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A good wave returns him home to Japan

Skippering a catamaran powered only by wave action, Kenichi Horie completes a voyage across the Pacific

Skippering a catamaran powered only by wave action, Kenichi Horie completes a voyage across the Pacific

In 110 days, Japanese adventurer Kenichi Horie crossed the Pacific from Hawaii to Japan in a one-of-a-kind, wave-powered 31-foot catamaran made of recycled aluminum alloy — mainly through the grace of calm seas and ideal weather.

“I really enjoyed it,” says Horie, 69, who spoke to Soundings in a telephone interview from Japan. “I was out there for over 100 days, and it was not so difficult.”

Horie left Honolulu aboard Suntory Mermaid II March 16 and returned to his homeland July 4, finishing in the port of Wakayama. Though the voyage took longer than he expected, his spirits remained high, according to Ken Dota, Horie’s friend and project manager. Horie had anticipated the vessel would make about 3 knots, but in reality it averaged closer to 1.5 knots — not the fastest way to travel, but a boost for eco-technology nonetheless.

“He said the weather was so great throughout, enjoying it, that’s why it took him so long,” says Dota, who also spoke to Soundings by phone from Japan. “It’s a difficult journey, and he was very, very lucky. So far this year we’ve had six typhoons. We’re glad he didn’t hit any of those.”

Suntory Mermaid II relied solely on a unique propulsion system, which turns wave action into thrust using two fins mounted beneath the bow on a spring system. The fins move up and down through the action of waves, propelling the boat forward. The motion has been likened to how a dolphin or whale generates thrust with its tail.

Professor Hiroshi Terao, of TokaiUniversity’s oceanography department, designed the propulsion system and helped with the construction of the vessel over the course of three months, according to Dota. The recycled aluminum sheets used for the outer hull are just 3 mm thick to keep the boat as light as possible.

“Nothing was broken on the boat, and everything worked perfectly,” says Horie. “It was basically smooth sailing. I would usually eat rice and canned foods I brought, as well as fish. This country has a lot of fish, and I did a lot of [fishing] during the trip.”

Horie is no stranger to eco-sailing. Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1938, he pedaled a boat from Hawaii to Okinawa in 1992. Four years later, he set a record for the fastest Pacific crossing in a solar-powered boat. In 1999, he sailed a 32-foot sailboat built from recycled beer cans across the Pacific, from the Golden GateBridge to AkashiKaikyoBridge in Japan. And in 2002, he repeated a solo sail across the Pacific from Nishinomiya, Japan, to San Francisco aboard a 19-footer made of recycled whiskey barrels. All of the voyages were successful, but none, in Horie’s mind, were as easy to complete as his recent feat.

“He finally had his dream come true,” says Dota. “He’s been thinking about this boat for 30 years.”

Dota says people in Japan were glad to see him, though they don’t view wave power as particularly viable just yet. “This boat is very slow, so everybody thinks that it isn’t innovative,” says Dota. “It is necessary to have more research.”

Regardless, Dota says Horie is well-regarded for his efforts, and he looks forward to working with the sailor on his next adventure. For information, visit