Ballistic missiles and other obstacles to sailing

We have been ready to leave Ishigaki since Thursday last week, but here we are still. First our “closed port” permit for the Okinawa prefecture was delayed by one day (although, to be fair to the Ministry of Transport bureau, we still got it faster than the official 7 days). We could not leave without official permission to visit the ports on our voyage plan. Then the weather turned really bad over the weekend – this is the rainy season and it was indeed raining non-stop, and the wind was blowing strongly from the wrong direction.

Yesterday we got quite a shock when our Navtex receiver churned out a message about “a flying object launched from North Korea”, and all vessels were asked to “keep clear when recognizing the falling object”. When it became clear that the “flying object” was a ballistic missile shot form North Korea in the direction of Japan, we were quite pleased that we are still in southern Japan rather than in the Japan Sea where it landed.

Even setting aside the odd “flying object”, it is slightly more stressful than normal to decide when to continue sailing to further ports in southern Japan. Even though we are in principle in no hurry, and can wait for a good weather window, we always have the possibility of a typhoon at the back of our heads since the typhoon season has now started. Last year, the first typhoon hit this area on 25 May. Should one come our way now, we need to be in a good location to take shelter, and somewhat to our surprise, it appears that there are not as many good typhoon shelters around as we had earlier thought. Therefore, making sailing plans involves not only considering the currents, the tide and the very fickle and often rough weather in this area, but also requires a plan for how to get to a typhoon haven quickly enough should it become necessary. It does not help that one is tied to the specific “closed ports” that one has permission for, and cannot divert to other ports or anchorages at will.

Having said all of this, we hope that tonight has been our last night in Ishigaki, and are planning a morning departure to the next port. Don’t get us wrong, we have loved our time in Ishigaki and really like this island and its friendly inhabitants, but we are sailors after all, and sailors always get itchy feet when moored for too long…

First Navtex alert describing a “flying object”
Second Navtex alert, identifying “flying object” as a ballistic missile
Third Navtex alert, now with location details

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