<< Chapter 1 – Our Return to Japan | < Chapter 2 – Through the Seto Naikai
The West Coast
If you want to sail across the North Pacific, it’s important to get the timing right. Leave too early — in early May, for example — you could get blasted by some of the major storms that sweep toward the Aleutians from Siberia. If you leave too late — let’s say, July — you might get caught in a summer typhoon as it sweeps north from the tropics. And, if you don’t plan to winter over in Alaska, you have a limited amount of time to transit the thousands of miles of remote islands, majestic fjords, imposing glaciers, towering volcanoes, beautiful inlets, etc. etc. etc. lining the route from the western end of the Aleutian Islands to Puget Sound near Seattle.
We were planning to leave Japan at the beginning of June… but we were still 700 NM from our intended departure point of Hakodate in northern Japan. And there are scores of fascinating ports to visit along Japan’s rural west coast.
Referring to the notes we’d made based on advice from friends at IYC and OBTYC, we selected the ports we would visit and made a plan that would include only a few overnight sails as we’d been warned of the danger of fishing nets along this coast.
0645: Off the dock – Murotsushimo Marina. Motoring in rain & fog, then it cleared & fine sailing the last half of the day.
1620: On the wall – Hagi fishing port.
0640: Off the wall – Hagi fishing port
1620: On the wall – Yunotsu fishing port after easy, fast downwind sail. Absolutely fabulous 10 hours of sailing today after waiting out the front which brought favorable winds that allowed us to sail DDW with sails wing & wing at an average of 6.5 knots. We surfed in the double digits several times throughout the day. The sailing was so ﬁne that we didn’t mind the rainy grayness & fog. Sure wish we could sail all the way to Alaska in those conditions!
0555: Off the wall – Yunotsu fishing co-op. This was the most uncomfortable wall we’ve been on since Yakushima. Not well protected from the west winds. Surgy. Took us 1.5 hours to set up lines & fenders. Then constant adjustments.
1720: On the pier – Sakaiminato ($20/nite)
0805: Off the pier – Sakaiminato fishing co-op. Gray day, but fine DDW sailing most of the day. Beautiful sunset.
1740: On the wall – Tottori (best wall ever!)
0530: Off the wall – Tottori. Slow DDW sailing under sunny skies
1744: On the wall – Ine (OK wall)
1440: Off the wall – Ine. First overnight sail in 10 months.
Good sailing throughout the night. Motored less than half the way.
1700: On the wall – Wajima Marine Town. A low wall that looks like a dock. Expensive, but all money spent in Wajima is credited against the docking fee.
0515: Off the wall – Wajima Marine Town
Able to sail about half the distance offshore to Sadoshima
1630: On the wall – Sadoshima
0515: Off the wall – Sadoshima
Delightful beam reach all the way across to west coast of Honshu. Sunny, warm, flat water sailing. Can we please sail like this all the way to Attu?
1455: On the wall – Niigata
0938: Off the wall – Niigata
Fine sailing but autopilot failure meant hand-steering much of the way.
Calm in the a.m., so motoring after a very black night.
1700: On the wall – Fukaura
0400: Off the wall – Fukaura
Very fast – 10+ knots because of current — beam and aft quarter sailing in fog & 2m seas. Hit 13.2 kts in Hokkaido channel!
1700: On the wall – Hakodate, Hokkaido
Honshu to Hokkaido: Officially in the North
We set sail from Fukaura very early as we were 80NM from our destination of Hakodate, across the Tsugaru Strait, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Usually 80 miles would be too far to sail during daylight hours, but the currents rip in this part of the Sea of Japan and we timed our passage to make good use of them.
Those currents had us zooming at 11+ knots and we made great time under the (fairly typical) grey skies. We found a spot on the wall of the quay just ahead of s/y Bulle — a French boat with a family aboard who were also heading across the Pacific.
Being on the wall at a very touristy spot in Hakodate, and flying our US flag, meant we received a lot of attention. When we weren’t in the middle of a project, we’d invite anyone aboard who was interested in Migration.
Preparations, Projects, Russians, & a Birthday
Most of our time in Hakodate was spent preparing the boat for the serious voyage across the North Pacific to the Aleutians. We needed to deal with the HAM radio and autopilot issues that had recently cropped up, plus we wanted to make sure Migration was well provisioned and shipshape.
This could not have been accomplished without the helpful assistance of Mizuno-san.
