Rich Experiences in Kyushu, Japan
We were pretty excited to see the northwestern side of Kyushu, the westernmost Japanese Island nearest Korea. The area is sprinkled with islands and reputed to be some of the best cruising in Japan. Nagasaki provides a perfect jumping off point for cruising the area in addition to being a city we were interested to visit for its own rich history. A route that allowed us to logically visit the area during such a short visit to Japan, we knew would involve some challenging sailing and it sure did, though we had some delightful sails as well. And we had some great experiences along the way.
We had a very pleasant three day sail to Nagasaki with light winds and sunny skies. Coming into the scenic port surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, we tacked our way up the channel in mild conditions, trying to avoid shipping traffic. We cut inside an island to get out of the channel and bypass a slow tug and barge, but as we came back out, the tug and barge turned into where we were coming out and and we had to sail back the way we came - so much for taking a short cut! The natural shelter offered by outlying islands and the hills on either side of a narrow channel made an ideal environment for building ships and the Mitsubishi Shipyard, a key bombing target during WWII still is active today, with a number of ships visible under construction as we sailed past. The harbor narrowed and we reached a small but empty Deijima Marina, where we were greeted by a friendly harbourmaster who informed us that we could stay for a week for no charge. Boy were we glad to hear that and also pleased to note that the slips were right next to the conveniences of town and a lovely park along the waterfront.
Nagasaki is well known as the second bomb site for the Atomic Bomb, but its history is much richer. For over 200 hundred years, Nagasaki functioned as the only open port to the world outside Japan. A wayward Portugese ship initiated Japan's contact with the west, introducing guns which revolutionized warfare in Japan. Soon other Portugese trading ships followed, making Nagasaki a profitable trading port. Missionaries arrived bringing their teachings and christianity spread rapidly, earning several hundred thousand converts. In 1587, the shogun considered the strong influence of Christianity to be a threat, and expelled foreigners, beginning a period of national seclusion. Only Dutch, Chinese and Koreans, who were perceived to be more interested in trade than in religion were allowed to remain under strict rules. From the mid 1600's to 1855, all trade, western technology and culture passed through Deijima Island off the shores of Nagasaki and subsequently Nagasaki evolved into an important scientific and cultural center where people flocked to study.
As we walked around Nagasaki, we saw signs of this European influence, including an old catholic church, as well as houses and gardens of historically prominent Europeans along an area called "Dutch Slopes". We visited the prefectural museum which detailed the rich history of Nagasaki and its role as a key trading and intellectual center. We slipped off our shoes before entering another area of the Museum, which was a reproduction of a Magistrates house, complete with tatami mats and shoji screens, plus trade goods laid out for inspection by the magistrate and figures in the traditional attire of the day to give us a glimpse of life in those times of restricted trade with the West. We appreciated the clean graceful architecture and fine Japanese woodworking which we so love in the company of a historian who supplemented the fine English audio tour and English placards with stories and answered our questions about Japanese culture and history.
Nagasaki featured a number of other interesting cultural sites which we explored for another couple days. A collection of bridges stretched across the river running through the city, many of which were attractive stone constructions that were many centuries old. The picturesque Spectacles Bridge derived its name from the way that light reflects off the water to form spectacles.
In the river water under the bridges, the largest colorful koi I've ever seen were swimming around and flowers filled the narrow park along the riverbank. Street arcades filled with Japanese antiques, fine paper goods and kimonos caught our attention. A street lined with temples provided us with an enjoyable day of exploring. The shogun ordered that temples be built by all the major religious orders and along this street we saw as many as 20 temples, with their beautiful chinese roof lines and peaceful gardens populated with buddhist deities.
The most notable temple we visited was the famous Fukasai-ji Zen temple, which was one of the oldest temples in Japan and an active cultural center that hosted visiting leaders and dignitaries, including US President Grant. The temple, formerly a large complex, burned down completely following the A bomb explosion. The temple that was built in its place is completely unlike the original, emulating the shape of a lucky turtle in a fascinatingly garish fashion. Lurking above the turtle shaped building is a 18 meter high figure of the Goddess Kannon from which hangs a Foucault Pendulum, demonstrating the rotation of the earth, and is the largest such example outside of Paris and Leningrad. Inside the temple are a number of memorials to the victims of the A bomb blast and fallen WWII soldiers, as well as photos of Nagasaki before and after the blast. A bell chimes every day at 11:02am to mark the exact time of the A bomb explosion.
