GSSR 2010 no. 4 – Life on a boat is never boring!

Greetings all!

I am very pleased to report that the GSSR group has FINALLY departed Osaka and this year’s cruising is underway!

I don’t know about the others, but neither Roberta nor I slept much the night prior to departure. We had forged a comfortable life in Ashiya. We know the bus schedule, the train schedule, the restaurants, where to shop, and have somewhat settled in, and even planted a few roots. Once we leave the dock, we’ll be starting all over again.

Our excitement about departure was dampened by the need to say goodbye to several friends at the marina.

Kokoro, from the marina, is an amazing person. She has her captain’s license, and was a big help to us. She presented Sans Souci with an inscription, that she said translates as ‘Leader.’

Olivier Verne is a french baker who was walking his dogs along the dock, when he befriended our group. Why am I not surprised that a Frenchman wanted to pose with all the girls?



Our last view of Ashiya

For the next few weeks we’ll be cruising Japan’s inland sea… 

The Inland Sea is 200 miles long, and averages about 20 miles wide. It is called the Seto Nakai in Japanese. There are over 3,000 islands in the Inland Sea! On a map, it is reminiscent of the cruising we’ve enjoyed in the Pacific NW.

That said, there are major differences. I looked up the Inland Sea on Wikipedia and noted this comment:

“…Today the Inland Sea serves its coastal areas mainly for two purposes: first, international or domestic cargo transportation, and second, local transportation between coastal areas and islands on the sea….”

In addition to a huge amount of freighter traffic, the inland sea is heavily used for fishing, and ferry traffic. We constantly have to be on the alert for nets and other fishing gear, in the water.

Here’s a typical scene from our radar display. This is covering only a four mile radius, and if you look closely you’ll notice that there aren’t many boats with AIS (a system that lets us know what direction other boats are going, and how fast they are moving). You can see our four boats at the center of the radar display, and also see the freighter on a collision path with our group.

To further complicate the cruising, we don’t know the ‘rules of the road.’ We know the rules we were taught in Captain’s school, but the USCG rules and the Japan rules seem to differ.

Seabird nearly had a VERY serious incident…

Our boats were running a very narrow channel, with a 2 knot current, between two islands. We were running single file, with Grey Pearl in front, then Sans Souci, Starr and then Seabird. As I went through the nearly one mile long channel, I was concentrating on sticking to the center of the channel, and thinking about how lucky I was that there were no other boats around.

As Seabird was in the channel they were passed by a passenger ferry on the starboard (right) side. Steven (Seabird’s captain/owner) was ‘amazed’ that a passenger ferry would pass in such tight quarters, but then it got much worse.

As the ferry passed Seabird, it suddenly made a sharp turn to port crossing directly in front of Seabird’s bow, to enter a harbor on Seabird’s port side. To avoid a collision, Steven had to immediately slam the boat into reverse. The two boats came within about 20 feet of each other. It was a VERY close call, and completely unwarranted. Had the ferry captain relaxed a few  minutes he easily could have entered the port without endangering anyone.

This is an extreme example and I do not mean to imply that anarchy exists on the Inland Sea. This is a very busy waterway, and my sense is that there are very clear rules for conduct. We just don’t know what they are. In particular, we’re trying to understand how we know who has the ‘rightaway’ in varying circumstances.

Overall we had nice weather for our first day at sea. That said, the wind has been high. Also, the current and the wind are directly against each other, which adds to the likelihood of choppy seas.

Here you see Grey Pearl running, and you’ll note that the seas are flat and we’re running comfortably. This is with running DIRECTLY into a 30 knot wind. I’m not completely certain why we’re getting such a good ride. Steven said that it is because the fetch (the distance the wind moves across the water to stir up waves) is limited, and I’m sure he is right. However, at home in Seattle, the Puget Sound is roughly the same size, and when moving straight into 30 knot winds, it can get ugly.

Braun added another thought to the conversation: “Don’t forget guys. Our perspective of rough seas has been forever changed by crossing the Aleutians.” True!

And on a different topic…

Here’s an interesting picture. It’s a scene from Navnet 3d showing us cruising the islands.

