On Monday, our dog Shelby was officially imported into Japan! An animal quarantine inspector came to the boat and found her still chained to the barstool where he had left her. I suspect he knew that we’d snuck her off the chain from time to time to go out to the deck for potty-breaks, but this was never discussed. In fact, he was a very good and friendly person. He not only had Shelby’s import permit, but had already spoken to the Animal Quarantine office where we would be leaving Japan, to start the work going on her Export Permit, and had worked out a process to make it easy to re-import her next spring when we return to Japan to continue our cruising.
Shelby went ashore, immediately after his departure, and took a walk with Roberta. Although it was her first time on land in nearly a month, it was a bit anti-climactic. The weather here has turned hot and sticky. After about 50 feet, Shelby was giving Roberta a look like, “Please take me back to the boat!” Later in the day, after the weather had cooled down, Roberta took her for a much longer walk which Shelby greatly appreciated!
The change in weather has been dramatic. We were spoiled by the cool temperatures in the Aleutians. I had become accustomed to shaft bearings at 44 degrees, and an engine room temperature in the 80s. Suddenly, engine room checks are a lot less fun.
We were in Tomakomai for five days.
Our marina, and the staff there, were incredible. The facility was beautiful, and the staff worked very hard on our behalf. The marina was intended for boats 40 feet and under, and this presented a couple of easily overcome challenges. For instance, even though the marina had 50 amp power, the pedestals were wired with only one 50 amp breaker, which was shared amongst more than one 50 amp outlet. Sans Souci is a power-hungry beast, and we plugged in two 50 amp cables, resulting in multiple blown breakers, which only the marina staff seemed able to reset. Fueling was also an adventure. The fuel dock was designed to fuel 20 to 30 foot boats, needing 30 to 200 gallons. We were only able to get the back third of our boat onto their fuel dock, and it required several hours to fuel the boat, as the fuel trickled in. The marina staff was helpful and smiling throughout.
Jeff and Kirt took advantage of our time at Tomakomai to patch our tender, which was damaged while fishing in the Aleutians. Because of the size of the rip, we had to have a patch flown in from the U.S. This was not difficult, but we hit a snag with the glue. No freight carrier would transport glue except by cargo ship. Because the tender is hypalon, we wanted to use a certain kind of glue, which was tough to find in Japan. We did finally find some glue locally, which we thought might work, and after doing some testing, decided it would work. Thus far, we believe the tender is better than new.
I would have happily stayed much longer in Tomakomai, if not for two reasons:
1) The Yufutsu marina is a $40 cab ride, each way, from town, with nothing around it. Ouch.
2) We have arrived at the time when all of the boats are starting to losing crew. Bill Harrington, shown above, has already left Sans Souci. We still have Jeff Sanson and Kirt Ahlquist, from Pacific Yacht Management, but they will soon return to their normal lives. (Although, our son, Chris, has joined us for our run from Tomakomai to Tokyo.) The other boats also have crew which will be departing soon. Seabird’s friends, Wayne and Carol Watjus, left the boat in Tomakomai, leaving just Steven and Carol Argosy on board. We’re all capable of completing the trip alone, but it’s easier having more people on board for the overnight passages. From Tomakomai to Yokohama is nearly a thousand miles. It may seem like we’ve reached our destination, but a thousand miles, in typhoon-infested waters, can still represent a challenge.
We had many exceptional meals in Tomakomai. On Sans Souci, Roberta and I were easing into Japanese food, and sought out pizza the first night, and had steaks on the second, at a fancy hotel restaurant. We had identified an interesting-looking Japanese restaurant, but all the signs and menus were in Japanese. When our son, Chris, arrived, who speaks Japanese, we had him take our group to the restaurant, which seemed to be a barbecue place. In the picture above you see Roberta’s and my reaction to discovering that the squid was being cooked, brains, guts and all. The food was excellent, but as a general rule, I don’t like to eat anything which is looking back at me.
Most of the crews from the three boats took the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Sapporo. Japanese mass transportation continues to impress me. We explored many major tourist attractions in just a couple of days. Roberta was thrilled to find a Starbucks, however, after testing the local coffee, she thought Starbucks didn’t taste exactly like in America. No problem. There was a Tullys a block away. We’re from Seattle, and picky about these things.
My current plan is to not do much blogging about our time ashore. There are thousands of websites dedicated to Japan. I generally don’t like to be redundant.
Our departure from Tomakomai was perhaps the most controversial of the trip. Japan is currently in Typhoon season. As we were talking about heading south towards Tokyo (Yokohama), two typhoons were active. Off of Taiwan, Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan hard, killing hundreds. Nordhavn’s Ta Shing ship yard is there. Following is an email from Ta Shing President, Tim Juan, to Nordhavn’s President Dan Streetch. It is self-explanatory.
