GSSR#38 – Shimoda Japan

Moving a boat, during typhoon season in Japan, is a challenge.

The last major passage of our run from Seattle to Osaka, Japan, is a comparatively short 400 nm run from Yokohama (near Tokyo) to Osaka.

Just prior to our departure, we had a near-miss from a typhoon. This was followed, almost immediately, by news of a Cat 4 hurricane that was approaching Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Although the GSSR is in Japan, it had me worrying, because our son lives in Cabo and we have a home there. Roberta and I were first alerted to the approaching hurricane by our son calling to say that his house was flooded, and he was worried the damage could get MUCH worse. This resulted in us being up all night worrying about him, his house and our house, although mostly worried about him. The hurricane was projected to hit Cabo as a Cat 5.

Like our typhoon here in Japan, the hurricane turned at the last minute and missed Cabo.

So, with that start to my day, the GSSR group departed Yokohama at 6:30am for Shimoda, Japan, only 70 nm to the south. The map above shows our route from Yokohama (near Tokyo) to Osaka. The portion highlighted in red is our route from Yokohama to Shimoda.

The weather was predicted to be a bit rough, somewhat on the high side of what we would normally consider acceptable for a departure. There is a difference between weather that would ‘sneak up’ on you once already at sea and willingly going out into known rough conditions from the get-go.

‘02/1600Z-03/0300Z (Yokohama to Shimoda) : NE-ENE 15-20kt, gusty 25kts (possibly up to 30kt) possible through the period. Waves 3-5ft closest to the coast, up to 7-8ft further offshore. Swells protected early on, then ENE to ESE 2-4ft over more exposed waters by 03/00Z.’

Upon reading this, I was thinking, “OK. I’ll have 20 to 25 knot winds, but they’ll be behind me all the way. No big deal.”

However, at departure, I had the sense that the winds were going to be higher than projected. We were seeing 20 knots inside the Yokohama Bayside Marina, and knew it would be worse in open water. We exited the port all right, but it was a challenge navigating through the marina.

We had hoped that by departing Yokohama early in the morning, we would avoid all the traffic. On our entry into Yokohama, it had been tense weaving our way through seemingly hundreds of boats. Unfortunately, the traffic was just as thick except now we were doing it in poorer weather conditions. The freighter in the picture above passed within a hundred yards of me. Normally other boats steer around our “fleet” of three boats, although traffic was so thick that boats were passing through us regularly.

As projected, the wind was behind us, but the seas were rougher than forecast, and the wind was much stronger. We had steady winds from 30 to 35 knots, with a short period above 40. Seabird saw a gust over 50 knots. The boats handled the seas flawlessly, although it was one of those days I was very happy to have a Nordhavn.

Complicating the trip, I noticed a hose leaking badly on my port engine. It was a small, but steady leak, of sea water that was intended to cool the engine. I tried to tighten the hose, only to have the leak intensify. I messed with the hose clamp, and reduced the leak to a drop per second, and returned to the pilothouse.

For some reason, the lack of sleep the night before, the heat of the engine room, and then the cool of the air-conditioned pilot house all worked against me. I spent about 20 minutes working in the heat, and once back in the pilot house, I suddenly had the chills. A couple minutes later I was violently ill, and proceeded to empty my stomach contents onto the side of the boat. I’m prone to seasickness, but usually only enough to be queasy. This was much worse. This was an unfortunate time for me to be sick as a small freighter was coming straight toward us and Roberta had to make a quick decision to turn us to port in order to miss it. I was unaware this was going on as I was busy hanging my head over the side of the boat.

I was feeling better by the time we arrived near Shimoda, and our hope was that the winds would subside as we turned the corner. No such luck. In fact they never really subsided until we were safely at the dock.

I should say something about Japanese hospitality, and how we came to have our boats at the dock pictured above.

Prior to our trip, we had heard that Japan was an incredible place to cruise, and that the Japanese people would be the high-point of our trip. For some reason, we are being treated like celebrities. Very few American boats come to Japan, so perhaps that is why, although my sense is that the Japanese are very proud of their country, and excited about the opportunity to show it to us. Whatever it is, we have been treated exceptionally well. Other cruisers seem to get the same treatment. Here’s a link to the blog from a sailboat that cruised here a couple of years ago, who experienced the same wonderful treatment we’ve received:

To make a long story short, we have made many friends in our short time here, who have done great things for us. At the Yokohama Bayside Marina, a Japanese businessman introduced himself to us at the docks (I’ve obscured his face in the photo above for privacy purposes), then bought us some incredible dinners, and made calls, arranging moorage for us in Shimoda. I had planned just to anchor, as there didn’t seem to be a marina. We’re lucky we ran into him because anchoring in Shimoda wouldn’t have worked. Then after arrival in Shimoda, his friend, who owns the dock upon which we now tied, called our next port (Omaezaki) where he talked another friend of his into offering us moorage there for free. Our first night in Shimoda, another acquaintance of our Yokohama friend took us out for an amazing feast.

I keep worrying that they will discover we are not rock stars, movie stars, or any other kind of celebrity, and everyone will stop being so nice to us. For now though, we certainly enjoy being spoiled!

