A Fighting Spirit

Kojiro Shiraishi - Spirit of Yukoh
© Yoichi Yabe

Shiraishi himself was a key member of Tada’s shore team and has carried on his legacy and spirit, taking second place in the 2003 Around Alone in the Open 40 class and then second behind Bernard Stamm in 2006. He comes to the Vendée Globe armed with two successful circumnavigation races in his locker and with the well proven Farr designed IMOCA Spirit of Yukoh. The boat had a chequered history to start with, born in Cowes, England as Estrella Damm then becoming Sebastien Josse’s BT which retired into Auckland from the 2008-9 race with rudder  damage. But by 2011 it was fully optimised and strengthened for Alex Thomson, finishing runner up in the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2011 and then took third in the last race as Hugo Boss then more recently finished second in the Barcelona World Race as Guillermo Altadill and José Munoz Neutrogena. In the summer Shiraishi finished seventh in the New York- Vendée race, his shakedown with the 2007 Farr design.

In the warm autumn sunshine of Les Sables d’Olonne, the smile that seems permanently affixed to the face of the first Asian soloist ever to compete in the Vendée Globe is even bigger than usual. A mix up from the hardware supplier means he has just had the primary winch drum from François Gabart’s 2013 record holding, race winning IMOCA Macif fitted to his Spirit of Yukoh. “Now maybe I can sail as fast as François, maybe I will get round in under 80 days!’ grins Shiraishi, his infectious enthusiasm spreading to the huge crowds on the dock. “I am so happy to be here. This is a dream which I have held for almost 30 years, since I heard about it from my mentor Yukoh Tada. So being here now is just incredible.” He explains, “I just kept that dream in my head all of these years. I feel closer to him and I am so happy that my sponsors have allowed me to keep the name of the boat as Spirit of Yukoh in his honour. They understand the story and respect that.”

© Yoichi YabeHe has an excellent team of mainly French preparateurs and the boat is in good shape: “I am not quite ready at 100% yet. But I will be making adjustments all the time and I am sure that by the time I get back I will be fully ready! There is nothing big to do. It is all good. Since the New York-Vendee race we have had some new ropes and sails. We have five new sails from North Sails, a new main in 3Di which is lighter, and also the J1, J2, J3 and the blast reacher which are all new. Our objective most of all is to get around and so for example the blast reacher is heavier, it is very strong but it is hard because it is heavier. I talked with the sailmakers and the objective is to finish so the sails are all a little bit stronger and heavy.”

By now well proven and successful, changes to the boat since he took it on are relatively minor. “There are not many changes (to the boat) since the Vendée Globe and the Barcelona World Race. Alex (Thomson) had all the ropes coming to the cockpit and that was a bit complex for me and so I have some of them lead now to the base of the mast. I am happy going to the mast occasionally because I feel I can see and check more as I go. But I have had lots of input from Alex. The boat is very strong I think, if Alex could not break it then it’s good for me.” He is a firm believer in fate and good fortune: “This boat has had some very good luck. I feel strongly about luck. I think in the Vendée Globe and solo sailing the contribution of luck is about 20 per cent of the whole race. But really we don’t know what will happen and so you need to have the luck go your way. I am trying not to fight nature as it comes to me but to have the whole universe on my side.”

And his pursuit of the Vendée Globe is breaking into the mainstream Japanese TV media:  “There is a lot of interest from mainstream media in Japan, NHK and TV Asahi. TV Asahi is going to do at least one live interview all the way through the race. That is huge and they have a massive audience for their nightly news. And NHK is like the BBC and will do a three part documentary after the Vendée Globe. I will shoot in 4K and so they will have ultra high definition output.” He concludes: “ It will be amazing to be on the start line. We will have a full Samurai send off on the day. I can’t wait to be going.” And meantime with 12 days until the start will he be taking some time away from the incessant buzz and stress of the race village? “No time off. I rest after I am dead.”

Andi Robertson / M&M

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