4263 nautical miles (= 7895 km) and 18 different ports later…

It is with a lot of relief that we can reveal that we finally found a semi-decent weather window to sail from Taiwan to Hong Kong, and safely arrived back in Hong Kong on Monday. The weather was rather vicious at the start of our last leg, with waves over 3 metres, and although it was forecast to calm down a few hours after we departed, those conditions actually lasted for the first 26 hours of our journey. At one point, we had closed off the windward side of the cockpit with a canvas curtain to keep the cockpit dry, but the unsuspecting Mr Finn got a soaking on the leeward side of the boat when a large wave crashed over the cockpit roof and poured down on him; it scared the living daylights out of me and Lil Sis sitting on the windward side too, but at least we stayed mostly dry. We made fantastic progress though, and our average speed for the whole journey was around 7 knots (fantastic for a heavy displacement steel boat), most of the speed being gained during the first 26 hours when we were at best doing close to 9 knots. We were really pleased to see that we would be arriving in Hong Kong much sooner than we had calculated, because we knew that there was bad weather forecast also for the end of the leg.

Our emotions right now, sitting once again in our own berth in Hong Kong, are indescribable. We are feeling a huge mix of feelings, so the only definite thing that can really be said is that the emotions are high! It is definitely bitter-sweet to be back: on the one hand, we are super-elated that we made it back to Hong Kong and concluded a sailing trip that has in many ways been years in the making. On the other hand, we naturally also would not want to see the trip end. There is a tiny feeling of purposelessness, and I think it will take us weeks to stop looking at wind and wave forecasts. There is also a huge feeling of gratitude for so many things; the fact that we safely made all those passages, that we have had the opportunity to do this as a family unit, that we have learnt so many new things about sailing, other ways of life and last but not least about ourselves, and also that we have met so many kind and friendly people along the way that it feels like our worldview has been changed for the better during these months away.

People have been asking us to talk about the practicalities of extended sailing (thus my most recent post about nighttime sailing) and there would for sure be many topics to cover such as health precautions, crew safety at sea, storm preparation, communications, and even just going through the everyday challenges of living on a boat (e.g. have you ever thought about the fact that we can’t flush down toilet paper, or what cooking is like when the boat is rolling from side to side…?). I may or may not still continue to write about some of these aspects of our journey – to be honest, I don’t know right now if I will have the time to write, and it may even feel too nostalgic to do so since our adventure has now come to an end.

In any case, to those still out there fulfilling their sailing dream, the Floating Finns wish fair winds and following seas. To all those dreaming of sailing – or dreaming of anything out of the ordinary really – we say go for it! We only have one life, so if you have a dream, what better time to fulfill it than now? This often used quote, attributed to Mark Twain, sums it up much better than I ever could and it is relevant not only to sailors but, metaphorically, to all of us:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”

To maximise the daylight and the weather window, we left Kaohsiung at 5.30 am when it was still dark.
After two nights at sea, we were finally able to hoist the Hong Kong flag.
Floating Finns want to thank all blog readers for your interest…
…and we hope that you have many calm sunsets doing things that bring you joy, excitement and inner peace!

Nighttime sailing

We have done an awful lot of nighttime sailing during this year, and will be doing 2-3 nights more on the last stretch to Hong Kong. In fact, most of the legs have required at least one night at sea.

Sailing during the night is a completely different experience than sailing during the day. Nighttime sailing has a beautiful, touching side to it, but it can also be a frightening experience to sail in the dark, particularly during days when the moon isn’t shining down on you and you are in waters that you are unfamiliar with (like us pretty much all the time this year) or the seas are rough or confused and the wind keeps changing.

Despite the beautiful sunsets, I personally really dislike the time around dusk. The colour of the sea always changes to a darker blue, eventually turning to black, and clouds that you didn’t even notice earlier start to look darker and more threatening. Your senses become heightened and you start to notice things that you did not notice before, such as odd noises from the rigging, or the irregular pattern of the waves. Most of all, it is the simple fact that you know that you have 12 hours of darkness in front of you, and that everything you do becomes more difficult and riskier during those 12 hours, that really builds up the apprehension during those evening moments.

