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Japanese yachtsman Akito Yonago on Emu II in Phuket

Phuket a Haven for Lone-Hand 'Pirate' Sailor

Friday, June 19, 2009
Tour the Emu II: Photo Album Above

''NO PIRATES,'' said lone Japanese yachtsman Akito Yonago today at Royal Phuket Marina, smiling broadly.

Mr Akito sails the world alone, and very much lone-handed. He lost his left arm to a wayward winch working as a fisherman on an Arctic cod boat when he was 23.

His two sons were concerned that he may have been taken by Somali pirates on his trip to South East Asia, so they alerted the Japanese authorities.

But it turns out Mr Akito was simply becalmed in the doldrums, and delayed from making port in Phuket as planned.

His 36 ft yacht is dwarfed by some much larger yachts at Royal Phuket Marina, where he has been recovering from one of his many epic voyages.

Yachtsmen much younger than the 58-year-old have sailed around the world, and older, too. But did they use two hands, or one?

Mr Akito has been around the world on Emu II in the past three years, surviving pirate scares and probably the occasional scary storm as well.

Even more remarkable is that he has been getting around Phuket since he arrived on June 8 . . . on a bicycle.

Given that a cigarette is his one and only constant companion, we wondered how he could cope with one arm on the two-wheeler.

And how he could cope on a yacht, when most of the tasks are designed for people with two hands.

Given that losing one arm to a winch on board an Arctic cod boat back in 1974 is probably about as tough as it gets at sea, we figure the Phuket traffic may scare most of us.

But it is probably nothing to Mr Akito and his one good hand.

''I will go to Langkawi, Singapore and Japan next,'' he said. The sons are waiting for him back in Osaka. He left there back in May, 2006.

He headed across the pond of the Pacific to San Francisco, down to the Panama Canal, through the Caribbean Sea and across the Atlantic to Spain and France.

Why alone? ''I like alone,'' he says. ''Two persons, problems.'' He laughs.

He's a first-time visitor to the island and he likes Phuket. ''All the people are kindly,'' he says.

The Emu's engine has been tuned and he will head off again once his month at Royal Phuket Marina is up.

The boat is named Emu because the boat can't fly. Nor can he. He had the Emu I, a 27-footer, bought in 1991, before Emu II.

There seems to be no other Australian connection because Emu I was bought in France.

And the pirates? He says they are mostly operating to the west of the Seychelles. Being a one-handed sailor, he sailed to the east.

With two hands, he'd probably be more than ready to sail anywhere he pleases.

The diet of rice, noodles and canned meat doesn't seem to have done him any harm, either.

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