Japanese eco-adventurer out to ride the waves

Japanese eco-adventurer out to ride the waves


Japan: Kenichi Horie has made boats with solar batteries and recycled material and now the eco-conscious Japanese adventurer is entering unchartered waters -- crossing the Pacific on wave power.

After years of preparation, the acclaimed 69-year-old solo-sailor is set to put into practice what he calls a simple but never before tested idea of relying purely on the power of waves.

“As a yachtsman, I’ve realized that winds are fickle and unsteady, but waves are not. Winds stop suddenly but waves don’t," Horie said in an interview with AFP at a marina in the western Japanese city of Nishinomiya.

“Waves have a lot of power. I have long thought it’s a pity not to use them," said Horie, with a grin that reveals deep wrinkles on his tanned face.

His double-hull boat, named “Suntory Mermaid II," is scheduled to leave Honolulu, Hawaii, in March for the Kii Channel between Tokushima and Wakayama in western Japan.

Boat’s special features

The 9.5-metre (31-foot) boat -- white with the voyage’s slogan “Earth Partnership" painted on both sides -- should cover 7,000 kilometres (3,780 nautical miles) over about two months without a port call.

The boat is equipped with two special fins at the front which can move like a dolphin’s tail each time the boat rises or falls with the rhythm of the waves.

The theory is that a vertical motion can drive it forward at a speed of three knots.

No one has ever tried to travel only by the power of waves, Horie said, although several experimental wave-power boats have been built in the past.

Capitalizing on ‘wave power’

“Throughout history, mankind has used wind for power, but no one has appeared to be serious about wave power," Horie said. “I think I’m a lucky boy as this wave power system has remained virtually untouched."

Horie’s luck goes back to 1962 when, at the age of 23, he became the first person to sail solo across the Pacific.

He went on the three-month voyage despite breaking Japanese law, which did not allow its citizens to sail on their own out of the country.

But he was warmly welcomed when he arrived in US and news of his achievement made him a hero back home in Japan.

Setting sail solo

Since then he has sailed solo around the world without a port call, travelled around the world longitudinally, and crossed the Pacific on the smallest open-sea yacht of 2.8 metres.

While forging a reputation as an active adventurer, Horie has also fashioned himself as an environmentalist.

His projects have included sailing boats that rely on a single solar battery or are made from recycled aluminium.

“When I began environmentally friendly voyages in the early 1980s, I never thought it would become such a big global issue," Horie said.

“Man of the sea" feels impact of global warming

But as a man of the sea, he says he is now feeling the impact of global warming.

“Sailing in the Arctic Ocean was a very tough voyage," said Horie, recalling his solo trips crossing the Arctic Circle during summers between 1979 and 1982.

“I literally pushed my way through the ice," Horie said. “But now you can do it so smoothly," he said, as rising global temperatures have melted icebergs and expanded the sea even near the North Pole.

Just like his sailing style, Horie is pursuing his environmental campaign alone without belonging to any group. “I don’t have any ambition to aggressively promote environmental movements or do something great for the sake of human beings," he said.

“Yachtsmen care for nature as we fight with and use the power of nature," he said. “It’s beyond the Kyoto Protocol."

Global warming will be conquered outside the political arena

Horie, however, believes global warming will ultimately be conquered outside the political arena. “We need two things to resolve global warming -- one is an advance in technology and the other is the morality of individuals," he said. “If we can have both, we can do it."

While committed to environmentalism, Horie said he does not forget that his first passion is sailing, which he calls a “forlorn sport".

“There is no audience in sailing. It’s different from baseball," Horie said. “I’m still thrilled to sail around the world with power of nature."

He hopes to continue the challenge even when he becomes a centenarian. “I want to go out there until my age is in the three digits.

“My dreams are still growing. There is no limit to the possibilities. I’m an ordinary man with no particular talent, but I have passion. That’s all I need."