Blue ocean sailing makes trip of a lifetime

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Blue ocean sailing makes trip of a lifetime

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The Korean media treated Lee Hwa-soo like a hero when he sailed into Dokdo harbor on Feb. 23, completing a 123-day trip halfway around the world. The yachtsman’s arrival seemed like the perfect snub to Japan ― Feb. 22 was “Takeshima Day” in Shimane Prefecture, Japan, after the Japanese name for the disputed island.
Many people assumed that the 59-year-old sailing enthusiast had calculated his arrival date as a way of claiming that Dokdo is Korean territory. But it turns out it was just a coincidence.
“I didn’t know when Takeshima Day was,” said Mr. Lee, who gets more excited talking about sailing.
“I’ve been yachting since 1974. Traveling around the world on my yacht has been a long-time dream, as it is for any yacht-lover.”
His 33,000-kilometer (20,505-mile) voyage was originally planned to commemorate the centennial of Jungdong High School, which he attended as a teenager.
The Dokdo angle was tacked on later.
“Last year was the 60th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan. We thought that it would be more meaningful to sail around Dokdo on the way home,” Mr. Lee said.
He also carried 15 gold-plated models of geobukseon or “turtle ships” as gifts for foreign sailors that he would meet along the way. Geobukseon were iron-clad ships used by Admiral Yi Sun-sin of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to repel a Japanese invasion.
But Mr. Lee is clearly more of a yacht maniac than a patriot. He emphasized that he hopes his trip will stimulate an interest in sailing among Koreans.
For him, it was love at first sight.
As soon as Mr. Lee saw a white sail above the blue ocean near Japan in 1974, he was ready to get on board. “I liked speedy things, thrills and things others don’t usually like,” he said. He learned skiing and horseback riding then, but yachts attracted him the most. “When I sail, I feel like learning about life,” Mr. Lee said. “Looking at the horizon, I can feel my mind open wide.”
In order to finance this expensive sport, Mr. Lee decided to get into the real estate business. Fortunately, his father lent Mr. Lee enough money to build a 100 million won ($100,000) eight-story building in Sinchon, northern Seoul, 20 years ago. “Leasing seemed like the best way to make money in Korea,” he said. His real estate office sits atop that building.
It’s unclear how much he has earned from the business, but it was enough to buy his 1.5 billion won catamaran, the Lady Allia, which is 18 meters long, 9.2 meters wide, 24.2 meters tall and weighs 20 tons. Its luxuries include four double bedrooms and three single bedrooms, each equipped with a shower, and state-of-the-art equipment.
“The yacht launching on Oct. 26 was the happiest moment of the trip,” Mr. Lee said, smiling. After three days of test operations, eight crew members, including Mr. Lee as captain, set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne, France. They headed to La Coruna in Spain, then to Lisbon, Guadeloupe, Aruba, Panama, Galapagos, Tahiti, Western Samoa, Guam, Fukuoka and finally Dokdo. His boat is in Busan at the moment.
“We originally planned to sail from the Strait of Gibraltar through the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. But after hearing that pirates infest certain areas, we decided to go in the opposite direction,” Mr. Lee said.
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For the first few days, his crew was excited about sailing a yacht around the world. They enjoyed fishing, catching a huge one that weighed over 30 kilograms (66 pounds). “Among our original crew was a surgeon who was really good at slicing raw fish,” he laughed.
But not everything was smooth. Sometimes they encountered high waves for two to three days straight. The waves rocked the yacht overnight making it impossible to sleep. Other times they were buffeted by winds of 40 knots an hour.
But the hardest thing was fighting boredom. “From the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti Island was about 7,000 kilometers. We sailed for 22 days without a single stop,” said Mr. Lee. “It was the most boring section. The wind was weak, so our speed was slow, and we didn’t see any other ships.”
Although the yacht was equipped with two 160 horsepower engines and two electric generators, most of the time, the crew depended on the wind. “The yacht can hold 1,500 liters of diesel, but it only lasts four days,” Mr. Lee explained. In addition, as they had to carry drinking water and food for over 30 days, they couldn’t bring many books or games to entertain themselves on board.
“Just watching the blue ocean ― although its color varies depending on [conditions] ― we just counted the days before arriving in Tahiti. It was like military service, waiting until our discharge,” he smiled.
After finishing his trip across the Atlantic and the Pacific, Mr. Lee has another goal: to expand the number of Korean yacht enthusiasts. “Many foreigners buy a yacht instead of a house after retiring, and sail around the world until they die,” said Mr. Lee. “It’s not difficult to meet people who have been out to sea for five years or so.”
“But Koreans criticize those with yachts, calling it a luxury sport,” said Mr. Lee. He’s planning to import yachts, including cheap and small ones, and to open a sailing school in Korea by next year. “Of course, I also plan to visit places that I’ve never been with my yacht.”


by Park Sung-ha

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