Melbourne-Osaka Yacht Race to Celebrate Expo

Courtesy of Kazi Co.
Yachts taking part in the 2007 Melbourne Osaka Cup are seen in Melbourne, Australia, in March 2007.

OSAKA — A nonstop, transpacific yacht race from Melbourne to Osaka will be held to mark Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The 10,000-kilometer competition has a history that dates back almost 40 years, but in recent years, its continuance had been called into question following the withdrawal of sponsor companies.

However, the Expo has helped rekindle interest in the event — especially overseas — and there is expected to be a significant increase in the number of teams signing up for the commemorative spectacle. “We want to help enliven the Expo,” an event official said.

Participants in the 2025 Melbourne Osaka Cup will depart the Port of Melbourne in March 2025 for the man-made island of Yumeshima in Osaka, with the first contestants expected to arrive between mid-April, when the Expo opens, and May.

About 150 yachts from 10 countries, including Japan, Australia and the United States, have already expressed interest in participating, but the final number will be limited to around 50-60 boats due to limited mooring space at the destination point.

Sister cities

Osaka and Melbourne are sister cities, and the race was first held in 1987 — with 64 yachts taking part — to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the opening of Osaka Port. Thereafter, the event was held every four years, helping foster friendly relations between the two cities.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Spectators watch yachts depart the Port of Melbourne during the first Melbourne Osaka Cup, on March 22, 1987.

About 20 years later, however, a succession of sponsor companies withdrew, making it impossible for the cities alone to cover the ¥150 million operating expenses. The seventh event, scheduled for 2011, was cancelled.

Renewed interest in the event was sparked by the non-profit Osaka Hokko Yacht Club. Originally, the NPO had merely helped to manage the event, but subsequently took over as event organizer in conjunction with similar clubs in Australia.

The Konohana Ward, Osaka-based club managed to slash costs by around 70% through such initiatives as delegating administrative work to volunteers, among other steps, and the race resumed in spring 2013 after a six-year interval, with 11 yachts participating. The next race was held in 2018 after a five-year interval, with 19 yachts participating.

The event is currently funded through corporate sponsorship, public donations and participation fees. The Osaka city government also supports the event.

A race had been scheduled for 2023 but was postponed to 2025 at the suggestion of Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura. In December 2018, Yoshimura, then Osaka mayor, had visited Melbourne to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship and suggested to his Australian counterpart that the event be held in conjunction with the Expo — an idea that was readily accepted.

Mooring work

Presently, the mooring space at Osaka Port is only 3 meters deep — too shallow to accommodate large yachts. The municipal government thus plans to dredge and deepen the area sometime after 2024.

In previous races, vessels measuring 15 meters or longer had to moor at Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, about 7 kilometers northwest of Osaka after completing the event.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Osaka Hokko Yacht Club Executive Director Masuo Fujimoto speaks with The Yomiuri Shimbun at Osaka Hokko Marina in Osaka on Jan. 6.

The Osaka Hokko Yacht Club is keen to organize an exchange meeting between race participants and Expo visitors following the race. “We’ve been making efforts on a voluntary basis in hopes of conveying the attractions of world-class yacht racing and our work has been well-rewarded,” said Masuo Fujimoto, 71, executive director of the club. “We hope to promote the charms of Aqua Metropolis Osaka by having people witness the spectacular view of numerous yachts gathering near the Expo site.”

Katsuhiro Yamada, a 67-year-old resident of Naka Ward, Hiroshima, aims to participate in the race for the first time. “I’ve only ever sailed in domestic races, but it’s been my dream to take part in a transpacific endeavor,” the 40-years-of-sailing veteran said. “It would be great if I could reach Yumeshima, which is sure to be bustling with Expo visitors.”

Horie anticipates meetup

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenichi Horie

Noted ocean adventurer Kenichi Horie took part in the very first race back in 1987. Last June, Horie, 84, completed a nonstop solo journey across the Pacific.

In 1987, he departed Melbourne in the ultralight yacht “Bengal 3.” He had been considered a potential victor, but his boat’s hull was damaged off the coast of Australia due to rough weather in the early stages of the contest, and he was forced to pull out. Horie said the competition can be affected by changing, violent weather conditions, which can include both westerly and trade winds, making the contest even more difficult.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“That’s why it’s so fascinating and fun,” Horie said. “It’s a great opportunity for yachtsmen to show off their technique. If the race is held to commemorative the Expo, lots of yachts from all over the world will visit Osaka, enabling interaction among yachtsmen. It’ll make the Expo even more enjoyable.”