Day 1080+2 [Sep. 19/11 JST] – Saito-san's Moment

Today's Report
Sep. 19/11 JST 

Position:  35°27'N, 139°39'E
Remaining to Yokohama:  0 nm / 100% finished

Flying the Japanese and U.S. flags, Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III and her beaming skipper eased into Yokohama Harbor in 20-kt winds at 10:25 am Saturday, Sep. 17, to be greeted by a throng of supporters, well wishers, and media. It was one of those moments that are recorded digitally and forever in memory. And this was definitely Minoru Saito's moment.

Saito-san in his moment of triumph
Thanks in good part to today's "Respect for the Elderly" national holiday, but also of course to the remarkable feat itself, various newspapers carried brief articles the next day but as a visual it was hard to beat the sight of the rusted and battered NBSDIII slowly moving toward the pier. On Fuji TV, Japan's top TV network, the morning news show carried a surprisingly long telephone interview with him. You heard his voice, with no video of him talking, and that gave them plenty of time to show a number of amazing photographs from the trip, and not least, "before" and "after" photographs of the boat herself.

The visual image projected: How could anyone, not to mention an old guy of 77 years, manage to survive a 3-year journey that subjected a 25-ton steel yacht to so much punishment?

Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III on arrival

Even before today's 6:30 am newscast, and another scheduled later today by TBS, another national network, Saito-san has apparently become something of a national hero. Yesterday afternoon we were with him at "Elephant Nose Park" a quayside area that has a double-level pedestrian walkway that looks down onto the boat and is close enough for many hundreds – thousands -- of passersby to take photographs, and many of whom call out "Omedeto (Congratulations)!" Their faces erupt in big smiles when Saito-san waves back and cheerily responds back, "Domo arigato!"

This IS of course, one of the big reasons for the circumnavigation, and for his oft-stated admonition to "Never give up!" which he immediately launched into in his welcome-home press interviews. It is just what Japan needs to hear in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, the tsunami devastation, and the nuclear-reactor(s) disaster that followed and is still very much a national crisis.

Japan has never needed a hero as it does now, someone to admire and see as an embodiment of the nation's ability to cope. Someone just a bit bigger than  life who can say something to the effect that "See, I could do it, and it wasn't easy, but so can YOU…" as the country gets back on its feet again, bowed, shaken, but still unbroken.

Coming soon: Photos from the homecoming. 

For the next several weeks the Saito 8 Support Committee will have its hands full, working on at least these immediate goals:

1. Figuring out what might be done with NBSDIII, which honors her as well. At least initially she will be tied up at locations where she will be easily seen and remarked over. Later is the bigger question mark.

2. Arranging a celebratory party for Saito-san that, as one committee leader expressed it, "reflects the feeling that people have – not many people are in a celebratory mood right now."

3. Inviting the media, companies, community groups, and event organizers to enlist Saito-san as a person of great public interest, for special interest stories, speaking engagements, and personal appearances.

4. Express appreciation to the many people and communities who assisted him throughout the circumnavigation.

5. And perhaps help Saito-san, who gave up his apartment of 30-plus years to go to sea, to recover some semblance of off-the-water life. (For the moment he will live aboard, given special – actually extraordinary it just ain't done – permission to do so by the Yokohama Port Authority.)

Of course the one thing he keeps being asked is, "So what's next, Saito-san?" at which point he grins and launches into an idea (he always returns from the sea with these grand plans) to next do a north-south circumnavigation.

Why? Same reason as his "wrong way" voyage:

"I've never done it that way before!"

We apologize for the several-days break in the Daily Log. We were away from broadband and caught up in the many media requests and several appearances of Saito-san, finally regaining some semblance of normalcy, thus this entry.