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!

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.



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!


Back on the boat

We are back on the boat after a fantastic although rather tiring 5-week ”holiday from the holiday” in Europe that saw us visit 16 countries and drive over 10,000 kilometres. We had fun celebrating a family birthday in Spain, and enjoyed stops in many beautiful places along the way. We also visited several historical places, and the girls got a homeschooling lesson about the sad history of World War II when they first stepped into Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, and later witnessed the scene of crimes committed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

The boat has survived our absence well, but we did spend a whole day preparing her for the eventuality of a typhoon while we are absent. We were fortunate in that no typhoons visited the marina while we were gone, but the most powerful typhoon season is only beginning now, and there are in fact three tropical depressions currently on the radar in this area. As per this morning’s forecast, two of those appear to pose little threat to us, but the third one (already typhoon force) called “Noru” is forecast to only grow stronger, and the experts appear to be puzzled as to the direction it will take next week once it has gathered more power. Needless to say, we won’t be taking off in the next few days, and the tens of lines that are holding our boat and its sails currently, together with the oversized fenders that are meant to keep her from ramming into the dock in case of a strong wind, will have to stay in place.

The continued delay is frustrating for several reasons. Of course, we would finally like to be on our way again, but the most worrying aspect (apart from the risk of a typhoon hitting the marina!) is that we have had to commit to a particular route and timing in connection with our renewed port application to the Japanese Ministry of Transport, and the weather isn’t exactly making it easy for us to stick with that commitment. Fortunately, at least the marina that we are in understands the situation and won’t kick us out tomorrow even though that is when our current berthing agreement ends.

In any case, we’ll now be stocking up our fridge and freezer, fueling up, cleaning the hull and propeller and checking that all gear works, and then we will just be hoping that Noru takes the path of least destruction and that there are no new tropical depressions forming in the meantime.

Finnish midsummer celebrations.
Swedish coast seen from the Finland-Sweden ferry.
Nyhavn, Copenhagen.
We fitted in a day in Legoland, Denmark.
Windmills in Holland.
View over Luxembourg old town.
Begur on Costa Brava, Spain. Spent a week for birthday celebrations here.
Another week was spent in Javea on Costa Blanca, Spain.
We stayed in the French Alps for a few days. Lovely, cool weather.
Prague city view, Czech Republic.
Former Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland.
The girls grabbed every opportunity to do schoolwork. Big Sis studying in Spain.
20 minutes before arrival at our final destination, we crossed the 10,000 km line.
Fireworks in the marina the first day we were back in Japan made our return feel festive.
However, the forecast about typhoon Noru also greeted us upon our arrival…


Fun and weather

Sorry for the long blog silence. We had a great time in Okinawa, so great in fact that we did not have time to write. We met many lovely new people, saw new marine wildlife, witnessed a sports fishing competition, visited one of the world’s largest aquariums, took a magical evening walk in a park where tens and tens of fireflies swarmed around us, and contemplated the futility of warfare at the Peace Memorial Park. We played billiards, threw darts and went bowling – all things that we would not normally have had time to do as a family. Of course, the girls have also done schoolwork, and we have worked on the boat, and handled other everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning and laundry that are way harder to do on the boat than on land.

We have also re-evaluated our sailing plans for this year. Ideally, we would now be in the Russian city of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula. However, we are just too late to make it up north during the summer. Timing-wise, things started to go wrong from the very beginning, with the Northeast Monsoon never giving us the break we were looking for to cross over to Taiwan. That lead us to making the decision to sail down to the Philippines first, which in turn led us to experience some very bad weather and forced us to stay in Subic Bay for longer than intended. The weather in Japan has also been a surprise to us. We knew that these sea areas would be rough, but we were not really ready for there to be such a regular and frequent pattern of gale-force winds (and mostly from the wrong direction too). As we are a slow boat, we mostly need at a minimum one night, two days of good weather to make a crossing between any two Japanese ports, and such weather windows have been rare. Therefore, progress has been slow. Japan is a very long country (the ordinary map distorts the size of Japan – the country is over 3000 km in length), so to get from Ishigaki to Hokkaido takes a very long time and requires a considerable amount of days with good sailing weather.

We are not complaining, however. We were originally not meant to visit the Philippines, but ended up having a really interesting time there – we’ll never forget the pristine snorkeling waters of Hermana Menor, the lovely hotel owner in San Fernando who not only let us stay anchored at the hotel beach but helped us in every way imaginable, or the two nights anchored in the middle of a river in busy Aparri where fishermen came to take photos of us. Likewise, even though we were never intending to stay in some of the Japanese ports for so long, we’ve met the loveliest of people and have had amazing experiences in those ports. Even the experience of very heavy weather in the South China Sea taught us an awful lot, so we would not even trade that experience away!

Accordingly, we’ll gladly take whatever this year still has in store for us, and will continue to enjoy the opportunity to sail along the Japanese islands for now. As the weather continues to play tricks on us though and it is very frustrating to constantly wait for a weather window that never arrives, we’ve decided to wait 2-3 weeks for the seasonal rain front to pass further north before continuing further into Kyushu. We’ve found a good place to leave the boat in the Ryukyu island chain and will take a short “holiday from the holiday” in Europe. We’ll try to write a couple of overdue blog posts about our sailing trip while in Europe, but the next time our boat moves will not be until mid-July at the earliest.

Fish from a sportsfishing competition had to be lifted by crane.
Beautiful but dangerous lionfish have been visiting us in the marina too.
A huge turtle was swimming around one day.
Monorail in Naha.
The humbling peace memorial park where the names of over 200,000 people who died in the battle of Okinawa are engraved in stone.
Whale sharks in Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.



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