There’s a couple of items to note on this display.

1) I’m using Navnet’s 3d mode with the satellite images overlayed. I always thought of 3d as a silly gimmick only good for selling chart plotters. However, having actually used it on this run, I like it! I wouldn’t use it as my primary mode of navigation, but it does add value. I run three displays while running the boat. The monitor on the port side is dedicated to radar, the center display to Nobeltec, and on the starboard side I have Navnet 3d.

2) The pink splotches you see are the radar overlay. Once again, I’ve never used this mode, considering it a gimmick, but I’m also ready to say that it seems to have value. At a glance I can see that the chart is correctly aligned, and also get a quick reference to the location of other boats around me.

And, while you are looking at the chart above…

You see to our right a nice bay inside the island. We saw this on the charts and it seemed like a perfect place to anchor for the night. Prior to our trip Roberta had researched anchorages on the internet and found a Japanese government site with the location of all the designated anchorages in the Inland Sea. This bay was on the list. Thus, we entered the bay and dropped anchor.

The winds were still high and we wanted to find a location within the bay that would give us some protection from the wind. This put us into a small corner of the bay where we had problems getting far enough away from each other

With the anchors dropped, it was time to celebrate our first night at anchor. On all of the boats the barbecues were being lit, and dinner started, when…

I had just poured myself a glass of wine, and was relaxing when we heard someone knocking on the boat. It was the Japan Coast Guard!???

I went to the back of the boat and there were two coast guard agents in a tender. They didn’t speak much English, but asked me, “American?”. I said “Yes. American.” They were smiling and friendly. I thought they just wanted to say hi. But, instead one of them said, “Do you have Japanese crew?” I explained that I was the captain. He said, “Must move. Closed Port.” Ouch! We had been up most of the prior night, it was getting dark, and we were exhausted. I asked, “Move where?” He said, “Other port.” This wasn’t looking good. The nearest other port was 12 miles away. We’d be exhausted, entering a strange port, in the dark, in high wind. It would be a much different evening than planned.

Grey Pearl has on board, as a guest, a Japanese businessman whom we met in Yokohama last year. I realized the situation was becoming serious, and swapped tactics. I pointed at Grey Pearl and said, “We have a Japanese person on that boat. I don’t understand you. Can you go there?”

As the Coast Guard was moving to Braun’s boat, I quickly explained the problem on the radio. We are cleared into Japan as domestic boats. My assumption was that the Coast Guard didn’t know this and that we’d be able to resolve the situation by showing them our paperwork. As Braun and his Japanese guest went down to speak with the coast guard, all of us on the other three boats sat by our radios tensely waiting for news.

After what seemed an eternity, but was only about 45 minutes, Braun came on the radio to say that it wasn’t going well, but that they were working on it. I phoned the agent who we use in Japan to see if he could help. He said that he had already been contacted by the Coast Guard and was on the phone with them. He sounded under pressure.

Our wait continued while our agent, our Japanese businessman friend, and his contacts, all pleaded on our behalf so that we could stay there at anchor for the night. For some reason we had created quite a stir!

Finally, Braun was on the radio. A compromise had been reached. We could stay the night, but could not go ashore or leave the boats.

I asked our agent what happened, and still don’t completely understand. Apparently some Japanese ports are ‘open’ and some are ‘closed.’ True Japanese boats can enter either. Our boats have been cleared into Japan as Japanese domestic boats, but this apparently didn’t qualify us to enter closed ports.

And, the fact is…

We had no idea whatsoever that we had entered a port. As far as we knew, we were anchored in a pretty little bay, with no commercial port in site. Now, we’re totally confused about where we can and can’t go. What’s a port?

One thing we have discovered is that the word ‘anchorage’ as I interpret it, and the word ‘anchorage’ as Japan interprets it, are completely different. To me an anchorage is a pretty bay, offering protection from the wind, where one drops the hook to barbecue, hang out, swim and sleep. I’m coming to understand that there isn’t much recreational cruising in Japan, and when the charts refer to an anchorage, they are referring to a place where commercial boats can seek protection from typhoons.

