At 58, Kayo Ozaki set out to solo circumnavigate the globe

Onboard the Nausikaa, I disconnect from everything in the outside world. I love that about sailing. The closeness to nature grounds me, as the ocean, sky, birds, and marine life visit me like old friends. A sense of fulfillment follows me. People ask, “Don’t you feel lonely?” I do not. I love the isolation.

  • 1 year ago
  • March 7, 2023
7 min read
Kayo pictured on her boat the Nausikaa, which is a Vancouver 34, during her solo circumnavigation of the globe Kayo pictured on her boat the Nausikaa, which is a Vancouver 34, during her solo circumnavigation of the globe | Photo courtesy of Kayo Ozaki
Interview Subject
Kayo Ozaki, a single mother from Japan who migrated to Australia at 24 years-old, taught herself sailing and embarked a trip around the globe. She worked as a waitress and later as an Architect. When she and her husband divorced, she raised her daughter single-handedly. At 40, she lost her ex-husband to a heart attack. By then, her daughter was an adult, and she sold her home. She put all her savings into buying a boat and flagged off for her maiden voyage of solo circumnavigation. It has been six years since Kayo has been sailing in international oceans and she started circumnavigating the globe in September 2022. So far, she has crossed the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Background Information
Solo circumnavigation is a task that not many have taken up in the past. So far, there are less than 200 people who have solo circumnavigated the globe. The circumnavigator must sail through Gosport, Hampshire, the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Cape Hone (the toughest), Cape of Good Hope, and Cape of Agulhas, crossing about seven seas. The circumnavigation from Sydney requires about 21,600 Nautical Miles of sailing that takes about 12 months. The vessel starts from and finish at the same post crossing all meridians of longitude, crossing the equator, and traveling at least 21,600 Nautical miles.

SYDNEY, Australia — On my fortieth birthday, while still mourning the sudden death of my ex-husband from a heart attack, a friend took me out to sea on her boat. On the overnight trip, she began teaching me about sailing. That night changed my life forever. Though my husband and I had long since separated, his death shook me to the core. It reminded me, life can end at any moment.

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My daughter had gone to Japan a year earlier, at 18 years old. An immigrant alone in Australia, work consumed my life. I felt stuck, living to pay for my home. That night on the sea with my friend renewed me. I had few resources, so I sold my house, purchased a boat, and embarked on an adventure to solo circumnavigate the globe. The 25-foot sailing boat gave me a starting point, but I had a lot to learn.

Entering a white man’s world and taking her place at the table

Back then, it was very unusual for a Japanese person to move to Australia, where Asians faced discrimination. Born in Japan, I married my husband at 24. He decided to move us to Australia. We spent our entire savings to rent and furnish a small apartment. My cousin, who ran a Japanese restaurant, sponsored us and I eventually earned a degree in architecture. In my last year of college, I gave birth to my daughter, and by her fourth birthday, my husband and I faced divorce. Life turned upside down.

I felt completely alone with no emotional or financial support. The independence I had to learn prepared me to be solo at sea – to brave the harsh weather and be on my own. Being a single mother and immigrant gave me the resilience I needed to forge forward. As I laid out all my savings to pay for my vessel, I realized the cost of formal training remained out of the question. I dug deep and made the decision to train myself. With books sprawled out before me, I consumed everything I could about sailing, but going out there alone presented dangers. I needed more experience.

I made a friend at the Sunday Yacht Club in Sydney and he invited me to join him for Sunday races near the harbor. It felt daunting to walk into the club as an Asian woman, inserting myself into a space dominated by white men. I wondered if they thought I went there to find a white man for myself. That most certainly was not the case. I worked hard not to give that impression, and it took four years before I even agreed to have a drink with the other sailors.

Her vessel sets out to sea

Those early days, sailing in the harbor, gave me experience, but they could never compare to cruising across the ocean in the vast, blue waters. Navigation requires a totally different set of skills and equipment. So, I sold my 25-footer, sold my home, and bought a big boat for my solo circumnavigation.

Though I sunk a great deal of money into this, I no longer worry about the future. My former salary as an architect poured into my mortgage, and the sale of the house funded this project. I have little cushion, and still, I cannot imagine living life worried about the future and not living for today. Six years ago, I sailed away and never looked back.

On my first solo passage, I sailed Nausikaa – a Vancouver 34 boat built in England. Embracing the solitude, I made my way along the east coast of Australia from Sydney to North Queensland and back, then from Sydney to Tasmania and back. Along the way I encountered marine life and watched the stars, as I familiarized myself with the sea. On the Tasmania trip, I brought along a friend and experienced sailor to learn as much as I could.

Still, that desire to sail solo continued to whisper to me, so in 2019, I prepared the boat and set out for Japan. The trip went great, but on my way back home, the COVD-19 Pandemic erupted. I stayed at different places, patiently waiting for the spread of the virus to slow, but it did not. I wanted to be near my daughter, so I sailed to Brisbane and spent a year there with her.

Navigating oceans and taking on boat mechanics

When the borders finally re-opened, I could barely wait to sail. Japan had been a big leap for me and this time, I wanted to go even further. While out at sea, I thought occurred to me. What if I sailed around the world? I made the decision, and nothing would stop me.

At the time of this story, I have nine months at sea, solo circumnavigating the world. My boat has traversed the Indian Ocean to Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean. I made it to St. Helena in the U.K. and then across the  South Atlantic Ocean to Grenada between the Caribbean Sea.

Onboard the Nausikaa, I disconnect from everything in the outside world. I love that about sailing. The closeness to nature grounds me, as the ocean, sky, birds, and marine life visit me like old friends. A sense of fulfillment follows me. People ask, “Don’t you feel lonely?” I do not. I love the isolation. At ports, I interact with people. In Grenada, I had to stop to get the autopilot on the boat repaired. I boarded at Clark’s Court Bay Marina on the southern side of the island.

Understanding boat mechanics remains critical. I read a lot of books about the boat before I purchased it. I often say to myself, “If I look after the boat, she will look after me.” So far, she has. Even when the wind died down at times, near the equator, I leaned off the wind vane and hand steered the vessel. I can proudly say today, I am a self-taught sailor.

A message to women and to single moms

With many trips under my belt and a good grasp of the weather, navigation, and mechanics, I turn my attention to other things. My passion for nature consumes me. I gathered resources to spend time at sea learning all about the stars. As I float on the water, I look up at the sky and I see the stars shining above me. Today, I can begin to identify them.

I look back at my life in Sydney I can see how I learned what is truly important, and what is not. Every day in my old life, I focused on outside things. Every day, I worked and stayed busy with all the tasks I had to complete. An urgency followed me, to squeeze in one more task to feel like the day was productive. Now, my mindset has changed.

Time moves more slowly as the demands melt away. My only mission now is to be happy, and I am happy at sea. In all my journeys, I never came across a single woman solo navigating the ocean. We remain in very small numbers. Women – especially single mothers – find this dream to be an impossibility. Facing the difficulty of immigration and single motherhood, losing jobs and bearing the weight of immense financial pressure, made me stronger.

Those years taught me to be independent and today, I live my dream. I believe, any woman who has a dream and believes it can work, can achieve it.

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