Katsuyama to Oshima and Shimoda

The next weekend after our trip to Velassis, Miura and Enoshima, we made another voyage even further abroad. This time Kiwako was able to join us as well. After a week onshore we were all rested up and ready to head down to Shimoda in Shizuoka, to a little beach I’d been to a couple of years ago and had been dreaming of ever since.

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We had a three day weekend, so it was a chance to go on a longer voyage than usual, in fact that longest trip I’ve made with Watari yet. We left Tokyo early Saturday morning, and got out to the harbour around 10:00. We quickly provisioned and set sail. Our eventual destination was Shimoda, but as this meant passing very near to Oshima island, we planned to spend our first night there. My friends aboard S.V. Bifrost were also planning to be in Motomachi harbour on Oshima that night, so we tentatively planned to meet them there.

We had a nice sail in very pleasant, hot conditions for the early afternoon as we headed out of Tokyo Bay and into the wide open ocean. This is one of the parts of sailing I love the most, when we leave behind the coastal waters, brown with the sediment of river runoff, the water turns a beautiful deep blue (where the term bluewater sailing comes from), and the ocean swell begins to roll by unchecked.

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D’arcy and I had found time to stop by a fishing gear shop during the week, so we rigged two handlines on 100 lb test line with rubber snubbers attached from which we trolled a couple of plugs. Ah, I forgot to mention this in the last post. As we were making the crossing from Katsuyama to Velassis Marina last week we trolled a little sardine-shaped plug, and just was we were pulling into the harbour we hooked a nice sea bass. Around 40 cm long. We towed him along for a while before I noticed he was on the line, so he was a bit tired when I reeled him in, and as we were unprepared for catching a fish (no one really thought we would) the landing net was still stowed below. He looked pretty docile so I thought I could take a risk and just flip him on board… but no, as soon as I lifted him free of the water he started to struggle and snapped the line. Further proof that despite all my time commercial fishing I’m actually a pretty terrible fisherman. Anyway, we figured we’d get better prepared this time around.

Kiwako took the helm while we were getting the fishing gear setup. She’s a licensed skipper too, Class 2, so can captain the boat up to 5 km offshore.

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Sadly, there were some big rollers that day, and her seasickness medicine didn’t help enough, so after a while she felt it best to lie down for a nap. It was probably best she did, as the wind died down as the sun set, and it wasn’t long before we had to motor. I hate motoring on a sailboat, especially as skipper on a sailboat. It’s impossible to relax while that complicated mess of machinery is grinding away. We had to motor for about 10 nautical miles after the wind died to Motomachi, so despite a delicious rice and stirfry dinner prepared by D’arcy which gave us a bit of energy, the drone of the engine had us all pretty sleepy before long.

Around 20:00 most the crew lay down for a nap while I motored on under a nearly full moon and a sky full of stars. We had one hit on the lines at this time, but when I pulled the line in the hook had been bent out straight. Big fish, whatever it was! At 20:30 D’arcy got up and I showed him a couple of stars to steer by which would keep us on our compass course. I’d hoped to get in to Motomachi by around 8:30 or 9:00, but the light winds through the afternoon put us behind and I could see we wouldn’t be in until 22:00. I laid down for a short nap while D’arcy piloted us on through the night.

Around 21:00 D’arcy raised the lighthouse on Oshima and I got up to take us in the rest of the way. By 22:00 we’d made it down the western shore of Oshima to Motomachi and were pulling in to the harbour. I got the crew up to help afix mooring lines and fenders. I didn’t time this very well. I was thinking of how long it usually takes me to do this singlehanded, forgetting that I know where everything is stowed and where it goes already. So I pulled into the harbour, scouted out the entrance, and was ready to moor while the crew was still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. In the final rush to get everything ready a fender was lost overboard. I circled back to try and pick it up, and this caused the crew of Bifrost, watching our mast light from inside the harbour, to become concerned that we couldn’t find the harbour entrance, as we kept circling around. They started calling on the mobile phone, but by this time I was quite occupied and couldn’t answer. All in all a bit of a “gong show” as we used to say on the fishboats. Lesson learned. Next time I’ll give the crew time to wake up before asking them to stumble about on a rolling deck in the pitch black in an unknown harbour entrance. Anyway we got moored up behind Bifrost and enjoyed a short visit and a beer. We were all pretty tired though, so turned in early for a good night’s sleep.

In the morning Kiwako and I got up with the sun and went for a walk. I was half-hoping we could find our lost fender washed up on the beach, but it turned out there was no beach, only a rock breakwater. There was a strong surge and current running, and it was quickly apparent that the fender wouldn’t have stuck around for long. We planned to go to to a nearby outdoor onsen (hot spring), but after the crew got up we consulted and decided to take advantage of the morning breeze to try and sail across to Shimoda. The wind was forecast to die completely in the afternoon, and I wanted to get across without motoring too much.

The weather was great as we set out from Motomachi to make the crossing to Shimoda. Blue skies, a 6 knot breeze, and easy, comfortable sailing. We made the crossing in a few hours, and pulled into the white, sandy beaches of Shimoda around 12:00.

