Passage To Japan, Day 1

Miles Day 1: 128
Miles Total: 128
Miles To Japan: 1,320
Cabin Temp: 89 Water Temp: 83

Well this passage is going much better than we thought it would, so far at least. We’re sailing just off the wind, making 6 knots in the direction we want to go. Having not sailed to weather in the last four years, we were a bit unsure about how much of a bash this trip might be, but we’re being pleasantly surprised so far. The boat’s heeled a bit and we do bounce through some low swell and chop, but Rob’s work to lighten the bow and move weight aft was well worth the effort, as we’re not pounding at all. We were both pleased when we discovered it was infinitely sleepable in the cabin last night.

The motor mount repair in Palau went amazingly well. When we came back into the harbor our friends showed up in their dinks to see what was up. As soon as the guys found out it was something as serious as a broken motor mount they all wanted to come aboard and see it and help out. I was down below listening to them talk and thought it was funny that the men took such an interest in something I found so not interesting, until I heard Greg offer up a spare engine mount, and Brian offer up a spare water pump (ours was leaking onto the mount) and Allan offer up help as a former diesel engineer in New Zealand. It’s a typical cruiser story, though. In the end we had a new stud welded onto our motor mount, installed Brian’s water pump, and ordered a new one shipped to him from Seattle. The only challenge was convincing the Port Control and Immigration officers that we were back for repairs, even though it’s legal for us to stay in the country for a full year.

Now we’re heading north, glad to be getting out of the heat for a few years. The weather is lovely, with few clouds and so far a squall free passage. We have up our full jib and mainsail, which is something we also have done very little of in the last four years. So far, so good.


Passage To Japan, Day 2

Miles Day 1: 129
Miles Total: 257
Miles To Japan: 1,193
Cabin Temp: 89 Water Temp: 81

After yesterday’s report the wind started easing and eventually I hoisted the staysail to try and help move us along. At one point we were making less than 2 knots. But we’re always reluctant to motor at the beginning of a passage that has potential for lots of light air. We decided to wait it out for a while and kept chugging along, averaging 3 to 4 knots of boatspeed all day. At least it was still in the direction we want to travel and the seas remained flat.

About 9:00 I heard Rob go forward and drop the staysail. There was a wall of rain in front of us and he didn’t know how much wind it was packing, so he thought it best to be prepared for the worst. Fortunately as he passed through the front, which didn’t have big winds at all, we found the wind we were supposed to have on the other side. So we’ve been back to 10-12 knots of true wind just forward of our beam since then. I think we’ve got a little bit of current, and are now averaging between 6 and 6.5 knots of boatspeed. Much better.


Passage To Japan, Day 4

Miles Total: 479
Miles To Osaka, Japan: 1,110
Cabin Temp: 91 Water Temp: 83

The wind has been up and down for the last two days. We motored through the night last night with flat seas and calm winds. Luckily it’s been a squall-free passage so far, although there was rain on two sides of us for most of the morning that we managed to miss. Right now we’ve got about 9 knots of true wind just aft of our beam (giving us 8 knots apparent on the beam), so we’re sailing with full sails up, making about 4.5 knots once again.

We’ve changed our destination and are heading more northerly towards Osaka. An email yesterday advising us of a final lab result at home convinced us that one last change of plans was necessary. We’ll pop into Osaka and make a quick fuel stopover and watch for a weather window across the North Pacific, then head home as soon as possible. Cruising Japan, like many other places in the Pacific, will just have to wait for another day.

When we replotted our course yesterday and looked at the actual route from Japan to Seattle it surprised me. I’ve heard of the Great Circle routes, but hadn’t really thought about what it meant. A course from Osaka to Seattle that goes in what looks like a straight line on a chart is actually 250 miles longer than the route plotted by the software that goes north through the Aleutian Island chain and into the Gulf of Alaska above 55 degrees north! Being one of the most spatially challenged individuals on the planet, I had a very hard time conceptualizing this, so I had to find a ball to act as a globe to understand what it meant, and how the idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line wasn’t true in this case.

What will really matter in the end, though, is the weather. If the shorter course has stinkier weather, we’ll stay further south and sail a longer distance to have a more comfortable ride. The memories of those 20′ seas off the Washington coast just four years ago are still pretty vivid, and not an experience I really need to repeat on what will be our last ocean passage for a few years.


