Over the past three days the GSSR group of three boats has run from Hiroshima Japan to Fukuoka, a distance of about 180 miles.
We normally plan trips assuming our group moves 200 nautical miles per day. However, in Japan’s inland sea there is too much traffic, and too many fishing nets in the water, to consider running at night. We did run around the clock in northern Japan, but it was a very tense experience.
For our first night we found a nice bay to drop our anchors. (33 57.339 N, 131 49.727 E).
Seabird dropped their anchor out in the middle of the bay, away from the other two boats. This was good boating, but wound up putting them in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We had a long day running and were tired, so almost immediately after dropping anchor all of the boats settled down to start dinner, and turn in for the night.
And, that’s when our evening got interesting…
Roberta and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie when I heard Carol’s voice on the VHF radio (we all monitor the radio at all times, for communicating between the boats). I ran up the stairs to see what she wanted. It seemed strange that she was on the radio because it was dark and we had all settled for the night.
“GSSR group, the coast guard is visiting Seabird. Steven is talking to them now. I’ll be back on the radio with more information when I have it,” said Carol. I said in response, “Carol, are they smiling? Or do they seem tense? What are they asking?” No response came, and I didn’t want to transmit anything more.
Out the window we couldn’t see what was happening. All I could see a the dark shape on the water where Seabird was anchored, with Seabird’s anchor light going, and a red light at water level which told me there was another boat tied to Seabird’s side.
The Coast Guard had been alerted of our precise travel plans, including where we would be anchored. It didn’t make sense that they waited until after dark to visit. Roberta and I assumed the Coast Guard would be coming to our boat next. There was nothing we could do, so after watching out the window for a while, we went back to watching our movie. Finally, at least a half hour after the first broadcast by Carol, she was back on the radio saying, “GSSR fleet. The Coast Guard is just finishing. We think they are happy now, and that they will not be visiting your boats. However, they do want to photograph your boats.” I asked if Grey Pearl was listening, and Braun said, “Oh yes. We’ve been glued to our radio.” I wanted to ask Carol for more details, but it was obvious that it was the wrong thing to do. So, instead we just said “Good night” to each other.
The Coast Guard pulled away from Seabird and shined an intense searchlight at Sans Souci (our boat). Roberta and I didn’t know what to do, so we just ‘laid low.’ A few minutes later they started taking pictures with a bright flash. They then went over to Grey Pearl and did the same.
We were quite relieved when we saw them driving away…
The next morning, as we left our anchorage for day two of our cruising, curiosity got the best of us, and both my boat and Grey Pearl grilled Seabird as to the prior night’s event. Carol said that the Coast Guard had been very nice, and primarily seemed interested in her’s and Steven’s immigration status. Our boats are fine to be in the country for an extended period, but we personally need to leave the country every 90 days. Steven and Carol had exited the country to go to China, but for some reason the Coast Guard was having trouble finding the stamp in their passports. The language barrier was not helping, as neither side could speak to the other. Finally, the Coast Guard found the stamps they were seeking, and all was fine.
When I mentioned the incident to our agent in Japan. His response was quite interesting.
| “…We have phone calls from each district Coast Guard every day about your cruise planning.
Today had calling from Tokuyama Coast Guard and asked us to submit ‘General Declaration’ as attached.
Coast Guard have strong interest in GSSR cruise which is no similar case in Japan.…”
Very few foreign boats have cruised Japan. That said, we’re by no means the first, so I don’t quite understand all the attention we are receiving. I think we’ve attracted more attention because prior visitors have been small sailboats, whereas we are four large powerboats. Also, my blog is widely distributed, and I suspect a fair number of Japanese may be reading, curious to see what I say about their country. Or, most likely, Nordhavn’s are cool boats. I think the Coast Guard is just curious to see our boats, and meet the people crazy enough to have traveled across the Bering Sea.
