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The 71-year-old Blue Water Medalist - Soundings Online

The 71-year-old Blue Water Medalist

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Minoru Saito, who at 71 became the oldest single-hander to sail non-stop around the world, has joined some of ocean voyaging’s legends in receiving the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal.

Minoru Saito, who at 71 became the oldest single-hander to sail non-stop around the world, has joined some of ocean voyaging’s legends in receiving the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal.

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CCA commodore Edward S. Rowland of Hamilton, Mass., presented the prestigious medal at the club’s annual awards dinner earlier this year in New York. CCA has been giving the award since 1923 to “reward meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities that might otherwise go unrecognized.”

Saito completed his most recent solo circumnavigation — a non-stop one — in June 2005 on his tried but very well-worn 50-footer Shuten-Dohji II (Drunkard’s Son), a 15-year-old boat. The Japanese sailor reckons he has sailed around the world alone seven times: three times in the BOC race and its successor, the Around Alone; three more times going to or returning from races in different parts of the world; and the last time non-stop on his own.

“Normally the Cruising Club of America does not pay particular attention to highly publicized long-distance ocean races,” says CCA awards chairman Robert Van Blaricom in an e-mail to Soundings. “However in the case of Saito-san, we recognized that unlike most participants in round-the-world races, he was unsponsored and continued to engage in voyage after voyage for what seemed like the pure adventure of it.”

Saito faced a litany of tests on the non-stop circumnavigation: 70-to-80-knot winds and 25-foot seas, several knockdowns rounding Cape Horn, toothaches and frostbite, an injured finger, a damaged mainsail, and breakdowns in his refrigeration, autopilot, communications, generator and engine. He weighed a scant 120 pounds when he finished, his food stock so depleted that he was reduced to eating mustard, broccoli and radish sprouts grown in captured rainwater in a primitive hydroponics farm below deck.

“Too much problems,” Saito said in an interview after his return.

A mountain climber in his youth, Saito was the first to climb the treacherous east face of Japan’s 6,500-foot Tanigawadake. He took up sailing relatively late in life, at age 39. He started competing in local races and decided he liked short-handed racing after participating in the double-handed Melbourne-Osaka Race in 1986.

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

“Certainly he would never have won the attention of the yachting press in the manner of Ellen MacArthur or other celebrities,” says Van Blaricom. “The fact that he was 71 years of age at the time he finished his most recent voyage was simply another happy fact which added to his remarkable story.”

Previous Blue Water medalists include such sailing luminaries as Alain Gerbault, H.W. Tilman, Carlton Mitchell, Eric Hiscock, Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier. For more information visit www.cruisingclub.org .