GSSR#34 – Shelby gets out of jail, and the GSSR leaves Hokkaido

Greetings all.

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.


Hi Dan,

In fact, Typhoon Morakot was the most terrifying typhoon I had seen in my life. Wind was so strong that trees and sign boards were pulled out and fallen everywhere on the roads. Heavy and continuous rains pouring down and washing away everything they could. There was much more damages than what you had described, thousands had lost their homes, and hundreds were killed. Some villages in the country sides or in the suburbs have “disappeared”, either flushed away by the floods or fallen into the earth. A lot of bridges were broken and some cars dropped into the water while driving through. Some made their last call to their families before they sunk into the water, and soon lost contact. Thousands of houses are flooded up to the second floor. Armies, policemen and firemen were sent out to rescue the victims, some helped delivering food to those who were trapped in their own houses, using lifeafts. All these happened in the southern half of Taiwan.

I hate to report them in details to you, but they are real. God bless Ta Shing that none of us or our family members have suffered from this disaster. Ta Shing’s location is so perfectly protected from the storm and all facilities are in good condition, only some minor damages. All the boats are fine. Other than giving thanks to God, I could say no words.

All the best,


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 ( 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.

And, lastly….

I couldn’t resist shooting a picture of our son, Chris’s, socks. He buys them here in Japan, and insists they are as comfortable as it gets. Bizarre!

That’s it for now.

Thank you,

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

12 Responses

  1. Jim:

    I’m not sure. My first book sold extremely well, and the second one: not so well. When I get time I’ll study the two books to see where I blew it on the second.

    My biggest problem will be fitting my blog, from the GSSR, into a reasonable number of pages. My guess is that it will come in at 600+ pages. I may not be a great writer, but I am certainly a prolific one! This will mean I can’t use color. On the second book, I printed in color, but at nearly 300 pages, I pay roughly the same cost per book as they sell for.

    One idea is to put it all onto a DVD. This would allow me to include dvd-quality versions of the video, many more pictures than appeared in the blog, and good indexing. I could also include the blogs from Seabird and Grey Pearl, and anything else that seems appropriate.

    Oh well… I don’t need to make the decision yet, and will decide when the time comes.


    -Ken W

  2. Ron and George:

    I’m not quite sure how we were able to become a domestic boat. We were first cleared in as American boats, but when Mr. Shiba (of Narasaki-Stax) understood how random our cruising plans are, he asked if we would like to become domestic boats. We said yes, even we weren’t sure what this meant.

    I now understand, and it is great! We arrived at a marina yesterday, and the customs guys arrived. As soon as I showed the form identifying us as a domestic boat, they went away. We are effectively Japanese boats. The added expense at the port in Hachinohe was the same a local boat would pay. The ports are intended for freighters, not recreational boats.

    -Ken W

  3. Chris Hallock:

    Here’s some fun stats…

    Through Tomakomai, we had run 5,097 nautical miles, and I had purchased 7,551 gallons of fuel.

    This works out to 1.48 gallons per mile.

    I wish I had recorded engine hours at the start of the trip, so I could tell you the average speed we ran. My guess is that it is over 9 knots. We’ve been pushing hard. Our philosophy is to move when the moving is good. We run fast in the good windows before the weather changes. This has an adverse impact on fuel consumption. I could probably trim my fuel burn by 25% just by dropping back to 8 knots.

    The 62s have been running almost exactly half my fuel burn.

    -Ken Williams

  4. Robert:

    My main engines now have 2,200 hours on them, and the boat has gone 15,439 miles. Interestingly, that works out to an average speed of only 7 knots, yet I’m positive I’ve averaged closer to 8.5 knots. My guess is that the odometer was reset somewhere along the way and I’ve actually run closer to 17,000 or 18,000 miles. Not bad for a boat that is under two years old!

    I’m not sure about the hours on Seabird or Grey Pearl. I would imagine both boats are in the 5,000 to 10,000 hour range. Nordhavn numbers the boats when they are made. My 62 was #9, and I believe Seabird is #4, and Grey Pearl is #8.

    I don’t know how many hours these engines will run before a rebuild is necessary. I’ll guess at 15,000 to 25,000, but I really don’t know. Perhaps someone else will post the answer.

    -Ken W

  5. Capt. Harrington: We are hoping to be in Anchorage in early Nov for wedding of my Navy Wingman’s daughter–she flies C-17’s out of Elmendorf. Name the place.

  6. In response to Don James. I’d gladly sit down for a beer and tell you the rest of the story. It’s a pretty good story but in truth, Ken has covered it pretty well in the blog. Of course there was so much going on that if he had related it all it would fill a large book. As it was he lost sleep on his off-watch numerous times in order to keep everyone updated. I’m going to miss the blog as much as anyone else once this segment of the trip is over. We had a lot of fun and as Ken would probably tell you:
    There’s a whole lotta things I ain’t ever done
    But I ain’t ever had TOO MUCH FUN!

  7. Glad to hear you guys are able to proceed without the storm(s) interfering too much with your ‘schedule’. Also glad to hear you were able to get Shelby cleared for the rest of the trip, poor dog has earned some time on land.

    Kind of following up on the previous poster question. What are the current engine hours on the GSSR yachts and are any of you closing in on a rebuilt/major service?

    As for Chris’ sock I have several pairs of Injinjis my brother in-law gave me for Christmas. You can find them on Amazon or your local running store. While they look and feel weird at first, once you get use to them there is nothing more comfortable.

  8. Hi Ken and Roberta,

    Congratulations on the trip so far.

    It’s not the destination, its the journey! I am sure you have proved out that saying. An 11-15 hour trip by plane vs. almost 4 months wonderful sea. Glad to hear the “Get Out of Jail” card worked!

    How have the systems on the boat been doing? Do you have stats for the trip so far as in total fuel burn, hours run on engines, average speed, you know techie stuff? My little 31’ express trapped on a 29,000 acre lake here in DFW isn’t quite as exciting or complex. If my engines quit, I can swim to shore and walk to a gas station and call someone, and grab something to eat at McDonald’s while I wait for them.

    Its been great exploring the world through your eyes, and someday hope to do the same. I miss the videos, especially of the boat systems and running at sea through the areas and how the boat handles in rough weather. I hope we can see some more videos shortly and while your running around the coast of Japan. It’s a different perspective from that of your typical “travel” books or websites have. I do have a request to see the tender launching and retrieval video, as I am curious about how that works for you.

    Thanks again for all the time you put into the posts,

    PS. Chris, I love those socks.. Wish they had them in the US!

  9. You’ll find your ride to the nearest train station when you get to Osaka to be just a few minutes and better yet no more that $10. Many things to see and experience in the area. There’s a good burger place not far from the marina. It doesn’t have food watching you; not my favorite either. Since I have 4 days off I plan to check it out this weekend. I’ll be back Sept 5th and hope you’ll still be in the area.

    One of our guys tried to get his dog over here for 6 months and never did. You have been quite successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Be the first to know when

the game releases!

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

Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson