Greetings from the Land of the Rising Sun…Japan

We arrived at the northern most Japanese island, Hokkaido at a town called Tomakomai on the morning of August 4th, after a 5 day sail from Petropavlovsk, Russia. Leaving the Russia mainland we could see some 15 miles away the distant outline of the northern Kiril Islands. A few hours later, we saw nothing but dense fog most of the entire 5 days until we made out a few landmarks as we neared Tomakomai. Over a thousand miles of lush islands…lost in the fog. The good news was that the temperature was climbing to the high 60’s, low 70’s…something we had not experienced all summer! It never got above the lower 50s in the Aleutians and Russia.

It was an exhilarating feeling to clear the break water of Yufutsu Marina (say that three times!) and have a small army of enthusiastic Japanese marina help assist us with our lines. It’s GOOD to be in Japan! We accommodated the usual customs/immigration parties, filled out all their paperwork, e.g., ships stores – how much butter, produce, mutton, live stock breeding products; personal effects – pain controllers, firearms, swords, etc…I’m NOT making this up! Finally, before getting our final clearance at the Port Authority Office, 15 minutes away from the marina, an impromptu ceremony of Port personnel, local officials and a journalist offered a gracious “welcome” speech, handing out beautiful bouquets of flowers to the ladies(note on photo op – we lost Sans Souci!). It was noted with excitement, that we were the first foreign boats, excepting big ships, to their port J. What a hoot…we even made the evening news!

Tomakomai is a relatively small coastal town. The marina is in a remote part of the town, a 20 minute, $40-$45, cab ride from “downtown”. We spent our first evening enjoying sushi, sashimi, yakatori, soba washed down with Sapporo beer. Very few of the people we encountered spoke English…so, it was a lot of pointing (thank heavens for photo menus!) and falling back on Braun’s high school Japanese. As the evening came to a close, everyone is bobbing and bowing about as we leave the restaurant…it was very funny…who bows last?? The Japanese could not be more polite.

Everyone by now is itching to get off the boat. A day later, Captain and crew of the GP head for a few nights stay in Sapporo. Unless you’ve been living in a cave you should know what Sapporo is best known for…its beer! Hokkaido’s vibrant and booming capital, Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan and only an hour train ride away…an ideal location for some much needed R & R.

We stayed in a nice hotel right in thoroughly modern, clean and orderly Sapporo. Other than touring the Sapporo Beer Garden (duh), we mostly walked around town to discover what it was like being in Japan. Sort of a warm up for more Japanese experiences to come. We did notice very few Westerners.

Okay – Now for some potty talk..really…visiting the lavatory in this country is beyond impressive. The toilet has all sorts of nifty enhancements, such as the hot seat feature, the bidet feature (very funny symbol – spray on a fanny picture), a music note button indicating a flushing noise with volume control…to avoid those embarrassing noises but, what’s impossible to find IS the flush button! It’s an obscure sensor located on the back of the commode you wave your hand over. If you don’t favor this modern contraption, there’s still the Asian squat variety trench out there, too. A little something for everyone…so considerate.

Crewmember, aka navigator, weather-dude and, oh yea, come-back Scrabble player, Kell Achenbach left us shortly after our trip to Sapporo. He booked an overnight train sleeper to Tokyo/Narita Int’l airport. We sent him off with a few helpful Japanese phrases for when he met his 3 train bunk-mates (sadly, private cars were all booked up)…”Hi, my name is Kellogg, I’m from Virginia” or, was it “Hi my name is Kellogg, I’m a virgin”…whatever. We miss ya, Kell and appreciate all you did in making our passage a memorable one! Photo of Kell taking a dip in Attu; and monitoring the anchor in Geographic Harbor…in an outfit we fondly called the “Unabomber” 🙂

We felt our mission was accomplished once we reached Hokkaido but, not so fast. We’d feel really, really mission compli if we made it to Yokohama, just outside of Tokyo…another 600 miles south L. We set off after we knew we would dodge the typhoon which was headed our way for the past several days. There have been many of these typhoons lately plaguing Japan and China. We enjoyed calm seas but more fog. After a 22 hour run, we pulled into Hachinohe. A forgettable and very large commercial port. It was here that we dropped off the last of our crewmembers, Pat and Wayne Davis. Again, a joy to have on board…couldn’t of and wouldn’t of done it without them. That’s a real testament as there were five of us on board a 62’ trawler for nine weeks! Photo of Wayne fileting some Black Cod and Pat trying out the survival suit.