Oh The Frustration Of It All

Miles Total: 742
Miles To Osaka, Japan: 855
Cabin Temp: 89 Water Temp: 81

A big low pressure system off northern Japan has been messing with our winds for the last few days. It’s sucking in wind from our direction, causing what we call at home a “pineapple express”, which is drawing the hot humid air from the tropics our way. Just when we thought we’d get some relief from the heat and humidity, not so much. The winds have been painfully light, and nonexistent at night (so why do the winds in the ocean die at night when there’s no heating/cooling cycles of land masses to cause it?). They are forecast to clock all the way around from NE to SE to SW and back up through to NE again as the system moves east from Japan towards home.

When they filled in this morning they were out of the south, just dead behind us. The swell is too big to sail dead downwind, as even with the pole on the jib the rolling in light air causes all the sails to collapse and slam every few seconds. We set the sails for a northwesterly course, waiting for the wind to clock southwest so we could turn north towards Osaka. About an hour ago the winds had nearly died and we were rolling and flailing around. I looked behind us and a massive storm cell was headed our way. We doused the jib and motored southeast to let it pass by us. In the meantime, we used the opportunity to drop the mainsail and replace a pin that had come out of one of the cars that holds a batten near the top of the sail.

When the storm cell passed by and we turned back onto our course the wind was 4 knots out of the west! What the hell? Our nice strong southwesterly (which, BTW, was forecast up to 20 knots through tomorrow) just kind of got skipped in the process. So here we are motoring along, pretty sure we don’t have enough fuel to get there from here. Even with the free week’s moorage offered to foreign visiting yachts, the thought of spending $700 on fuel in Japan is so painful.

Now it’s 3 hours later and the winds have turned back to the south. Apparently they were still being affected by the big blob of a storm cell. And they’re still only 4-6 knots and we’re motoring again. The forecast says we should have 15 knot southwesterlies, not 6 knot southerlies. Arrgghh.

To compound the light winds, we’ve also got a foul current. Last night when the wind died and we turned on the motor I noticed we were making 7.5 knots! We know there is a 1-3 knot current that runs to the north in the summer past Japan. We were surprised that we had picked it up this far south last night but were excited to be in it so early. Not so. This morning when we were sailing northwest we were only making 3.3 knots against the current that had by then turned against us, giving us probably 2.5 knots of VMG (velocity made good). I say probably 2.5 because I didn’t even want to look at the GPS and confirm what it really was.


Toto We’re Not In The Tropics Anymore

Miles Total: 1,066
Miles To Osaka, Japan: 561
Cabin Temp: 81 Water Temp: 75

Well we finally did get the southwesterly winds we were hoping for, giving us a nice beam reach directly towards Osaka. For a little while. Then the winds turned directly ahead of us, and died again. I think we’ve had to motor nearly every night this passage, and fuel is becoming an issue. Especially when we did the math yesterday and discovered that we’ll need to motor another 75 miles to get out of the ocean, up into Osaka harbor to check in, and back to our marina. That’s going to be exceptionally stressful, given that part of that travel will be in the dark in a very very busy shipping port. Thanks to Eric & Tony at home who are helping us via email to sort out the questions about where in Osaka to check in.

We woke up this morning and were at 24 degrees north, meaning we’ve left the tropics behind us. Yesterday afternoon and all night we were sailing in a fog, which was something we haven’t done in a very long time. The water temp has begun to drop rapidly, and we both wore light rain gear to keep warm on watch last night. We’ve even pulled out a sheet to sleep under, the first of many blankets to come.

When the wind didn’t fill in this morning I decided it was time to pull another forecast and see why the trades hadn’t filled back in. The low pressure system north of us should be far enough away to stop affecting the normal tradewind patterns. Imagine my surprise when our Buoyweather passage forecast said that in 2 days we would have 42 knots of wind! Holy crap, where did that come from? I immediately requested a bunch of grib files (graphical representations of weather forecasts that display on a map on the pc) and sure enough, we’re about to get hammered.

