Safecast On Board For Blind Sailor’s Attempt To Cross The Pacific Ocean

Mitsuhiro ‘Hiro’ Iwamoto (left) will attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean. A Safecast bGeigie will be on board for the trip.

In the last week of February, Mitsuhiro ‘Hiro’ Iwamoto will set out from San Diego with a bGeigie onboard. If all goes according to plan, he and crewmate Doug Smith will sail the ‘Dream Weaver,’ a 40-foot cutter, across the Pacific Ocean non-stop to Onahama in Fukushima prefecture.

While an impressive feat in its own right, it becomes even more remarkable when considering that Hiro, the far more experienced sailor of the two, is completely blind. It’s also Hiro’s second try at crossing the Pacific after the first attempt in 2013 ended with his sailboat hitting a whale and sinking

“I’ll be the “seeing-eye Doug” on the trip with Hiro being the ship captain,” wisecracks Doug.” For us, it’s a trip about inspiring others to overcome adversity in ways similar to how Hiro overcame becoming completely blind at the age of 16.”

Doug Smith

They call this two-month trip the Voyage of Inspiration, and on top of inspiring others to overcome adversity by achieving their dreams, Hiro and Doug hope to raise money and awareness for selected charities.

The Fukushima Connection

The reasons for choosing Onahama as a final destination are twofold. For one thing, it was the starting point of Hiro’s first attempt to cross the Pacific in a sailboat. The second is that the two men want to show continued support for the people of Japan and specifically for those in Onahama who are still struggling in the aftermath of the triple disaster in Tohoku, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown in March 2011.

At the time the earthquake struck, Doug was on the 29th floor of Roppongi Hills in Tokyo and he still vividly recalls how the whole building swung back and forth.

“The event itself impacted my family and me – like all others in Japan, I think – very deeply. The days that followed were characterized by a lack of information about the severity of the situation at the damaged nuclear plants. Safecast emerged as an organization that helped give people the information they needed to make informed decisions about what to do, and that is one of the reasons I got involved with building and deploying Safecast’s radiation detectors, the bGeigies.”

No Fear of Whales

In Hiro’s first attempt, he had to abandon his ship in the midst of an unexpected typhoon after it struck a whale 600 nautical miles off the coast of Japan. However, it is not chance encounters with the world’s largest creatures that worry Doug Smith.

The ‘Dream Weaver.’ The 40-foot cutter the two men will cross the Pacific in.

“It was such a random, unavoidable thing. You could have put any of the world’s best sailors on that sailboat, and the same thing would have happened. The thing I’m a little more concerned about is floating containers. During storms, containers sometimes fall off cargo ships, and they can be almost impossible to spot in the ocean,” he says.   

Also, for a person who easily walks 10 kilometers a day, spending around 60 days in a confined space with very little to do except look after the boat, could be a challenge.  

“Apart from the physical voyage, I think it will also be a voyage of self-discovery. It’ll likely be the stillest in a mental sense I’ve been for an extended period of time. What that is going to be like and what is to be learned and/or accomplished, what thoughts will come and go will be interesting… Of course, the biggest realization may be that I never want to be on a boat again,” Doug says with a laugh.

Hiro and Doug will be raising funds for the following charities and causes: Challenged Athletes Foundation, The Trachoma Control Program, The Himalayan Cataract Project, and Safecast.

To read more about the charities, causes, and trip, visit Voyage of Inspiration here.

About the Author

Marc Prosser

Marc is British, Danish, Geekish, Bookish, Sportish, and loves anything in the world that goes 'booiingg'. He is a freelance journalist and researcher living in Tokyo and writes about all things science and tech. He started volunteering for Safecast after writing articles about their work following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami - and because he believes that data and technology should be open and readily available.