Braun and I departed Hachinohe anxious to get to Yokohama. Both ‘Seabird’ and ‘Grey Pearl’ have lost their crew which was no big deal but, boy oh boy when the night time came, did we come to fully understand the marine traffic along the northeastern coast of Japan. Many, many squid boats with no VHF radios lit up with stadium like lighting littered the coast in 200-300 feet of water. The bright lights attract the squid but are a hazard to navigation as they destroy night vision and perception. In addition, we encountered many fish pots which are a real threat because if tangled with will foul a propeller and running gear, stopping the boat. Then it’s someone over the side diving on the prop and shaft to try and cut off the lines and nets in the dark water. These pots are sometimes visible on radar, but frequently are only seen at the very last minute and must be quickly avoided. Sometimes you hit them and pray they don’t stop you. Squid boats, pots and also freighters and ships of all kinds were running north and south along the coast like automobile freeway. Many of these ships did not have AIS -Advanced Information System, an excellent electronic position notification device. We thought this was mandatory for ships over 300 gross tons – evidently, not. Needless to say, dealing with these hazards kept the watch standers wide awake! There was talk amongst the boats after an update from our weather router, “Weather Bob”, that we could avoid a cold front with high winds if we stopped at a small port called, Onahama. Well, the cold front passed sooner than expected, and, yep – it got messy, lots of bangin’, pitching and yawing but it did pass, and fortunately after a few hours. The sun came out as we entered a sweet little marina typical of what we see at home with a few small pleasure boats and several of the sport fish variety. The noise of children squealing at a nearby beach was music to our ears. There are mostly large commercial ports in Northern Japan and this one was no different except it had this nice marina. Once we get into the Inland Sea of Japan, further south we’ll see more of the pleasure boat type marinas. The weather was holding up and we set off for our final overnight to Yokohama. We timed our departure so that we would round the peninsula and enter the Tokyo Bay in daylight. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my night shifts…three hours on three hours off. It’s no wonder; collectively of all the experience and time on the water none of us had seen this kind of boat traffic – ever! I’d say we saw at least, 100 ships that evening. Unbelievable. The 3 GSSR boats kept in a tight straight line formation less than 1/8 of a mile apart…lots of chatter on the radio amongst us throughout the evening constantly altering our course to safely pass clear of large commercial ships. We entered the famous Tokyo Bay around dawn, this time we can see the traffic and it’s an amazing feeling…we’re almost there!! So many large ships, larger than we’ve ever seen – everywhere! At 1:15pm we tied to the dock at the beautiful and contemporary Yokohama Bayside Marina. We are greeted by several marina officials welcoming us and inviting us to be their honored guests for the marina port festival that evening featuring live entertainment, Japanese drums – very cool, and fireworks, cocktails and food. Hmm…despite a little fatigue there was no hesitation – we’re in! Sadly, Ken & Roberta were not able to join us as they hustled off to Tokyo to meet up with their son, Chris. So, along with the Argosy’s we set off for the port festival the theme of which was to burn the used mooring lines from the past year and put new ones into service. Well, it’s not hard to pick us out in a crowd, suddenly out of nowhere, we were greeted by the marina manager, seated, given drink and meal tickets and asked to come to the podium when the time came for a “special welcome and introduction”…HUH? What a true honor – we were treated like rock stars! The small boat people that came all the way from Washington. Incredibly memorable evening…what an introduction to Japan.

What an interesting journey it’s been thus far. This cruising lifestyle has afforded us the opportunity to dream of where to go and then go. I do allow myself to look ahead for places I or Braun would like to go and in some cases this has meant raising the nautical bar. But I’m reminded by something I read by Robert Hastings, The Station. “The message is the journey, we are sure the answer lies in the destination. But in reality, there is no station, no place to arrive at once and for all. The joy of life is the trip, and the station is a dream that constantly out distances us”.

Note to self…show up and be present!

Final appreciation to our ‘little engine that could’ and did! Clocking in at over 6,000 miles since late April, our single 325 hp Lugger engine gets high marks…and, of course, a big Lugger hug! And, my Captain oh Captain – he has done a superb job at maintaining our little ship, too.

That’s all she wrote…for now!

Wishing you all a wonderful end of summer…Grey Pearl clear –

Tina & Braun

2 thoughts on “Greetings from the Land of the Rising Sun…Japan”


    Looks like you are having a wonderful time…all in the process of become famous as well. Thank you for keep us updated. We miss you and love you!


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