Japanese solo sailor wins Blue Water Medal 2006

Minoru Saito (pictured left) completed his seventh solo circumnavigation at the age of 71 – a track record that puts Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to shame! No wonder, then, that the Cruising Club of America (CCA) presented him with the prestigious Blue Water Medal for 2006 at their Annual Awards Dinner in New York last Tuesday, January 16.
The Blue Water Medal was inaugurated by the Cruising Club of America in 1923 to ‘reward meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities that might otherwise go unrecognized.’  Previous Blue Water Medalists have included Eric Hiscock, Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier.    

Minoru Saito began serious sailing 1973 at the age of 39 by participating in races in Japan.  Thirteen years later he purchased a 43-foot sailboat in Australia and entered several grueling races between Australia, New Zealand and Japan, including the Melbourne to Osaka Race, Around Australia Single-handed Race (where he suffered a heart attack, forcing him to retire from the race) and the Auckland-Fukuoka Race.  Between races, while sailing from Japan to Sydney, he survived a typhoon, two cyclones and several knock-downs from gale force winds.

Saito first raced around the globe in the 1990-1991 BOC Challenge aboard his 50 foot sloopShutendohji IIand has been sailing almost continuously in solo world-circling races and voyages ever since. His latest voyage which ended in June, 2005, in Japan, completed 240,000 miles at sea. 
To qualify and participate in the third BOC round-the-world race, he sailed from Sydney, Australia to Newport, R.I., then in the race itself.  In 1994 he sailed from Japan to Charleston, S.C. to participate in the fourth BOC Challenge then back to Japan, via the Red Sea, thus completing two circumnavigations in one continuous trip.  In 1997 he sailed from Japan to England via Australia then the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa in the Single-handed Trans-Atlantic race between Falmouth, England and Charleston, and then participated in the fifth BOC Challenge, renamed the “Around Alone.”  On returning to Japan, via Cape Town and Tasmania, Australia, he had completed his sixth circumnavigation. 

His latest voyage, dubbed “Challenge-7,” began in Tokyo in October, 2004 taking the form of an informal contest between him and Japanese single-hander Kenichi Horie.  Saito completed the route without stopping 7 1/2 months later on June 6, 2005, a few days ahead of Horie to notch up his seventh circumnavigation. 

 Minoru Saito has always sailed without sponsorship with a sparsely funded budget and with a long-running heart ailment.  While seldom among the winners and sailing an ageing boat, his dogged persistence, cheerful attitude and indomitable spirit have been recognized and praised in yachting circles all over the world.