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Illywhacker - West Coast Japan

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WEST COAST JAPAN
Author Peter Aston
Date April 2000
Map Ref Japan, Honshu

Summary

Here is a CCC article written as an update of illywhacker's travels north along the Honshu coastline in April 2000

Calling home from Yunotsu

Part 1 -Nagasaki towards Hakodate

Oh it’s so hard to leave your comfort zone and venture out when you know it’s going to be tough! The marina at Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki was looking good for our retirement village when realisation dawned that we were not Japanese and never would be, so despite the pleas of our many friends to stay, it really was TIME.

It was with heavy hearts and a freshly painted boat we commenced our journey north towards Hakodate in Hokkaido. We planned to be as early in the season as possible to maximise the time for the trip across from Japan to North America and we are paying the penalty at this moment, cowering in a small port from one of the frequent gales that mark this time of the year. Known as the period of migratory Lows, there is a 3 or 4 day cycle of strong NW winds and a high swell accompanying the High after the front passes followed a day and a half later by an easing then sudden switch to light SE winds with rain and fog, then to SW, (moderate winds) prior to the front again. All this means the seas are confused and uncomfortable and it’s easy to get caught out in strong winds.

The journey to date (end Apr '00) has developed into a pattern of a high social occasions interspersed with periods of abject misery: ie. being in port is great, getting there is no fun!

Since we were heading to fisherman’s territory, a friend prepared a plasticised sheet in Kanji characters informing the reader who we were and that we wanted to spend a day or 2 in their harbour. Our first chance to use this was in the old city of Hirado, where the Portugese first came in 1549 to introduce Christianity. Francis Xavier led the charge but burnings at the stake and other malfeasance soon ruled the day and the city became a major trading post instead, giving way to the Dutch Traders on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbour in the late 1700s.

There are 400 year Dutch/Japanese celebrations in Nagasaki this year. Anyway, on arrival in Hirado, the local fisherfolk were delighted to have us tie up and spent much time admiring the boat and having tea aboard. The system worked! The sail from Hirado to the city of Fukuoka was fast, rolly and wild. Under 2R main and 50% jib, it was not what we expect from a sedate lady such as illywhacker. So with some relief we shot smartly through the entrance to Odo marina with the wind and sea behind us, just before dusk.
A bike tour in the park at Odo marina

The visitors berth is a quick turn to starboard so Lyndall wheeled the boat around ..... but not quickly enough and WHAM, side on but at some speed we "berthed" …. First modification to the new paint job! We remained pinned to the pontoon all night; it’s damned difficult to leave it under those circumstances and although our oversize Japanese fenders were holding up we wedged a tyre in as well …More black marks! Next morning it was still blowing hard but the marina manager saw our plight and offered us a berth further in amongst the paying customers.

Odo marina is short on width between the rows of boats and we needed to motor downwind then turn to port with the wind abeam, tying up on the port side. We used a bow spring and forward gear to drive the stern out into the wind and back away from the visitors berth. It took all 50 HP to convince the 18 ton yacht this was what we wanted. Once away down between the yachts with the wind behind us it became obvious we were out of control (the wind was!) and the idea of simply turning left into the pen was a joke. In retrospect, what I should have done was to float a line tied to a fender from the pylon at the entrance to the pen and pick it up (with a boathook, not the prop) as we went past. This is what we eventually did but by then we were almost at the end of the marina row bouncing against the stern pylons of 2 thankfully smaller yachts. It took a half hour of winching upwind to get us safely tied up. It was then that the wind eased!

A weeks rest was in order as Fukuoka is our favourite city here, with many friends and a big supermarket next door. It took quite a few kind words and warm sake for Lyndall and friends to convince me to press on. So we did and sailed the 45 nm leg to Murotsu, our first stop on the west coast of Honshu.

As part of our sailing plan we have listed the places visited by "By Jingo" in 1995 but it still came as a surprise to be given a large colour photo of a presentation made by that famous CCC yacht to the Murotsu YC Commodore. Hamada San send his warm regards Dave and Maree!

From there to the old city of Hagi where we again sheltered from strong winds. On arrival we usually choose an area of the port offering a tieup downwind of the seawall. When the front passes however, it often means a reversal in direction and so we try to use an existing fishing boat anchor lying on the bottom and tied to a bollard. Fishing ports are littered with such handy lines and we tied one abeam to illywhacker in Hagi. Late at night when the wind changed with a vengeance, I had to rig a block and use the anchor windlass to haul us off the wall with the big "anchor" line. It wasn’t until the morning that we discovered the line reached across the port to the main wharf. Fortunately there was no traffic that night, or day, everyone else was at home too!

From Hagi to Hameda after another fully reefed and rolly sail we were delighted to find a real anchorage, dropped the hook for the 3rd time only in Japan and collapsed for a nap. After 5 mins it was; knock, knock... "welcome to Hameda" from a dinghy outside. So off we went to Nishikawa's house, a beautiful place inside the local hospital grounds. Turned out he owned a Swan 40' with a paid crew. He also owned the 420 bed, very modern hospital. We were wined and dined in style at a local Korean-style (kalbiri) restaurant then home where his wife Mariko, a Dr also, played piano for us while he a violin solo.

From there the next day in atrocious seas to Yunotsu where we cowered for a day then left for Upuurui. What a mistake! It was so bad the harbour was closed so we had to head for the Oki island group 40 nm away which had a port protected from the NW. That's where we are now, in the town of Chibu on Tiburi Shima.

