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Shiraishi hopes to honour spirit of Yukoh after qualifying for Vendée Globe

Spirit of Yukoh © Benoit Stichelbault / Sea&Co / Ocean Masters Newrest-Matmut © Christophe Favreau
Spirit of Yukoh © Benoit Stichelbault / Sea&Co / Ocean Masters Newrest-Matmut © Christophe Favreau

After sailing the race of his life, Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of Yukoh finished seventh late on Friday night in the inaugural 2016 New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode.

Finishing the race was emotional for many reasons for Shiraishi. It was a great performance in itself, and it meant he had achieved the necessary sailing qualifications for the Vendée Globe.

Shiraishi, 49, from Kamakura, a small town by the sea, 40 miles south of Tokyo, would be the first Japanese sailor to compete in the Vendée Globe.

But finishing is also the start of carrying a torch lit by his mentor, Yukoh Tada. Shiraishi was his assistant when the 61-year-old Tada committed suicide in 1991 in Sydney after withdrawing from the BOC round-the-world race following a gruelling 50-day voyage to Sydney from Cape Town. It had been Tada’s dream to compete in the Vendée Globe after it was launched in 1989. Shiraishi names all his boats in his honour – this is the fourth Spirit of Yukoh.

“I think Yukoh is looking over me tonight and really congratulating me,” Shiraishi said. “Yukoh knew and loved Les Sables (d’Olonne), so, as a finish for this race and for the Vendée Globe, it’s something really special to me.”

"I managed to do this transatlantic without breaking anything. That was my priority. I’m very happy and honoured. It was also a pleasure to race alongside all the contenders in the Vendée Globe.

If I can be at the start of the Vendée Globe, I’ll be the first Japanese sailor, and I’m  confident. I'm almost ready for the Vendée Globe. My project is not yet 100% completed financially. I’m going back to Japan to find the necessary funds and then it’s up to the organisers here (in the Vendée).”

Shiraishi crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on Friday, June 10 at 23:01:40 (French time). Shiraishi covered the course in 12 days 01 hour 21 minutes and 40 seconds. He finished 2 days 08 hours 23 minutes and 48 seconds behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ), having sailed 3,500 miles at an average speed of 12,10 knots.

Though it was all about finishing for Shiraishi, he managed a remarkable race in a boat he is still getting to grips with and considering it was his first major solo IMOCA 60 race for 10 years, since he finished second in the Velux 5 Oceans in 2006.

Spirit of Yukoh is a Farr boat launched in 2007 and was Seb Josse’s BT in the 2008-09 Vendée Globe. Roland Jourdain sailed it to victory in the 2010 Route du Rhum and it was Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe, finishing third.

“It’s a very special race for me especially in terms of the time I had to prepare for the race,” he said. “It’s only been two months since I had the boat in hand, so it’s almost a miracle to have finished the race.

I have been able to get the measure of my boat, I'm in tune with it. This is a very fast boat and I still need to get a handle on it, and with more training, I can go even faster.

The goal was to not the break the boat, so I couldn’t take the same routes as the guys who were here to test their boats and try and win. I took the safest route.”

And Shiraishi had a first taste of the traditional welcome home as he headed through the Port Olona channel at midnight. “I didn’t think so many people would be out to see me come in because I was only seventh,” he said. “The French have been very welcoming to me, I thank them all. Tonight, there was the first match of the Euros (football); France won and I’m happy because if France had lost, perhaps no one would be here to see me in."

Shiraishi held off the Frenchman, Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest - Matmut), who crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne almost five hours later on Saturday, June 11 at 04:00:15 (French time). Amedeo covered the course in 12 days 06 hours 20 minutes and 15 seconds. He finished 2 days 13 hours 22 minutes and 23 seconds behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ), having sailed 3,525 miles at an average speed of 11,98 knots.

And then there were five. Only the Bay of Biscay separates them from the finish and it looks kinder and quicker than for those in front.

In the battle of the damaged boats, Morgan Lagravière (Safran) still leads Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir) and Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel – Virbac), but the margins have dropped dramatically in the last 24 hours and it promises to be another fascinating three-way finish in solid south-westerliers. They are expected back between 05:00 and 08:00 (French time) on Sunday morning.

Lagravière led Eliès by 70 miles and Dick by 130 miles respectively on Friday morning; that gap was down to 20 miles on Saturday afternoon and Dick had almost caught Eliès.

200 miles back and further south, pointing to the north coast of Spain, The Dutch skipper, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) and the American-New Zealander, Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) have been inseparable. Heerema has slipped back into last place having chosen to complete his three-hour penalty (for transgressing the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) on the way back to Newport). There will be a few gybes to make in a WSW wind that should swing WNW tomorrow during the day. They are expected in late on Sunday.



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