Kojiro Shiraishi made tens of thousands of friends and fans all around the world during his Vendee Globe. Dignified, passionate with a thousand megawatt smile, the Japanese solo racer was really starting to show his potential and his ability just before the mast of his Spirit of Yuko broke and he was forced in to South Africa. When he pledged to come back and finish the job in 2020, few would have bet on Koji returning armed with a brand new generation foiling IMOCA built from the moulds of Charal. But with the backing of DMG Mori, a global leader in machine tools and their applications, Shiraishi has a top level project.
Koji tell us the background to your project: how did you go from an older boat in the last race to having a latest generation foiling boat, it is a big step, how do you feel about taking on that big learning process?
I had a great chance to meet with my sponsor last year. And it was a great opportunity to continue the journey I had started from the last Vendee Globe. The sponsor was very keen to go for a brand new boat. This is very exciting for me as it is the first time I build everything from scratch. I can have everything made to order as I like and it is a great feeling.Yes, it is a big step, but the fact that I can assist with and learn everything as we go is great for me to know everything about the boat before we go sailing.
What is the training you have done – exactly – how and what have you been working on and with who? How has that improved your game, your sailing? Who have you been sailing with? How many days and how long is the longest passage you have done?
The training we did with Bilou (Roland Jourdain on Yannick Bestaven’s boat, the former Safran) in Cascais this February and March was great to get a feel for foiling boats. He has great amount of knowledge about this boat. Some of the systems like the rotating mast system or the keel system will be similar to my new boat so it is good to get a good grasp before actually sailing on my boat. The training consisted in, first learning how to sail on this generation of boat. This was a good thing to do because I learnt so much from Bilou who is one of the best sailors of this era. Then, we learned how to sail with foils, and when to use them or not. The second thing was to learn how to sail together on day sails, doing maneuvers. After we got used to each other, we started doing overnight sailings, the longest sailing we have done was 3 nights/4 days in order to sail at night time, but also sail while being tired in harder conditions. The foiling boat is so much different than my previous Spirit of Yukoh IV. The newer boats are so powerful and wetter. It gave me few ideas what I should include on my new boat.
What stage is this boat at and what is the plan to have it and you up to speed for the Transat Jacques Vabre?
The hull and the deck are out of the moulds and we are working closely to get the boat in one piece soon. We plan on putting the boat in the water early September, which means that there is not much time left. It is of course our plan to race the TJV, but for us, our goal is just to finish the race. We do not plan on pushing the boat. We just plan on going easy and safely to get the qualification for the Vendee Globe.
And then what is the schedule from next winter?
The schedule will then be to have a winter refit, and try to sail and train the most I can. We plan on doing most of the IMOCA Globe Series races once the boat is built, to get the most experience before the Vendee Globe adventure.
Will you have just the one set of foils?
Yes, the plan is to have one set of foils.
What is your total budget per year?
I cannot disclose this info at the moment.
How similar will the boat be in terms of foils, rig, sails and set up to Charal?
It is not a sistership. The mould of Charal was available at the time of the construction and were able to rent it. It was the only viable option, a schedule which allowed us to be on time for enough training leading to the Vendee Globe. We are putting on some of my ideas into the boat. Some things I learnt while training with Bilou.
Does the size of you budget bring more pressure at home in Japan?
The budget is of course very important and I do have some pressure. But most importantly I am so happy I found the funding to build a new boat. It is a great challenge for me because I have never been in this situation, but I enjoy every minute of this.
Do you have ambitions to reach a particular level in the big races? And the Vendee Globe?
The goal for this Vendee Globe, but also in other races is to sail well, and more importantly finish races. So the main goal for the Vendee Globe is to finish but it would be great if I could finish near the top.
What help/advice have you had from other skippers?
We sailed mainly with Bilou and sometimes Yannick Bestaven as he purchased the boat we were training on. I hope to be welcomed by other French skippers well like they did for my last Vendee Globe campaign.
How is it working with Bilou? I imagine your French is better?
Of course it is! But I say I don’t need languages skills, I speak with my heart, and everyone understands me. Or should I say, like that I can make my self understand in any languages.
What other training/learning have you been doing?
Not much other than the above mentioned things. I am now in the process of getting a permit to stay in France, and have been busy going back and forth between France and Japan.
Do you have ambitions beyond the Vendee Globe, could you see a Japanese entry in the Ocean Race?
Of course I would like to see a Japanese boat for the Ocean Race. I haven’t talked in detail with my sponsor about this project but I might broach the idea soon.
Is there any increased interest in sailing in Japan because of the Olympics and the possibility of Olympic medals in sailing? And are you mentoring or working directly with any young sailors?
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approaching, there is a great deal of interest in any sport. Of course some sports like sailing which almost never got interest in have started to come up in tv programs and it is great to see this. The Americas’s Cup coming to Japan 2 years ago, then the Sail GP doing so well now, there might be more and more interest in sailing in Japan. It is good not only for me but all the exponents of sailing across Japan. Since my last Vendee Globe, two young crews came onboard to my project and working full time in this. The first one is Simon Suzuki and the other is Federico Sampei. Both were on the Youth America’s Cup team, Simon is doing manly logistics in Vannes, communicating closely with me and the team members, and Federico is a great young sailor. Despite being young, he has lots of experience in match racing and was keen on learning the offshore racing bit with me. He has been training along side myself in Portugal and will be working closely with Gilles Campan, our boat captain.
Thanks to the multi talented Shota Kanda for translation