Testing the Leash

Last Friday I finished work around 19:00 and took a look at the weather report. It’s the rainy season now in Tokyo so I expected the usual forecast of rainy, humid days, but no, it was actually forecast to be sunny and hot, with wind blowing from the North Saturday morning switching to the Southeast Saturday afternoon. Perfect for a sail out of Tokyo Bay and back.

Ever since I got the boat I’ve been thinking about venturing abroad with it. The problem is, I’m always limited by how far I can go by the fact that I can’t get that much time off of work. The boat’s capable of sailing pretty far, but the time restriction pulls me back. So I’ve been wanting to test this “leash” to see just how far I could go in a weekend.

So on Friday night as I got to thinking I realized: “The boat’s full of fuel and freshwater, there’s food onboard, everything’s working correctly. No reason why I can’t go right now…” So I did. As soon as I finished work I caught the bus and headed out to Chiba. At 22:00 I arrived at the boat, at 22:15 I was motoring out of the harbour, and at 22:25 the sails were up, engine off, and I was ghosting out of the bay under a full moon with a 5 knot northerly breeze.

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The weather was so calm I figured if I got tired I could just drop the anchor in a little bay somewhere along the Boso peninsula to sleep for a while. That turned out to be unnecessary though, as once out of the bay shipping traffic was light and I could nap for 15 mins at a time.

I carried on slowly sailing south at around 2 knots as the sun came up.

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Since I was halfway there already I set a course for Oshima island. There was a bit of early morning haze so I couldn’t see it yet, in fact I was now more than 5 nautical miles offshore and couldn’t see any land. It was a nice feeling to be back out on the open ocean surrounded by nothing but water. Very free. It was still very calm, but there was a big, slow groundswell rolling by that indicated how I was clear of all land, and the water was the nice deep blue colour of deep offshore water.

I set a course by dead reckoning for the closest harbour  at the Northwest end of Oshima. A couple of hours later the mist cleared and I was pleased to see that I was exactly where I estimated my position to be and right on course for Oshima.

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The boat was balanced well with the big Genoa poled out on the whisker pole, and with a bungie cord on the tiller she kept on course for 20 mins or so at a time. This gave me freedom to go below and make breakfast. As I was down in the galley making coffee I suddenly heard a strange sound, a sort of FWOOOOOOSHH! like an underwater explosion off in the distance. At first I thought it was something to do with fishing or maybe some sort of navy exercise, but as I stuck my head out the companionway I saw a patch of whitewater about 300 meters behind the boat. As I watched a humpback whale the size of the boat suddenly launched itself full length completely out of the water, perfectly perpendicular to me, and belly flopped with a huge explosion of spray and the sound I’d heard a moment before. There were three of them, two adults and a baby, and they kept on broaching like that off into the distance. They must have jumped 50 times. They were a bit too far for a good iPhone picture, but you can see a glimpse of them in this video:

By the time I could no longer see and hear them I was almost into Oshima. The wind completely died though, so I had to motor in the last mile. I was a bit surprised to see that there was only a ferry dock. The surge there was too great to tie up, so I anchored over in the bay. My first ocean crossing with Watari, and to a beautiful little sub-tropical island 🙂 I wanted to go for a swim, but the water was thick with plankton. It looked like some kind of blue-tinged soup. Instead I puttered around doing boat work for a bit, then had a nap. It was so peaceful I slept soundly from 10:00 until 14:00.

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By then it was time to head back so I raised the sails, sailed up to the anchor and hauled it up, then on the same tack sailed right out of the harbour and direct on a course back to Katsuyama.

The trip back was pretty uneventful. A large Japanese navy heli-carrier passed by, shortly after which I saw a solitary dolphin pass by on his way home, just like me. It was too dark for a picture of him by that point though.

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About 5 nm miles off of the Boso peninsula the wind died completely. Flat calm. It was getting pretty late by that point, so I gave in and started the engine. I absolutely loathe to use the engine, I can never relax while it’s running and find myself listening to it constantly, but sometimes it’s just necessary. Especially when on a schedule. Anyway I motored the 5 miles back in, pleased to find that the engine ran fine all that way, and got back into Katsuyama 24 hours after I’d left and after a trip of almost exactly 60 nautical miles. So there you have it, I ran out to the end of the leash and back, determining that in light winds the leash extends to Oshima island. That’s actually pretty good. With a good breeze I could probably get out to the end of the Izu islands chain and back in a weekend, though it would be nice to have a crew member onboard for that. Or a self-steering vane. Hand steering all that way got a bit tiring, or at least limited the other projects I could do while underway.

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