While driving in Seattle, I was blindsided by a call from Hugh Reilly. At first, when he said “This is Hugh Reilly, returning your call”, I couldn’t figure out who he was, and said so: “My apologies, but I’ve forgotten who you are, or why I called you.”
“You called me about my trip to Japan and the Aleutians” he responded. And, he was right. I had called him several times, months ago, trying to speak with him. I did catch him briefly once, but after a few minutes of discussion, we were cut off, and then weren’t able to reconnect. His boat, Westward, an 86 foot trawler, crossed from Japan to Seattle, along the same route we’ll be taking. As quickly as I realized he was in Seattle, I coaxed him out of his address, and talked him into letting me come IMMEDIATELY to his house.
We spent almost no time speaking about the Aleutians or Siberia. He had failed in his effort to get permission to visit Siberia, and went directly from Japan to the Aleutians (a 2,000 nm passage!). For him this was the return trip after two years of cruising, and I had the impression that his focus was on getting the boat home, not on sightseeing. I asked about the Aleutians, and his sense was that we would be fine. He said we would need to hide from time to time, but that there was plenty of good weather information, and that storms were forecast days in advance. He thought we’d have a rough ride, not a dangerous ride. He did say that fog would be a huge issue and that we were really going to hate the fog…
His real passion was Japan. He spent three months in Japan, and loved it. During the hour Roberta and I were at his house, at least 45 minutes were spent talking about the wonderful cruising, and people of Japan.
On the negative side, he said that Japan monitors you very closely. You must clear in and out of every port. Even if you just want to take the boat to anchor for a night, LOTS of paperwork needs done. He said the customs people are extremely helpful, and as frustrated by the regulations as he was. He also said that they are amazingly well organized. Whenever he would speak with any customs person they already had a computer printout showing exactly who he was and everywhere he had been. Language is an issue. There is little English spoken, and few of the local charts or marina brochures are in English. As we looked at the literature, I could see that he had been doing much of his navigation based on materials completely in Japanese! He explained how he would match up the kanji characters from a chart with other brochures, to try to find things that seemed to match. Each movement of the boat required hours of detective work that he thought was great adventure. He described the average movement of the boat as requiring three stops, as he would tie up the dock to the first dock he could find, in the general vicinity of where he was going, then wander around trying to find someone who could speak a little English, and point him in the general direction of his destination, then repeat the process until arrival. He said VHF radios simply aren’t used, and his guess was that they might even be illegal for non-commercial use. He used a cell phone when he could, but given the language barriers, this wasn’t always possible. I was dumbfounded. How could it be “fun” to take a 86 foot trawler into unfamiliar waters, randomly tying to docks, hoping to figure out where you are going? His sense of adventure was contagious, and his attitude positive. I’ll definitely need to remember his outlook on things when getting to Japan.
On the positive side, Hugh said everyone he met was amazingly friendly and helpful. They don’t see a lot of trawlers in Japan, and his boat became a tourist attraction in most marinas. One marina refused to charge him, because they had been so excited about having his boat visit. It’s a modern country, with great marinas and restaurants, an interesting history, a new culture, good cruising, and he thought his three months passed much too quickly. Most importantly, he thought I’d have no trouble finding moorage for our boats, and gave me the names of a few agents. He sent me out the door with a stack of literature and great information. Thank you Hugh Reilly!
And.. on a different topic: I received some great news yesterday.
During our group meeting last week with our Siberian agent, I had reacted negatively to the costs involved in visiting Siberia. Based on the costs involved I was worrying about whether or not the group would even be able to afford stopping in Siberia. And, my biggest fear was that we were in for an endless stream of new price increases and hidden fees. This led me to doing a round of research and background checking on our agent. Rather than rely solely on the list of references he provided, I did my own detective work, and discovered that he is “the real thing.” The word on him is that he isn’t cheap, but that he delivers and can make things happen that others can’t. We may need to scale down a bit on what we want him to do, to reign in the budget, but the great news is that I now have no doubt that we will be able to visit Siberia. The impossible is now looking like a certainty. Yay!!!