During World War II, where nearly every man, woman and child was fully engaged in the war effort, Nagasaki was busy constructing arms and building ships at the Mitsubishi shipyards. Two books about World War II have enriched our understanding of Japan. "Enola Gay" describes the development and the days leading up to the explosion of 2 atomis bombs on Japan to end the war by detailing the sequence of events from both a US and Japanese perspective. "Embracing Defeat" examines the aftermath of the war and rebuilding Japan politically, socially, and economically. While I have long been skeptical about the arguments for dropping the A bombs and horrified by their devastation, the more I have read, the more I have come to the conclusion that the ravages of war might have been far worse had the war continued without this change in strategy. I was shocked to realize the extent to which Japan was entrenched in pursuing this hopeless conflict like a freight train out of control. These books and other materials described the preparations for a fight to the death if the Americans landed on the main islands of Japan: the children working in arms factories and volunteering for Kamikaze air and sea human torpedo suicide missions, women being trained to use sharpened sticks as spears to kill or maim as many of the enemy as possible, the rampant malnutrition and shortages; and the denial of the hopelessness of the situation and the endless debate in government about whether to negotiate a peace on any terms.
While Hiroshima was selected as the number one target for bombing, Nagasaki was not one of the originally selected targets, and only after months of debate, the target list shifted to include Nagasaki. The primary target for the second bomb was the industrial city of Kokura, but smoke obscured the city on the morning of the bombing and the B-29 "Bock's Car" with its deadly cargo, Fat Man, the plutonium bomb named in honor of Churchill, headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki. Visibility over Nagasaki was also obscured by clouds, but a gap in the cloud cover encouraged the bomber to proceed with its mission. We found it amazing to realize how close Nagasaki was to escaping this devastation with a small shift in the weather. Nagasaki's topography limited the destruction of the powerful bomb, but the impact was still dumbfounding.
Our visit to the A bomb museum was sobering. Everything within 6.5 miles was reduced to ashes, including pretty substantial buildings. A third of the city was wiped out almost instantly or in the firestorm that followed. A wall of hot air more fierce than a typhoon travelled at the speed of sound reaching 11km in 30 seconds. Everyone within 1000 meters died immediately. People died from the intense heat, dramatic pressure differences, being crushed or impaled by flying glass and debris, inhaling or ingesting particles and debris, and fires or later from radiation explosure without any visible injuries. The death toll was 75,000 immediately with another 75,000 injured. Listening to eye witness accounts from survivors who struggled to free their crushed limbs, locate their families, treat the injured and sick, and deal with the lack of resources or housing brought the history close to home. Rescue operations were hampered by the problem of few surviving medically skilled people and medical supplies. 120,000 people were homeless in the aftermath.
While people in Nagasaki struggled for their lives and dealt with the horrible aftermath, Bock's Car landed on the island of Okinawa with barely enough fuel to land. Through the course of our voyage I have had the opportunity to see Tinian where that B-29 began its journey, Okinawa, where it landed upon completion of its deadly mission and Nagasaki, the victim of its deadly cargo. While we never set out to tour World War II battle sites, our voyage through the Pacific has been an interesting journey through WWII history.
As we toured the Hypocenter, the area under which the A bomb had exploded, we were struck by the paper cranes, a flash of hopeful color in a stark, dreary setting, save for a black marble tomb and the remainder of a wall of a destroyed Catholic church. Brightly colored origami cranes made of folded paper were inspired by the story of a girl who had Leukemia tried to fold 10000 cranes, the symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan. (A statue of the girl that inspired this movement stands in Seattle near the University Bridge.) Millions of paper cranes were sprinkled throughout Peace Park, along with monuments from countries around the world expressing their hope that for peace.
As we wandered through Nagasaki, we encountered school students, also visiting Nagasaki, who interviewed us and then, in a beautiful gesture, left us with a number of folded cranes and messages of peace. The book "Embracing Defeat" by John Dower described a policy of strict censorship immediately following the war, which meant that initially few knew about the atomic bomb blasts outside the immediately affected areas besides those responsible for aiding the injured and rebuilding the cities. Vast numbers of school children were visiting the museum and other A bomb sites along with us, clearly indicating that this history is not forgotten. Also evident is that opinions about the war remain divided. Around the same time, we heard a BBC report on the radio that Okinawan citizens were protesting the removal of statements in history books that Okinawans were encouraged to commit suicide by military leaders rather than surrender to US forces. And we heard in another report later that a defense minister was forced to resign after making a statement to the effect that the A bombs were necessary to end the war. While visiting Nagasaki and the bomb museum and sites, we were keenly aware that we were Americans whose government had let loose the forces that caused all this devastation, but we encountered no animosity towards us as Americans at all. Instead, we were warmly welcomed. While visiting these historical monuments was very tough, we were really glad to be able to see them. We can only hope we find some way to resolve things peacefully in the future so we never have to revisit this kind of devastation again.
