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Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi looking to build new memories and a strong result on The Transat CIC

For the Japanese skipper of DMG MORI GLOBAL ONE, Kojiro Shiraishi, the Transat CIC solo race from Lorient across the North Atlantic to New York which starts on Sunday is not only an essential IMOCA Globe Series race en route to qualification for his third Vendée Globe.

More especially it represents a long awaited chance to reconnect with some of the formative moments of his very early career and revisit fond memories of his apprenticeship with his legendary mentor Yukoh Tada, the Tokyo taxi driver turned ocean racer who became the first Japanese sailor to win a round the world race. After triumphing in Class 2 on the 1983 BOC Challenge round the world race Tada sadly took his own life during the 1991 Around Alone. Since losing his ‘master’ Koji has dedicated all of his races on his boats ‘Spirit of Yukoh’ to Tada.

But more pragmatically the Transat CIC sees ‘Koji’ seeking to deliver a solid solo race result, finishing up among the 2019 foiling boats of DMG MORI GLOBAL ONE’s design. He finds himself still seeking qualifying miles after having to retire early from the 2022 Route du Rhum after a collision not long after the start.

And while he made a good job of last year’s RÉTOUR À LA BASE solo from Martinique back to Lorient he suffered from the debilitating symptoms of Dengue fever all the way through the Transatlantic passage which certainly compromised his ability to attack in the robust, high speed conditions.

Now aged 56, second oldest skipper on the circuit after 64 year old Jean Le Cam, Koji is in excellent physical and mental shape with a well prepared boat which has a full new set of sails designed and spec’d for the Vendée Globe. Looking back at his connections with The Transat he recalls,

“When the start was in Plymouth and I was based in Gosport in 2006 I went to the start looking to buy a 60 footer he could be and these were the first modern Open 60s I had seen and I was hooked and so in many respects my history with the Open/IMOCA 60 started there.”  He recalls,

He acknowledges he is in a stronger position than last year in terms of securing a definite place on the Vendée Globe start line but he explains, “This race is very much about finishing. We need to start both races to ‘tick the boxes’ and we are behind on miles and so we need to focus on finishing both races, the Transat CIC and the New York Vendée. We have upgraded the boat since last year with a new bow and foils and now have all brand new sails which we need to test but I am going to push hard on both races. I will sail safe but I am also lucky enough to have two nearly identical masts so I can afford to push hard.”

Similarly there are very worthwhile commercial reasons to do Transat CIC, “The USA is important to us from a commercial point of view, DMG Mori USA is big there and they have clients they are bringing to us, which is nice as that is different to, say, Martinique or Guadeloupe. And we have a sponsor in Hakkaisan, a Japanese sake which is brewed in New York. But as well New York itself is very special to me as the Around Alone started there in 2002. That was just after 9/11 and the race started very near to Ground Zero. So it is a special place in my heart as does Newport RI, we will go there. We have so many friends there as I spent a lot of time there. The first time was with Yuko Tada in 1990 when I was shore crew with Kukoh Tada.”

He outlines his early history which is often overlooked as he started long before ocean racing mushroomed in France, “ I started with Kukoh Tada who built his boat in Japan and sailed it across the Pacific to San Francisco and then I arrived in San Francisco to deliver the boat with him through the Panama Canal to Newport."

That was his first long ocean passage at the age of 20. Koji recalls Yukoh Tada wanted to play his sax in the Newport Jazz Festival but they did not consider him good enough and said no. And also in 2002 the finish of the Around Alone was into Newport so the USA is very special.

Two different lives Shiraishi is not long back in France from his winter at home in Japan, “It was good to be back home…not least because everyone understands me!” he laughs, “But I live in two very different worlds. In France it is only sailing and work, focusing only on the project. And at home it is all about doing sponsor relations work because most of the sponsors are there and Japanese. So the only time I am able to meet them is when I am at home. It is very hard to maintain a good relationship with your sponsors when the boat is not close by.”

And, as he admits that in his late 50s he feels the influences of aging, more than ever he works hard at his strength and conditioning along with Jérémie Beyou’s renowned fitness coach Stéphane Eliot, “I train hard and look after myself carefully but at my age recovery time is longer. I am trying to build a body which does not break, that is the objective!”