Even though I dislike the time around dusk, I am able to appreciate the majesty of the night once I have grown used to the darkness. There are millions of stars to admire, and you can count the shooting stars every few minutes until you get tired of flexing your neck. Mr Finn’s personal record is 27 shooting stars during one night watch. Not only do you have stars up in the sky, but there are also “stars” in the ocean; the bioluminescence of plankton in our boat wake looks like a moving, bright starry sky also in the water. The sound of the boat (which you notice much better in the dark than during the day) making its way through the waves is better than any piece of music. At the best of times, you can also hear and just about make out the silhouettes of dolphins jumping in the waves made by the boat. When far from land, and alone on watch, you are hit by the serene realisation that you are just a tiny piece in the enormous puzzle that is the universe, and it is a very deep and beautiful sensation that is hard to find while on land.

As for practicalities, it is the time around dusk when a flurry of nighttime activities takes place. To minimise the need to move around when it is dark, we try to do everything possible during those last moments of light. We cook dinner right before it becomes dark. We rig the sails for whatever we think the nighttime weather is bringing with it (although fine-tuning the sails is something that we cannot escape during the night either), we make sure there is hot water in our thermos flask for the night, we send our emergency contacts information about our position, we read the newest Navtex messages, and so on.

We normally all hang around in the cockpit for an hour or two after sunset, and then Lil Sis goes to bed, and often so do I. Unless the sea is particularly rough or the wind very strong, Big Sis mostly goes on watch at this time, meaning that she sits at the wheel in the cockpit and is in charge of making sure that we do not collide with anything or anyone, and also has responsibility for making sure that we stay on course. Even though we have been to areas where there is significant shipping activity, she has handled it really well, as she has nerves of steel (much more so than me!) and a very logical approach to avoiding collisions. Mr Finn attempts to sleep at this time – if the weather is tricky, he might be catnapping in the cockpit, but mostly Big Sis let’s him sleep down below. When Big Sis gets tired around midnight (although she is known to have been on watch until 2 am), it is Mr Finn’s turn to be on watch. He stays in the cockpit normally until around 3.30 am, and then it is my turn to take the early morning watch basically until nature wakes up everyone else.

Even though we may dread them at times (particularly if we are already tired!), I know that we will all miss our nighttime watches once this year is over. We will try to really enjoy the last nights over to Hong Kong, and make sure that the feelings stirred up by those nights at sea are properly engrained in our memories.

Sunsets are often truly beautiful at sea, but they also mean that 10-12 hours of darkness lies ahead.
Mrs Finn is most often the lucky one to witness the sunrise. Now that is a lovely sight!
A lot of activity takes place while the rest of the world is sleeping. Here Big Sis is noting our position and checking our course. A red light is used as it doesn’t kill one’s night vision.


Small boat in big Kaohsiung

We arrived in Kaohsiung just before sunset on Sunday. As mentioned in the previous post, Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city, so a nice change from Kenting and Hualien which were rather small. Kaohsiung is also Taiwan’s largest port, and as we chose to enter the port from its south entrance, we were able to sail (or motor in this case) through a fascinating, narrow port “corridor” lined with cargo ships and massive cranes, many of which were in the process of lifting cargo containers onto the ships. It looked like one big game of lego with the crane operators carefully putting colourful lego bricks into place.

It soon became clear that sailboats are a rather rare sight in Kaohsiung, and foreign boats even more so. Cargo ship crews along the port corridor stopped what they were doing in order to wave at us, and some even yelled “hello” to us in English. Most often we are just ignored by cargo ship crews, so this was rather a pleasant surprise and for an hour, we almost felt like marine royalty!

We had hailed the port authority on our VHF radio before entering the port. Here, as opposed to much smaller Hualien port, radio traffic was constant and the port radio operators were extremely professional. We could hear them telling other ships to mind our little sailboat, and for the first time ever, we had very clear instructions as to when and how to enter the port. This was slightly intimidating (even though we’ve been in contact with port authorities in many places, we’ve mostly been able to sneak into port as we have seen fit ourselves), but at the same time very reassuring.

A cargo vessel had to pass us in the port corridor, and it became quite a show (for our safety, I am sure) despite the fact that there was enough room to overtake us all along. First the vessel itself blew its horn, which made a massive sound. Then the port authority hailed us on the radio to let us know that the vessel would be passing to port (meaning to the left). A few seconds later, the pilot on board the vessel also hailed us to let us know that they would be overtaking us. And finally, when the vessel was overtaking us, the pilot, and a person who we assume to be the captain of the vessel, emerged in an outside area with their binoculars directed at us. When they saw that we were looking at them, they waved at us and then re-entered the bridge.

