Yamagawa, Kyushu, Japan
April 26, 2019
We arrived in Yamagawa on April 20th, we've had a great week recovering from our passage from Chichijima. This is a sleepy fishing village that at times feels nearly deserted. We have an excellent spot on a floating pontoon across the street from a market selling local foods with a small cafe. Birds of prey, they look like massive brown Eagles, maybe Hawks? Screech and cry while fishing around us. I think they might be Greater Spotted Eagles but I need to find an expert. There is a train that runs to the big city of Kagoshima that we have taken for sightseeing to the town of Ibusuki a few minutes north of here, we also rode south a few miles to Daimon where we walked to a restaurant famous for their soba noodles.
Small towns that line the coast and are removed from the bustle of urban Japan are what we have been looking forward to visiting by boat. We have talked about just this sort of little village and we are so happy to be wandering around the old houses with tidy vegetable gardens along narrow, winding streets. People are friendly and welcoming, there are a couple little markets for essentials, though a visit to the bakery in Ibusuki yesterday was pretty nice. The morning after our arrival at six o’clock a gentle piano tune played on the loudspeakers to wake up the village and at six each evening there is a little tune that warbles out over the valley to let everyone know the day is winding down. It is an odd thing to experience coming from the states, it’s at once a kind of nurturing gesture but also feels a bit invasive. There are messages broadcast throughout the day, as in Chichijima, as well. As a tourist it is all sort of exotic and charming but I don’t know about something like in Port Townsend.
Leaving Chichijima we had several days of decent weather, mostly on a broad reach, in the high teens. It was pretty much a classic passage for us until we were 150 miles or so out off the coast of Kyushu and were passed by a gale. We spent around six hours with winds in the thirties and low forties with gusts into the fifties. I saw 52 knots and Douglas 56. At times it was loud and a bit bumpy but Tumbleweed felt really solid and we were sailing downwind and the system was moving so quickly it had not had time to build up large waves. I was happy when the winds diminished a bit after noon. After that system passed the winds dropped to a few knots and the seas calmed but for a swell that rolled us heavily.
Now closing in on Kyushu we decided to motor sail the last section and that helped to stabilize us a bit. We noticed we had some vibration in the drive train during the night and it started to worsen. After dealing with vibration woes in Alaska and all the weeks and months of drama around that we killed the engine and drifted until sunrise. With the sun up I used the GoPro on the end of a boat hook to take a look at the prop. We had a giant ball of something wrapped around it so I went overboard and hacked away a decent mass of kelp wrapped around a couple feet of old netting that was wrapped tight around the shaft, just forward of our line cutter.
Back in action we motor sailed across calm seas that undulated with swell and were covered with mats of seaweed. Where currents crossed the seaweed would form long lines stretching to the horizon, elsewhere seaweed formed in large clumps, attracting discarded rope,netting, lures, a boot, plastic debris, etc. In some areas one of us would take the bow and navigate us through like when we were making our way around coral heads. There was an unbelievable amount of kelp and we would have to navigate around it all the way to Yamagawa. We hit another patch the following night and were again forced to drift for a few hours until the sun rose and we repeated the GoPro inspection, "aha! Seaweed!" Overboard with the knife process. Somewhere along the way Douglas bought this crazy serrated hook/saw/knife that attaches to a pole and is made for clearing the prop of line. It was perfect, I was able to hang onto a strap off the toerail and hook the clumps of seaweed and saw through them. The couple times I had to go under the hull the swell was lifting and dropping Tumbleweed down on me and pushing me under, no big deal in light swell but not a place to hang out in bad weather. I was in a full wetsuit with hood, gloves, etc, And the water was not cold, there were jelly fish in the water but no sharks sighted.