Japan also was experiencing a typhoon, although thankfully not nearly as fierce. That said, it was still strong enough that deaths were being reported, and further complicating conditions, Japan experienced two earthquakes in as many days, the second of which, a 6.9, was near Yokohama, our destination. Tsunami warnings were in effect.
It was in this climate that we met to discuss our departure for Tokyo. As you can imagine, the meeting, actually, the series of meetings, had a serious tone. We consulted with Weather Bob, at Omni, in addition to doing our own research. The chart you see above is broken into segments. Each segment is colored according to the severity of the seas. Simply stated, a lack of color is good, green means ‘You can go, but you’ll be uncomfortable’, yellow means, ‘You can go, and you will get beaten up’, and red means, ‘If you go, you may want to notify your next of kin before leaving the dock.’ As we were meeting, most of the east coast of the Japan was lit up in red.
That said, there was one quadrant from our route, which still had no color; the 129 mile run between Tomakomai and Hachinohe. Although we would be sailing TOWARDS the typhoon, all of our weather resources said the same thing, ‘We’d have an easy cruise.’ Have zero doubt of this, no one on any GSSR boat sails towards a typhoon without putting a lot of thought into it. It was not an easy decision, even though we were confident we were right, to leave the dock.
Our motivation to move was not “to get there faster.” With Tokyo 600 nautical miles south, we needed a weather window of three days to “get there.” At this time of year (typhoon season), a clean three-day window can be hard to find. If we could nibble off the piece to Hachinohe, we’d reduce our need to a two-day window. We could see that the typhoon was tracking offshore, and a window should be opening. Our goal was to reposition, such that we could move behind the typhoon.
Our planning paid off. We left Tomakomai at 2:30am, a couple of hours before sunrise, knowing this would put us in daylight when we reached the area populated with fishing gear, and then put us into Hachinohe just before dark. We had a 100% calm cruise in perfect daylight conditions.
Along the way we were able to see some squid boats close up. At night they light the waters up like daylight. As we were approaching Hachinohe we passed through a fleet of at least fifty of these. From close up we could see the dozens of lights hanging down. These attract the squids. To my surprise, when one of them briefly had its’ nose out of the water, I’d swear I saw a bulbous bow.
Hachinohe is a large commercial fishing port. We were assigned a wall to tie up to, which is normally used by cargo ships. It was unbelievably awesome coming into the port. I’m not sure why, but it just felt really cool to know how bizarre it was for three American ships to be arriving at the port. Dozens of passing cars, and even taxis, wandered over just to see our flotilla.
A slight negative for Sans Souci was that we could clearly see that the cargo ship at our space, immediately before, had been carrying cattle. I won’t say why, but suffice it to say that we ran our air conditioning while at the dock (thereby keeping the doors closed), and I’m in need of new shoes.
On the positive side, moorage was priced at five cents a gross ton. This equated to about $3 a day for the N62s, and $5 for Sans Souci. Fantastic! That said, the $500 per boat Hachinohe agency fees put quite a damper on our excitement. We had thought that our new status as ‘domestic boats’ would help us avoid the need for agents to get us from port to port. We’re still discovering what the process is for moving around Japan. Our current understanding is that the requirements are minimal, really just notification, for anchoring, but that if we want to enter a major commercial port, we need a local agent who will act on our behalf. The large commercial ports aren’t really oriented towards accepting small pleasure-craft, and the expenses that make sense for large cargo ships, make less sense when applied to us. Oh well, every day is a new learning experience.
Of course, agents, if their use is within your budget, can be a very good thing. I must call attention to our agent in Tomakomai, H. Shiba, of Narasaki-Stax (http://www.narasaki-stax.co.jp). Anyone clearing in or out of Japan, from Hokkaido, is highly recommended to seek the assistance of Mr. Shiba-san, who made our lives very comfortable, and whose efforts were deeply appreciated. I can’t imagine how we could have accomplished so much, so easily, without his help.
After a night in Hachinohe, the weather had cleared enough that we felt safe to go back on the move. The weather chart above is the most recent information available. As you can see, we are in good shape for the run to Sendai, and could continue to Yokohama. We believe the typhoon will move farther offshore, and the quadrant from Sendai to Tokyo will open up. We’ll make a go/no go decision later tonight.
Plus, receive special insider, behind the scenes, sneak peeks and interviews as the game is being made. Don’t worry. We will not spam you, and we will not flood your box with too many emails.
— Ken Williams