We are currently berthed in a very central location in a new marina (actually, it is so new that it is still under development so there are still bits and pieces that are not working). We have water and electricity, which is great. The marina staff are really friendly, and doing their best to make up for the fact that the marina fees are rather high despite the marina still being work in progress.

We have done quite a bit of walking around the city itself, and admired the fantastic views over the harbour and the rest of the city from the 85 Sky Tower, Taiwan’s second largest building. We’ve also visited the hustle and bustle of a local night market, which we found to be bursting with people enjoying their evening food in a social setting even on a Tuesday night. We are quite enjoying our time in Kaohsiung; this is a well-kept place with lots to do and see.

The one thing that we do not like about Kaohsiung, however, is the level of pollution. Already 1,5 hours after our departure  from Kenting (on an 11-hour journey), we noticed that it was completely foggy in the direction that we were going. We couldn’t see ships that we knew were just a nautical mile away. Soon thereafter, the smell hit us and we realised that the “fog” was actually “smog”. A Kenting sailor had mentioned that it was always polluted on the west coast, but we hadn’t given it much thought as the skies were always clear in Kenting. In Kaohsiung city, we have now seen some people wear pollution masks on the most polluted days, so it seems that they are as used to pollution as people living in Chinese cities like Beijing. Such a shame as this would otherwise be a very nice city.

Port “corridor” from the Kaohsiung south entrance.
Evening view from our deck in Kaohsiung marina.
View from 85 Sky Tower over the city and the port.
Kaohsiung Liuhe night market.
Fancier fare at the night market in the form of lobster.
You can even get a tattoo at the night market…

Kenting area

We have been in Kenting in southern Taiwan for 1,5 weeks now. It was an overnight sail to get here from Hualien – one of rather few coastal legs that we have done this year. It was the time of the month when there was no moon at all, but we had the collective bright light from Taiwanese cities lighting up the skies above the island, and also enjoyed watching building and street lights on the coast while sailing past, so the night did not feel particularly dark at all. We also had a visit from a few dolphins who were jumping around our boat in the semi-darkness, trying to catch fish in our wake. One such fish, jumping for its life, scared me half to death when it almost landed on me while I was on night watch.

The seas were rough when we left Hualien, but fortunately calmed down towards the night so that we all could enjoy some sleep (taking turns, of course – we never let the boat go without someone up in the cockpit). Aside from the roughness of the seas around Taiwan, the Taiwanese themselves are not making it easy to sail around their island. There is an astonishing amount of fire practices and bombing taking place along the coast. We have had to carefully time both our passage from Ishigaki to Hualien and our passage from Hualien to Kenting to make sure that we do not end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not easy for a slow boat like ours, as it can take 7 or 8 hours to cross some of the practice areas, and the practices themselves can take place for hours each day. It is far too easy to end up in the middle of those army practices, so sailing here has become a huge puzzle where the pieces that one must fit together are not only wind strength and angle, wave height and period, tidal current, the Pacific Ocean swell, the direction and speed of the very strong Kuroshio current but also constant fire practices blocking half of the coast at times. We still have one large puzzle to piece together in the form of our journey to Hong Kong.

Here in Kenting, we are in an actual marina (meaning floating finger piers) that belongs to the Kenting National Park, and we even have access to water and electricity (yes, they have 220 V here too, despite Taiwan being a 110 V country). We also have some really nice live-in neighbours here – people who have been cruising around on their sailboats for several years already, and whose stories about different countries and sailing conditions it has been fascinating to listen to. Together with a couple of friendly local sailors, they have been providing us with helpful information about the surrounding area too.

