They Sloop to Conquer

A pair of novice sailors from Japan celebrate the halfway point of their around-the-world journey - in Miami

The fishmongers murmured. The boat bums balked. Chikara Nakamura and Tatsuaki Miyaochi waved, bowed, and tied their 28-foot sloop to the fuel dock on Miami's Watson Island.

"We get all kinds of sailboats, but I can't remember ever seeing one from Japan," says Barbara Kiers, a cashier at Watson Island Fuel and Fishing Supply who helped greet the two sunburned mariners last Tuesday afternoon.

The arrival of the storm-tossed Tarachine (an ancient Japanese word for a life preserver) is remarkable. Dockmasters at major South Florida marinas can't recall a visit from any Japanese vessel in the past decade. And while even expert sailors might hesitate to cross the Pacific in such a tiny craft, Nakamura and Miyaochi, both 39 years old, concede their half-finished around-the-world voyage is a testament to dumb luck and blind determination. Before leaving the seaport of Kagoshima, 550 miles south of Tokyo, eleven months ago, each had sailed only ten times in his life, never out of sight of land. Their year of preparation, they say, consisted mainly of buying some cartons of noodles and cigarettes, and bragging to newspaper reporters.

"We felt that knowing too much would create a feeling of fear," says Miyaochi through a translator. "Right now, however, we fear many things."

Lessons in apprehension began on the first morning of their 58-day, nonstop Pacific passage. A large shark nibbled at their rudder, then followed the Tarachine for two weeks. When the shark vanished, the storms began. Locked inside the watertight cabin, the friends were shaken like dice in a box while "waves as big as buildings" turned the little yacht upside-down and right side up. Nearing Vancouver, a whale employed the boat as a bathtub toy until Nakamura and Miyaochi used noise from their four-horsepower inboard motor to scare off the leviathan.

The sailors survived unscathed the vast Pacific, the rocky California coast, the tedious Panama Canal, and the piratical Caribbean. So did their solar-powered fax machine, on which they receive daily stock market and horse-racing figures, as well as weather information and general news. (The stout homemade boat is also equipped with an electronic navigation system, a shortwave radio, an autopilot, a sextant for traditional celestial navigation, and a gas galley stove for cooking dried and canned foods, as well as fish caught by the crew.)

If Mother Nature has been fearsome, the men say they've encountered little unpleasantness from mankind. "People have been absolutely wonderful in every country," says Miyaochi, an optical engineer by trade. "No one has broken into our boat." ®MDNM¯For food and other supplies, in fact, the men have relied on donations from people they meet while in port. Miyaochi says the only human problem they've faced was a 4:00 a.m. visit from the U.S. Coast Guard near Cuba. Armed Guardsmen shone a big spotlight on the terrified voyagers, searched their boat for drugs, and sullenly departed without so much as a sayonara.

Miami is only the seventh landfall for Nakamura and Miyaochi. The pair plan to cross the Atlantic via Bermuda and the Azores ahead of the impending hurricane season, then "cruise" the Mediterranean, slip through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and wind up back in Japan after a stop in Australia.

Though Nakamura and Miyaochi are visiting the United States for the first time, the boat has been here on two other occasions. The sailors borrowed the Tarachine from their friend Masato Sako, who built it in 1978. Sako spent seven years circumnavigating the globe, wooing an Argentine wife, raising a son on-board, writing a popular and colorful account of his voyage, and getting divorced. After that, a woman named Kyoko Imakire sailed the Tarachine alone from Japan to California and back home. At present she is vying to become the first woman to sail solo and nonstop around the face of the globe.

"Newspaper reporters are more interested in the boat than the two sailors," says Nakamura, a professional cook who is taking three-year leave of his wife and children to complete the voyage.

Kagoshima is the seamen's hometown, and Miami's sister city. Miyaochi predicts that the prefectural government will adopt and maintain the boat upon its return to Japan, and offer it for use to future Japanese adventurers. In Miami, Commodore Jonathan Stiles has invited Nakamura and Miyaochi to anchor on the north side of Watson Island as guests of the Miami Yacht Club. Within 24 hours of their arrival on American soil, the pair had received invitations to three cocktail parties and one regatta.

 
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