Our original plan had been to go to Kagoshima but the heavy outflow from the Osumi Kaikyo was running at 2-3 knots against us and we were only able to make Yamagawa just as the sun set. Many many thanks to the cruisers that have come before us - Bosun Bird especially, as well as Let's Go, who have so generously written extensive notes including GPS coordinates for places to moor in Japan. We had planned on several potential spots and had coordinates plugged in, google earth photos uploaded into Open CPN and their notes at hand, it made our arrival very straightforward. I was updating Kagoshima customs and coast guard along the way and in the morning we had several Yamagawa coast guard men arrive to check us in. On the following Monday the customs team from Kagoshima arrived with the coast guard from Ibusuki. Many forms but everyone is so polite and it all goes so smoothly that there is no stress and it doesn't feel like a hassle, more part of the adventure of being in Japan.
Our plan is to be here until Sunday then sail for Makurazaki and begin making our way toward Nagasaki. There is a list of ports to visit along the way, each a day sail apart, 35 - 30 miles. It has been so long since we have day sailed, we are both looking forward to that. Stopping after a day on the water and being able to relax is a distant memory. So, on to Nagasaki where we hope to spend a few days, then out to the Gotto Rhetto and then to work our way into the Setto Naikai, the inland sea.
Notes for Cruisers:
We used notes from Bosun Bird and Chamade.
Water: Close to the green floating pier in the ferry terminal area there is a picnic table covered by a pavilion, there is a water fountain with a spigot that we used.
Provisions - there is a market across the street from the dock that has a small selection of fresh produce and a wide array of local delicacies. There is a small grocery store in town. Ibusuki has large grocery stores, and is a few minutes by train or bus.
In General - an easy to enter, straightforward harbor. The green pier was very convenient. A military vessel tied up on the other side of the pier one night and told us we were in their spot but didn’t ask us to move. They left the next day. Customs drove out to visit us from Kagoshima and we were visited by both the Ibusuki and Yamagawa coast guard. All friendly and polite. Lots of forms. This seems like a good alternative to going into Kagoshima. There is a train that runs regularly to Kagoshima and there is also a bus.
Propane - we tried to fill our near empty tanks with no luck.
Diesel - There are two fuel stations walking distance to the dock but we didn’t use either, we plan to top off fuel in Nagasaki.
Trash/recycling - There is a metal framework with a green net cover across the street and a little to the left of the pier. Trash can be left there on two mornings of the week. We talked with the manager of the market, he gave us a trash bag. Recycling can also be left on certain mornings, best to check with a local on which days and what can be left.
Hardware/Marine supplies - there is a large hardware store in Ibusuki. It is a much bigger town that Yamagawa and even has a section of town with “big box” stores.
Below are our Farkwar entries from our passage from Chichijima.
April 14, 2019
Yesterday morning we had a beautiful departure from Chichijima. We left the dock with 8 knots of sheltered wind that turned to winds in the low 20's once we left the shelter of the harbor. We had brisk sailing with good weather that turned cool forcing us into our foul weather gear through the night. Chichijima was one of the more lovely islands we've visited in the Pacific and we were sad to depart. We met wonderful people and enjoyed great hospitality during our visit. This morning we are sailing in organized seas with a gentle one meter swell, making good time under Genoa, stays'l and double reefed main. Our plan is to head westerly to the Okinawa islands and then turn north to take advantage of weather and the Kuro Shio current. At the moment we are heading more NW than projected but winds are veering throughout the day and at some point we'll jibe. Brilliant bioluminescence last night and many sea birds, including a couple albatross. Feels good to be back at sea. All is well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/14/2019 02:00 (utc) our position was 27º34.326'N - 140º16.170'E
April 15, 2019
