100% Spirit : Kojiro Shiraishi plans for 2020

Channel ambiance with Kojiro Shiraishi (JAP), skipper Spirit of Yukoh, start of the Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, on November 6th, 2016 - Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

Ambiance chenal avec Kojiro Shiraishi (JAP), skipper Sp

After his initial disappointment, he showed considerable dignity and composure, visibly touched by the huge following he had gathered from around the world, and especially among his fellow competing solo skippers. 

The race lost its first ever Japanese competitor, the first Asian to take the start of the race, but almost immediately he pledged to be back in 2020 to complete the dream which he has harboured his whole sailing life. 

Shiraishi's race up until that point had seen something of a slow burn start. He suffers from terrible, debilitating sea sickness, but once the mal de mer was under control, he made steady progress up through the fleet with his Farr designed Spirit of Yukoh which started life as Estrella Damm and finished third in the 2012-13 race as Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss.  He was 12th when he retired, competing hard among a group including Nandor Fa, Conrad Colman, Stephane Le Diraison, Arnaud Boissières

That Shiraishi has considerable ocean racing and sailing experience is perhaps overlooked too often. He became the youngest Japanese sailor to sail around the world in 1996 at the age of 26, and completed the Around Alone round the world in 2003 and then was second in the Velux 5 Oceans around the world in 2006-2007. And Kojiro has completed ocean crossing multihull records with Bruno Peyron and Lionel Lemonchois. 

His desire is to complete the Vendée Globe and that target drives him as much today as it ever has. But carrying on the legacy of his remarkable mentor Yukoh Tada is his guiding light, hence Spirit of Yukoh. He was « apprenticed » to the former Tokyo taxi driver, painter and poet who took up ocean racing and raced around the world before unfortunately taking his own life during the 1991 BOC Challenge Race.

Shiraishi's Vendée Globe touched hundreds of thousands of followers in Japan. Since taking his boat back home and restepping a replacement spare mast, he has worked diligently to show off his programme to the public, sailing all around Japan, meeting fans, working for his enthusiastic existing sponsors and meeting potential new financial backers. 

He had hoped to be bringing his boat to Europe for this racing season but as yet has not enough budget. He notes that potential backers understand and are enthused by the solo non stop race around the world, but it is not as easy to convince them of the value of the preliminary « build up » races and the Globe Series.

VG: How is life, what is happening at the moment?

There are lots happening at the moment in Japan. I am constantly looking to find sponsors to be able to compete in the next Vendée Globe in 2020. We shipped the boat back to Japan after the dismasting and last summer had a great campaign with hundreds of people coming to sail with me in the Japanese waters.

VG: How long did it take you to recover from the disappointment of retiring from the Vendée Globe, did you do anything specific to help?

Actually for me, the disappointment period was only from the time I dismasted to the time I arrived in South Africa. Because I read thousands of comments from people all around the world who cheered me on and I was moved by that.  The disappointment was offset by that knowledge and knowing so many people support me has really driven me on since then.  All my sponsors were very supportive of the fact I had to retire the race. But they have been very optimistic to sponsor me again for my next campaign.

VG: You have had the boat back in Japan, what have you done with it? Do you have a brand new rig? 

My team did an excellent job to put the boat back in the water again. The aim was to have the boat back in water to do public relations work in Japan, and do easy corporate and guest sailing with the intent to have the boat back in competitive mode when we get it back to France. That’s why we decided to put an old mast of ours that was lying in Southampton on the boat and brought it back to Japan with our container. At the moment, we are looking at changing the rig and setups. If we can get enough sponsorship money, I'd like to put foils on. But that is not our priority.

© Yoichi YabeVG: What sailing have you done since? Do you sail any other boats? 

I did lots of sailing during the summer time with hundreds of people coming to sail. I participated in a few regattas in Japan, but had to retire in some of them as courses went under bridges that we couldn’t get through! As far as looking for money goes, I did meet lots of sponsors by playing golf with them. Of course, I have held many lectures and talk shows in front of thousands of Japanese enthusiasts.

