Unless you’re a sailing enthusiast, the name Vendée Globe may not mean much. But this around-the-globe, non-stop solo yacht race, held once every four years, is the most demanding challenge of its kind and considered the ultimate in ocean racing. Aiming to add his name to the list of less than 200 captains to successfully complete the race since it began in 1989, Kojiro Shiraishi, 48, will become the first Asian to ever take part in this hallowed contest when the 2016 edition of Vendée Globe gets started in Les Sables-d'Olonne, France, this November.
Spinning a world globe in his hands as we chat to him about the race, Shiraishi looks like an excited young boy overflowing with curiosity and adventurous spirit. ‘If I didn’t have a globe to spin like this, I’d have no idea of what to expect in this competition. That’s quite unusual [for a competition], isn’t it?’ However, when asked if he’s prepared, he assures us he could set sail ‘right away – tomorrow, if need be’.
That’s because Shiraishi continuously keeps himself in top form, honing his skills as the professional skipper he is. There’s no way he could even begin to think about competing in the Vendée Globe otherwise. The race begins in western France before following a course from west to east via the three major capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn. It’s treacherous at times and can take anywhere from 78 days to 160 days to complete, with many sailors capsizing along the way.
The race itself sure is daunting, but Shiraishi has already overcome one tall hurdle: he managed to raise the whopping ¥300 million in funding required in order to compete, despite yacht racing not exactly capturing the attention of the masses in Japan, and formally announced his participation this April. Shiraishi managed to entice people with his talk of how ‘there’s no race more exciting than this: a single person, the smallest unit of humanity, circumnavigating this enormous world alone, relying on nothing but the wind’.
Asia's first-ever Vendée participant will be taking on the ocean in an IMOCA 60 yacht, a model usually manned by a crew of 10. Named after the late Yuko Tada, Shiraishi's mentor, the ship had been around the globe several times before Shiraishi acquired it – a fact that comforts the ambitious skipper, who says he's aiming for a top three finish. On the other hand, he emphasises that the result isn't everything, and wants to use this opportunity to teach kids how important a role adventure plays in life.
Doesn’t he think he’ll get lonely out there, all on his own? The ever-upbeat Shiraishi says he'll stock up on DVDs, rakugo records and classical CDs, and also notes that 'even though I’ll be by myself, I still think there’ll always be something interesting for me to do or see'. It’s the kind of positive attitude that’s helped him to charm his supporters so far, and the kind that’s bound to see him conquer the high seas once again.
Shiraishi's team continues to raise funds for the race – if you'd like to contribute, check out this page (in Japanese only) and make a donation between May 16 and September 9. Further details about the Vendée Globe race can be found at www.vendeeglobe.org/en.