Anyway… Our second night en route also had a challenge…
We would be transitioning from Japan’s inland sea back to the Pacific Ocean. There is a long 14 nautical mile passage through which this exit takes place. The passage, called Kanmon Kaikyo is reasonably wide, but heavily traveled. It is the primary passage for all freighter traffic entering or exiting from Japan’s inland sea, and has one particularly narrow portion, under a bridge, which can have currents up to six knots. To give a sense of how significant this is, our boats only travel around nine knots. In a high current situation, we have difficulty maneuvering, and there is a risk of losing control of the boat.
It is actually not our boats I worry about most in the high current. The passage is heavy traveled by freighters, who also have issues coping with rapidly moving currents. If our boats and a freighter collide, it doesn’t matter which of us couldn’t handle the current. It is the little guy who loses. Studying the current guide we could see that the narrow passage had to be transited at either 10am or 5pm. To be honest, the fact is that we probably could transit the passage safely at any time, but our GSSR philosophy is to always err on the side of maximum safety.
This is one of many freighters that aggressively passed me and crossed my path. This one actually wasn’t that bad. There was a green one that cut over in front of me so closely that we definitely came within 50 feet of each other while running at full speed.
As we approached the entrance to Kanmon Kaikyo, Steven mentioned on the radio, “Guys, look around. This is the most freighters I’ve ever seen in one place!” Neither Braun or I commented, but Braun was probably thinking the same as me. Back in 2004, Grey Pearl and Sans Souci crossed the Atlantic together. As we made our final approach to the Strait of Gibraltar, we were surrounded by freighters. In that case, it was an even stranger feeling, because out in the Atlantic you can go for days without seeing another boat. As we approached Gibraltar, it was a totally bizarre feeling to suddenly be sharing the ocean with others. It felt like an invasion of privacy.
Interestingly, the freighters were as afraid of going under the bridge (where the current was the highest) as we were. To leave room in the center of the channel for any freighters brave enough to transit before the current dropped, we pulled to the side of the road. It struck me funny to see all the giant freighters, and us, all clinging to the side of the channel, waiting for the current to slack.
Just on the far side of the bridge was a small dock we were going to tie to, in the town of Moji…
Finding a place to moor the boats for our second night had been a long tough battle. There are no cruising guides for Japan, or at least none in English. We studied the charts and looked for a place to drop anchor. We sent some suggestions to the coast guard, all of which were rejected. We considered combining the second and third day runs into one 12 hour day, but felt this would be cutting it too close. If anything went wrong we could be in a messy situation. We asked the coast guard to suggest alternative locations, and they approved an anchorage for us, which I happily accepted. However, when I met with Steven and Braun for our trip planning, we studied the charts and realized that the anchorage was in open ocean and completely unprotected. The coast guard wasn’t focusing on the fact that we have tiny boats, when compared to the freighters. If the wind kicked up while we were at anchor we’d have a miserable night, or worse.
When we rejected the anchorage we sent our agent a list of points inside the 14 mile passage, visible on Google Earth, where there were breakwaters (walls we could tie to.) We gave this list to our agent and he started dialing the ports seeking permission for us to tie up. After a LOT of work on his part, he found a wall for us.
We thought we had it wired until we really studied the coordinates where we were approved. We thought we were inside the breakwater, but then realized that we had been assigned an unsheltered location inside the passage, where the wakes of the freighters going by would slam us into the concrete wall. The photos above show how we’re using Google Earth for trip planning. It isn’t exactly a cruising guide, but it is amazing!
I felt bad about going back to our agent, for the third time, to reject the place he had found for us. He was a very good sport about it, but I suspect he was not very happy with us. After some digging, he found us a place inside a breakwater, at a town that turned out to be very cool, “MOJI”. The only downside was that we would need to depart the town by 7am the next morning. No problem. Once again I checked the current tables, and the right time for departure was 5am. We would be long gone.
I actually don’t know what Moji’s claim to fame is. Roberta and I were tired and hiked around town only briefly. It was clearly a town where I would have wanted to spend a week, but it was not possible.