VG: Were you at all surprised at how well you were doing in the race? What were your strengths and weaknesses?

The way I have been racing hasn’t changed since the first race I competed in during the Around Alone race. I usually start slow due to a very bad seasickness I have, and once I start feeling better it goes very well. I start having better senses of the nature, the wind, the waves thus making me having better intuition. When I dismasted, I was really up and feeling my real best. But I feel this is a challenge given by God. He told me to keep on, to look forward and never give up.

VG: How is your following at home? Has there been more interest since the Vendée Globe? 

The following at home was tremendous. We organized live interviews with a national television (TV Asahi) once a week with millions of viewers, and also we had a special program about not only myself but the Vendée Globe on the National Television NHK which helped promote the race in Japan.  I also got the sportsmanship award of the year in 2016. At first, I was surprised because 2016 was a tremendous year of sports in Japan with the Olympics and the World Cup. I did not want to have the prize because I didn’t achieve anything. But I also thought, getting the prize is also good to show people that failure is something that happens to everyone. That is the reason I accepted the prize. I don’t consider myself a celebrity. The only reason why I do what I do is to give positive thoughts to all Japanese people who follow what I do.

VG: How is your financial situation? Do you have some new sponsors and/or the same sponsors? 

My financial situation isn’t where I want to be but I am very optimistic. I wanted to start sailing in Europe this year but thinking about schedule, getting a new mast and so on. We might not have time. I am constantly meeting new sponsor's executives to try to have them on board this wonderful project. Most of my sponsors have agreed to follow me for the next Vendée Globe but they don’t see the need to sponsor so far before the actual Vendée Globe. I am still trying to convince new sponsors. We’ll see! Depending on the amount of money, I would like to have a new boat or a boat that would be more competitive than the one I have.

VG: So what is your plan towards 2020? 

2020 will be a big year in Japan, because there is the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and also, I would love to be part of the fleet of the Vendée Globe. We are not sure yet, when we can bring the boat back that depends on funding. But I am conscious of the Globe Series and I really want to bring the boat back to Europe as soon as possible.

VG: Are you still in touch with other skippers? What is your view of the race now after 2016-2017? 

Unfortunately, I am not in touch directly with other skippers. I would love to show Japan to all the skippers and have them come here. I have been watching closely the way offshore sailing has changed not only from 2016 but since 2002 when I first raced. Back then, it was more like an adventure, a survival race, now it became very professional, very competitive with boats that are constantly evolving. And I don’t think this will change. In fact, I do prefer the old time when we amongst skippers were always helping each other out and it was more of an adventure that everyone was enjoying.

Young blood

Meantime Shiraishi is very conscious of trying to help young Japanese sailors benefit from his experience to allow them to enjoy the challenges of ocean racing. He has been joined by two young crew members who were in Bermuda last year as part of the Youth America’s Cup Team Japan, the Kaijin Team Japan. Federico Sampei, 22, and Simon Suzuki, 27, met Kojiro last Autumn and asked if they could come and help out on the project.

« They are young and keen to learn and both speak very good English. On top of that, Simon speaks very good French as one of his parents is French », notes long time press relations supremo Shota Kanda. « They both will be part of the next Vendée Globe project in France and be a great new asset for the team. » 

This month, they helped take the boat out of the water and did an excellent job replacing all the antifouling. 

Kojiro said: «  it is a great thing that someone younger than me has stepped up to learn an IMOCA boat. It was a struggle to find young keen crew that wanted to continue the legacy I started. »

Offshore racing is very minor in Japan, and is not really seen as a sport. There are probably fewer than five Japanese sailors that have competed in single handed racing. One of the goals of bringing the boat back to Japan was to create a movement in the offshore racing scene at home and in bring young blood who in the future might able to race in the world. 

In the long run, Kojiro would like to be able to coach young Japanese people to compete in a Vendée Globe or other big ocean races. 



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