April 2010 – Ashiya, Japan

Weather has been downright crappy since we got back to Japan.  I don’t know why, but we were expecting a bit of balmy weather and sunny skies.  People here tell us that “normally”, March and April are fairly nice months with moderate temperatures and sunny skies.  We have had ANYTHING but that until this weekend.  We actually had snow and hail one day.   All that changed this weekend for the annual “Cherry Blossom Festival”.  The Cherry Blossom Festival is really a big deal here in Ashiya as well as the rest of Japan. Of course, the blossoms themselves are the main attraction, but people of all ages come out to stake their spots along the “blossom trails” as early as 4am! By mid afternoon you see thousands of people with their blankets having picnics, Japanese style, of course, musical groups and rows of food kiosks that sell everything from the stuff you love………. to the other stuff (yech!).

The real reason we returned to Japan so early was to oversee the installation of our transmission for the main engine, which had been our winter long project that we had been nudging along by phone and email since December.  We had been dealing with two sources:  Mill Log Marine in Kent, Washington and Mizuno Marine in Osaka, Japan.  Mill Log had been rebuilding our PTO (Power Take Off) which drives the hydraulics from our transmission and Mizuno had been overhauling the transmission itself.  In early January, we got word from Mill Log that our PTO overhaul was complete and they had shipped it to Jeff over at Pacific Yacht Management in Seattle, who was getting together a container full of stuff for all three boats which was to be shipped by freighter in January (a whole ‘nother story, filled with expense).

We arrived here on March 2nd and after contacting Mizuno, we scheduled our transmission to be installed the following Monday.  I actually enjoyed the process of watching the teamwork to install the transmission.  I have put the photos in sequence to give you a sense of the project, but it is one of those adventures that “you had to be there”.  I was truly AMAZED at how fast they got the transmission into the boat.  They had the scaffolds built outside and inside the boat and the transmission was in place in about 3 hours.

I have come to admire the efficiency in which the Japanese mechanics operate.  They go right to work and there is not a lot of wasted motion.  Their politeness and desire to please the customer are typical Japanese.

The PTO arrived just in time to install the hydraulics on to the transmission.  I cannot let this moment pass without thanking Mill Log Marine for such a job well done.  They billed me very fairly for the work that they did and billed me nothing for all of the help they gave me over the phone and by email (hours of it!) to deal with the transmission that was being fixed in Japan. Without them, I could not have gotten the job done.

Everything seems to be operating well with the exception the exhaust temperature, which is still too high. It is running about 200 degrees over what the manufacturer says it should run.  Right now we are checking the injectors to see if they are calibrated properly. The plot thickens on those too.  I just found out that there are two separate sets of specifications for the injectors on my engine.  I am in the process of finding out which one is correct. That said, on the high temp of the exhaust issue,  99.9% of boat owners do not even have exhaust temperature gauges!!  Maybe I should just unplug it and the problem will go away!

We had the pleasure of hosting our Seattle based maintenance crew a few weeks ago.  Jeff, the owner of Pacific Yacht Management of Seattle and his crew, Nick and Doug, can fix just about anything on a boat.  I had a list of about 10 items needing repair, Braun had a few items and Ken had the lion’s share of stuff which needed to be attended to. We installed a new Perko 19” spotlight (see the photo below), a new battery charger, installed some new digital gages and power monitors, and diagnosed a nagging freezer problem (the condenser fan was operating backwards!) and quite a few other items that we had planned on.  Jeff’s guys are great to have around and I was very impressed with their ability to solve problems quickly and move on to the next project.  I highly recommend them to anyone in the Seattle area needing work done.  It was not cheap to fly them over to here so you can bet that I appreciated the overall value they provided. Below is a picture of the crew getting ready to munch on one of our Japanese favorites…Okonomiyaki, prepared by chefs Yashushi and his wife, Taiko at their restaurant.

SMOKE in the ER

In the middle of one of the repairs, I smelled a familiar smoky smell.  As soon as I smelled it, I knew what it was:  the stop solenoid on the main engine.  We had had the problem while traveling through the Aleutians last year, and I thought we had fixed it but evidently not correctly enough.  The company that had done some work on my dashboard in the pilothouse had reconfigured the breakers so that the Fireboy system no longer operated from the start battery but from the house battery.  Anytime you shut the 12v power on the boat, it shut down the Fireboy system and actuated the stop solenoid on the engine and kept it on until it fried.  Anyway, we fixed the problem for good this time, but I will ALWAYS keep a spare on hand……..

