June 9, 2019
Onomichi is an industrial city that stretches out along the banks of a narrow channel of water, the shores densely packed mostly with the industrial works of shipbuilding. Massive cranes, gantries, warehouses, ships in various states of construction or repair. Abandoned shipyards next to active sites. Tugs with barges loaded with massive steel sections of hulls or other parts for ships ply the channel and a series of ferries move continually between Onomichi and the island of Mukai Shima that protects the city from the larger waters of the Seto Naikai. The city itself is somewhat of a surprise after all the industry we passed, it is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year and is a mix of the vestiges of a more massive industrial past, a much deeper history with ancient temples and small winding alleys in the hills above, and a present that feels energized with new businesses and the tourists jumping off on the Shimanami Kaido, a bike trip that runs from Onomichi across a series of bridges and small islands to the island of Shikoku.
Temples, small windy alleys, ramen shops with long lines, excellent sea food, bakeries - bagels!, really good bagels! A constant flow of traffic on the water, ships, tugs, barges, ferries. There is a lot of energy in the city and it’s been a good spot to visit. The marina is centrally located but not well sheltered, the wake from large ships tosses us around a lot, when we first arrived we had the anchor over the dock and we pitched so violently the anchor drove into the dock and sent a shudder through the boat. It is also a pretty small marina, with a current that can really get moving through it. Timing is crucial, there is not much room and the end of the fairway is a set of stone stairs or a police boat, I don’t know which would be worse to hit.
Leaving Fukuoka a little over a week ago we followed Kirk Patterson’s excellent advice and spent the first night at Ainoshima, a small island perfectly situated at the mouth of the Kanmon Kaikyo. We tied along a sea wall and wandered the small village. The next morning we made our way into passage and stayed to the edge of the channel as a convoy of ships passed. For a small boat like ours with a top speed of 6 knots under motor it is crucial to arrive under the Kanmon bridge at slack tide. We checked in with Kanmon Martis the marine authority for the passage, they recommended an arrival time to the bridge 30 minutes later than the slack time that was shown on New Pec Smart, and was spot on. Douglas set up a series of way points with target times along our route and we would increase or decrease speed to hit those spots and that worked out really well.
After passing the strait our intent was to make a long jump to Otsushima, 40 miles from the end of the passage into the Seto Naikai. Once we made our way out of the passage it was getting past noon and we were facing headwinds and large chop and struggling to make a bit under 5 knots. We realized quickly that there was no way to arrive at Otsushima before nightfall and fell off to our plan B, Shin Moji Marina. We arrived in mid afternoon and were welcomed by a pair of sailors and a man from the marina who took our lines and helped us get secured. The marina loaned us bikes and we cycled to the small village and around the industrial port area that abuts the marina. That night we took advantage of the free, incredibly hot showers at the marina. A nice spot for the night. Not as much room available as we had been led to believe, it is a small marina mostly for smaller boats, with a couple slips available that would fit a boat the size of Tumbleweed.
Otsushima was the training base for a kamikaze submarine program that was started near the end of world war two. At the training center men would train in the submarines, which were basically human operated torpedoes. There is a museum set on the grounds of a memorial to the men who died during missions to sink allied ships. It is a pretty somber exhibit, the final letters and poems of men about to die in suicidal missions. There is a wall of the young men’s portraits that should give anyone pause to consider the futility of war. The island is beautiful with so much in bloom at this time of year, there is a bamboo forest and a walk that winds along the shoreline and up a short hill where there is a look out over the Seto Naikai.
From Otsushima we had another long day motoring in light winds to the village of Horie. We were greeted by a group of sailors that we had last seen in Nagasaki. We had made a reservation on the pontoon through the city and a man from a restaurant across the street took our payment and pointed out the few amenities, toilets and trash disposal. Once we settled in we took a walk through the village, back aboard to watch a stunning sunset. As we were preparing dinner one of the sailors we’d met in Nagasaki dropped by to give us bottle of sake and a little bottle of shochu. We talked for a little while and have been in touch since, he’s offered some advice on places we plan to visit. A couple weeks ago we had dinner with friends in Fukuoka and we were asked what do we think is strange about Japan. That question has been running through my mind and I think one thing that is strange about Japan is how generous and friendly people have been to us. A fellow sailor bringing us sake’ is an example among many gestures of pure kindness. I am continually humbled by how we are treated and hope to be able to bring more of that spirit into my life.
The next morning we were off to Omishima island and Miyaura harbor. I fumbled Kirk Patterson’s excellent directions and we ended up tied to a small funky dock where we touched bottom at low, low tide instead of tying to a really nice new dock. If you find yourself in Miyaura I recommend the nice long pontoon where the ferry docks, visitors can tie up on the starboard side of the pontoon, so a port side tie as you approach the pontoon from the harbor. The city charges one yen per ton. Yes, one yen per ton. So our night’s stay was 15 yen, or about 15 cents in USD. Miyaura is a lovely little village that is home to the 3rd most important Shinto shrine in Japan. Oyamazumi shrine is dedicated to the gods that protect sailors and soldiers, historically warriors would come to the shrine to pray for victory, when they were successful in battle some would return to the shrine they would make gifts that sometimes included swords and armor. Some of the armor and swords that have been donated over the ages are now housed in an excellent museum next to the shrine. Many of the objects on display are from the 12th century. The armor is so beautifully crafted and the display of swords, many from the 12th century, is impressive.
From Miyaura we had yet another windless day of motoring and made our way to Onomichi. Our main reason for visiting here is that we can take the train to Tokyo to pick up our nephew William. He arrives tomorrow and we’ll be spending the next weeks with him and also with his brother Hayden who will join us next week. We have not had a visitor aboard Tumbleweed since Berkeley and we haven’t had visitors aboard that we’ve actually gone sailing with since Will and Hayden’s older brother Sawyer joined us in Alaska. We are looking forward to spending time with our nephews, we’ve been gone a long time and have really missed out on some great times with them both. One of the reasons we are looking forward to returning to the states is to spend more time with family.
The plan of the moment is to spend the next three weeks with our nephews, sailing the Seto Naikai and making our way to Wakayama marina. From the Wakayama marina we will depart for Port Townsend in late June. For the moment we are enjoying our time in sheltered waters and hope to get enough wind over the next couple of weeks to hoist the sails.