If it weren’t for the fact that we are getting desperate to see a weather window to Hong Kong, we would probably enjoy this place very much. The beaches here are beautiful, with white sand, and swell coming in from the Pacific Ocean. No wonder it is a haven for surfers and beachgoers alike, and there are hundreds of thousands of tourists coming to Kenting every year (we have seen quite a few Westerners as well). There is a lively night market every day in Kenting town too, and there are some nice restaurants along the main street. The only problem is that there are no supermarkets in town, only 7/11 stores and the like. For groceries, we have taken the bus to Hengchun, which is a bigger town. Even there, supermarkets are not particularly well stocked, and we have found ourselves lacking some (for us) everyday food items. Hengchun was at one time surrounded by a city wall, and even now part of the wall remains, as well as four city gates that once were the only entrance points to the city. These give the town a nice character, and meandering around the back streets of the city has been quite a nice way to kill some time. Without exception, people around this area have been very friendly and helpful – we have been driven to town by locals, and have even received surprise snacks and drinks from local vendors while sitting by the beach.

Our eyes are now glued to the weather forecasts (and, at the same time, to those fire practice areas and dates). Since we have not been able to leave yet, we are now planning to sail up the west coast to Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second biggest city. This will provide us with a diversion from “weather madness” in the form of a large city to explore, and we’ll also be able to stock up on those missing food items in preparation for the journey to Hong Kong. Most of all, sailing to Hong Kong from Kaohsiung rather than Kenting should give us a slightly better wind and wave angle, and it will also shorten the trip by some 5-6 hours (which may mean that the journey is cut by half a dark night!). By now, we’ll take anything that might help us find that suitable weather window to Hong Kong…

These are all separate Navtex warnings about Taiwanese fire practices. At times, they have blocked virtually the whole east coast!
Rocking and rolling from Hualien to Kenting, but at least we had a rainbow to admire!
Houbihu marina in Kenting.
One of the lovely beaches in Kenting.
More beautiful beach!
Kenting night market. Food stalls, souvenirs, clothes, all along the main road.
One of the four old city gates in Hengchun.

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.




From Kasasa to Nomozaki

From the Kasasa Ebisu hotel we sailed to Akune and spent the night there. From Akune, we sailed to Nomozaki and again spent the night there. We have been told that night-time sailing along the Kyushu coast is a bad idea due to the amount of fishing and commercial vessels in the area. However, the amount of vessels hasn’t really been a problem for us so far, as we have experienced many more boats at night in sea areas around Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines and are quite used to evading them even in total darkness. What could be more of an issue is the amount of fish farms in this area, as they are difficult if not impossible to detect in the dark. Mostly though, we have just been quite pleased to have been able to moor somewhere, make dinner with a normal pot and pan as opposed to our pressure cooker and then have a good night’s sleep. Well…at least a night’s sleep, because naturally it isn’t always a good sleep due to the wake from fishing boats driving in and out of the working ports at night and also due to the tidal changes that are always worrisome when you are moored onto a hard – and sometimes very uneven – concrete wall filled with barnacles and other protruding bits.

The journey from Kasasa to Akune was unforgettable. We had a visit from a pod of 20-30 dolphins who swam and played around our boat for close to an hour. We have seen dolphins around our boat before (this year we saw them on the leg between Hong Kong and Subic Bay in the Philippines, and then along the coast of the Philippines, but haven’t seen any since), but never so many, so playful and for so long. It was a great show, and a great feeling to witness it from one’s own boat – it ticked one item off of everyone’s bucket list! 

There is little to say about Akune and Nomozaki as such. Akune is a fairly large town of over 20,000 inhabitants, but the houses are spread out and the town has a feeling of a place that many people have moved out of and that is slowly dying. Nomozaki is much smaller, there are only around 5000 inhabitants, but we got the same feeling that it is not a place that is currently thriving. It is a pretty little town though and the access to it is very beautiful (although slightly scary) through a very narrow canyon-like entrance. Fishing seems to be the main livelihood in both towns.