Our second day on passage to Kagoshima has given us a wide range of weather and sea. A couple hours ago we passed through the line between two weather systems, the winds dropped, it rained lightly, we were surrounded by walls of grey. We passed quickly to the system coming from the north. In moments Tumbleweed did a 180 degree turn and sauntered back the way we had come from, No banging of sails or much to indicate we had turned around completely except we were keeping an eye on wind direction and our heading. The winds have built back up and we were just hitting 8 knots. We've decided to fall off a little and now the sailing is much more comfortable. We have seen a couple cargo ships and a large fishing vessel but otherwise not much going on out here. Trying to get used to the cold weather, last night on watch I wore boots, long underwear, a fleece jacket, two wool shirts and foul weather gear. I am missing the good ol' days of sailing in sandals in a tee shirt and shorts. Currently heading 270, due west, winds in the low 20's, making 6 knots. All is well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/15/2019 03:48 (utc) our position was 28º06.364'N - 137º49.341'E
April 16, 2019
A beautiful morning of sailing after a night lit up by a half moon. Today the sun is out and we are drying out and getting warm. Seas are much settled compared to yesterday. We are in our passage groove with our routines. We are on beam reach with winds out of the north, making our way due west. A low is forecast for tonight, we are to pass through the edge of the system. Expecting stronger winds and rain. Will enjoy the perfect weather while we can. All is well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/15/2019 23:22 (utc) our position was 28º06.710'N - 136º00.171'E
April 17, 2019
Wild day of sailing, mostly passing through a gale strength system with winds in the high thirties gusting into forties, highest guest was 52 knots. The system is moving fast though and we spent most of the morning sailing through then for several hours we dropped back into the low 20 knot range, but the winds have built back up and we are seeing high twenties gusting into 30s. Forecast is for diminishing winds. The high winds also brought rain so it's been a grey, rainy, blustery day. Sun has just popped out through the clouds and we are hoping that's a sign of moderation ahead. All's well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/17/2019 05:40 (utc) our position was 29º22.461'N - 133º36.465'E
April 19, 2019
Closing in on Kyushu. This morning we had a gorgeous sunrise with dolphins swimming all around us, calm seas, very light winds. All lovely and comfortable but wishing for more winds at the moment, we passed over the Kuroshio this morning, the infamous heavy current that sweeps up from Okinawa and runs up the east coast of Japan. We are nearing the Osumi Kaikyo, the passage that we need to transit to get to Kagoshima. There is heavy traffic in this area, at the moment there are 17 vessels on AIS. Yesterday we had light winds and were motor sailing until we hit patch after patch of floating seaweed that jammed up our propeller. We have been able to mostly clear the prop with heavy forward and reverse of the engine but after doing that several times we are going to try drifting and sailing as we can until we are out of the seaweed area. Hoping to reach Kagoshima late tomorrow afternoon if the winds pick up tonight. We plan on hoisting our light air Genoa later today to see if we can make better progress. All's well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/18/2019 11:40 (utc) our position was 30º45.454'N - 131º39.024'E
April 21, 2019
Yesterday as the sun dipped behind the hills of Yamagawa we tied up to a green industrial floating dock, killed the engine and enjoyed the quiet murmur of a small Japanese town. It was wonderful to be at rest. The last three days of this passage were stretched out by sailing through a gale into light airs, twice fouling our prop requiring dives overboard to hack out clumps of seaweed and old fish net, and working against the formidable out flowing current of the Osumi Kaikyo. The seas around Kyushu are covered with floating mats of a devilish seaweed that absorbs all sorts of sea trash and wraps the propeller shaft up into massive balls debris. With light airs below our ability to sail and our prop fouled two nights in a row we were forced to wait for sunrise as the heavy out flowing current had us drifting away from our goal while the chartplotter lit up with AIS targets. At night we watched a steady stream of tankers, cargo ships and fishing vessels streaming in and out of Kagoshima, at times over 20 vessels with many within a few miles of where we were drifting. Yesterday I dove the prop as the sun rose, we were greeted by another massive pod of dolphins and motor sailed for Yamagawa. The current was strong throughout the day and we kept watch for ships and kelp, keeping free of both. It felt incredibly good to be at rest last night and get deep sleep. The crew of Tumbleweed is looking forward to a couple months of day sailing in Japan. All's well on Tumbleweed.
At 04/20/2019 07:20 (utc) our position was 31º12.193'N - 130º38.028'E