At the end of my last blog entry, we were sitting in Katsuura, hiding from an approaching typhoon. Luckily, the typhoon missed us. It turned, heading north along the coast of Japan, harmlessly.
We were all eager to reach Osaka, and wanted to get moving, but the typhoon had stirred up the ocean. We needed to give the seas a day or two to calm before we could get moving.
This gave us another day just to relax in Katsuura. I was bored and decided I wanted to jump on the train, just to see what other cities were around us. Roberta wanted to do some writing on her book about the Irish immigration, told through the story of her ancestors, so I talked Steven and Carol (Seabird) into tagging along with me. Katsuura is a small Japanese town that rarely sees foreign tourists. I was hoping that a bigger city might have at least ONE restaurant with a menu in English. We took the train for a couple stops to a town called 'Shingu,' and started exploring. Within a few blocks we found a restaurant, with a Japanese name, but a clear 'Dennys' look about it. We looked at the menu and there was no English, but at least it had pictures. I took a chance on what appeared to be fried chicken nuggets, but what they brought me was fried chicken feet. I let them sit and ordered some spaghetti that looked safe.
After lunch, we looked at our map, which was in Japanese, and noticed that the beach was only a few blocks away. We headed for the beach, but after walking several blocks noticed that the map didn’t seem to match our surroundings. After about 45 minutes of wandering through residential districts, Carol pointed out how funny it was that we had managed to find Japan coming all the way from the United States, but couldn’t find the beach from a few blocks away. We were receiving lots of strange looks from the people around us. This was a part of Japan few foreigners visit, and here we were wandering aimlessly through back streets. We finally found a 7-11 store, and showed the clerk our map. She pointed at our location, which was only a block from the beach. We started hiking again, and upon arriving at the beach we discovered a giant wall stretching for miles . On the other side we could hear waves. We made a half-hearted attempt to find a way to cross the wall, which didn’t work.
I saw a huge casino in the distance, surrounded by nothing but open fields. I wasn’t positive it was a casino, because the signs were in Japanese, but, it had that look. It had bright lights going in the middle of the day, and a packed parking lot, even though there was nothing else around and we were deep in the boondocks.
There was no taxi stand outside, so we needed to enter, to find someone to call us a cab. Inside, there were no blackjack, or craps tables, but there were acres of Pachinko and Slot Machines, with hundreds of Japanese captivated by them, even though this was mid-day, mid-week. The noise was unbelievably loud! Las Vegas casinos aren’t even in the same category noise-wise. We found a change-girl, and I tried to scream the word "TAXI" but with all the noise she couldn’t understand me. After a bit, she finally got the concept, and found a manager, who took us to a small room, where he had to look up a cab company number in the phone book. I then pantomimed that he should make the call. I wouldn’t have had the vaguest idea how to tell a cab driver where to find us, assuming he spoke English, which would be a bad assumption.
From Katsuura we were only 120 miles from the finish line for the GSSR. This works out to roughly 15 hours of running, at 8.5 knots. It was more than we could do in a day without running at night. Our Japan agent found a marina that would accept our boats, only 95 miles away, which would allow us to break-up the final run into a 12 hour day, followed by a four hour day. We liked the idea of arriving at our final marina in Osaka nice and rested.
We departed Katsuura at 5:30am, although I had to get up much earlier, We had tied up with a typhoon in mind, and it took me 45 minutes just to remove all the fenders and lines.
Our run went smoothly, although it was a relatively rough ride. We had consistent 25 knot head winds. Both of our weather routers had predicted a smooth run, but the weather gods had other ideas. To my surprise, the ride really wasn’t uncomfortable, and there was almost no pitching from the boats, although there was a lot of spray.
We also reached a new high for the number of freighters, 99% of which were coming straight at us. Our guess is that the typhoon had caused all the northbound freighters to hide in Osaka, and they were all leaving Osaka bay at the same time. Tina, on Grey Pearl, started counting the ones we could see out the window, and counted over fifty. These things are enormous and move fast. We decided our best chance to avoid them would be to move much closer to shore. Normally I like to run in deep water, at least a mile or two offshore, but that would be impossible. We ‘hugged the beach’ successfully to avoid the oncoming traffic.