If there isn’t that much to say about the towns themselves, what we can (again) say is that pretty much everyone that we met in both places has been super friendly. When we arrived in Akune, we had a hard time docking as the wind was pushing us away from the dock and we couldn’t move much forward for fear of bumping into a fishing vessel or much backward due to the water being too shallow. There were two boys fishing on the dock, and when they saw that we might need a helping hand, they rushed over (no parents around to tell them to help!) and grabbed our lines. They were extremely polite and smiling even though only barely over 10, and our girls gave them cans of cold coke and some small gifts as a thank-you. One boy then took off, only to return ten minutes later with small gifts for the girls. We also had a visit from an older gentleman who brought us a high-visibility band, presumably because he was worried that we might not otherwise be easily seen when it is dark or foggy (we have plenty of lights, and high-visibility vests, but it was a lovely gesture from him anyway). Finally, on the morning when we made our first attempt to leave Akune (more about that below), a fisherman came over to us and handed Mr Finn a mahi-mahi from his catch! Fishing is not something that we are good at at all (Mr Finn is infamous for having caught his finger on the hook some years ago when far from land between Malaysia and Vietnam), so getting such a nice “catch” was for us a very special surprise. Mahi-mahi is a seriously delicious fish, and we had a very tasty meal that day. In turn, we gave the fisherman a can of Finnish fish, although we fear that as someone used to delicious fresh fish, he may not find the “muikku” to be too tasty. But at least it will be exotic for him!  It is a shame we could not bring chocolates with us when we visited Finland (if someone doesn’t know, Finnish chocolate is the world’s best!), but it would have melted in the heat already many times over.

So why did I say “our first attempt to leave Akune”? We left Akune on Saturday morning a week ago, but turned back two hours into the journey to Nomozaki. This was the first time we had to turn back on any leg. The reason for our decision to return was that we were just not making enough headway due to the wind being on our nose, and would have only arrived in Nomozaki after dark, which would have been very scary due to the narrow entrance I mentioned above. Also, the sea state was rather wild, and it was an extremely unpleasant two hours. It was frustrating to return, but after we had cooked the mahi-mahi and walked to the local grocery store for an ice cream, we were all pleased that we had chosen to go back. That feeling was further strengthened when we happened to see pufferfish right by our boat after our return – we would have otherwise missed them. The following morning, Mr Finn and I woke up at 4 am to be ready for a 5 am start. Conditions according to the weather forecast were meant to be the same as on Saturday, so we wanted to make sure we would get to Nomozaki on time. However, it was like a different sea! Light winds and small wavelets only. So much for weather forecasts again…

Beautiful dolphins. They were all around the boat.

Gifts for the girls from the boys in Akune. So sweet.
And then we were given this high-visibility band by an older gentleman. He refused our offers of tea or a beer on the boat.
Sunset in Akune port.
We “caught” a mahi-mahi without even trying to fish! The generous fisherman in the background.
After our failed attempt to reach Nomozaki, and our return to Akune, the mahi mahi tasted super good!
Pufferfish in the Akune port! We did not try to fry this fish…
Our boat in Nomo port next to a big load of fishing nets.



Kasasa Ebisu hotel & sightseeing

From Makurazaki, we made our way to Kasasa along the west coast of Kyushu. We did not go there for the tiny town, but rather to experience some luxury for a change in the form of a floating pontoon (made for sailboats rather than work boats) and a proper shower! We had read about a hotel called Kasasa Ebisu which is sailboat friendly, and in fact has a pontoon specifically dedicated to sailors (you can just pay to moor, no need to get a hotel room). When we entered the small bay in question (for which there were no details on our C-Map chart plotter or anywhere else), we could see the hotel on the port side, and also a concrete pier which was “T-shaped” as the pontoon was meant to be. Lo and behold, it was not a floating pontoon at all though! It was extremely shallow around the pier, and we also could not manage to see any cleats onto which we could tie our lines, so we were rather puzzled as to how we should be able to secure the boat onto the pier. Just when we started to discuss our plan B for the night, a lady came running from the hotel and yelled that it was the wrong pier, and we should continue further around the corner. There was indeed a floating pontoon there, and one of the three spaces for boats was free. Later, we saw that the concrete pier that we had tried to tie ourselves onto first was almost completely submerged at high tide. Talk about mistakes!

While the cost of the mooring was rather high, it did include access to a Japanese onsen at the hotel. Not only did we have a shower, but we were also able to experience a hot spring bath with a lovely sunset view over the sea. We wanted to rent a car, and an employee of the hotel, Yamasaki-san, said the hotel would drive us to the rental shop the following morning and pick us up in the evening. At exactly 9 am as agreed, there was a nice car waiting for us, and Yamasaki-san himself drove us to the rental shop. It was much farther to drive than we had expected – 30 minutes from the hotel, meaning that Yamasaki-san had to spend 2 hours in total for the drop-off/pick-up service. When we tried to compensate him – and the hotel – for the ride, he refused to accept any payment. Knowing that we might be thirsty when we return, he had even bought us a bottle of peach water each. Such a lovely gesture, and such a kind man. When we left the Ebisu hotel the following morning, he came to the pier to wave us goodbye.