There’s a tight, very fast moving low pressure system coming directly at us off the Chinese mainland. The forecast convinced us that we didn’t want to slow down, though, because behind the low all the bad weather is south, and it gets better quicker further north. Continuing on, however, means we’ll be right in the middle of the system as it passes by either tomorrow or Sunday. But this also keeps us on the safe side of the storm, which is the north side (counterclockwise rotation, storm moving west to east). So this morning we’re having a busy day preparing for the worst of it. We’ve learned that when the forecast says 42 you need to be prepared for 52. But we’re lucky that we got the forecast today in time to get ready.

The list of things to do: 1- Find the sheet for the storm trysail – it had gotten separated from the sail last time we had it out to dry (done already); 2- Empty the fuel out of the jugs on deck into the main diesel tanks that are now empty from motoring every night; 3- Clean up the empty fuel jugs and stow them below; 4- Cook up some food; 5- Keep an eye on the weather and start figuring out which way it’s moving and how strong it’s getting; 6- Check the ditch kit items and get the cat carrier out; 7- Take down our new American flag; 8- Charge up the spotlight and batteries for headlamps; 9- Pull the para-anchor out from under v-berth (definitely shouldn’t need it, but if we don’t pull it out we for sure will).

This is the worst forecast we’ve had in our four years of travel, so I’m a bit nervous. Of course the boat can handle the rough weather, and so can we. When the winds hit 35 we’ll heave to and wait out the rest of it. But we’re in an area of horrible radio propagation, so we may not be able to check in to the PacSea net. I’ll email updates as soon as it’s over and we’re through the worst of it.


Welcome To The North Pacific Ocean

Miles Total: 1,290
Miles To Osaka, Japan: 349
Cabin Temp: 81 Water Temp: 74

When we left the tropics behind we also left the Philippine Sea and returned to the North Pacific Ocean. And true to form, it’s given us quite a welcome back for us the last 18 hours or so. As we had planned, we motored hard in flat windless seas to try and get as far north as possible before the low came by. Our last forecast that we requested late Friday night confirmed that our travel north would pay off, and the highest forecast wind speed had decreased to 32 knots for our intended location. In addition, a weather fax we downloaded showed two high pressure systems above the low, giving us confidence it shouldn’t turn north.

The winds were a bit late reaching us, but on my 11:00 watch last night they started to fill in. I reefed the jib twice before I came down at 2:00, each time slowing the boat back down to under 5.5 knots. The winds continued to build during Rob’s late night watch, and by the time I got up at 5:00 he had furled the jib completely. The wind was gusting well over 30 knots, and coming from precisely the direction we wanted to travel. Time to heave to and park the boat. If we had been traveling with the wind we could have continued to sail, likely through the worst of this low.

With a double reefed main only, we trimmed the sail to get the maximum power out of it, then turned the helm into the wind and lashed the wheel down. This gave us a 50-60 degree angle into the wind and waves and nearly stopped our forward momentum. We began to slide westward downwind, which was ok because we knew this would happen so we had been making as much ground east of our course as possible all night long.

In heavier conditions we would have needed to add more mainsail and back wind a small foresail to stop our forward progress (or deploy our parachute anchor off the bow), but the winds were only gusting to 38 and the seas were not breaking on us. By noon the low had passed, the barometer was starting to rise again and the winds were dropping quickly. Right now it’s 2:00 and we’re just waiting for the seas to calm a bit before we roll the jib back out. We’re theoretically only 3 days out of Japan, but it’s an upwind slog now, so who knows how long it’ll take.


Oh Just Make It Stop

Miles Total: 1,507
Miles To Osaka, Japan: 155
Cabin Temp: 75 Water Temp: 69

I was wrong in the last posting about being back in the North Pacific. Closer inspection of the charts shows that we’re actually in the East China Sea. Note to self: NEVER go sailing in the East China Sea again.

We rolled out the jib and sailed away from our parking spot Sunday afternoon and had a decent 36 hours or so of sailing. It was hard to weather, but we were making good time mostly towards Osaka. I checked in yesterday on one of the local ham nets and found someone to notify the authorities that we would arrive on the 3rd. For anyone reading who is getting ready to go cruising and has not taken the time to get your ham license, now is a good time. These radio nets, and ham nets in particular, are amazingly useful.

