Goodbye Japan, hello Taiwan

We have been making a lot of progress in the past couple of weeks, meaning also that we’ve been out sailing a lot. We are, in fact, no longer in Japan at all. After Okinawa, we sailed for two days to get to Ishigaki. We only stayed in Ishigaki for two nights (enough time to visit our favourite Japanese BBQ restaurant), because we saw a quick weather window to Taiwan. It was with some sadness that we said goodbye to the city that had seen our arrival in Japan in May, but at the same time we were excited to have the chance to finally visit Taiwan. Taiwan had been our original first destination, but we had to switch it to the Philippines to have a better wind angle during the relentless northeast monsoon (although that didn’t quite work out in the end). 

We arrived in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan some ten days ago. The weather and seas have been getting rougher the closer southwest we have sailed, and the leg from Ishigaki to Hualien was no fun with big and confused seas up until the morning when it finally calmed down and the sun came out. We sighed with relief when we got close to Hualien port, although we did have some concerns about the port clearance (quarantine, immigration and customs) as nobody had replied to the emails that we sent to the authorities beforehand. Also, when we attempted to hail the port authorities by VHF radio a couple of hours before we reached port, nobody answered. In the end, once we were close enough to the coast to get mobile phone reception, we called the port authorities by phone, and finally reached the person who was supposed to be listening to the radio. After that, the conversation continued over radio waves… 

It was fairly easy to identify the location that the authorities wanted us to dock at, as there was a large group of official-looking people waiting for us there. Particularly the coast guard officials were easy to spot in bright orange overalls. However, what was not easy was to dock in that location, since it was a concrete pier intended for far larger boat and the officials wanted us to dock in a manner in which they could easily board the boat along steel stairs protruding from the dock. There wasn’t really anywhere reasonable to tie our boat (the distance between the dock bollards was far too large), but we finally managed by tying some of our lines to a couple of short metal poles sticking out from the ground. We were surprised that all the officials just stood there and let us struggle to get the boat tied and settled without really helping us. However, we figured that they had perhaps been told not to touch the lines of any boats for fear that someone might later claim that the boat had been damaged by their actions – or perhaps they were just too used to commercial vessels with large crews to realise that a small sailboat might need some help on that massively oversized dock? Either way, once we managed to tie up the boat, the officials were most courteous and friendly. The quarantine official took our temperature, and the coast guard officials boarded the boat to check it out (we are not sure what they were looking for). Customs and immigration officials were present too, but Mr Finn still had to go to their office to complete the paperwork. The officials had called a local sailor to help us with the process; he drove Mr Finn to the right location and even filled in some papers for us (later in the week, the same gentleman helped us with the departure procedure – it was fantastic to have someone volunteering to help us and we are very grateful for his efforts). While Mr Finn was away for the port clearance upon our arrival, some of the officials turned up at the boat and handed me and the girls drinks and a bag full of lovely Taiwanese dumplings for lunch. That was truly considerate and kind from them, and completely unexpected.

Hualien port is a working port, and recreational vessels are apparently not allowed in the fishermen’s docking area. The rest of the port consists of the same huge concrete walls and sparsely placed bollards that we had to deal with upon arrival and is subject to wake from passing vessels. We were very happy to be offered to dock on a floating pontoon at the back of a boatbuilding hangar by the hangar’s owners, even though the berthing fee wasn’t exactly cheap. We had access to water and – for the first time since the Philippines – also shore power, since the hangar had 220 V power (Taiwan uses 110 V power, but the hangar happened to also have 220 V). All of our time in Japan, we have had to use our generator for power, because nowhere has there been 220 V electricity, which is what we need. Therefore, it was great to be able to use all our electronic equipment such as the microwave, the air conditioner, the vacuum cleaner and the dehumidifier without having to listen to the loud noise of the generator. We could finally also charge our phones, computers and Kindle readers, our electric toothbrush and other smaller electric items all at once without the noise. These are luxuries that one takes for granted living on land, but that one comes to really appreciate on a boat. 

