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.


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!


Yakushima island

Events are completely overtaking our blog writing again. We are currently already three port stops from Yakushima, but we’ll try to write in chronological order now, so let’s start with our three-day stop in Miyanoura port on beautiful Yakushima island.

We arrived in Miyanoura port after a lovely overnight sail from Naze. The wind was fresh and from an angle that is very comfortable for our boat (broad reach), so apart from the heat and humidity that we cannot get away from, the conditions were fantastic. Big Sis was on watch until 2 am, so Mr Finn and I had plenty of sleep that night too (thanks Big Sis!). The Miyanoura port, as most ports that we stop at, is a working port but a quiet one. We knew from the sail blogs of those other rare sailors that have ventured to Japan in earlier years that they had stopped in Miaynoura, so we had a bit of a shock when we made our way into port as our depth sounder showed that it was almost too shallow for our boat (none of the many charts we have showed the depth of the port). In fact, we soon realised that it would indeed be too shallow three days later at spring tide! However, we had no choice but to stay at that port, as that was the only port that we had permission for from the Ministry of Transport (having driven around the island, we later realised that there weren’t any better locations to moor anyway). We quickly decided that we would use the spring tide as our “deadline” to leave Yakushima, since the forecast was for good weather too. The other option would have been to sail out of the port before the low tide, and wait around for the water level to rise again, but we didn’t fancy having to dock in the port again, as it was a bit tricky the first time around.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Yakushima island – a World Heritage Site – is extremely beautiful. Its natural wonders include the “Yakusugi” cedar trees, which at best are 3000 years old. These trees grow in the mountains, and as the island cannot really be appreciated from the towns dotting the coastline, we rented a car and drove up to the mountains. The vegetation in the mountains reminded us of New Zealand with its moss-covered trees and rocks, streams, waterfalls and the smell of lush greenery. It was also 5 degrees cooler in the mountains than at the seaside, something we truly enjoyed!

We were also lucky enough to encounter lots of wildlife on Yakushima. A sea snake (Banded Sea Krait) decided to take a liking to our boat and kept swimming around it for a couple of hours. A land snake (Tiger Keelback) also chose to show itself on our way around the island. We saw several monkeys (Yakushima macaque) and deer (Yakushika) up in the mountains. The monkeys on this island apparently sometimes ride on the backs of the deer, but that is something we did not manage to witness. In the evening, on our way back to Miyanoura port, we stumbled upon the magical sight of hundreds of crabs crossing the road on their way to the beach – Mr Finn had a hard time trying to avoid crushing them!

We also had the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a live space rocket launch in the area. We got a warning about the launch on our Navtex boat messaging system, and of course then wanted to see the rocket, as we had never seen a live launch before. Apparently, it was a big thing for the Japanese too.

We also got a great send-off from Yakushima. The evening before we were due to leave, we returned late to our boat and slightly wondered why there were cars parked everywhere in the otherwise quiet port. We showered and were ready to go to bed (we had a 5 am wake-up the next day) when we suddenly started to hear the sound of fireworks. We went up into the cockpit and enjoyed a fantastic 20-minute fireworks show for which we had an absolute prime view. We later learnt that the fireworks marked the end of the Goshinzan festival, and the Japanese take their fireworks very seriously. The fireworks we saw in Okinawa a few weeks back paled in comparison with the Miaynoura display. When the fireworks ended and the cars started to leave the port, we felt very privileged to have been able to watch the show from our very own boat-home!

Depth sounder shows 2.2 metres of water, and we draw a bit over 2.1 metres. The next day low tide would have been 10 cm lower, so time to leave!
Sea snake next to our boat.
The Tiger Keelback snake, which gets its venom from the toads it preys on!
Yaku macaques seemed to all be either sleeping or picking lice off each other.
The island is the habitat of a variety of sika deer, the Yakushika.
Mountain vegetation.
Navtex warning of rocket launch.
Space rocket successfully launched!
Fireworks seen from our cockpit in Miyanoura port.



Quick update

We didn’t write an update from Naze on Amami O-Shima island as expected, because we ended up only staying there for the night. After a long and fairly tiring day spent sailing there, we arrived only to find that there was no good spot to dock the boat. The fishing harbour was absolutely full (apart from the bit of the harbour area that was too shallow for us) and the commercial port we could not dock in as it is in active commercial use. We had to retreat back from the designated small boat harbour into a separate basin inside the main breakwater. None of our maps showed the depth of the basin and there were no boats in it, so it was with great trepidation that we made our way inside, moving as slowly as possible. The depth was sufficient, but it was otherwise a difficult spot as the wall was not even and we had to keep adjusting our fenders and fender plank during the night as the tide changed. It was out of the question to leave the boat for any longer period. What little we could see of Naze didn’t particularly appeal to us (but it may be because we mainly saw the industrial area next to which we were docked), so we were not too sad to leave again early in the morning.

After two days and one night at sea, we then landed on Yakushima island. This island is absolutely stunning. Apart from the narrow coastal belt, the island is all mountains. It rains a lot here (the island was surrounded by clouds when we arrived even though there were clouds nowhere else) and the vegetation in the mountains is therefore lush and green. I could write a really long post the delights of Yakushima, but unfortunately it is late and we need to wake up at 5 am tomorrow morning to continue our journey onwards (partly because the port here is so shallow that we would hit the bottom tomorrow due to the extreme low tide), so I will need to leave it for next time.