Our proximity to shore did not shield us from the head wind. I asked Braun (Grey Pearl) on the radio if he remembered the last time he and I had slammed into a head wind, at the end of a major trip. He had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained. Five years ago, almost to the day, our two boats, Grey Pearl and Sans Souci, had participated in Nordhavn’s North Atlantic Rally. At the end of the rally, as we were coming from the Azores into Gibraltar, our boats had been side by side, pounding into much higher winds (50+ knots). I remember having the same feeling of accomplishment, and thinking it was fitting that the last ride should have a little excitement to it. My pictures, including the one of Grey Pearl above, from that ride have been featured in many ads, and on magazine covers. Once Braun understood the comparison, it brought back a lot of happy memories for both of us.
Arriving at the Suntopia Marina, our charts were very light on detail, but we had pictures from Google Earth telling us what to expect. I arrived first, and didn’t like what I saw. The marina entrance looked different than it looked on Google Earth. It was very tight, with an immediate turn to port just inside the entrance, and the sun was low, glaring straight into my eyes. As I entered through the opening in the breakwater, I would be making a blind entrance into the marina, in 20+ knot winds, while maneuvering to avoid rocks. Not my idea of a good time. I decided to back off and study the situation before entering. Seabird and Grey Pearl weren’t far behind, and Seabird agreed to be the brave one and try the entrance. Once inside they said it wasn’t bad, so Grey Pearl and I also entered.
Upon turning the corner, I immediately had a pond full of birthday-suited Japanese on my starboard side. This told me were still in Onsen/Rotenburo territory.
Seabird and Grey Pearl were positioning themselves to side-tie to the visitor dock (shown just inside the breakwater in the photo above), but a marina employee was running down the dock waving them off. We had been faxed the marina map, with the location where we should tie clearly identified. Instead, they now wanted us to enter the inner-harbor of the marina. A glance at their visitor dock offered the explanation. It had only a couple of pilings, and looked insubstantial. Together, the GSSR boats weigh 260 tons. The breakwater was very low. Our 260 tons pushing against a flimsy dock, in 20+ knot winds, was not going to work.
We now had three big boats, inside a very small marina, built for much smaller boats, being pushed around by the wind. Roberta had already put fenders and lines on the port side, and the end-cap I was being directed to required the fenders on the starboard side. When I’m driving the boat, Roberta is responsible for working the fenders and lines. Thus, either I had to spin the boat, in roughly its own length, or she had to move the fenders. She was not enthusiastic about moving the fenders, so I grumbled a lot, and spun the boat. Sans Souci is very maneuverable in tight quarters. I have twin engines, a bow and stern thruster, plus big rudders. It went better than I could have hoped and in minutes we were at the dock. Seabird had a reasonably accessible location. But, Grey Pearl, had a location that I wouldn’t have attempted. Braun did a masterful job of bringing the Pearl in, running only a few feet from dangerously shallow water. Overall, it could have been much worse. We were lucky the marina found a way to fit us in. Had they just said, “Sorry, but you have to leave,” after we had run 12 hours to get there, and with darkness imminent, it would have been a rough day.
The Suntopia Marina is in front of a huge hotel. Roberta and I decided to check out the restaurant, and were seated at a teppanyaki counter, where the chef cooks in front of you. Perhaps as an indication of the Japanese economy, we were the only ones in the restaurant. The menu was all in Japanese, but had only two options. The hotel concierge spoke a few words of English, and was able to explain that our choice was ‘beef’ or ‘beef and lobster.’ Roberta took the beef, and I decided to add the lobster.
To my shock, the chef appeared a few minutes later with a tiny shrimp-sized lobster on a plate. The lobster was alive, and not very happy about his impending fate. I couldn’t see killing him over his, at-most, one or two bites of meat. I indicated as best I could that I didn’t want him cooked, which seemed to upset the chef. He left looking somewhat disgusted, and returned with a plate of octopus legs! Argh. I’m not an octopus eater, which also didn’t go over well. I was afraid of what might appear next, so I started repeating “Beef only,” which made the chef and waiter think the waiter had incorrectly noted my order, leading to their having an uncomfortable discussion, and me feeling really bad. At some point in this conversation, I tried to say something to the chef, and he replied in French. He was Japanese, and didn’t seem to speak a word of English, but spoke French. Bizarre, but great news. I speak passable French, and Roberta speaks enough to get by. I was quickly able to clear all the confusion, and the chef was thrilled to be able to speak with us (and to have customers to serve). He supplemented the menu with garlic French fries, and even baguettes. We had a great time, and discovered he was just back from a couple years working in Paris.
The next morning, the GSSR slept in and didn’t depart until 10am. The winds had dropped completely, making our departure easy.
The last 32 miles of the GSSR were run on calm seas, in perfect weather. We dodged a few fishing boats, but overall it was a dream cruise.
