Fri, Jun 30, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Famed Jesuit's descendant sets new jet-ski trip record

AFP , YUMENO-SHIMA, JAPAN

Alvaro de Marichalar waves a Spanish flag to wellwishers upon his arrival in Tokyo Yumeno-shima Marine in Tokyo Bay on Wednesday after arriving from China. It took him almost 11 weeks to make the journey on his 3m-long jet ski.

PHOTO: AFP

Five centuries after the Spaniard Francois-Xavier became the first Christian missionary in Japan, one of his descendants is paying him an unlikely tribute -- crossing Asia on a jet-ski.

Alvaro de Marichalar, a descendant of the celebrated Jesuit, on Wednesday sped into Tokyo Bay after becoming the first person to jet-ski 5,320km from China to Japan.

Sporting a suntan and a nascent beard after some 11 weeks on the sea, the 45-year-old waved Spanish and Japanese flags as he cruised into the Yumeno-Shima port.

He was welcomed by dozens of supporters who presented him with roses and cracked open a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.

The adventure, he explained, was his own 21st-century way of celebrating the 500th anniversary of Francois-Xavier's birth this year.

"Spanish missionaries were romantic men who deserve a little respect," he said.

Francois-Xavier helped found the Society of Jesus with Ignatius of Loyola before setting off for Asia. He first preached Christianity in Goa, the enclave of western India that had just been colonized by the Portuguese.

In 1549, Francois-Xavier became the first Christian missionary to land in Japan, sailing into the main southern island of Kyushu.

He was later declared a saint and is buried in Goa.

Alvaro de Marichalar -- who is the brother-in-law of Infanta Elena, the eldest daughter of Spanish King Juan Carlos -- insisted he was not on a new quest to convert Japan.

"I am not trying to evangelize but to follow Francois-Xavier's path and unite Europe and Asia," he said.

"I want to set a record for my country. And I want to help instill in young people values so they reject drugs and alcohol," he added.

He said he also used his adventure on the jet-ski -- a pursuit criticized by environmentalists for its high level of pollution -- to shoot footage for a film denouncing toxic waste, which he denounced as "the murderer of fish."

"Nobody sees it, but me, I have seen it. That is why I'm risking my life," he said.

He left on the jet-ski on April 7 from the southern Chinese island of Shangchuan, earlier known as Sancian, where Francois-Xavier died of fever in 1552 as he tried to reach the Chinese mainland.

De Marichalar arrived on May 20 on Ishigaki, in the Ryuku Islands, before setting off again for Tokyo. He made a symbolic stop in Kagoshima, the Kyushu city where his ancestor had stopped.

In 2002, he became the first person to cross the Atlantic on a jet-ski and is hoping to accomplish a similar feat in the future in the Pacific. In his latest adventure, he spent 12 hours a day standing up in his jet-ski led by "the flying fish and the dolphins."

"The jet-ski doesn't offer any protection or refuge. You're always cold, but you live through the sea and navigation," he said.

He said he fell from his jet-ski some 10 times a day and had particular difficulty reaching Okinawa as he was lashed by winds and rain in the rainy season.

"I have done this because I love the sea. I want to share my experiences of solitude and of the sea," he said.

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