The night before we left we were coming home with an armload of groceries and a couple of Japanese guys were heading down the dock towards a fancy cruising boat named Happiness that had pulled in. We got to talking and invited them over to our boat. We spent a delightful evening in the company of these two, one of whom spoke perfect English and had spent a year working in finance in New York City. We gained valuable information about ports and hazards from them, and they suggested routes for the remainder of our time sailing through Japan. They were off in the morning, as we were and Tanaka-san encouraged us to contact him when we neared Tokyo.
*Huis Ten Bosch:*
We were next headed for Huis Ten Bosch, which other cruisers had raved about. Huis Ten Bosch, named for the dutch royal residence - house in the woods, is a model Dutch city inspired by the long historical bond between Japan and Holland. Located in a huge saltwater lake, only reachable through a narrow winding river of current under several bridges. Currents were so strong in the area that our boat was incapable of bucking them even under power; So we needed to time our arrival at the narrows within a short window of slack water when we could get a slight push from water heading the same direction, yet avoid the strongest tide when whirlpools there would make maintaining control difficult. Coming around the corner into the narrows, we were surprised to encounter a ship in this narrow channel. He was just as surprised to see us, and honked once to indicate that he'd pass us on the starboard side, which forced us to alter course. After he passed we noticed that he got swept to the edges of the channel since he'd waited too long to make his next turn. We were under sail tacking our way up the narrow channel and enjoying the challenge of the tight maneuvering and the delightful sailing conditions. The total bridge span was about 900 feet across, but only the center third was navigable for the height of our mast. And unfortunately we had to turn on the engine for about a minute to maintain our position under the center span of the bridge dead into the wind, since the sides were too low for us to tack under. As we sailed out after our visit, we again enjoyed the challenge of manuevering in these tight conditions, but that time we had a favorable wind shift that, while still a beat, allowed us to sail under the center of the bridge without the motor. Sailing in these kinds of conditions is such a charge and can be as enjoyable as many of our destinations. If only all our sails were like this!
We had heard what a great place Huis Ten Bosch was from a number of cruisers and this destination did not disappoint. As we exited the narrow pass, we were impressed at the expanse of this lake. We could have surely spent a few weeks exploring its many tiny islands and inlets. When we came into Huis Ten Bosch (pronounced house ten bosh) we marveled at the northern european architecture. Only the mountains in the background reminded us that we weren't in the low tidal areas of the Netherlands. We pulled into a modern marina that sat in front of this beautiful backdrop. While we had to pay about $10 per day for putting the boat in the marina, our entry into the park was gratis and offered plenty of things to see. After nice, long hot showers, we began to explore the huge park. The scenery so closely resembled the the Netherlands we were amazed.
The building reproductions were so authentic, that we actually mistook a photo in a picture book for one of Huis Ten Bosch in Japan. Hotels were constructed to resemble the townhouses of Amsterdam. The park featured canals and functioning locks through which we saw charming launches pass.
Authentic reproductions of several styles of traditional Dutch windmills were nestled between huge flower beds full of blooms. Restaurants and shops offered samples of cheese and various flavors of delicious cheesecake to my delight, and we got to learn about the cheesemaking process. Wooden clogs perched outside doorways and Dutch products were available for purchase. Everywhere was a celebration of of the contributions of Dutch inventors, musicians and artists, with a number of art and history museums. An old sailing ship took people out for a spin around the lake. And we had the park nearly to ourselves. Each evening we were treated to an impressive display of fireworks complete with musical accompaniment if you were close enough to the speakers. Everything was so tastefully done that it all felt quite authentic and charming. And we've both been to the Netherlands, so we had fairly high expectations.
As we were wandering around we noticed some pretty interesting recumbant bicycles. An energetic Dutchman, Hank, that ran the bicycle shop noticed our interest and came to chat. He showed us a wide variety of home made recumbants that he had cleverly built and let Garth try them out. We had a great time talking with him and he later visited us on the boat a couple of times. His job at Huis Ten Bosch also includes being an ambassador for visitors, and his language skills have come in handy as he's played host to Michael Jackson and Jackie Chan, as well as royalty from Thailand, and King Philip of Spain.