Along the way, we witnessed this Discovery-channel moment, a mother freighter nursing one of her offspring. Quite touching.
The photo above shows our final turn into the Bellport Ashiya marina. As soon as we entered, the GSSR would be over.
L to R. Braun Jones, Steven Argosy, Ken Williams, Carol Argosy, Tina Jones, Roberta Williams, Shelby (official GSSR mascot)
Here we are registering into the marina a few minutes after arrival. We hadn’t planned to all wear our official GSSR clothing, it just worked out that way.
Our first few hours in our new home were quite confusing. I had requested a diagram of the marina, prior to our arrival, with our slips indicated. As we entered the marina, we were immediately flagged down from onshore and routed to completely different, and scattered, locations within the marina. An hour later, we were asked to move again, and then another hour later we were asked to move yet again. Our boats are the largest boats in the marina, and once the management saw us, they puzzled over where we could safely be put. We also hit power issues. The shore power in Japan is only 200 volts, and it is 50hz. At our request, we were moved to the same dock, but the voltage dropped under 190 volts, and then we started blowing the breaker for the entire dock every 15 minutes. Ultimately this was solved by moving Sans Souci to the other side of the marina.
It’s a beautiful, new marina, and the staff has been very helpful. One young lady that works for the Bellport Ashiya Marina speaks good English. The marina has a haul-out facility, and a maintenance yard. I was also pleased to see that they are set up to accept used oil. This is a great place to be for the next six months!
Our next challenge, which we’re still working on as I type this, is to resolve how we will take care of our boats during the six months that we fly home to the United States. Steven and Carol, from Seabird, will be on their boat for some portion of that time, but Roberta and I will not return to Japan until next April. If all goes well, our boats will sit here, happy, and alone, for six months without needing much attention, other than occasional washing.
However, there are some things that need tended to in our absence. There are likely to be times when the power goes out. Sometimes, this will be a breaker on the boat, sometimes on the shore power pedestal, and sometimes, it will be the whole dock. Recognizing when the power goes out, and then resetting the right breaker, needs to be done by someone. The boats need a good wash from time to time. The bottoms need cleaned, by a diver, since we won’t be here to move the boats to a haul-out facility, and since the water is warm this needs done every month until winter sets in. The engines and generators should be started from time to time. The toilets should be flushed, and the watermakers should be run. It’s not a lot of work, but someone has to do it. The marina does offer these services, but our boats, particularly my boat, are much larger than the marina is accustomed to. My sense is that most of the boats around us will be hauled out over the winter. Whereas, our boats can’t be hauled out, at least not here, because of their size. And, communications with the marina, should something go wrong, will be difficult.
I think we have it all under control. I spent a couple of days looking into hiring someone to come live in Japan and watch our boats. I also looked into finding a local management company. After getting an interpreter involved, I discovered that the marina offered more services than I first imagined, and would be willing to handle most of the work. I discovered, via Google, a local interpreter, who we all like, who agreed to be our point of contact with the marina. Through him we have someone here in Osaka, who speaks perfect English, and can monitor how our boats are doing, and give us a good channel of communications to the marina. He doesn’t know boats, but is smart, and we’ll train him on what he needs to know before we leave town.
Roberta and I fly home to Seattle in two weeks, where we’ll face a mountain-sized stack of unopened mail. Before we go, I’ll spend days going through the boat to identify any maintenance that needs done, and spare parts that are needed. I’ll then work through the interpreter to see what work can be done here, but expect I’ll need to send maintenance people from the U.S. Fortunately, this was an amazingly good year. Sans Souci is a complicated boat, and we ran it nearly 7,000 miles, a chunk of which was in rough seas. Impressively, nothing broke. Last year, on our Costa Rica run, the boat was new, and there were some warranty issues, but this year, the boat has run flawlessly. I’m sure I’ll find a few things, as I look around, but overall, not much will need to be done. Prior to our departure Roberta will clean the interior of the boat and make long lists of inventory items to be brought back next year.
Shelby will be the most complicated part of our departure. She has been officially imported into Japan, and will now need to be exported to the United States. We need an export permit for her, and we need to have her change planes in Hawaii. There’s a lot of paperwork, and bureaucracy to be worked through.
Complicating the process, next week is ‘Silver Week’ here in Japan. Virtually all business will grind to a halt, as the government imposes a five-day vacation for everyone. The newly elected government is on a mission to reduce productivity in the hopes that it might cut unemployment. Think I’m joking? Read this article: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aktJRPqjCvmo Our interpreter made an interesting comment when he mentioned that the Japanese mentality is, “Live to work, Work to live.” There is a very strong work ethic here, which I have tremendous respect for, although the Japanese government sees it differently. Perhaps they should Google the French experiment with a 35 hour work week?