Day three of our run to Fukuoka was unremarkable. The only interesting bit is that we were back in open ocean. We had been spoiled by being inside the inland sea, with calm water. Back on open ocean we have waves to deal with again. They weren’t much, only about four foot tall, with a gentle 15-20 knot breeze to stir them up. It was quite different after all the calm of the inland sea. I even felt a bit seasick for a minute. It was like old times!
Here we see our first view of Fukuoka. It will be our home for the next week.
On a completely different topic…
I was thinking yesterday about how sorry we’ll be to leave Japan. I whine sometimes about cruising here, because I don’t like not being able to communicate, I wish I had even one good crusiing guide, in english, and I haven’t yet found the tropical beach experience I’m seeking. With that caveat, there are some awesome things about cruising in Japan which should be mentioned:
1) There is no crime. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly seems true. We feel safe walking anywhere. I wouldn’t hesitate to leave the boat unlocked. I haven’t seen any grafitti anywhere.
2) The people are amazingly nice to us. Don Stabbert (Starr) and I were just talking. He mentioned that yesterday he was working outside his boat and had two different people offer to take him and Sharry to lunch, then had someone knocking on the side of his boat later in the evening, just to offer to buy them dinner.
3) Everything works here! The subways run on time. The buses run on time. There are ATMs that work.
4) We have 3g cards for internet. We have internet via cheap 3g cards that give us all broadband to the boats essentially everywhere.
5) It’s easy to get parts shipped here. We’ve had no problems shipping things in or out of the country.
6) Japan is a first-world country. In some ways this has been a disappointment, in that old Japan doesn’t really seem to exist anywhere, or at least it is hard to find. On the other hand, there are modern cities everywhere. We’ve had no trouble finding grocery stores, restaurants, pubs, or anything. From where I’m sititng on the boat I can easily walk to at least two different huge shopping centers.
7) There are plenty of ports everywhere. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to moor our boats, but I think it’s actually been easier here than about anywhere we’ve been.
8) It’s a good jumping off point for siteseeing to other countries. It’s a couple hour flight to South Korea, Taiwan, Shanghai or Hong Kong.
9) There is a lot of history and culture, much of it interlinked with our own US history. And, although old-Japan can be hard to find, it is here. There are ryokans and onsen everywhere.
And, MOST importantly…
10) Japan has been nice to our dog! We had to do some paperwork, but overall Shelby was no problem to bring into Japan. She’s walked all over Japan, and even ridden the trains. She is having fun!
The GSSR 2010 group of boats sitting at the dock in Fukuoka. I wish I had an aerial photo, you’d see how out of place we look in the marina.
See the ferris wheel in the background. There are ferris wheels everywhere in Japan. We were parked under one in Hiroshima, and now under two different ones in Fukuoka. I have a theory about ferris wheels that I shouldn’t relate, because I really have no idea. My theory is that they are integral to dating here. Keep in mind that most people use mass transit, not cars. There are no back seats on subways or trains.Roberta says this is nonsense, and they are just used as highly viisble ways to attract people to shopping centers. I don’t know which of us, if either, is right.
Fukuoka is Japan’s gateway city to South Korea. There is a fast shuttle, called the beetle, that goes back and forth to Busan South Korea every few hours. It runs at over 40 knots and gets there in just two hours! Roberta and I were scheduled to go with the others to visit So. Korea today, but I had some business issues back home that I needed to deal with, so we’re staying on the boat. I just received my first email from Steven Argosy who is already in South Korea, and he made it sound pretty great. Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out : http://www.lulu.com/kenw
PS Congratulations to 16 year old Jessica Watson who became the youngest person to sail around the world today! Roberta and I have spent the afternoon watching her arrival on Australian tv, after following her blog for the past eight months. As happy as I am for her, I’m very sad to see her blog end! Here’s a link to some videos about her journey: http://tinyurl.com/2aa4efp