83-Year-old Japanese man becomes oldest person to sail solo across the Pacific

ByEmiko Jozuka and Yuki Kurihara, CNN, CNNWire
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Japanese man becomes oldest to sail solo across Pacific
Six decades after first sailing alone from Japan to the United States, Kenichi Horie is due to become the oldest yachtsman to sail solo, nonstop, across the Pacific.

CALIFORNIA -- Sailing solo across the world's largest ocean once is enough of an achievement. But 83-year-old Japanese ocean adventurer Kenichi Horie has done it multiple times.

On Saturday, June 4, he set a record by becoming the world's oldest solo yachtsman to sail non-stop across the Pacific Ocean.

Horie arrived in the waters off the Kii Peninsula in western Japan at 2:39 a.m. local time, after spending more than two months crossing the world's largest body of water.

"Don't let your dreams just stay as dreams. Have a goal and work towards achieving this and a beautiful life awaits," Horie told CNN over a satellite phone as he made his way from Shikoku Island towards Wakayama, the final leg of his voyage.

Horie set sail on his 990 kg (2,182 lb) and 19-foot long sailboat -- the Suntory Mermaid III -- from San Francisco, California, on March 27.

He said some parts of the journey were challenging but he checked in with his family every day by calling them on his satellite phone. "If I didn't call at least once a day they'd worry," he added.

Horie made no port calls during his trip and was spotted off of Hawaii's Oahu Island on April 16. He will arrive in Cape Hinomisaki in western Japan on June 4.

The sailor will attend an arrival ceremony in Nishinomiya city in Hyogo prefecture after the Suntory Mermaid III is towed to its home port, Shin Nishinomiya Yacht Harbor.

'Japan's most-famous yachtsman'

This isn't the first time Horie has set out on an "epic Pacific cruise."

In 1962, Horie was a 23-year-old spare car parts salesman when he became the first person in history to successfully make a non-stop journey across the Pacific Ocean -- from Japan to California, according to the US National Park Service.

"I had the confidence that I would make it -- I just wanted to take on the challenge," Horie said, adding he sometimes felt anxious during the storms at sea as he only had a radio onboard and there was no GPS back then.

Horie told CNN he didn't have any official clearance before setting sail from Nishinomiya port on May 12, 1962. He journeyed across the ocean for 94 days on his 19-foot plywood boat, the Mermaid. After surviving on rice and canned food, he sailed through San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge unannounced with no passport or money.

Horie remembers joyously offering the Americans who came to meet him the sake and beer he'd brought with him across the Pacific.

Though Horie had no official papers, he said that San Francisco's then-Mayor George Christopher granted him a visa.

At the time, donations poured in to support Horie and he was in such demand by the media that interviews with him were limited to 20 minutes per outlet, the Gadsden Times reported.

Low-fi, eco-sailor

Since that sensational first trip, the intrepid sailor has crossed the Pacific on environmentally-friendly vessels, including everything from one powered by solar panels to another made from aluminum cans and plastic bottles.

In 1999, he sailed from San Francisco to Japan on a vessel made out of beer kegs.

Horie has spent the last decades sharing the idea that the sea is "an irreplaceable source of life for the Earth" but said he doesn't identify as an environmental activist. "I'm just doing my bit as a member of society," he said.

Horie, who has previously said he wants to keep sailing until he's 100, never expected that he'd be making a solo, non-stop journey across the Pacific six decades after he made his first trip.

"I didn't think I'd be sailing at 83 but I'm still healthy and I didn't want to miss this chance," he said. "Challenges are exciting so I'd like to keep trying."

As for the Mermaid -- the first boat that transported him to America -- that's kept at the National Maritime Museum in California.

A plate donated by Horie, immortalizing his request reads: "Recall for a short moment, if you will, the deed of a young Japanese, who loved the yacht and the United States of America."


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