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We dropped the anchor off the beach here, and after snorkelling around to make sure she’d set properly, and a bit of a rest for the passage weary crew, we snorkelled to shore. It was a beautiful, hot sunny day and the beach was covered with people sunbathing. We walked up to the little beach hut restaurant and had some cold beers and hot curry and rice. It was very relaxing sitting on the beach watching Watari bobbing at anchor, and from this distance she sure looked pretty! A glimpse of how she’ll look when I finally finish fixing her up.

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By this point everyone was ready for an onsen bath, so we swam back out to the boat, raised the anchor and sailed around the point and into Shimoda harbour. Shimoda is built along a natural inlet that runs deep inshore along a beautiful bay and up a river mouth. We were lucky enough to find a spot where we could raft up to some other (derelict?) boats right near downtown, within easy walking distance of shopping, train station and restaurants.

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D’arcy found his new boat.

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This is actually a small replica of one of Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships”. In 1853, in a fine example of American gunboat diplomacy, Perry steamed his fleet into Shimoda (at that time the best deepwater port available in the area, Tokyo harbour still being shallow estuaries), and demanded that Japan open to trade with the West. Mission well accomplished.

Up in town we found a wonderful (albeit old) onsen hotel with a bath on the top floor. It was a fascinating place that looked like it hadn’t changed since 1983… old Pac Man tabletop video games, assorted wood carvings, kimonos on display… very interesting. The bath was incredible! Extremely hot, and it erased the various aches and pains of the weary crew.

After the onsen Kiwako had to catch the train back to Tokyo as she had to work the next day. We all had one last seafood dinner together at the station before she had to go. We then did some quick shopping, dropped the groceries off at the boat, and took a taxi back to the beach we’d anchored off that afternoon. We sat under a full moon with a bottle of wine, the only ones on the beach, having a wonderful time. D’arcy had a surprise, he’d found some fireworks at the convenience store in town, and after lighting off a few we made the wonderful discovery that a bottle rocket, if shot at precisely the right angle so that it enters the ocean right in front of a breaking wave, will be forced underwater by the wave action where it will then explode exactly like a depth charge. We had a wonderful time playing “Battleship vs U-boat” till we ran out of rockets.

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The next morning Mom got up early to take some photos of Shimoda harbour. These give you an idea of what a pretty, fascinating place it is.

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As the sun rose over the hills East of Shimoda we cast off and sailed out of the harbour, intending to make an all-day straight run back to Katsuyama. The wind was fresh as we cleared the land and set out to sea, strong enough that we had to make a sail change to the #2 Genoa. The #1 Genoa had also developed a small tear, so had to be retired for the duration of the trip pending repairs.

It was pleasant, easy sailing as we set out towards Oshima on a single tack. Initially we planned to sail inside of Oshima on the west coast, but as the wind began to die down I decided to head farther out to sea to try and capture the slightly stronger wind out there, so we sailed past the South end of Oshima past Toshima. This also allowed us to stay on a single tack the whole way. Around noon as we sailed between Oshima and Toshima we were treated to a rare sight. We were drifting along at about 3 knots in a light breeze, when I spotted a fin off our starboard bow. At first I thought it was a dolphin or small whale because of the large size, but when I saw a tail fin trailing the dorsal I knew it was a rather large shark. It was circling around on the surface at a leisurely pace, perhaps hovering over a school of baitfish below. It was quite large, one of the largest I’ve seen, around 3 metres.

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A couple of hours later we entered an area of strong intersecting currents, where the warm Kuroshio (black current) which comes up from the South Pacific meets the cooler northern current. Here we were treated to another unusual sight, a massive, dopey looking sea turtle.

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A few hours later, after sunset the wind died completely. We were motoring along when the engine suddenly lugged down and it felt like we had something in the prop. I donned a wetsuit, tied a rope around my waist, and jumped gingerly into the water to see if I could clear it. The full moon shone plenty of light down so that I could clearly see the entire bottom right to the tip of the keel. Phosphorescent, glowing plankton lit up the water with my every movement like a million stars. It was incredibly beautiful, but very hard to relax and enjoy with thoughts of that large shark seen earlier in the back of my mind. I dove a few times but couldn’t see anything clearly wrong with the prop or shaft. Back aboard I started the engine back up and after running in a few sharp circles to port and starboard while gunning the engine everything seemed clear and she ran fine all the way home. Later I learned that a small airlock in the fuel system had caused this occasional depowering of the engine.

It was past midnight when we finally motored the last few miles into Katsuyama, and we were treated to one final, spectacular sight. As the moon went behind a cloud we could see waves of phosphorescence lit up by the bow wave, glowing with an eerie green light.

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The next morning Mom and I caught the early train back to Tokyo, while D’arcy stayed a few more days to camp out on the boat and explore the beach. He looks right at home with this cruising life!

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Here’s a map of our course on this trip. In total we traveled 120 nautical miles, or 222 km.

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