By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Earlier this month, Seattle served as one of the stops in a race around the world.
No, it wasn’t a reality television show, though the voyage was truly amazing.
In the sixth leg of this eight-leg voyage around the globe, crews left the sailing city of Qingdao, China on March 20. The crews crossed the Pacific Ocean and began docking into Seattle April 15.
Twelve 70-foot ocean racing yachts participated in the Clipper 2015–16 “Round World Yacht Race.” The event is one-of-a-kind for amateur sailors. The race visits 14 ports.
Seattle amateur sailor Yuko Kikuchi was among the ones to cross the Pacific in this leg of the race.
Kikuchi was pleased when she spotted the familiar downtown skyline. “Seattle had never looked so good as we approached and I saw the Space Needle!”
Kikuchi noted that the trip from China had its challenging moments. She and the crew of the Mission Performance had to deal with very cold and wet conditions. There were numerous storms which created huge waves. “There was tons of rough weather,” recalled Kikuchi.
Notably, one of the yachts in the race, the Da Nang – Viet Nam, was knocked down by a large wave during the leg from China. It made it to Seattle four days after Mission Performance.
In addition to Kikuchi, there were other Pan-Asian crew members participating in this race, including individuals from South Korea, China, Singapore, and Vietnam.
For the 40-year-old Kikuchi, the voyage was a great adventure. She said her husband supported her throughout her preparation and dedication to the race. “He thinks I’m crazy,” she joked. “[But] he was really supportive of me.” Kikuchi, who owns and operates a real estate development company, also credited her employees for running the business in her absence.
The yacht Kikuchi sailed on comprised 14 crew members and one skipper. She explained that the crew was divided into two groups that worked around the clock in four-hour shifts, so they could “eat and then sleep.” She estimated getting no more than two hours of sleep in each four hours of off-time. She noted that the crew watched movies or read. Also, many people kept a diary, although she did not.
Kikuchi recalled the best times of the journey was looking up at all the stars at night. She also saw airplanes and satellites overhead as they crossed the Pacific. The sightings gave her some comfort. “Okay, we’re not alone,” Kikuchi said.
The Qingdao to Seattle leg was not Kikuchi’s first race. She sailed across the Southern Ocean from South Africa to Australia in November. She re-joined the race in March to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
Sailing has been a way for Kikuchi to deal with an emotional time. Originally from Ishinomaki, Japan, where the 2011 earthquake and tsunami occurred, the race was a way to cope. “I experienced some personal difficulty in the last few years and I realized I had to do something for myself. Going through the big earthquake and tsunami, I was avoiding the ocean as it took lives in my city.”
Yet, Kikuchi believed it necessary to move on. “I had to do it,” said Kikuchi. “I wanted to give some encouragement to the people that it is okay to go back to the ocean and enjoy it.”
In order to prepare to sail, Kikuchi worked with a personal trainer to ensure she was ready for the physical demand of being an active member of a sailing crew. She worked mainly on upper body strength, so she could carry and pull sails on the yachts.
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is a unique event for amateur sailors led by professional skippers. Twelve amateur teams made up of 700 amateur sailors from more than 40 different countries are participating in this event. It was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, the first person to sail solo, non-stop, around the world. This year’s event began in August 2015 in London, England and will return on July 2016. It was the first time that Seattle has hosted this unique race.
The next leg of the race will have crews leave Seattle and sail to New York via the Panama Canal. After that, the final leg will see crews leave New York, cross 3,000 nautical miles over the Atlantic Ocean, and arrive in London, England. The entire race has encompassed six continents over 11 months.
Unicef is the official charity for the race. The organization had a team that sailed in a donated yacht.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.