I pushed our agent (our representative in Japan) for a description of the difference between a closed and an open port, and in particular whether or not ports were closed for military reasons. It was apparent from how everyone was behaving that we had found ourselves in the center of a big controversy. “No. Not military, “ he said, and I do suspect he was right. So…I just don’t know. We’re now not certain what we can, and can’t, do.

As we went to sleep, still monitored by the coast guard, Braun came on the radio to say, “I’d like everyone to forget about the events of the day, and spend a minute just watching the sunset. It will remind us of what’s really important in life.” A perfect comment to end the evening.


When I awoke, the Coast Guard was sitting behind the boat. Our agent had already received a call asking when we’d be leaving. As we departed, the Coast Guard followed us from the marina.

So that no one misunderstands, I want to be very clear… 

I am not complaining about this incident. We are guests in Japan and thrilled to be here. We’re working hard to understand what the rules are, and want to represent the best of American tourism. We’re hoping that our visit will encourage others to cruise here, and want to figure things out, in hopes of making it easier for those we hope will follow. At times, it is easy to forget that we are guests in their country, and that it is us who must adjust to their rules and customs, not the other way around.

As I type this we are sitting at port at Takamatsu…

Our Japanese businessman friend was able to arrange moorage for us at a nearby commercial port, in the town of Takamatsu.

Tying up at Takamatsu was a bit of a challenge, although easier than I expected. We had 30 knot winds blowing us off the dock. Sans Souci has big beefy thrusters and twin engines, so I can’t say that it was pretty, but we had no trouble getting to the dock.

The tricky bit was tying the boat to deal with the tides. We arrived at high tide, and knew the water would be dropping by two meters (about seven feet). With the wind blowing us off the dock, I needed the lines tight enough that Roberta and I could get off the boat. However, if the lines were tight, then when the tide started falling, Sans Souci might find itself dangling in space. Not good.

Steven from Seabird showed me the trick. The lines can be tight, if they are kept long. I ran a couple of long bow lines forward, plus a couple of stern lines back, and we were about as good as could be.

We went into Takamatsu for lunch…

Takamatsu is famous for their udon noodles, and we wanted to give them a try. Our Japanese friend said that there are even “udon taxis” which regularly escort tourists to tours of five noodle houses in an afternoon. The noodles were indeed excellent!

The noodle house makes their own pasta fresh as they see guests walk in the door. The noodle-chef was slaving away working hard on his noodles when I walked over with my camera. Immediately, he picked up the noodles, and within seconds adopted a perfect smile.The way he did it busted me up. It was the act of a man who has had his picture taken thousands of times by tourists. He knew what to do, and nailed it on the first take.

And to close out this overly long blog, here are a few pictures from the beautiful Japanese garden here in Takamatsu which we had the pleasure of touring today.




Lastly, one more item….

Many of you have been responding to my blog postings by hitting reply on the email. This sends your comment ONLY to me.  PLEASE do not do this. Especially, do not send me back my own blog as part of your response. It takes a lot of expensive bandwidth to download. Instead, please use the link to go to my blog and post your comments at the bottom of the blog entry, OR click ‘reply to all’ in your email program, which will cause your comments to be posted directly onto the blog.

Your comments are the best part of my blog, so please comment – but, avoid sending the comments directly to me. Posting them publically will be more fun for all of us.

Thank you,

Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out :  


17 Responses

  1. Hi Ken, just emailed you awhile ago. Hopefully i can have some of your knowledge about cruising in Japan. We should be there around July, it be good to see you around. Meanwhile i am keeping my eyes glued to your blog.

  2. Hi Ken & Roberta, hope you’re both well, that marina you’re at at the moment seems to have a complex on site. Could you give us a heads up on what it’s like inside?
    If your past blog’s are anything to go by you would probably have checked out the restaurant first, so what’s the food like?:)
    I was going to pass a few glib comments on the errant ferry skipper, but I didn’t know whether my “British” sense of humour would carry, (they were on the lines of white head band with a red circle in the middle), so I thought better of it.:)
    Regards to both,
    ( A new Nordhavn Dreamer who’s jealous as hell, being that I’m up to my eye’s in tiling the bathroom at the moment):(:(

  3. Wow Ken!!! That is some cruising! It is amazing that the coast gaurd was so addiment about you guys putting down anchor for the night! Who have thought! Roberta looks lovely as always especially in the gorgeous Japanese gardens! All is well on Mercer Island the remodel of the salon has begun and is looking great! Can’t wait for you to see it when you come home!

