Minoru Saito, an admired Japanese solo sailor who at the age of 71 completed his seventh single-handed circumnavigation of the world, was selected by the Cruising Club of America to receive the prestigious Blue Water Medal for 2006. The medal was presented at the Club's annual Awards Dinner in New York on January 16, 2007 by Commodore Edward S. Rowland.
Saito, sailing his 50 foot sloop, Shutendohji II, first raced around the globe in the 1990-1991 BOC Challenge and has been sailing almost continuously in solo world-circling races and voyages ever since. On completing his latest voyage, which ended in June, 2005 in Japan, he had sailed 240,000 miles at sea.
Minoru Saito began serious sailing in 1973 at the age of 39 by participating in races in Japan. Thirteen years later he purchased a 43-foot sailboat in Australia and entered several grueling races between Australia, New Zealand and Japan, including the Melbourne to Osaka Race, the Around Australia Single-handed Race (where he suffered a heart attack, which forced him to retire from the race) and the Auckland-Fukuoka Race. Between races, while sailing from Japan to Sydney, he survived a typhoon, two cyclones and several knock-downs from gale force winds.
In 1991 Saito acquired Shutendohji II, a solid 50-foot blue water cruiser built in Australia and modified for long-distance solo ocean racing. To qualify for and participate in the third BOC round-the-world race, he sailed from Sydney, Australia to Newport, Rhode Island, then in the race itself. In 1994 he sailed from Japan to Charleston, South Carolina to participate in the fourth BOC Challenge, then back to Japan via the Red Sea, thus completing two circumnavigations in one continuous trip. In 1997 he sailed from Japan to England via Australia and the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, then in the Single-handed Trans-Atlantic race between Falmouth, England and Charleston, and then participated in the fifth BOC Challenge, renamed the “Around Alone.” On returning to Japan via Cape Town and Tasmania, Australia, he completed his sixth circumnavigation.
His latest voyage, dubbed “Challenge-7,” began in Tokyo in October 2004 in the form of an informal contest between himself and Japanese single-hander Kenichi Horie. Saito completed the route without stopping 7 1/2 months later on June 6, 2005, a few days ahead of Horie, to notch up his seventh circumnavigation.
Minoru Saito has always sailed without sponsorship, with a sparsely funded budget and with a long-running heart ailment. While seldom among the winners and sailing an ageing boat, his dogged persistence, cheerful attitude and indomitable spirit have been recognized and praised in yachting circles all over the world.