And, with that the GSSR has come to an end…
Actually, to be technically accurate, only the first leg of the GSSR has come to an end. At our ‘victory dinner’ we talked about the future of our group. Whereas at the beginning of our cruise no one wanted to commit to our group hanging together when we reached Japan, now, no one wants to think about cruising in this part of the world alone. There is a lot of complexity, and together we can accomplish things that would be much harder alone. It was unanimously agreed that we would keep cruising together.
It was also agreed that we would continue to call our group, and our voyage, the GSSR. This makes no sense, given that GSSR stands for Great Siberian Sushi Run, but we decided that we don’t care. We all own lots of clothing that says “GSSR” and we don’t want to buy new clothes! Plus, we all love the little polar bear logo, and don’t want to give it up. We are henceforth going to pretend that GSSR stands for (G)rey Pearl, (S)eabird, (S)ans Souci (R)un.
We discussed our next year’s route a bit, and still haven’t arrived at any conclusions. We suspect that China, Okinawa, Taiwan, Japan and Korea are on the agenda, but no decisions have been made. There are many topics which need researched:
1) What countries can Shelby get into without quarantine?
2) When is the best cruising season in each country?
3) We will need some work done on the boats sometime next year. Which country has a good haul-out and maintenance facility?
4) Where is the safest place to leave our boats at the end of the next cruising season?
Our current plan is to finish up next year's cruising in Hong Kong, and have all the boat maintenance done there. There has also been discussion of Singapore instead of Hong Kong. We are also talking to the Nordhavn factory (Ta Shing) in Taiwan to see if they have any ability to do maintenance, or could refer us to someone in Taiwan. We have six months to build a plan, and a lot of research to do.
Here’s a brief look at some stats from the trip:
- Distance: 5938 nm
- Fuel consumed by Sans Souci: 10,751 gallons
- Average Speed: Not tracked, estimated at 8.9 knots
- Stops made (to anchor, or moor): 45
- Hours underway: Not tracked, estimated at 667
- Hours of seriously heavy seas (Force 7 or greater): 0
- Hours of heavy seas: (Force 5 or greater): Under 24
- Hours of serious fog with under 100 yard visibility: 0
- Hours of fighting adverse current: Not tracked, but we seemed to get a push as often as we were held back. Overall, we think our nickname as the ‘wrong way gang’ is unearned.
- Days of fog: Estimated at 14. However, the fog usually only lasted a couple hours, and I don't remember any days when it was so thick I couldn't see the bow.
- Marinas or anchorages with Internet WiFi after we left the Alaskan Inside Passage: 0
These statistics need some explaining….
If you do some math with the numbers above it appears that Sans Souci achieved only about .55 nautical miles per gallon. We carry 3,000 gallons, so this implies a range of only about 1,600 nautical miles. However, this is not the whole story. We ran the generator almost non-stop for nearly four months. There has been no shore power at most of the places we have stopped. If you subtract out our 2,200 hours of generator run time, at an average of 1.25 gallons per hour, then fuel consumed by the main engines was only 8,001 gallons. This puts my nautical miles per gallon at .74, which yields a range of 2,250 miles. Trawlers, such as Sans Souci, are very efficient at slow speeds, and become fuel hogs at higher speeds. At 7 knots, I could easily run 3,000 miles, but as the speed increases Sans Souci’s fuel efficiency goes down. One of the best things about our unique approach to crossing the Pacific, was that we could run fast when we wanted to, without worrying about range. I should also note that Grey Pearl and Seabird consumed half as much fuel, partially because of their lighter boats, and partially because they did not run their generators non-stop.
I should also point out that no one should be lured into thinking that because our statistics are so pretty, that this is an easy trip, and that they should jump into whatever boat they might own and head west. This trip is a big-league adventure, and one that should only be attempted by certain people and certain boats. We had highly-skilled crews, on true blue-water-capable boats, with months of careful advance planning, top quality weather routers, crew who had local knowledge of the Bering Sea, the patience to sit still when we didn’t like the weather, and a fair dose of good fortune. This trip must not be underestimated. We did a lot of things right, and have a good trip to show for it. If others decide to try this, my advice would be to really think it through, study what worked well for us, and hope for the same luck we had.