Hualien city itself is not much to write about, but the surrounding mountains are beautiful, and we found people in Hualien to be very friendly. When we ventured out to town on foot (a foolish decision when it was blasting 30 knots of wind and sand and dirt was flying everywhere), two drivers stopped to ask us if we were ok. One helped us call a cab, the other one offered to give us a ride for free (at that point the taxi was already on its way). Every person that we spoke to in town would go out of their way to help us and show us the way to where we were going.  

We probably would not have left Hualien yet weren’t it for the fact that the weather windows to continue to Hong Kong are becoming scarcer as the days pass (until they start to reappear in the spring time, but that is too late for us!). It looked like there might be a window to sail to Hong Kong early this week, so despite the sailing forecast from Hualien to Kenting on the south coast of Taiwan not looking too great, we decided to make the one-night journey last Tuesday. I’ll write about that and Kenting in the next blog post (the weather window to Hong Kong narrowed down, so we will be here in Kenting still for at least a few days).

Hualien port in sight.
While waiting for the port clearance, we were treated to drinks and tasty dumplings by the officials.
It was a great feeling when we could finally hoist the Taiwanese flag.
Hualien fishermen’s port area with brightly coloured fishing vessels.
Fresh seafood right on our “doorstep”. This is our tuna being weighed.
You bring the seafood from the market to a nearby restaurant and they cook it for you. Part of the tuna we ate as sashimi though – guess we missed Japan!
The tuna tasted great fried too.
Hualien city centre, about a 15-minute drive from the port.


Return visit to Okinawa

We have been back in Okinawa since Wednesday. It was with mixed feelings that we left Nagasaki. We were sad to be leaving the city that we had come to really appreciate, and the nice people in the harbour, but at the same time we were excited to be starting our return journey too. Even though we love entering new ports and it is fantastic to have been able to explore new places every step of the way up until this point, new ports are also rather stressful as we never know beforehand where and how we can berth, or whether we’ll be told to leave a particular spot to make way for fishing vessels, or whether we can refuel or get water, and so on. Therefore, it was a nice thought for a change that we would be entering a few ports that we already know.

As Dejima harbour in Nagasaki does not have any fuel dock, the journey from Nagasaki took us first to Nagasaki Sunset marina for refueling, and then onwards to Nomo Ko where we stayed overnight. From Nomo Ko, we chose to continue straight to Okinawa, a journey of some 400 nautical miles. As the weather can be unpredictable at this time of the year, we had already previously obtained permission from the Ministry of Transport to stop at several islands close to our route in case we felt that the weather would be getting a bit too much. Although the conditions varied from 20+ knots to dead calm, we thankfully never had to contemplate diverting anywhere and were able to make it to Okinawa in three nights, right before a front bringing with it stronger winds arrived.

Not only were the wind conditions mostly ok, also the temperature seemed to cooperate in the beginning. We had been praying for cooler weather since…well, the Philippines!…and were pleased to note that with the fresh breeze of the first day at sea, it was finally time to dig out our fleece jackets, warm underlayers and foul-weather gear. We even wore gloves (warmer versions than those made for sailing) and hats, and at one point during my night watch, I even put on my warm and comfortable balaclava (the rest of the family thought I was crazy though). It seemed that we had jumped straight from tropical weather to Nordic conditions, and for the first time in months, we could comfortably sleep down below while underway. The joy! The girls in particular were also thrilled to be able to spend time below deck during the day rather than just sitting in the cockpit and sweating.

