|Mermaid on exhibit at the Hyde Street Pier, August 2012,|
undergoing preservation work (SAFR 8791, NPS photo)
You can have all the determination, grit, pluck, spunk, backbone, nerve, skill and desire to sail solo across the Pacific, but you’re not going to get very far If you don’t have a boat. When 23-year old Kenichi Horie set out to cross the open sea, he needed a partner that would stand up to the challenge. After paying $30 for a set of blue prints. When he asked the designer, Akira Yokoyama, if the boat could make it across the Pacific, Yokoyama replied:
It’s possible…I don’t think it hasn’t got a chance. But remember, a sailboat for a sailor is something like a pair of shoes for a climber. Just getting into Hillary’s shoes doesn’t mean you could climb Everest. And a sailboat alone doesn’t make a sailor out of anyone. (Kodoku, 41-2)
Not quite a pep talk, but then again, Horie didn’t need a pep talk. The one thing he asked of the builder was to change the serial number of the boat. It would be the fourth one of that design built, and the Japanese have a superstition of the number 4. Horie was not willing to tempt fate. Yokoyama agreed to change the number to 5 (42). He had a boat yard in Osaka build the 19 foot sloop, which he named the Mermaid. There was no special attachment to the mythical creature, rather a company had donated the sail in exchange for the publicity. The company’s logo was a mermaid which was emblazoned on the sail. It seemed natural to name her that.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who owns a boat, that when it was done, Horie was alternately thrilled and disappointed. It was his boat, his very first one, but there were problems. The old saying “A boat is a hole in the water you pour money into” holds true in Japan as well. He’d have a bit more work to do before he could set sail (47). Finally, on May 12th, 1962 Horie started his journey in his little black and whiteboat which would become his constant and stalwart companion for 94 days.
We’ll be talking more about the actual voyage in later posts, but [spoiler alert] after he returned to Japan, Horie donated the Mermaid to our museum. He also presented us with a commemorative tray on which the following is transcribed:
Tray from Kenichi Horie to SF Maritime (SAFR 3708)
"I would like for you - the people of this beautiful City of San Francisco, the City that I shall remember as the one that made my youth such a colorful event - to accept my most loved one, "The Mermaid." My entire youth was spent in carrying on a conversation with her. She was the one who gave me courage when I was lonely and weak. She is a lonely heart, too. I tried to encourage her when she was depressed by talking to her about the Golden Gate Bridge that she had longed to see. Both of us were tied together strongly by trusting each other with the impatience of young lovers. The two of us left Nishinomiya Port on the night of May 12, 1962. Putting entire confidence in the strength of this little lover of mine, we set sail into the vast ocean ahead of us...It is unbearable for me, now, to leave her behind in a foreign country. It pains my heart terribly to think that she is left behind alone. You will please be kind to her. Please be kind to my tired lover; please be good to her. Although she may look a bit unpainted and pale, I don't doubt that she is most serenely contented inside. She is injured all over, but she is immersed in the memories of her 94 days on high seas. Will you please speak to her, this lonely heart, when you are moved to do so. And will you please listen to her talk about the stars, the waves and the skies over the Pacific Ocean. And recall for a short moment, if you will, the deed of a young Japanese, who loved the yacht and the United States of America." (SAFR Catalog 3708)
I would be hard pressed to find a more touching love letter.
See the Mermaid in all her glory on Hyde Street pier in front of the Small Boat Shop. Check back in the coming weeks for more on this incredible voyage.
Horie, Kenichi. Kodoku. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1964. Book.
Tray, 1968. SAFR Catalog Number 3708. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.