In addition to the park, we had the opportunity to enjoy the company of a number of neat people that were based there. We met some great people working for the US government at the military base in nearby Sasebo. Within a half hour of arriving, we met Kevin and his son Sean, who had sailed over for the day. They invited us to join them for steaks with the rest of the family - Kevin's wife Beth and daughter Sharon. Their home featured all the best aspects of Japanese architecture, with tatami mats and sliding shoji screens dividing the large first floor area into separate rooms: livingroom and diningroom, with western conveniences and furniture. We had probably the best steaks ever in front of a gorgeous waterfront view of the bay and great conversation. We also met Debbie and Tom, who treated us to good company and margaritas over the course of several evenings, and a fine meal aboard their large motorsailer that they sailed from California. And they helped us in a number of ways with information and supplies and we enjoyed swapping sailing stories with them.
As we walked the docks, we noticed a Hood 38 built by Wauquiez named Albatross that looked familiar, except the canvaswork and boat stripe were different. We debated whether the boat was the same one we met in Tanna, Vanuatu in the South Pacific. As we continued our dock walk, Shaun Weng, came and found us and invited us over to Albatross to catch up. We recalled that when we first met him he'd recently finished circumnavigating singlehanded around the capes and as the first Chinese to accomplish such a feat, he'd told us he was on his way to Hong Kong to become famous. While his remark caught us by surprise, he wasn't boasting, but merely stating a fact. His accomplishments captured the attention of the Chinese people. His fame evolved into a TV program which covered a voyage through Asia to Africa and included a refit of the boat including the modifications that we'd noticed along with a huge satellite communications system. He filled us in on his adventures since we were last together in the Solomon Islands: He was dismasted just north of Mindanao in the Philippines when he hit a trawler during one of his short catnaps. The challenge of singlehanding is finding time to sleep while keeping an adequate watch. He jury rigged a sail combination and finished his sail into Hong Kong. Why was he living on his boat in Japan, you might wonder? Like Moistessier, he found the publicity in China overwhelming. Following his filmed voyage to Africa, he shipped his boat back to the nearest available port call at the time - Yokohama, Japan and planned to sail it on to China. The tight schedule his TV contractors tried to hold him to was uncomfortably tight and he wasn't keen to rush back to China.
When we saw him again in Japan, he'd recently sailed with British sailing legend Ellen MacArthur in Asia on her B & Q (high performance trimaran) tour and said he really enjoyed sharing watches with her. We've since seen photos of him and the rest of Ellen's crew in a magazine. He had also just completed writing his book about his voyage and was heading to China to meet his publisher and his Chinese TV producers about future programs the day after we arrived. We so wish we could have had more time with him to share stories, but his flight was early the next day.
The day before we left, a cruising boat pulled in: Shadow of Lorelei, with Australians Mauro and Pauline aboard. When we stopped by to say hello, we found we had a great deal in common. They'd been out sailing for years and were on their third boat. They spent a bit of time in Hong Kong working, as well as in the US and we had traveled many other places in common. We talked a lot about life after cruising, as they'd returned to the regular world a number of times after cruising for years and we have been thinking a lot about bringing our own voyage to a close. While our time together was very short, we really hit it off and really hope to cross paths again somehow. They generously gave Garth a watch after we'd admired it, told them that we'd been shopping for one without success for some time and joked about buying his watch off him. All our watches disappeared with a backpack that got stolen from the yacht club in Hong Kong before I could replace the bands and batteries. Standing watches without a good alarm for the watch changes was proving difficult and we'd been searching for replacements for ages. Mauro and Pauline were flying back to Australia in a few weeks and explained they could easily buy another. Huis Ten Bosch was a fascinating destination filled with great people. We left in high spirits to continue our quest eastwards through Japan towards Tokyo.
Along our way we'd planned to stop at Takashima, and we'd discovered there were two. We decided that since we had permission, we'd stop at both since they were well placed for our route in light winds. We pulled into a little bite inside a larger bay that housed some pearl farms and fish farms. While we were at anchor and I was cooking pasta for an early dinner, I watched fishermen ply their trade next to our boat from the porthole over the stove. The fishing boat dropped a net hung from floats and then steered in a circle back to the first float. The fishermen then began drawing the net closed; One of them gunned the engine and steered away from the net enclosure while the other pulled the net closed, tightening the purse strings around the catch in the center. As we sat down to dinner, the fishermen pulled alongside and offered us one of the fresh squid they had just caught. As the fisherman held the squid in the air to offer it to us, the squid seemed to wheeze or sneeze as it flexed its muscles now useless for propulsion in the air. We did our best to thank the fisherman in our surprise, despite our poor language skills. And in a flash, the fisherman was gone.