Last night about 4:00 the wind started building again and Rob rolled in the jib and hoisted the staysail. By 7:00 this morning I decided we had to take the staysail down because it was constantly gusting well over 30 knots, we were making 7+ knots, and were headed into some even more horrible looking weather. With just our reefed main up since then we’ve been making 3-4 knots. The waves are enormous and just forward of our beam, though, and we are taking a pounding. Right after I got out of the shower (to rinse of the dousing I took getting the sail down), we took a wave that in an instant soaked the entire galley with saltwater. There was about 3″ of standing water on the galley floor when it stopped pouring in.

We’re still hoping for a Thursday arrival into Osaka, but have no idea what’s causing this wind and when it’s going to stop. My sister is working hard to find Rob a mileage ticket to Seattle so he can be there to help out after his dad’s first chemo session on Monday (Thanks Leslie), so we really need to finish up this passage. Last week I was lamenting about how slow our boat is and today I’m thankful it’s so tough; I’m sure this boat has never taken a pounding like this before and I hope it never has to again.


End of week two

Sailing upwind, fishing, and low pressure systems

All cruisers know there is an old adage “Gentlemen do not sail to weather” that we all like to repeat when someone is planning to go somewhere upwind. We also know quite a few cruisers who have lamented their boats do not sail to weather very well, so all their destinations are downwind. Definitely limits ones options when deciding where to go.

We expected some upwind work on this passage, just not as much as we have had. The first two days were fine, beating into light winds. 10 knots does not create much wave action so we actually travel faster sailing into 10 knots than away from it, as long as the seas are commensurate with the wind. The light winds during the middle part of the passage were frustrating. Nothing is worse than hours of sailing at 2 knots. We starting looking forward to seeing some wind in a forecasted low that was traveling east ahead of us.

We caught one fish, a mackerel which fed us for two days and Maya for a week. Unfortunately, trolling while sailing at 2 knots isn’t productive, so we didn’t fish for most of the passage. We so wanted one last Mahi before leaving warm water…

With two days warning of inclement weather we probably over analyzed the coming low. Since we were out of the tropics and there were two highs above the approaching low to keep it from heading north, we decided to make all possible speed north so we we would be on the north side of it. Because the winds were still in the 4-6 knot range making all possible speed required running our engine, burning precious diesel.

It worked, when the winds came they were just south of east, telling us we were in the right place north of the low. We sailed with the increasing winds until it turned northeast. At this point we were 347 miles south of Osaka and 20 miles east of our route, with about 200 miles of sea room to the west before we’d smack into the southern islands of Japan. We ‘hove to’, stopping most boat movement, in order to preserve both the sea room to the west and our progress to the north. We were ‘stopped’ for 12 hours and lost 2 miles south and 17 miles west. Not bad. Once we started sailing again the seas and wind forced us another 10 miles west before they rotated around and allowed us to sail north again. 300 miles to go, 64 gallons (out of 140) of diesel left on board.

Who would have thought we would hit more stormy weather a day or so later? The winds built into the high 20’s with gust over 30. We are on the western edge of our weather charts and wouldn’t necessarily see a new low approaching. The winds were easterly, telling us there must be another low south of us. Given the wind strength it felt bigger than the one we had already weathered. Teresa found a surface analysis weather fax to receive via the SSB and sure enough, there was a giant low below us. Because the winds were more easterly we were able to continue sailing north, albeit slowly with only a reefed main. We later added the engine and increased our speed to 5 knots, believing there was lighter winds further north.

The winds above the low were more variable than the first, giving multiple wave trains from a couple of different directions. When two waves cross each other their height is the height of both waves added together. We were taking salt water spray as high as the wind generator and the occasional wave crashing into the boat sounded like a Buick smashing into us. At one point I was sitting in the companionway watching the waves and looked up in time to see water 10 feet above the side of the boat, and we weren’t rolling with it. It was the first time we’ve taken a wave through the dodger and into the companionway. The dishes in the cabinets behind the stove had sea water in them!

We managed to get far enough north to lose the effects of this second low and managed a couple days of pretty decent sailing. We’re now approaching Osaka Bay as the wind goes lighter and lighter. Good news is we have enough diesel to motor the rest of the way if necessary. Bad news is the ship traffic we are seeing over a hundred miles away seems busier than any we’ve seen before. Never been so happy to have AIS.

Today on Yohelah we’re preparing for landfall in Japan.