Ryoichi “Roy” Yamaguchi was a pioneer in sailing in Japan, establishing Japan’s first competitive fleet of yachts in the 1950s, and was instrumental in developing a generation of sailors in Japan. As the Tokyo Olympics were approaching in 1963, he commissioned marine architects Sparkman and Stephens to create a 5.5 meter boat to be entered into the 1964 Olympics sailing competition. Yamaguchi would then captain it in the Games.
But just as the boat was completed, Yamaguchi passed away on September 22, 1963 at the age of 42. Yamaguchi was not only one of the biggest figures in Japan sailing, he was also the president of a Japanese engineering firm called Tomoe Kogyo, which was apparently going to be the sponsor for the boat, and the provider of the JPY15 million for the boat’s construction. With Yamaguchi’s death, it was unclear whether Tomoe Kogyo would continue its sponsorship with the loss of the captain.
According to the Mainichi Daily News Article from October 9, 1964, a friend of Yamaguchi’s came to the rescue. Danish yachtsman, Kaj Wolhardt, a long-time friend of Yamaguchi, bought the completed boat for JPY5million, and then donated it to Japan. Apparently efforts for the leaders of Tomoe Kogyo to reimburse Wolhardt fell on deaf ears. But as a result, the boat commissioned by Yamaguchi was in Japan.
In stepped another friend of Yamaguchi and employee of Tomoe Kogyo, Fujiya Matsumoto, who took over the leadership of the boat so that it could be entered into the 5.5 meter sailing competition at the Tokyo Olympics. He decided to name the boat “Roy”, after the nickname Yamaguchi picked up in his international travels.
In fact, according to the article, a portrait of Roy Yamaguchi would be in the hull of the boat. Wolhardt flew to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, so he could pay his respects, and see the “Roy” sail into competition.
According to an obituary on Yamaguchi in this sailing newsletter from 1963, Yamaguchi was the most influential person in sailing in Japan, and not only had an impact on what kinds of boats would compete in the 1964 Olympics, he nearly single-handedly developed snipe and dragon class sailing in Japan at the time.
Today, the trophy for an international women’s sailing competition is named after Yamaguchi.
A boat named “Roy”. I like that.
Note: This is a revised version of a blog post from May, 2015.