Mizuno-san and his wife, Sachiko-san, are talented jewelers and have a store in the shopping arcade built into the historic warehouse buildings right next to where Migration was moored. All boats that arrive in Hakodate know–through the grapevine–about Mizuno-san. He is the ambassador to all sailors; he speaks perfect English, is on excellent terms with the officials, and knows where to get most anything fixed. He helped us extend our visa, receive packages of parts, fix our HAM radio, and much, much more. We could not thank him enough.
We needed to top up our diesel tank, so Mizuno-san made the arrangements. Fueling in Japan was almost always wonderful and easy. The truck shows up at the quay, the operator — wearing white gloves — makes sure there are no spills and, when finished, presents you with a gift! Alene usually does our fueling, but in Japan, they could be trusted to do the job right.
Since we planned to be in the remote Aleutians for some time, we provisioned up… including many of our favorite Japanese foods and beverages.
In between projects, we’d often walk across to the arcade to buy croissants or ice cream. It was a great place for people watching.
Because Hakodate is only about 400 nautical miles from Vladivostok, it makes a good cruising destination for Russians. We had a little party with some Russian sailors on a neighboring boat.
When Kodama-san of IYC shared information with us about sailing the coast of Japan, he’d told us to contact his friends Moto-san and Yumiko-san in Hakodate. When we called them, they immediately invited us for a day of touring the area.
Moto-san and Yumiko-san had sailed their boat across the Pacific in 2007; over 4,000 miles non-stop from Japan to San Francisco! They are very impressive sailors.
We had a great day together visiting all the tourist sites and sampling the excellent local ramen. A couple of days later they invited us to a delicious dinner (with incredible Hokkaido-brewed sake) at their home. What a wonderful couple!
Alene’s birthday is June 10th. Since we would be at sea on that date, I asked Mizuno-san to make a reservation at a nice restaurant so we could celebrate early. Mizuno-san, Sachiko-san, Moto-san, and Yumiko-san joined us for the celebration. They even brought gifts and a beautiful cake. And, in typical Japanese gifting fashion, when I went to pay the bill, Mizuno-san said it had been taken care of. He “allowed” me to pay for the drinks. Again, the generosity of our Japanese friends was overwhelming.
Waiting for a Window
We were finally ready, but the weather wasn’t. It’s important to leave Japan with the best possible forecast as the last thing we wanted was to get slammed by a low pressure system coming down from Siberia.
Mata ne… or Sayonara
When children study Japan in grade school, they almost always learn that konnichiwa means hello and sayonara means goodbye. However, you rarely hear sayonara used in Japan.
If you are saying goodbye to a friend you might say mata ne or jaa nu (see you soon). Sayonara is only used when you will not see someone for a very, very long time. There is a strong sense of finality to the word.
Unfortunately, the time had come for us to say sayonara.
1134: Off the wall – Hakodate
Departing Japan after exactly one year. Moto-san & Yumiko-san waved until we were out of sight…
On June 5th, we cast off the lines and headed out into the Tsugaru Strait, turning our bows westward to face the North Pacific. We were nervous as the North Pacific has a fierce reputation, yet excited as the Aleutian Islands and Alaska were our destination.
We were cold, too. Summer in the North Pacific is not warm.
But mostly, we were grateful. Japan and her people had touched us like no other country we’ve visited. Our decision to sail there was one of the best we’d ever made.
Less than a dozen sailboats visit Japan each year. Why do they stay away?
One hears that it is expensive, bureaucratic, prone to typhoons, difficult due to the language, and simply not an easy place to cruise. And it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere else that most sailors want to go.
I admit much of that is true.
Yet the power of Japanese hospitality and the persistent (and often insistent) generosity of those we met made the challenges melt away.
The country is exquisitely beautiful. The culture, captivating and rich. The cuisine, certainly one of the most interesting and delicious in the world.
But more than anything, the good-natured force of friendships offered to us gave our nine months in Japan a dream-like quality… as if we were being lifted and carried on an adventure by thousands of kind and caring hands.
And indeed, we were.
Thank you, Japan.
Nihonjin no tomodachi, domo arigato gozaimashita.
Mata ne… we hope.
Be good. Be safe. Have fun.
BB & ADR
優しさは決して浪費されません Kindness will never be wasted in any way. -Japanese Proverb
1,125 nautical miles traveled this period
46,115 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005
This update we’re highlighting something that will not only do the world good, but may improve your personal life as well.
Watch these two films — both available on Netflix.
Please watch, and think hard about the decisions we make and how they affect our future.