    All my best and happy cruising,


  4. G’day Ken

    Great to hear that you are once again underway. We will be watching your progress with interest. Our trip toward you guys is speeding up although we are coping some horrible weather on the North Australian Coast.

    We are still experimenting with the blog when we get the time.

    Hopefully the Coast Guard incident is just a small glitch in the system or just an over zealous Coast Guard Captain.

    Fair Winds
    Garry and Wendy
    Spirit of Sobraon

  5. Hey – Ken and Roberta – How fun to hear of your first day at sea—Never a dull moment! It’s fun to enjoy your trip vicariously—Certainly the easiest way for us!!! I love the picture of you, Roberta, on the red bridge. Very cool! Miss you guys and wish you continued good cruising. Your are representing all of us Americans in the best way possible. Thank you for that.

    Gloria Buchan

  6. Ron Rogers:

    I agree with all you said.

    Before the trip I had to find Taiwan and Hong Kong flags. Hong Kong was not too difficult, but Taiwan was nearly impossible. I finally found some cheap, horrible quality Taiwan flags, but as they are all we could find, they are what the group will be flying. I hope it doesn’t rain for our arrival or I’m sure the ink will all wash out.

    -Ken W

  7. Bruce Thomas:

    Last year, for the Aleutians, we did have a commercial fisherman on board who had been to the Aleutians many times. For Japan, we have an agent who has been terrific. He has handled all communications with the ports and the coast guard.

    (This seems a good opportunity to give him a plug…)

    Kazuo Furuno
    Interocean Shipping Corporation
    Phone : 81-3-3570-5398
    Fax : 81-3-3570-5345
    Email : furuno@i…
    Website : (

    The coast guard is tracking us extremely closely and is in regular communications with Furuno-san.

    Braun and Tina (Grey Pearl) have had a local Japanese boat owner on board who knows the local waters, although he has a captain, so he has been able to help with ports, and with dealing with the coast guard, but not navigation related issues. He has left the group now.

    Overall, we’re not too worried about it. This is an experienced group, and we’ve had no problems. I’m 99% certain that Steven’s incident would have cost the ferry captain his license if the coast guard had seen it. That incident I don’t see as japan related. Every country has some percentage of overly aggressive drivers who are dangerous.

    -Ken W

  8. Jerry:

    Thank you for asking. Let me know if you have any trouble getting your blog going, or, we have a live person (usually my son) on chat to answer questions, all day during the week – just look on ( .

    As to the boat and the repairs…

    Jeff ( ( ) did an amazing job. I was worried, because he did quite a bit, and he didn’t really have time to do a proper checkout on the boat.

    Thus far, none of the boats has had a mechanical issue. Seabird’s generator stopped charging the battery, after he replaced the alternator boat, but he decided that he had put the belt on too tight, and that fixed it. This sounded totally wrong to me when he first suggested the belt as the problem, but once he loosened the belt, all worked fine.

    Jeff replaced most of the belts and hoses on my main engines and generators, as well as the hoses on the hydraulic cooling and seachest intake systems. I was positive there would be some leaking from the hose clamps or worse – but, zero problems.

    Life is good on Sans Souci, and as I type this we are in a beautiful anchorage, the sun is shining, and I’m filling the hot tub.

    -Ken W

  9. Ken,

    I think that Frode is correct – logically. Foreign visitors fly the host country’s flag on the starboard yardarm as a courtesy flag. BUT, you are not a foreign vessel, you are a domestic vessel that shouldn’t even have to fly the “Q” flag when entering a Japanese port. You should be flying the Japanese flag from your stern. As noted below, there may not be clear law on this:

    “Courtesy and National Flags

    As a gesture of courtesy, cruisers should fly a foreign nation’s flag when they enter and operate in its waters.

