Preacher-turned-adventurer Lowell Sheppard is preparing for the adventure of his life: a solo journey across the Pacific, from Tokyo to Vancouver, Canada. It will take two to three months, passing through the most remote point in the north Pacific and the great Garbage Patch. He aims to complete the voyage before he turns 70. Outdoor Japan jumped aboard Sheppard’s boat moored in Yumenoshima Marina, and cruised Tokyo Bay for a few hours to learn more.
Rie Miyoshi: What is Pacific Solo in a nutshell?
Lowell Sheppard: Pacific Solo is my answer to a dream I’ve always had of sailing and living on a boat. I’ll be sailing from Tokyo to Vancouver through the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. I’ll be visiting Nemo North, witnessing the Garbage Patch and finally seeing my mother in Vancouver before she forgets who I am.
RM: What inspired this solo journey?
LS: There are a few different reasons. First, I wanted another breathtaking challenge. I’ve done a lot of cycling in Japan, but nothing compares to the first challenge where I cycled the length of Japan during cherry blossom season. I was writing for a publisher at that time and they sponsored me to go on this trip. It was transformative, even spiritual.
I’ve always dreamed of sailing and had some experience back in Canada, but I gave it up when I came to Japan because it’s so expensive. But three years ago, I found Tokyo Sail and Power Squadron where I could get my skipper’s license in English. It opened up a whole new world for me and I decided my next challenge would be on a boat. And then it came to me: I would sail from here to Canada to visit my mom.
RM: Are you close to her?
LS: Unfortunately she has dementia but she still remembers who I am, and I’d like her to see me arrive by boat. The pandemic changed everything for everyone. Rather than waiting too long for flight restrictions to ease, I thought, “Well, I’ve got a boat, and I want to see my mom.”
But I realized this trip wasn’t just about wanting to sail from Japan to Canada. It was also about wanting to go to the most remote place I could get to from land—through Nemo North.
RM: Where’s Nemo North?
LS: In the southern Pacific Ocean there is a Point Nemo, the furthest point away from land in any direction. Sailors say Point Nemo is an intriguing place: comparatively lifeless as it is so far away from river runoffs. There are 250 burials of spacecraft debris—they’re dropped off there as it won’t affect much life there. Nemo North is the name I gave to the north Pacific Ocean equivalent of Point Nemo.
Immanuel Kant said that nothing evokes more reverence and awe than looking up and within. At Nemo North, the most remote place in the north Pacific, I want to consider the expanse above, the mysteries within and terrors below. I want a moment of solitude to seek God and ponder profound questions.
RM: You talk a lot about spirituality. Could you expand on that?
LS: Actually back in Canada, I went to seminary school and am an ordained minister. My parents were ministers too. My wife and I were childhood friends because our parents went to the same church. She was born in Nagoya and spent time in Japan and Canada as her parents were missionaries to Japan.
When we got married, we had a deal: I wanted to live in England, and she wanted to raise her kids in Japan. After 13 years in England, she said, “It’s my turn.” That’s how we ended up in Japan, where I worked as an environmentalist providing clean water to communities in need for the past 24 years. I guess you can say that’s why I’ve been concerned about water.
RM: Is there an environmental aspect to Pacific Solo?
LS: Yes, that’s another major reason for this trip. I’m working with schools to collect water samples and conduct experiments on behalf of students. I’m also helping an NGO in Scotland join the “Great Nurdle Hunt.”
LS: Nurdles are the building blocks for plastic; they’re kind of cute, like M&Ms. They get shipped all over the world to factories, but a quarter of a million tons of nurdles end up in the ocean every year. The NGO I’m working with is trying to track where the nurdles are so they can legally name nurdles as a pollutant. California is the only government in the world that has legally classified nurdles as a pollutant, and it’s already helped petrol chemical companies be more attentive about shipping these raw materials.
We live in a plastic world. I am an idealist who leans into pragmatism, and I know the world is not going to stop using plastic overnight. So we have to produce the right kind of plastic and ensure raw materials are carefully managed.
RM: You mentioned visiting the Garbage Patch.
LS: There are two giant vortexes in the Pacific Ocean about the size of France or Texas. Garbage gets forever caught here, including debris from the 2011 tsunami. Apparently it’s known for fog and no wind. And it’s not one big island of garbage, but bits of litter scattered all over. It’s more like plastic soup, because plastic doesn’t dissolve, just breaks down into tiny particles.
RM: How will you stay environmentally friendly on this journey?
LS: First of all, I’m sailing and not relying on diesel (although I will have 1,500 miles worth of fuel in case of an emergency). I’m also going solar to charge lithium batteries. Finally, I’ll be going as plastic free as possible.
RM: Sailing solo sounds exciting but also frightening. What are you most fearful of?
LS: Storms. I’ve had to learn to read the weather remotely and locally, and get the boat away from the danger zone. Another is falling overboard, so I’ll mitigate that by being tethered to the boat. I’m not naturally a loner so being alone is also a fear. I’ve sought counsel and input to prepare myself mentally. There are a few things that have to be ready: the boat, myself, the academic groups I’m working with and sponsorships. I aim to be 80% ready in all areas by the end of January.
RM: When are you planning to depart?
LS: The only time you can leave Japan’s shores for the route I’m taking is June. The winds are blowing in the right direction, there are seven to ten days of good weather for me to get out of the typhoon zone, and it’s before typhoon season hits.
RM: Can you tell me about your boat?
LS: She’s a French-built Gypsy 402 that I call Wahine, which means woman in Hawaiian. There are only 85 of them in the world and were built between 1987 and 1991. I believe she spent all of her life in Japan and was originally based in Shimoda. Her last owner brought this boat to Yumenoshima Marina in Tokyo where I needed it to be, and it was the cheapest in the marina. Even then, I spent my life savings to purchase and upgrade Wahine.
RM: I’m sure maintaining and upgrading your boat and preparing all the trip logistics and your health are expensive. What are some ways you are receiving support for this trip?
LS: UFC Gym is training me to get into shape for sailing. I’ve also received a comfortable mattress from Dormeo that I’m excited to check out. Tokyo Supercars and Westlund Group are also my sponsors. I’ll also be filming for a major TV channel and my own YouTube channel, which you can help support by subscribing to Pacific Solo.