I am happy to announce that we have arrived and are “sitting pretty” in our berth in Hokkaido, Japan marking one of the final legs of the Great Siberian Sushi Run. It was quite a long passage from Kamchatka, Russia but not the longest we have ever made, nor with the fewest people. Two years ago, Carol and I went 6 days from La Paz, Mexico to Ensenada, Mexico with just the two of us. The difference here is that we were traveling in rugged country. Although there were the Kuril Islands about 20 miles to our starboard side, there was absolutely NO PLACE to duck into if you got into trouble (unlike Mexico). All of us (Seabird, Grey Pearl and Sans Souci) agonized over the weather reports, using as many sources as we could find to gain information for the best passage. Over a 5 day window, even with the best forecasting, you would almost be guaranteed to have something other than what was forecasted. For us, we were CHARMED!! The weather could not have been much better. We either had flat calm or, at times, a bit of swell, all from the stern or stern quarter, which is good on our boats. I will say, that if I had built this boat new, that I would have put 12 square foot stabilizer fins on the boat instead of the 9’s that are on it. It is a heavy boat and it takes a lot of “fin” to keep it level in a following sea.
This is the first passage that boredom has set in. It seems like the 5 days went by very slowly and the biggest excitement was chasing the birds from the bow who, also, obvious to me, were equally bored. I now wish that I had kept my sling shot from when I was a kid. I could have lobbed a few soft shots toward them as they are easily spooked. As it turned out, a few toots from the horn kept them off during the day including what seagulls generally leave behind (get the picture??).
The last day of cruising before arrival created a tiny bit of drama, all of which was while I was off watch and sleeping. When we turned the corner to the last leg of the trip to enter Hokkaido, we cut the corner kind of sharp (about 8 miles off shore) and ran into a pile of crab pots. Fortunately, Sans Souci, in the lead, spotted them on the radar, and without knowing exactly what they were, maneuvered out to sea. Ken was not sure what he was looking at, but used his best judgement as they did appear as hard targets. As the sun rose, you could see them again, as both radar targets and visual ones. I am glad that we missed those guys!
Carol was looking off into the distance and asked me what that was next to Sans Souci, about a mile ahead. We looked through the binoculars and spotted a guy on a jet ski. Ken called and announced that his guess is that was our escort into the harbor! And it was!!!! We pulled into the harbor to find no less than 15 people anxiously awaiting us on the dock!
We tied up and had a flurry of activity for the next two hours with government agencies and our own hired agents. The paperwork was extensive but Carol had done the majority of it in advance. It was interesting in the differences between Russia and Japan. The Russians seemed almost casual about the paperwork and the Japanese were VERY formal about the details and wanted to make sure everything was correct. After several hours, all 14 of us climbed into a van and were transported to immigration, where we were photographed and fingerprinted. We really all wanted to just relax……….then came the welcoming committee with the flowers and everything! We really felt welcome here. Very few spoke English, but it was obvious that they were excited we were here. The electric power here is 50 cycle european style, which all three boats are equipped to handle in one way or another. We (and Grey Pearl) simply use the 50 cycle power to run our water heater, cooling system and a battery charger, which charges our batteries continuously while we run our 110 volt off of our inverters. It works reasonably well and we did the same while in Russia. Interestingly enough, southern Japan uses US style 60 cycle power.
Everything in Japan seems so formal. There are lots of rules and EVERYONE seems to follow them. For instance, I wanted a cell phone and a USB 4G internet card. It took nearly 3 hours to buy them and even at that, I was refused an internet card because only Japanese are allowed to buy them for some reason. Fortunately for us, we have several options on that, the best being “Kens Internet Cafe” which we used when close enough to log in wirelessly.
Boating in Japan seems quite a bit different than in the US. I think that the Japanese spend more time working and do not have enough time on their hands to do much pleasure boating. I cannot think of another reason why there are so few larger boats. The marina we are at is small and the average size of the boats here is less than 30 feet. There are larger ones (see below) and as you can see, they are different looking than what you would see in the US.
Last night we went out for dinner with Ken and Roberta at a Chinese restaurant in a Hotel. Why a Chinese restaurant when we were in Japan? To be honest, we were all extremely tired and went to the first restaurant that looked good. One interesting note about the restaurant. I dont know if it is common in Japan, but there is a button on the table (a big one, like the Staples Easy Button) that you push when you would like the server to stop by. We ran out of water and wine, did not see her, so Ken, feeling wild and wooly, pushed it to see what would happen. The waitress came CHARGING down the hallway to our table like it was an emergency! I felt bad telling her that we just needed water and wine. Anyhow, after dinner we wanted the check. Once again, the waitress was nowhere to be seen. We all looked at each other and then shrugged our shoulders. Okay lets push the button again and see what happens. Beep. Once again, the waitress came charging down the hall to our table, with a big smile on her face. She went trotting back and arrived shortly after with our check. We had just gone to the bank to exchange dollars for Yen. Carol found it very amusing that Ken and I were pulling these long skinny envelopes out of our pockets to pay the bill. Some people are easily amused.
After a good nights sleep and adjusting to the 4 hour time difference, most of the GSSR group left for a visit to Sapporo, which is about an hour train ride from here. Carol and I may do it on Friday but we need to get a few things done on the boat first. We have some repairs to do, oil changes, cleaning, etc. Our dryer stopped working also so we need to get that repaired.
We plan on staying here until Monday when we leave for Yokohama, just outside of Tokyo. That will be a very different experience for us and we are looking forward to it.
Until then….it is REALLY nice being at a dock again!!