    1. Rule No. 1—There are no real rules. Customs observed in various foreign waters differ from each other. We’ve seen cases where not flying or flying a courtesy flag improperly causes some awkward moments; you may be regarded as impolite, but nothing more. In others, it’s local law to fly the flag. Officials can—and do—impound passports or assess fines until the proper flag—which, of course, can only be purchased locally at great expense—is flying on board. If in doubt, inquire of other cruisers and observe other craft from your country for guidance.
    2. Do not fly a courtesy flag until your vessel is properly cleared by customs and immigration. Until clearance is complete, fly the yellow Q (quarantine) flag.
    3. On a mastless powerboat, the courtesy flag replaces any flag that is normally flown at the bow.
    4. If a powerboat has a mast with spreaders, the courtesy flag is flown at the starboard spreader.”


  10. Dear Ken,
    Thank you much for the informative and entertaining serial. Better than a saturday afternoon at the movies watching Buck Rogers. And you are geographically in outer space.
    As I read your adventures with the language and cultural barriers, I keep thinking that an armada with your resources should have a person with local knowledge on board. Whenever we charter, for example in Tonga, or St Lucia, or even in the Mediterranean, we like to hire an onboard cook or guide to go with us. Privacy can be an issue, but seems like a minor one, given the opportunities from having an onboard 24/7 resource with you.
    Looking foward to more chapters in your unique experience.

  11. Hi Ken and all the rest of GSSR…..I am pleased to finally get to follow the next chapter in this continuing story of the “wrong way gang”.
    Related to Fred K’s comment about flag use… “domestic” Japanese boats, would it be legal/simpler and/or ethnicly proper to fly only the Japanese flag? After all, it seems as of right now you are Japanese boats, pure and simple, and maybe the coast guard would only spare you a glance in the passing.
    Also, is Starr also documented as a “domestic” boat?
    Great blog and great pictures! Thanks! —Frode—

  12. Wow, so glad you are up and moving again. We have really missed reading about your travels. How is the boat running after the repairs and maintenance issues while you were away? I thoroughly enjoy the technical stuff you write about (owning and living aboard our own vessel) We signed up for Talkspot 2 years ago but have never really started a blog. After reading your adventures over the years I finally got the guts/nerve to develop one for our family and close friends. I recently spoke on e mail to your son who helped us thru some kinks. Thanks! Be safe out there!


  13. Bill:

    Thank you, and best wishes getting something published. I’m surprised the story didn’t run as it does seem a topic that people are interested in.

    Thank you, and you did great posting your comment!

    -Ken W

    PS To everyone reading this.. if you would like to receive blog comments via email, you can. Just hover your cursor over the main menu for my blog and look for the option that says ’email options.’ There are some amazingly smart people who read my blog, and if you miss their comments you are missing the best part of the blog!

  14. Fred K:

    I thought I knew the conventions on flying our flags, but your question has me wondering if I am right. We’ll see what other readers say.

    My belief is that flying your own country’s flag is appropriate, but that it should be supplemented with the flag from the country you are visiting. On Sans Souci we are flying the American flag on the back of the boat, and the Japanese flag on the top of the boat.

    There’s also a custom that when you enter another country, and have not cleared customs, you fly a yellow quarantine flag.

    Thank you,
    Ken W

  15. Ken,

    I hope I am posting according to your instructions.

    What a thrill ride, to be cruising in such exotic locale sitting in comfort at home. Your combination of marine and cultural insights can’t be beat. The Boats and Blogs” piece I wrote, in which you are included, has been submitted to PassageMaker for quite some time. The economy and competing media possibilities has slowed down the marine publishing business a bit.

    So, I am going to base a followup to your original work that might make an interesting sidebar for the piece upon publishing. Keep my cabin dry.

  16. Wow, kind of a tough start. Reminds me of one of my cruises where my wife informed me that she wasn’t having fun when we finally docked the boat. I thought that might be the end of our boating but it was just temporary.

    I noticed on one of your photos that Grey Pearl or Seabird was flying an American flag at anchor. In North America, I believe it is customary to fly the host country flag. Do you know what the convention in Japan is? Could this be a small part of the reason for the Coast Guard giving you a hard time?

    Hope all goes well going forward.

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