It’s been a roller coaster of highs and lows in the last several weeks.
We delighted in our April 1st return to Ashiya, Japan where the boat was resting this winter and rejoined our GSSR pals on their boats, Sans Souci and Seabird. In addition, we welcomed the arrival of Don & Sharry Stabbert aboard their boat ‘Starr’ having just completed crossing the Pacific to Japan from Seattle.
Thankfully, we’ve had relatively few issues with the boat in preparing it for another cruising season. She wintered well and we just had the usual maintenance checklist to attend to. After settling in and getting boat chores accomplished we were joined by our guests Ron James & Cyndi Braunstein from northern Virginia and went off touring nearby Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto.
Spring in Japan is a special time…especially when the famous sakura (cherry trees) burst in bloom. We have taken full advantage of the ‘spring fever’ here visiting parks, gardens and castles all with magnificent cherry trees in full bloom. We also managed some night life and hung out with Ron and Cyndi in Osaka’s hyperkinetic downtown Dotonbori district.
We spent an afternoon in cosmopolitan and hip Kobe capping off the evening with a Kobe beef and veggie meal – teppanaki style – think Benni Hanna only oh so much better. Plus, we spent one more day in Kyoto, once the capital of Japan. Kyoto is a major attraction…the storehouse of Japan’s traditional culture and the stage on which much of Japan’s history has played out. It’s where you will find the Japan of your imagination – lush gardens, raked pebble paths, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples galore, beautiful geisha shuffling about disappearing down dark alleys and behind mysterious sliding shoji paper doors, and pockets of traditional architecture scattered across the city. Kyoto actually has historic buildings as it is one of the very few Japanese cities that was not bombed in WW II.
Braun took this picture of a Geisha at a shrine in Kyoto that she was visiting.
A few weeks ago, the Bellport Marina in Ashiya hosted what we would call a ‘blessing of the fleet’ but…Japanese style. A thirty minute ceremony took place whereby a hired Shinto priest reverently bowed, prayed and chanted before a portable alter and blessed all the boats in the marina for safe voyaging. We were honored to be asked to participate and did. Although not understanding a word of the service we figured our presence and solemn demeanor would cover all the bases. However, we did learn later that the blessing only covers 20 miles out of the marina! Apparently to obtain a blessing for greater than 20 miles was more costly and the marina management did not have it in the budget.
While touring we became increasingly concerned about Braun’s 90 year old Father’s failing health. It became necessary for us to suddenly return to his home in south Florida. I am saddened to say, he passed away on April 20th. The Commander was quite a remarkable and accomplished man. A US Navy WWII Vet with several advanced degrees, he was a great Dad of four kids who loved sports, fishing, boats, computers and fixing things. He will be greatly missed.
After a whirlwind and very sad trip to Miami we returned to the boat and set off to cruise the Seto Naikai, Japan’s inland sea.
We invited a wonderful Japanese friend we met at the Yokohama Bayside Marina, Kohta san to join us on board for a few days. He closely followed our crossing of the Pacific last year and has a keen interest in trawlers. He manages a 100 year old family shipping and stevedoring business consisting of 11 companies, 1500 employees and worldwide operations. Kohta was great company and was thrilled to get a ride on the ‘Pearl’ from Ashiya to Takamatsu.
The Inland Sea is about the size of our Chesapeake Bay and boxed in by the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. It is dotted with more than three thousand islands. Our first day, sunny and windy was a 60 mile run to nice cove off an island called Uchinomo Ko. We dropped the anchor about 1600 hrs., settled in enjoying our first cocktail and a conversation with our guest Kohta, when we heard a commotion on the aft deck. There were two sailors in a Japanese Coast Guard tender that had come from the JCG vessel, about the size of a PT boat standing off in the distance. They had originally gone to ‘San Souci’ but wisely Ken directed them to our boat where Kohta could translate. Apparently we were anchored in what is considered a “closed port” and we’ were ordered to weigh anchor and move even though we received an earlier clearance from our Japanese agent. When we originally entered Japan we took extra effort (and fees) to specially register as “domestic” boats and as such are supposed to be able to enter both open and closed ports. After examining our documentation the coast guardsmen remained adamant – move! Kohta, being in the shipping business made a series of phone calls pleading our case and this influence, coupled with our entreaty of “not safe to move at night in strange waters” produced a special dispensation allowing us to stay for one night – but must leave in the morning!
The documents that did no good!
The JCG escorted us out of the cove the next morning and we made for nearby Takamatsu – an “open” but very commercial port. It seemed like the sweet little anchorages are “closed” ports and the big commercial ones are “open”, but more on this later.
Takamatsu is a charming town well known for their udon noodle and thanks to Kohta we sampled the udon at #1 Noodle restaurant.
We left Takamatsu and anchored last evening in a beautiful spot off an island called, Mitsunosyo – obviously a port we were cleared to stay in! We have learned that by registering our intended stopping point in advance with the Coast Guard they generally will grant permission. The grand plan was to enjoy some “island” time before making way to some larger ports. Next big stop will be Hiroshima then, onto Fukuoka whereby we will take a ferry to Pusan, South Korea.
One last item – I must share how honored and grateful Braun and I are to receive the incredible generosity of the Japanese people. In the month we have been back in Japan, the outpouring of gestures and gifts overwhelms us. Below is a sample of just some of the gifts received not to mention the introductions made on our behalf, entertaining us, invitations to people’s homes – the examples go on and on.
We are looking forward to seeing and experiencing more of this wonderful country.
Grey Pearl over and out.