We put our 8 inch long friend into a bucket of saltwater until we were prepared to clean him for a post dinner snack. First Garth changed into dark blue swim trunks for the operation - just in case he accidentally punctured the ink sac - then he pulled the head off, carefully putting the head into the bucket before the ink could ooze out all over the boat. Next he pulled out the guts and "the pen", which since squid are actually molluscs, is its shell even though it is on the inside. The quill looks just like a feather quill pen made of clear light plastic. Lastly, Garth pulled off the skin and fins. Finally he cut the squid into 1/2" rings and I fried it up in a little bit of olive oil - 4 minutes being just the right amount of time for the most tender calimari. Delicious! Could hardly be more fresh - from the wild to dinner plate in about a half hour.
In the second Takashima, a small fishing port, we tied alongside a concrete wall and were glad that we'd salvaged a huge styrofoam typhoon fender from a beach for just such a purpose. (We were shocked to note that the cost of these fenders was $80 each in the hardware store and were soon beachcombing; The bug spray to stem the tide of ants that crawled out from the fender cost only a tiny fraction of that!) So while we perched against this wall, people stopped by to visit, bearing gifts of food snacks. We shared some of the snacks we had aboard with them and tasted the ones they brought. We showed them our route on the tiny map in the back of the dictionary and did our best to bridge the language barrier. When one fellow learned that we had crossed the Pacific and planned to cross it again, he bowed very low - nearly prostrate to the ground, showing great respect for our adventure and leaving us somewhat awestruck. As the tide fell, inviting people aboard became impractical as did getting on or off the boat. Fortunately, the tide level was decent when we took off at dawn, so I didn't have to scale 2 meters up a vertical wall and drop down again just to untie our lines.
Under sail, we have encountered countless fishing boats and have been often perplexed by their erratic behavior. Figuring out whether to pass in front of them or behind them is a perpetual struggle, since we often need to make these decisions long before we get close enough to see what they are doing. Sometimes they are anchored or just drifting and we never know when they might spring into gear to cross our bow. Other times they are towing nets of lines which require giving them a wide berth. One time when we saw one anchored we relaxed, thinking we'd at least see him pull up his anchor before we needed to worry about trying to manuever around him. Bad assumption! He suddenly was in full forward gear doing large circles around his anchor line. I'm sure fishermen are often perplexed by a sailors strange maneuvers as well. But needing to maneuver a sailboat around something like that can often mean the difference between easily sailing past a point or having to do a couple more tacks and possibly even making it into port before dark. When there are so many of them, each thinking we should go around them, sailing becomes much more complicated and sometimes quite frustrating.
We debated whether to stop in Fukuoka, a medium sized city that was not noted for any particular siteseeing. Yet we'd heard from yachties that foreign yachts could stay in the marina for 2 weeks free of charge and that an excellent grocery store was nearly across the street. Sometimes features as simple as that are what make a place a good stop. And we'd heard that other cruisers might be there that we'd enjoyed meeting in Hong Kong and we were hoping to cross paths again.
We had a delightful spinnaker run down into the well protected bay that makes Fukuoka an excellent natural harbor. On that gorgeous sunny afternoon, we were impressed by the active dingy sailing we saw as we sailed in as well as the caliber of racing boats moored there. And a pretty beach park that stretched along a smaller inner bay outside the marina pontoons.