We had another great party last night with Chris, an Aussie and the 2 local Dr's, one a yachtie. Chris with a Law degree works as an "international relations consultant" for the govt office. What a job, 740 people on the best (rural and scenic) island we've seen, many of the inhabitants seem over 80 but the money is poured in to maintain a presence, as next stop west across the Japan Sea is Nth Korea.

We were lucky to arrive on a festival day and many of the inhabitants donned pilgrim’s robes and travelled (some by car or bicycle, some on foot) on a pre-determined route linking the island’s shrines. At each stop the pilgrims (including us in the High School party) were fortified with splendid arrays of traditional food and sake’. After the party that night both our legs and our heads ached but what a way to see the REAL Japan!

The tentacles were still moving as we ate this live squid dish (ikan) Women chanting at roadside temple on our pilrimage around Chibu Island

We’ll wait here for a decent weather break and try to make up some miles as we're late already for our target time in Hakodate, Hokkaido. Hey wait! … I must learn to relax and wait for the weather, we’re cruising aren’t we?

Part 2 - Oki Islands to Kushiro

After enjoying a week of wonderful hospitality at Oki Sima, the weather finally eased and allowed us a 4-day straight run toward the north of Honshu. We like the feeling of having completed a passage with time to recover and to prepare for the next leg so we had decided to shoot for Hakodate, a good sized town where our crew were to meet us and a fine anchorage awaited. This meant skipping a number of desirable stops with glimpses of old Japan but we were happy to see "workaday" Japan in the shape of fishing villages at Toga and Kodomari and "holiday" Japan at Fukaura, an onsen (hot spring) town. From Kodomari we slipped across the Tsugaru Straits to Hakodate. These straits separate Hokkaido from Honshu and carry the Kuro Shiro current that flows up the west coast of Japan and on across to Alaska. It is a warm current from southern climes and brings with it fish and clean water, so for the first time in a long while we saw dolphins, pilot whales and with a foretaste of things to come, 2 otters popped their heads up and gave us a once over. The current runs at up to 7 knots so we swept into Hakodate in great style, excited by the sight of snow-covered peaks and wisps of steam from a distant volcano.

Streetscape in Kodomari NW Honshu Hakodate from the hilltop

The yachties’ friend in Hakodate, Mizuno San ran from his shop on our arrival to help us tie up fore and aft in a busy tourist area much like the Rocks in Sydney. Hakodate was one of the 3 trading ports in the late 19th century and many of the European style brick buildings remain, now they are home to trinket shops, food shops and restaurants specialising in crab of the "select it live and watch it cooked" variety. We could only look on since the prices ranged around $100 for a king crab up to 600mm span, usually caught by Russian trawlers, of which there were many. illywhacker provided a photo backdrop opportunity for many tourists and we had fun exchanging linguistic gems in fractured Japanese. Mizuno called upon his friends in the local yacht club and we were able to have the HF radio repaired (which had almost rendered me speechless) and to rebuild the heater ducting which I had built using hot water-grade PVC pipe. It takes a climate like this to appreciate how easy living in Sydney can be. The diesel-fired heater is running continuously providing a pleasant 21 deg below decks but the penalty is condensation. Most of illywhacker is insulated but where the hull forms part of the cabin sole or where under floor lockers are uninsulated, the water streams down, requiring 2 or 3 mopping-ups a day.

We greeted our crew, John and Marg Young from Brisbane at Hakodate and after a few days sightseeing together, took off on a fine sunny day for Kushiro on the eastern side of Hokkaido. It was an overnight run to the fishing port of Tokachi, passing Erimo Point at around 0330. It is the beginning of daylight here at that time although the fact was irrelevant as Erimo Point marks the start of a wiggly line enclosing a large area on the North Pacific weather chart labelled FOG. It’s quite eery, sailing into a white blanket, particularly in a crowded area off a major peninsular. With the radar guard zone beeping away, indicating fishing boats, nets and larger vessels all around our adrenalin levels were peaking but with everyone looking out for themselves we always seemed to have a mile clear about us.

We crept into Tokachi on radar, guided also by the mournful sound of the lighthouse foghorn which continued on throughout the night. Relieved to be in port we called Coastguard on Ch 16 who by now knew how to spell "illywhacker" and were adept at advising all the necessary Authorities of our presence. A serious fishing port, Tokachi had no liking for pretty white yachts that couldn’t tie up against huge black tyres and even our 600mm diameter styrene foam fender was inadequate so we eased out of port in the early morning fog bound for Kushiro.. And that’s where we are now, tied up downtown to a rusty pontoon alongside a sightseeing ferry terminal in the Kushiro River. One of the 2 yachts here is owned by Seki San who has made it his business to ensure that our last port in Japan is the best ever. So while the weather stabilises… again, we have been enjoying his hospitality. Yesterday was a highlight, we drove inland in 2 4wd’s to see real farming country, green fields, marshlands with the famous red cranes, high mountain lakes and volcanic areas spewing sulphurous steam. The beginning of the Rim of Fire, prelude to the Aleutians.

Our plan is to leave soon after the beginning of June after Marg flies back home and skirt the Kurils to Petropavlosk in Kamchatka, a distance of 850 nm. Our visas are in order, the Progranichiki are expecting us and the yacht is ready, but is the crew?

Woman sorting seaweed on Kodamari street A foggy afternoon in Kushiro
 

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email: peter @illywhacker.com
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