Alas, the coolness and comfort was short-lived, and already on the second day out the weather started to warm up, and close to Okinawa it got really hot again. The hottest temperature that we have seen has been 29 degrees Celcius, and that is hot indeed, particularly when the sun beats down mercilessly from a cloudless sky. Locals here claim that the weather has been cooler for the past few weeks, and that it just happens that the day we arrived, a heat wave arrived too. We were not sure whether to believe them, at least until today when the temperature dropped somewhat. However, we are trying to take comfort in the fact that when we left Okinawa 3 months ago, it was still a lot hotter so it really could be worse…

Mr Finn has been carrying out repairs on the boat: a new stern light needed to be installed, engine fuel filters had to be changed and our shower sump (the device that collects the shower water and pumps it overboard) broke so he’s now installed the second of two spares we brought with us…let’s hope it will see us through to Hong Kong. Our lockers are already bursting with new supplies and our salty laundry has been washed. Basically, we are now just waiting for a weather window to continue onwards. Getting to Hong Kong looks really challenging though, as it appears that the monsoon is more consistent than normally at this time of the year, meaning storm force winds and high waves particularly around Taiwan. We are once again checking marine weather forecasts several times a day…

Cooler weather on the way!
Back in Ginowan marina on Okinawa. It isn’t cold here.

Nagasaki – and the start of our return journey

Apologies for the long blog silence. We meant to write about our most recent destination – Nagasaki – ages ago, but then decided against it as we knew we would be away from the boat in October and didn’t feel comfortable shouting out to the whole world that we are leaving our boat (i.e. our home) unattended in the small marina right in the centre of Nagasaki.

As we have just returned to the boat, we will now pick up where we left off and will try to update the blog more regularly again from now on.

So, Nagasaki. We did not have high expectations of the city before we arrived, and thought it would be just another large concrete city. How wrong we were. From the moment we sailed under the bridge on the outer edges of the port, we were captivated by this beautiful and lively city. The city is framed by mountains which contrast nicely with the sea. Houses are scattered into the hilly terrain. There are (to our surprise, considering the history) quite a few interesting historic landmarks in the city, and beautiful greenery abounds. In many ways,  the city reminds us of our home town Hong Kong.

We had managed to secure a berth for a few days right in the historic Dejima harbour, which was the only place for two hundred years where the Japanese allowed foreign trading vessels to enter the country. Dejima harbour is also in the middle of today’s action with bars and restaurants lining the harbourside right next to the small marina. Originally we had intended to sail further to Fukuoka, and even make a quick visit to South Korea, before starting our return journey to Hong Kong. However, as we fell in love with Nagasaki, and had arrived in the marina at such a fortunate moment that we were able to keep the berth until the return from our trip overseas, it was easy to decide that we would first enjoy our privileged location in the centre of Nagasaki for a few weeks and then leave the boat here during our overseas trip in the security of the surrounding mountains and in the safe hands of the friendly harbour master.

In the end, we left for our overseas trip slightly earlier than planned, because typhoon after typhoon battered Japan and we could not do much local sailing either due to the weather. Our timing to be away has been rather fortunate, because typhoons have continued to visit Japan while we have been travelling, with the most recent one hitting these shores only last weekend. There would have been little sailing further from Nagasaki even if we had stayed in Japan all of this time.

Now we are busy getting ready to leave Nagasaki. We will be making our way south this time, meaning that this is the start of our return journey to Hong Kong. We hope that we can find enough weather windows to make the journey before the Northeast Monsoon hits this area with full force (November is traditionally a time when the monsoon wind starts to change from south to north, and it should bring with it fluctuating but moderate winds). When the Northeast Monsoon has picked up its full strength, the result is not only storm winds but also very severe seas as the strong Kuroshio current will be pushing against the wind. We do not care to experience anything like it again and so hope to make the journey before the Northeast Monsoon properly takes over.

Evening view of beautiful Nagasaki.
Sunset in Dejima harbor.
View onto the Spectacles Bridge built in 1634.
Nagasaki Chinatown.
A clock in the Atomic Bomb Museum which forever displays the time of the devastating explosion over Nagasaki.
Local sailing trip to Gunkanjima, one of Nagasaki’s over 500 abandoned islands. The place is an eerie ghost town.
Huis Ten Bosch, a rather odd Dutch theme park with its own cute marina near Nagasaki.