As soon as we tied up, we set off to stretch our legs, get money and explore a little, and almost immediately encountered a cruiser from Finland who was just about to depart. But in typical cruiser fashion, despite his hurry to get going, he gave us a quick rundown of the town and its facilities. Laundry, groceries and email access were high on our list of errands, as was procuring propane (LPG) for our stove. We tackled our chores and projects, making excellent progress. Getting propane was one we knew might be challenging, but was absolutely essential. When Garth asked in the marina office, a fellow standing nearby offered to help him as soon as he finished putting bottom paint on his J-24 and said he'd stop by our boat after lunch. Sure enough, Mr. Tasaki (Tasaki-san) and one of his coworkers and crew, Mr. Sunada (Sunada-san) stopped by to see if they could help. They and Garth set off to see if they could find a propane shop open on a Sunday. No such luck. But, another fellow knew someone and he called to make arrangements for them to open the shop especially for us later that afternoon. Since Japanese regulations require that tanks be certified in Japan, renting an approved tank and then transferring LPG from that to our tanks was the best option. The pigtail that we'd made our first few months of cruising went unused for years, but has gotten significant use in the last few years for tank to tank transfers. So Tasaki-san and Sunada-san returned a little later, freshly showered and ready to go. Garth and Tasaki-san went to get the tank, while Sunada-san and I snacked in the cockpit. All watched closely as Garth carefully hoisted the rented tank from our boom then connected that tank to our tank with the pigtail and proceeded to use gravity to transfer LPG from one tank to the other, taking extra care to bleed the tank to maxmimize the amount of LPG he could fit into the tank. (Cooling the tank before transfer is another technique that helps as well but is rarely practical and in this case not necessary since the weather was not hot.) (Cruising is not all cocktails in the cockpit.)
Once we finished transfering the propane, Tasaki-san invited us out for sushi. We were very excited since we love sushi and had not yet visited a proper sushi bar in Japan. We quickly stopped by his house to drop off the tank and his Miata so we could all fit in a single car for the evening. We got the opportunity to see his nice house and briefly meet his wife and son before heading off for a late dinner. Seeing the town by car was a treat and they pointed out a few of the sites, including a retractable roof stadium like Safeco Field and a 3 meter high wall built to defend against Mongol invasions that ultimately proved unecessary after a momentous typhoon in 1281 wiped out the invader's fleet, inspiring the name "Divine Wind" which was transliterated to become "Kamikaze" and associated with the Japanese suicide pilots of WWII. In the ride over, Garth discovered that Tasaki-san grew up in Nagasaki and that his parents survived the A bomb. We had so many questions we wanted to ask him about that but were hesitant to ask. Tasaki-san had shared with us a small photo album including photos earlier, so I grabbed a copy of the Kazi Japanese mailing magazine article about us, photos of the boat construction and a photo album and postcards we carried aboard (for when I get homesick) to share with them. Tasaki-san generously hosted us to the finest of Sushi feasts and plenty of beer and delicious warm sake.
And all this on top of running us around town to get propane. We were so overwhelmed by his generosity and didn't even come close to properly thanking him. We hope that we will have the opportunity to host him in Seattle - take him to see Ichiro and the Mariners play in Seattle's retractable roof stadium and get him out racing on a J24 with the competitive one design fleet on a Tuesday night.
We invited Mr. Sunao OHara, the fellow that had arranged for the propane shop to reopen especially for us, to come by the boat for a beer and the next evening he did. As we got talking we learned that he had been a merchant seaman traveling to many places. He had some great sea stories and reminisced about his visits to Seattle, Tacoma and a number of other places we've both visited. The more we talked the more we discovered we had in common. He runs the Opti junior sailing program in Fukuoka. And as we asked him about the program and discovered that he travels to Opti regattas around Asia and knows a friend of ours, Akira, a boy from Hong Kong who races Optis, and whose Japanese father, Tets, was one of our closest friends in Hong Kong. Ohara-san remembers when the Sakai family sailed in from Hong Kong, delivering a J120, and marveled that the kids that were of Japanese decent could not speak Japanese. Yet, their mother is British and they live in Hong Kong, so have as much or more reason to speak Cantonese. We were pleased yet again to discover how small the world is and told Ohara-san to say hello to Akira for us when they meet again at a regatta next month.
Next thing we knew, Ohara-san was calling his friend Linda, who was originally from New York and put her on the phone. We invited her to come by the boat and she said she'd promised her daughter they'd take a run to Costco that evening, but then thought she could finagle a stop by with the excuse that she was buying some things for us. So over the phone we quickly came up with a wishlist and next thing I know, Linda is calling to clarify options while she's standing in Costco's aisles. What an incredible offer! We were so grateful to be able to stock up on some passage food. When Linda and her daughter Ann came by with the goods, we had a great time talking. She's married to a Japanese man, has lived in Japan for 30 years, and speaks and reads Japanese fluently. She loved reading the article and we enjoyed finally learning what it said.
Fukuoka was a pleasant place to visit mostly because of the great people that we met here. What has become so clear is that the scenery, the history and the culture are just a small fraction of our adventure and it is the people that we get to meet that make cruising so interesting and make us love a place or not. And as ever we needed to press on.
