America's Cup: Kazuhiko Sofuku hopes to reignite Japan's sailing passion

Story highlights

  • Asia to host its first America's Cup event
  • Japan's first entry since 2000
  • Another chance for veteran Sofuku

(CNN)This weekend's America's Cup event in Fukuoka is the continuation of "a dream come true" for one of Japan's most experienced sailors.

Kazuhiko "Fuku" Sofuku has waited a decade for another crack at yachting's greatest prize, and he thought his latest chance had ended before it even started.
"It's been a long road to get to here," the 50-year-old tells CNN's Sailing Success show. "I got a phone call saying there's a potential team from Japan, and can you help them? Yeah, of course yes!
    "But then it was up and down like a rollercoaster every day -- is it happening or not? I tried to help them but it didn't work that time. It wasn't a success."
    A few months later, in early 2015, Sofuku got another call -- and this time the first Japan-flagged America's Cup challenger since 2000 became a reality.
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    Backed by the country's richest man, telecommunications mogul Masayoshi Son, Softbank Team Japan was publicly launched at the end of April 2015.
    Three months later, the team was taking part in the start of the America's Cup World Series, a build-up competition to next year's main event in Bermuda.
    Fukuoka will host the last of its nine legs, becoming the first Asian venue to host America's Cup racing.
    "We are behind compared to the other teams, we started late," Sofuku says. "I don't really worry about that -- we have a great team. We have a really big potential to do well. I'm feeling great."
    Team Japan is placed fourth of the series' six entrants, above Sweden's Artemis Racing and Groupama Team France, while Britain's Land Rover BAR leads from America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA and 2013 runner-up Team New Zealand.
    The Japanese syndicate's challenge was entered by Kansai Yacht Club, but the team's crew has a distinctly international make-up.
    It is led by America's Cup veteran Dean Barker, who has brought in a wealth of experienced New Zealand and Australian sailors and shore staff.
    "I really appreciate working with these guys," Sofuku says. "I've seen them race against each other many times over the years. They're really good sailors, I really respect everybody, so for me it's like a dream come true."
    Sofuku supports the Kiwi CEO and skipper both as the team's general manager and as bowman on the boat alongside compatriots Yuki Kasatani and Yugo Yoshida -- who are taking part in their first America's Cup campaign.
    "We really get along well, from many different countries," Sofuku adds. "They are really great people individually. We have bonded very well as a team."
    Sofuku sailed for Japan's first America's Cup entrant -- Nippon Challenge -- in its 1995 and 2000 campaigns.
    He also took part with foreign syndicates OneWorld in 2003 and BMW Oracle Racing in 2007, but has never advanced past the Louis Vuitton challenger series and competed in the title races.
    Japan, like Sweden, France and Britain, has not won the America's Cup since it began in 1851.
    "I started sailing in an America's Cup campaign when I was 20 years old. At that time I was only passionate about going overseas, but I learned about sailing and I learned about America's Cup and I really loved it," Sofuku says.
    "Sailing is quite a unique sport but America's Cup is very special with lots of elements. Not only the sailing skills, not only the boats, you really have to be a great team. The total is what counts. Working as a team is part of my passion in this sport."
    He hopes this weekend's racing will help reignite Japan's passion for sailing.
    "I always told people that Japan is a maritime country surrounded by the ocean and has a culture based around that since a long time ago," Sofuku told his team's official website this week.
    "That was why it was important for us to challenge for the most prestigious sailing event in the world.
    "My hope is that we can introduce the new culture of the America's Cup to the Japanese people ... hopefully the legacy continues for years to come."