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Fast Facts: First man to make a solo trip across the Pacific 60 years ago

Kenichi Horie, a 23-year-old man from Japan, was the first person to make a non-stop solo crossing of the Pacific, leaving Japan on May 12, 1962, and arriving in San Francisco aboard his 19-foot plywood sloop sailboat the Mermaid on Aug. 12, 1962. 


The 5,300-mile journey took 94 days, and Horie arrived in San Francisco without official clearance. He was briefly arrested before Mayor George Christopher saw to his release and presented him with a visa and key to the city, according to the National Park Service website. 


According to an Aug. 25, 1962, article from the Gadsen Times, Horie left Japan at almost 9 p.m. and encountered several storms, including a gale on June 2, just three weeks out of Japan. 


After hitting another storm, Horie cut off three feet of his 22-foot mast to prevent another gale from damaging the mast. 


After 94 days, Horie spotted Point Reyes, 40 miles north of San Francisco, and after being tied up at a yacht dock by US Coast Guard, the sailor offered sake and beer to everyone to celebrate his accomplishment. 


In his book “Koduko: sailing alone across the Pacific,” Horie states that his reason for making the voyage was purely because he could and wanted to. Despite some protest and incredulity from family and friends, the sailor took to the open ocean with fierce determination.  


“If you make up your mind to do something–if you are determined to do it–there is only one way to go about it,” said Horie on page 51 of his book. “Work out your own ideas on the general course you are going to follow and stick to them; stand on those basic ideas and assume responsibility for your actions. You yourself have to work out what you think is the best plan and carry it out to the end. You may make mistakes, there may be details in your plan that could have been improved upon by relying on someone else’s advice but basically it has to be your personal responsibility to conceive and carry out the project.” 


Horie was not a life-long sailor but took to the sport in high school, joining the sailing club and finding what he called a “burning passion for the sea.” 


Horie hired a shipyard to build the sloop and named the boat after the company that donated the sails. The company, which was looking for publicity, had a mermaid logo painted on its sails, and so the boat was named. 


The Mermaid was donated to the San Francisco Maritime Museum upon returning to Japan. Horie made a second trans-Pacific voyage in 2002 in a boat modeled off the original Mermaid, known as the Malt’s Mermaid III, made of entirely recycled materials.

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