*Sailing into the Inland Sea via Kanmon Kaikyo:*
Our route took us through the narrow cut between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu where the currents can be very strong (13 knots!). We sailed north through the night from Fukuoka towards the pass, noting that we could arrive at the ideal time for transiting through if conditions held. We figured we get as close as we could to the pass, and then gauge the weather and currents to go through at the most opportune time. The began to build and shift as we approached the busy shipping lanes and when we arrived just outside the cut into the narrow channel we realized that we could not fight the strong winds and waves compounded by an adverse current in a busy shipping channel. So we decided to wait for more favorable conditions, and we anchored in a bite in an industrial setting, just outside a number of ships also waiting for passage through the narrow channel. We did our best to entertain ourselves during the 2 days while we waited through rain and then thick fog until gradually the wind clocked around to a more favorable direction and ideal wind speed of 7-10 knots. We calculated the currents and tides repeatedly checking and rechecking because it was so important to get the timing right. We were trying to arrive at the narrowest spot under the bridge where the current is typically strongest during slack water just before it was beginning to ebb so that we'd be gently flushed in the direction of our destination under control. Our engine is not strong enough to counter any significant current under the best of conditions, but an adverse current of even 3 knots (much less 13!) would be insurmountable, and maintaining control amidst any whirlpools that might develop in such a strong even favorable current could prove impossible. We started out at the tail end of the flood, watching readerboards posted at the entrance indicating that the current (under the bridge 7 miles away) was flowing in a westerly direction at a speed of 3 knots against us and dropping as we expected.
We had ideal sailing conditions for working our way up the winding passage just outside the shipping lanes.
As we rounded a curve we had the wind on our nose and little room to stay outside the shipping lanes along this stretch. We turned the engine on to give us a little boost as we worked our way along. Then the engine made a ghastly sound that sounded like gears grinding and we immediately shut it off. Our winds were favorable enough for us to make excellent headway, despite needing to short tack along the shore to stay out of the shipping lanes and avoid the contours of the land. And we really couldn't have done anything else but carry on under sail alone, given the state of the tide and the geography. We were getting a charge out of pushing ourselves to sail as high as possible and make good tacks. As we approached the bridge, our timing was pretty well on track for being under the bridge at slack water when we wanted to be there. Suddenly a coast guard boat appeared and stopped in front of us and came out with a loud hailer to tell us that we could not have our main sail up in the channel. Then they asked us what our next port of call was. Ah, hello? If you need the loud hailer, do you think you will be able to hear our replies? After much gesturing to encourage them to call us on the radio, we called them. We told them that we had engine trouble and needed to sail. They didn't seem to understand but did move out of our way as we continued to sail towards them and continued to short tack up the shore. We were committed and we had to just carry on since we couldn't really anchor there and turning around just before the tide turned would have been worse. We had no choice but to continue the last bit under sail alone and do our best to stay out of the way. I guess no one ever imagined a sailboat would be so bold as to try to sail through this incredibly active pass where a very strong current runs and I suppose that if we hadn't been very experienced racers with such a maneuverable boat, we might not have tried this but instead called for assistance. The vessel traffic control called us on the VHF with good English and we explained again that we had engine trouble. They understood our problem and asked us to be very careful of the large volume of shipping traffic and strong currents. I explained that we were staying outside the shipping lanes and were being very careful. Every once in a while, during the course of our conversation I had to put down the mike to tack away from the shore or out of the shipping channel, but soon they seemed satisfied.
Then we reached the narrowest section under the bridge and there was no room outside the shipping channel in this 100 yard wide stretch of water. At just this moment, with 3 supertankers all approaching us in a steady line and bridge supports taking up some of our sea room, we got another call on the VHF. Could they have picked a more inappropriate moment to contact us? I can't imagine one. After we tacked and they'd called a second or third time, I answered. They wanted to know our last and next *few* ports of call and times of arrival(!) and departure, our port of entry, nationality, confirm that we had engine trouble and ask how long it would take to repair the engine problem. (If I haven't looked at the engine problem, how can I tell you how long it will take to repair?) Again I had to put the mike down while the guy was rephrasing his question for the third time about when we'd have our engine fixed, so that we could tack out of the way of a ship. Just as I thought I was done answering their questions, they'd confirm the answer. For each question I answered they confirmed it 4 or 5 times and the conversation seemed to go on endlessly. I was just about at wits end, tempted to say something like "for the safety of everyone in this channel, I suggest we postpone this conversation for a few minutes" but I figured with the language barriers it would just be harder then trying to just answer the quesions as quickly as possible and finally they signed off. The Command Mike in the cockpit kept us from having to run down below each time we were hailed. (Then again, I might not have heard them in the first place.) By the time we cleared the bridge area, a readerboard nearby indicated that we had 4 knots of current with us. As we moved away from the channel we again had space outside the shipping lanes where we could poke along at our relatively slow speed out of the way of these fast moving ships. Within a half hour of when we got past the bridge, we heard an announcement on the VHF in English (and presumeably also in Japanese) that the current under the bridge at that time was 8 knots and rising. Boy were we relieved to have made it through and gotten away from such a strong current.
We had just started to relax after our rather intense session short tacking alongside a major shipping channel (and creating an international incident!), when we neared a fishingboat and one guy started waving flags frantically. As we got close we could see a line of nearly submerged small white buoys (that looked like much of the other small trash and debris that we had been ignoring for the most part over the last few days) stretched to another small float in the distance. So we tacked away and the guy calmed down. As we progressed a little further, another boat started waving frantically and honking. We realised that he was also connected to the original float and the first fishing boat, also with small white nearly submerged floats. These might have been easier to spot had they been in a straight line, but they weren't. We were a bit surprised to encounter fishing boats stringing lines and nets across a large expanse of area next to a major shipping lane, but around here fishermen are king and seem to push the right of way rules as far as they can . By the time we cleared this fishing group we were feeling thoroughly fried, yet plenty of fishing boats still dotted the horizon, along with countless ships some of which were cutting the corner outside the shipping lanes. We'd told customs that we'd sail out of the Inland Sea straight to the south of Shikoku island and estimated our time of arrival to be 5pm the following day. As the day wore on, the wind died to nothing, and I mean nothing, zilch, zip, nada. Not even a ripple on the water. With no wind or engine to fall back on and dusk descending upon us, we were feeling the pressure. Being near a busy shipping lane, surrounded by hoards of fishing boats doing the unexpected while we had no steerage in foggy conditions made for a long tense night, but it was only the first of many. I can't remember office stress that surpassed this.
To the south of us was another narrow stretch where the current flow was notable. Without wind we would drift back in the adverse current losing all progress we'd made whenever we had a breath of air. I sailed past, then drifted back to a group of fishing buoys several times, which frustrated me to no end. Trying to sail in no wind can be such hard work and annoying to get nowhere for all that effort. So we did our best to sail in nearly no air, and had a number of painful days of sailing where we'd make minor progress, battling for every inch in short wisps of wind, sprinkling rain and fog, and then lose our progress as the tide changed. The anchorages were too far apart to keep the progress we'd made and give us a rest. (We figured that eventually we could sail into a bay and take a look at the engine, though we weren't very optimistic: We figured that the problem was serious and we wouldn't be able to get parts in the tight schedule before the weather turns for the season.) We finally made enough progress to sail in and out of an anchorage, allowing us a good night's sleep and an opportunity to look at the engine though we found no obvious source of the trouble. We set off again in a mildly promising wind only to have it die once we were too far to return to our snug anchorage.
Finally after our 4th agonizing day of drifting without any sign of real wind, we broke down and tried the motor again out of sheer desperation, hoping we wouldn't hear that horrible grinding noise again. When we did hear it Garth was below and realized it wasn't what we thought it was but a much simpler problem which we think we've addressed. So we motored for most of a day to another anchorage, making a whopping 30 miles of progress for all our hard work in a foggy drizzle.
Finally the following day, the wind picked up so we could make some decent progress under sail. But by then, we'd wasted so much time bobbing around, we had lost a bit of our sightseeing time. Typhoon season wasn't going to wait for us to finish our sightseeing. So we decided to skip some of our minor planned stops on Shikoku and carried on to Honshu, the most well known island of Japan. Shipping and fishing traffic continued to be heavy in often overcast conditions, but the wind conditions improved significantly and we covered the miles to Wakayama, just south of Osaka. While we were a little apprehensive about hassles with customs since we never stopped where we'd declared we would and had been mostly unaccounted for over 9 days, when we reached Wakayama, the Customs officials greeted us with a smile, offered us some small souvenirs, and were quite understanding when we declared that all our actions and schedule were totally dependent upon the weather. We'd pulled into a very nice marina, with many conveniences which buoyed our spirits on a gorgeous sunny day.