On the lighter side of things, Carol’s birthday crept up on me after we arrived here.  I wanted to do something special and I operate well under pressure so I waited until the last minute to do my thing.  I commandeered my friend Paul and his lovely wife, Emiko to help plan a surprise dinner for Carol. Check out the photo of the birthday cake with “Happy Birthday” written in Japanese.  I invited everyone that I knew here, which consisted of Jeff and his crew, Paul and Emiko and Olivier and his wife Yuri. Emiko arranged for a private room at a local “Italian” restaurant, Bellini, and away we went. Carol was very surprised and was thrilled to have all of our local friends together for a dinner, and the food was just spectacular.  It is Italian, but with a Japanese flair. To top off the evening, the Maitre D sang a song in English to Carol.  His voice was smooth and soothing and probably a little TOO smoothing for Jeff as he fell asleep at the table. Too bad I couldn’t add the snoring sound to the photo!

Sumo Wrestling

A whole group of us went one night to Sumo wrestling.  I really didn’t know what to expect other than what I have seen in small video clips of two huge guys banging into each other.  I always thought that they were just fat, but was I ever wrong!  I met a friend from New Zealand who knew a lot about these guys.  They are bred from their teens to be Sumo Wrestlers and it is a centuries old sport which remains basically unchanged.  Their training is very intense and they are solid muscle, covered by a layer of fat, which makes them look the way they do.  There is a definite pecking order amongst them based on the individual records and skill level.  Their diets consist of HUGE portions of a Japanese dish called Chanko-nabe. It is sort of a stew made up of chicken, Tofu and fish along with lots of vegetables- to the tune of 20,000 calories per day!! The young, inexperienced guys take care of the top guys.  They have to help groom them, wait on them hand and foot, and for all their effort; they get the scraps of food that are left.

You would think that with all that high calorie food and by their appearance that they are lumbering oafs.  That could not be further from the truth.
They are extremely fast; hit each other with the intensity of a freight train and you can hear the impact of the collision way back in the nosebleed section that we were in.

To give credit to their more romantic side, my understanding is that these guys are very famous, make a ton of money , are highly regarded in Japan and get ALL the best women.  I was told about one guy who weighed 500 lbs and married a 90 lb model!………Yeah, I asked the same question and I did get a VERY interesting and candid answer based on fact but I cannot print it here……..  So anyway……….whew……..

Also on the romantic side, I don’t know if I mentioned it before, the Seabird is docked directly in front of a wedding chapel that hosts between 4 and 10 weddings per day.  It looks like a cross between a HUGE mansion and a church and they churn out brides like you wouldn’t believe.  The highlight of the wedding is when the marina sport fishing boat pulls up in back of our boat and the bride and groom walk up a portable staircase on to the bow of the boat for a short ride from our end of the marina to the other end.

The plan is for the three ….oops, now four boats (and maybe more) to leave Ashiya at the end of April.  We are thrilled to have the fourth boat, Starr, a 75 foot Northern Marine, with our good friends Don and Sharry on board, to cruise with the GSSR group through the Inland Sea.  Starr arrived a week ago after taking the southern route from Seattle to Hawaii to Japan.

 Our plan is to stop in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Okinawa and Taiwan before arriving in Hong Kong in late July.

Speaking of Taiwan, Ta Shing, the Taiwanese company that manufactures many of the boats for Nordhavn, including all of the GSSR fleet, sent two guys from the factory to visit us for a few days.  We are considering having them do some improvements on our boats while we are there and they were kind enough to send Al and Mr. Tong up to Japan to see us!  It was great having them here and we are looking forward to visiting their factory in Taiwan as well as getting some expert work done while we are there.

Finally, it is always nice to see friends from the US.  Our friends Rick and Sandy stopped here for a few days on their way to Taiwan and Hong Kong.  It was great to see them and we introduced them to the finest Sushi in Ashiya. They arrived just in time to see the Cherry Blossoms in bloom! While in Hong Kong, their flight got delayed on their trip to Germany from there because of the Icelandic volcano.  They ended up coming back to Tokyo to spend a few more days before flying back to the US the other way. They love Japan as much as we do and Rick got a chance to practice his patented “secret” chop stick trick again for the sushi chefs!

Sorry for the loooong blog, but I tend to get distracted and forget to post them in a timely fashion. Our next update should be from Hiroshima.

Oh, one more thing… some people have asked to make the photos in the blog larger.  All  you have to do is click on the photo and it enlarges.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Always good the hear from you ! So happy all is going as planned. I did have the opportunity to go to Alaska last Aug. The 1st week Sandy and I did the land thing by Train and the 2nd week did the cruse. The weather was great. Sandy and I saw Mt.McKinley in its full glory also saw meny animals. It was a religious experience. Thanks for the inspiration. Hope you have a great trip !!! Your friend always

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