When I asked at our victory dinner what the best thing about the trip was, everyone agreed immediately that it was the people. By this I mean all of the people, the boat owners, the crews, the mechanics, the weather routers and more. A lot of people, and companies, contributed to make this a successful trip.
Here’s a look at the people who crewed on the various boats:
L to R: Jeff Sanson, Kirt Ahlquist, Roberta Williams, Ken Williams, Shelby, Bill Harrington
John and Nova Heuer
Ray and Karen Hoffman
Steven and Carol Argosy
Carol and Wayne Watjus
Diane and Mike Simmons
Braun and Tina Jones
Kell Achenbach, Wayne Davis, Pat Davis
Mort and Allyson Taubman
Invaders from space
As I mentioned, I owe a huge thank you to all of the people who did the excellent work on Sans Souci.
Sans Souci had major upgrades and repairs done during the off-season. Jeff Sanson, who also crewed on Sans Souci, led the effort. Anyone needing work done on their boat, in the Pacific NW, who needs their boat delivered anywhere, project management or boat management should contact Jeff (Jeff Sanson, Pacific Yacht Management, Seatle, Wa, 206-855-7960). Pacific Yacht Management is incredible. In addition to his own staff, Jeff managed several local subcontractors in Seattle, including Delta Marine, S3 Systems, Hatton Marine, and Emerald Harbor Marine. Major electronics upgrades, including my absolutely amazing Internet system, were done by Ed Harvey, Harbor Tech systems of Vancouver.
I must also call attention to some real heroes who took calls 24 hours a day during the trip. Steve Bradburn from Furuno was my expert on everything Furuno. He personally trained me on the use of Sonar, and Navnet 3d. Greg Mallory of Hatton Marine took questions on anything electrical. Brett Jenes from Emerald Harbor answered all my a/c questions. And, David Wright of American Bow Thruster answered many questions about my hydraulics.
In Russia, and in Japan, we used 'agents' to do our ground work. Our Russian agent was Sergey Frolov, from http://www.siberianadventures.com, and in Japan, we used Kazuo Furuno, at Interocean Shipping (http://www.interocean.co.jp). Both were excellent and made customs clearing and immigration as easy as could be, plus took care of our moorage needs.
Anyone going to the Aleutians should seek out Bill Harrington. Having him along was one of the smartest decisions we made. It made a huge difference having him along to guide us to the anchorages, and WWII artifacts. It also helped that we were able to look him in the eye, when the seas were roughest, and say, "You've seen worse than this and survived. Haven't you Bill?" And, of course, having Bill along in the Aleutians, where he has a lot of friends, made us 'golden' in places like Sand Point and Adak (where I should also thank Cynthia and Joe Galaktionoff who were exremely helpful.)
I must also call attention our weather routers, 'Weather Bob' and 'Weather Rich. 'We had two going at all times, and these guys deserve awards for the work they did. Bob Jones at Ocean Marine (www.oceanmarinenav.com) and Rich Courtney who isn’t really a weather router, although he is a professional weathercaster, who works for NOAA. Rich’s familiarity with the Aleutians was a big help. Both Bob and Rich took our calls and emails 24 hours a day, and I can’t thank these guys enough.
And, I can't forget to thank our friends John and Gloria Buchan, and Kent and Pam Williams, who threw a huge party for us in Hoonah Alaska!
And of course, there is all of you. Whereas technically, it could be argued that the trip would be the same with or without the blog, I would argue that the blog does make a huge difference. In addition to the morale boost we all get from reading your questions and comments, there are some very real positives. All of us have noticed that because our blogs are so widely read, when we call a mechanic, a marina, or anyone that offers marine services, our calls get answered much faster. I’m sure we would get good service one way or the other, but vendors knowing how visible the GSSR is certainly helps. Also important: Many of you have pitched in with good ideas and reference information for us, both as comments to blog entries and in private emails.
Lastly, this really does mark my last blog entry for a while. I might post something from time to time on the website, but unless something interesting is happening, I won’t be sending emails. You are encouraged to check my website (http://www.kensblog.com) from time to time to see if I’ve posted anything. Also, if you find yourself missing the blog, you can always buy my two books: http://www.lulu.com/kenw
We’ll be back on Sans Souci in April 2010. Until then, thank you all! And, see you next year.
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
PS I asked Seabird and Grey Pearl for any pictures they wanted to contribute to this final blog. You can see the pictures they sent, by clicking the links below:
Grey Pearl – http://www.kensblog.com/aspx/m/569850
Seabird – http://www.kensblog.com/aspx/m/569847