We have now been in Shimoda for a couple of days waiting for the wind to subside. To be honest, I chose Shimoda because it looked well sheltered on the charts. I knew nothing about the town.

But, as it turns out, Shimoda has quite a history….

In the mid 1600s, Japan deliberately cut itself off from the rest of the world, preferring isolation to contact and trade with other countries. Some trade was permitted but was very tightly controlled.

In 1853, Commander Perry, from the United States, sailed into the bay at Shimoda with a fleet of four warships, called by the Japanese, the Black Ships. Perry demanded that Japan open trade with the West, and most specifically with the United States. A year later he returned with seven ships, and forced Japan to sign the ‘Treaty of Peace and Amity,’ establishing formal diplomatic trade between the two countries. The United States established the first consulate in Japan, at Shimoda, in 1856. Townsend Harris was the first America consul for Japan – he lived in Shimoda from 1856 to 1859.

There’s a very touching quote on a memorial to Townsend Harris, taken from his diary, in which he is speaking of the first American flag to be put on Japanese soil:

‘Thursday, September 4, 1856. Slept very little, from excitement and mosquitoes. … Men on shore to put up my flag staff. Heavy lot. Slow work. Spar falls, breaks cross-trees. Fortunately, no one hurt. At last get a reinforcement from the ship. Flag staff erected. Men form a ring round it, and half past two P.M. of this day I hoist the first Consular flag ever seen in this empire. Grave reflections. Ominous of change. Undoubted beginning of the end. Query: if for real good for Japan?”

Today, Shimoda is a tourist destination. A modern version of the black ships shuttles tourists to beautiful white sand beaches. The town is famous for its Ryokans (Japanese traditional hotels) and Onsens (Hot Springs). We enjoyed being tourists, and would have stayed much longer, except for word of another approaching typhoon.

Shimoda is not a safe place to be on a boat should a typhoon strike. We have three days to go further south.

We were unhappy about leaving Shimoda, both because we were having fun, and because the winds were still projected to be 25 knots. However, I am typing this while we are at sea, and after a few hours of high winds, the winds have suddenly dropped. We are now at 3 knots of wind, and having great fun!

To be continued…

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

5 Responses

  1. David Evans:

    I forgot to answer the question about the water hose…

    I let it drip until we reached Shimoda, and then let the engine room cool. I have air conditioning in the engine room, so within a couple hours it was cool enough to work in there. We removed the hose clamp, and then put it back, repositioning it closer to the edge of the hose.

    It hasn’t dripped since.

    What I need is a longer piece of hose. Unbelievably I don’t have any onboard. Both Steven and Braun thought they might have the hose I needed, but since the leak stopped, we decided to wait for Osaka to replace the hose.

    Technically, this hasn’t been a very exciting trip. The only technical challenges have been a toilet that needed its guts replaced, and the air conditioning system, that started stubborn, but is now working fine.

    Shore power has been a struggle. The power is very low in the marinas, and 50hz. I’ll write something in either the next blog, or the one after, on how we’ve dealt with it. For Sans Souci, its not a huge issue, because of the Atlas, but Seabird and Grey Pearl have definitely had challenges.

    -Ken W

  2. David Evans:

    I don’t know about private docks in Japan. The businessman we met had one in Yokohama, and it was a private dock we were at in Shimoda. My sense is that they are legal, but rare.

    Our options have been fairly limited.

    There are not many marinas are, and most of those that do exist target much smaller boats. There are plenty of ports, but the ports are closed to us, unless:

    a) We hire an expensive agent to clear us into the port ($600 a boat)

    Or, b) Enter the port without an agent, and beg for forgiveness, and hope they let us stay. We did that yesterday, and it created a lot of problems. We spent hours working through the red tape, but were allowed to stay.

    We’re back underway as I type this. We’ve decided to do long days, and find anchorages along the way. If this works we’ll be into Osaka by Monday. The problem with anchorages is that we just aren’t finding many, and we have very limited information. Most cruising guides are in Japanese. I have some paper charts, but these aren’t very detailed. Nobletec has no depths for most of the bays. Navnet 3 has no charts whatsoever for this area.

    We found a couple of anchorages we are 99% certain will be fine, but we won’t know for sure until we get there. Sometimes the bays are loaded with fishing nets…

    Japan is worldclass cruising, but cruising here with three large boats, during typhoon season, as a non-japanese speaker, is ‘difficult.’

    -Ken W

  3. Hi Ken and the rest of the GSSR Fleet,

    Glad to see you made it to Japan safely. I see you’re back in range for AIS again. Saw you a few days ago, however, now that you’re enroute to Osaka, it appears as your AIS isn’t working for some reason. I can see you on the move through SPOT however.

    Stay safe!

    – John S.

  4. Ken,

    Your group was fortunate to meet and be befriended by your businessman friend. The dock where the fleet is moored looks to be privately owned, with two sportfishers. Are there many private docks in Japan? I have the impression that most of the waterfront is in he public domain.

    Also, how did you fix the leaking hose on the raw water intake? Keep the gearheads alive, with a tech report. Wishing you fair winds and following seas.

    David Evans

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