Yakushima island
Miyanoura port town on Yakushima



Lovely Oshima Kaikyo area

The three typhoons passed without incident although Typhoon Noru, zigzagging across the Pacific in an unpredictable manner, did have us on our toes until the last moment when it finally took a more northerly turn. We are now on our journey onwards, hoping that there will be no more close calls with typhoons. We arrived in Koniya port on the southern side of the Amami Oshima island a few days ago, having sailed from Okinawa for two days and one night. The journey here was otherwise uneventful, but two heavy thunderstorms that we passed on the way did give us some chills. It is one thing to be in a marina surrounded by other boats (particularly as there are always boat with taller masts than ours) in a thunderstorm, but quite another to witness one at nighttime when alone in the middle of the ocean. Both times, we took evasive action since we could see the lightning miles away in the dark, managing to stay out of the way of the storm, but it cost us dearly in terms of nautical miles and time. Also, we were more tired than normal after an overnight sail when we got to Amami Oshima, since we didn’t really manage to sleep due to the roar of the thunder. Well, apart from Lil Sis who slept like a log and probably wouldn’t wake up even if we were actually struck by lightning.

Amami Oshima differs greatly from the other, rather flat islands that we have visited in Japan in that the terrain here is very hilly. The southern end of the island runs parallel to the northern end of another island, Kakeroma-jima, and the sheltered fjord-like water area in between called “Oshima Kaikyo” is a fantastic location for sailing. It is also an astonishingly beautiful and lush area. Koniya town has a very welcoming “visitor’s berth” in the harbour area for boats like ours despite the fact that it is a small, very non-touristy town. There is no fee to berth, and boats can get water from the park next to the concrete berth. A supermarket and some small local restaurants are within walking distance. The only thing missing from the setup is a place for rubbish disposal. We asked the town’s information centre where we can leave our rubbish, and they said there is no place to leave the rubbish and that we would have to take ours with us. Hopefully there is a place to dispose rubbish in the next port of Naze! This is not the first time that we have been surprised by the total lack of rubbish bins, let alone larger rubbish disposal areas, in Japan, but it is the first time that we truly have been unable to find any place to leave our rubbish bags.

We loved our previous location Okinawa for the convenience that it afforded in terms of shopping, boat repair and entertainment. We also met some lovely people in the marina with whom we will for sure stay in contact going forward. However, Naha and its surroundings were also very modern, and as a relatively sizeable place (not to mention its huge American army population), it didn’t have as much the feel of Japan as the other places we have visited. Well, in Koniya we are back to (what to us feels like) Japan proper. People greet us with a happy “konnichiwa” in the streets and children call out to us with a “hello” to try out their English. Here in Koniya, we have also once again experienced the astonishing friendliness of ordinary locals. Lil Sis has just finished reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, and when the girls saw a DVD rental shop in town, they asked us for a Harry Potter movie night on the boat. We told them that we would not be able to rent a DVD since we don’t have a local address, but they begged us to at least try, and so into the shop we went with absolutely no expectation of actually being able to rent the film. The shopkeeper soon realised that we did not speak Japanese, and that we did not have a rental membership card as required. We also managed to explain to him by way of the few Japanese words that we know, and some miming efforts, that we had arrived in town by boat. Instead of telling us the obvious fact that we did not fulfill even the smallest requirements of a rental customer, the shopkeeper slid the DVD into the box and handed it over to us without asking for any kind of documentation, and without even knowing our names. Not only that, but he completely refused to accept payment for the DVD! He just happily said “free service” and gave Mr Finn a high-five. So the girls got their movie night, and Mr Finn and I were smiling all evening too. In the morning, we returned the DVD to the shopkeeper together with some bags of sweets – and a high-five from Mr Finn – which we hope in turn made him smile.

Today, another unexpected thing happened. We woke up to someone knocking on the hull, and when Mr Finn stuck his head out of the companionway, he saw a cheerful Japanese gentleman who handed him a bag of fresh mangoes and then told Mr Finn that he would pick us up in an hour for some sightseeing. And so he did! He drove us up to a viewpoint from where we had a fantastic view over Koniya, and could also see the whole beautiful strait between Amami Oshima and Kakeroma-jima. He had brought along some ice creams in an ice box, and we stopped by a picnic area to enjoy the sweet snack. He drove us back, and refused our offers to refuel the car. He then left just as quickly as he had first appeared, but at least we had had the chance to give him some vendance or “muikku” fish that we had brought along from Finland as a tiny thank-you for the wonderful sightseeing tour and local information. Once again, we are overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals.

The police and Coast Guard have visited us here (this is now becoming routine), and we’ve told them we are off tomorrow, so as long as the weather forecast doesn’t change overnight, we had better be on our way. We’ll try to find time to give an update next from Naze, located on the other side of Amami Oshima and a day’s sail away.

Visitor’s berth in Koniya.
Panorama of the amazingly beautiful Oshima Kaikyo. Koniya town can be seen to the left.
“Free service” with a high-five to boot!
Our wonderful surprise host laying out ice creams for us.