, 2008 - Kenzaki Lighthouse near Yokohama Port

Return date

September 17, 2011, Yokohama Port

Sailing direction

East to west, contrary route

Rhumbline distance

28,500 nautical miles

Wind-driven distance

Approx. 40,000 NM due to frequent tacking against wind

Oceans to cross

North and South Pacific, Indian, Southern Atlantic, (Southern Ocean), South Pacific, North Pacific (on return)

Key navigation points

Japan, New Guinea, Tasmania, Australia, Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), Falklands Isl., Cape Horn (Chile), west coast of Chile, Galapagos Isl., Hawaii, Ogasawara Isl. Hachijojima Isl., Japan

Most difficult areas

Cape Horn and Indian Ocean due to opposing winds & heavy seas, rapidly changing weather

Saito’s age at start

74 years and 10 months

Saito’s age at finish

77 years and 8 months