With our rental car, we first drove to Chiran where there are seven perfectly preserved samurai gardens that can be accessed in the old samurai quarters. After that, we visited the nearby site of the former airfield and training area for kamikaze pilots (or “tokko” pilots as the Japanese say). There is a museum at the site with, among other things, a very touching display of last letters (with their English translations) written by the kamikaze pilots. There were people crying when reading the letters, and we do not wonder why. To us, the visit not only highlighted one historical aspect of World War 2, but also gave us a very interesting glimpse into the Japanese culture and character. Finally, we drove to an observation area in Kagoshima City that has great views over the city and onto the Sakurajima volcano. It was a perfect day, naturally finished off by a visit to the hotel’s luxurious onsen.

Kasasa Ebisu hotel. This is NOT the pier to moor onto!
Now this is more like it – a floating pontoon. Fortunately there was still space for us.
We reserved a table for dinner at the Ebisu, and were given a fantastic Japanese style private room. The food was very good.
One of the seven Samurai gardens.
Kamikaze plane which had been lifted from the sea.
Kamikaze pilot barracks. The pilots spent their last night in such quarters.
View over Kagoshima City with the Sakurajima volcano in the background.


Waterspout scare on our way to Kyushu

As detailed in our last post, we had to leave Yakushima on Monday morning due to the spring tide during which our boat would have hit the bottom of the port basin. The wind forecasts promised a nice 15-knot wind from the southwest, which was great, and the Japanese marine forecast called for fair weather with “isolated thunderstorms”, which is pretty much the normal forecast on most days in this subtropical area during the summer. As we’ve mentioned in a previous post, while nobody likes these isolated thunderstorms, with some alert helmsmanship we are mostly able to sail around them. That is what we expected to be able to do also on Monday, and even though the skies seemed gray, we took off a bit after 6 am in the morning having first waited out one rain shower.

The journey started well, as it seemed that we would be able to follow a course that would see us duck the imminent rain clouds. However, only an hour into the journey, the skies grew darker and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a way around the gray clouds. We did our very best, but the sky nevertheless offered us bucketloads of water and some excitement in the form of lightning and thunder. We threw our handheld GPS, two of our three handheld VHF radios, two of our mobile phones and our satellite phone into the microwave just to be on the safe side – even though everything and everyone inside our boat should in theory be safe from lightning as our boat acts as one big Faraday cage, boat electronics are notoriously very vulnerable to breakage due to lightning and we wanted to ensure we had backup systems still functional in case lightning struck (the microwave acts as a further Faraday cage keeping the smaller equipment intact – or so the theory goes).

We had already endured several hours of on and off thunder, lightning and rain – not to mention minimal visibility, so our radios were in full use that day – when we noticed a strange formation beneath one of the storm clouds. It was one of the scariest natural phenomena to witness from a boat at sea, a waterspout! Waterspouts are tornado-like formations reaching down from a cloud and stirring up the water that they touch. Fortunately the “waterspout cloud” was some way away from us and we were going in a different direction. However, as the conditions for the formation of waterspouts appeared to exist in the area, we kept a worried eye on the sky for the rest of the way. It was a very stressed-out and exhausted crew who finally arrived in Makurazaki on the Kyushu island in the evening!

Due to the terror of that day, we would have liked to stay in Makurazaki for one full day and get some rest. We tied onto the only floating pontoon in the port (due to the tides, floating pontoons are hugely better than being tied up to a concrete wall) and secured our lines and fenders in the right position, only to then be told to move onto the concrete wall because fishing vessels would use the floating pontoon to unload their catch during the night. This request was of course understandable, and working boats naturally always should have priority, but somewhat to our surprise, we were also told that despite the space all around us, we could stay tied up to the concrete wall for “one night”. Makurazaki has been the only place so far where we have not felt welcome. We slept there for the promised one night, and said goodbye to the port the next morning.

Gray skies looming over us…
…and here comes the rain.
This we did not want to see…
…a waterspout!