Guam and Passage to Japan









The passage to Guam was blessed with a birthday catch for Vicky of a nice Mahi Mahi, as well as not too many squalls. There were plenty of the latter about but most seemed to drift past at a little distance.


Apra harbour on the west side of Guam is a fine large natural harbour where it is hardly surprising that the US Navy has a base. The commercial port has been modernised to cope with the increasing container traffic through the island, which has become a conduit for goods arriving from the USA and bound for other smaller islands. Though there is a small marina down the coast it is for local boats and is in any case reported to be in poor repair and subject to heavy surge. The anchorage off the Marianas Yacht Club within Apra Harbour is hedged about by reefs. There are a number of moorings usually available to visitors. It is wise to check with locals as to the state of particular moorings. There is also some limited room to anchor for larger vessels, as the moorings are unsuited to boats much bigger than 45’. The Yacht Club itself is an attractive building with the availability of cold showers, telephone for local calls and wifi – when it is working. However, the Club is a long way from any shops or fuel stations and is generally uninhabited by members during the week. A car is a virtual necessity for any restocking.











Hagatna is a sprawling town running along the coastal plain like a huge strip mall. It is very American. Virtually no one walks further than absolutely necessary. However, almost anything that would be available in an American town of comparable size is also available here. Though prices are a little higher in general than in the continental USA, it is still a very good place to stock up. With the prospect of five months in expensive Japan where western foods would in any case be hard to find (and perhaps impossible to identify!) followed by two months in uninhabited areas of Alaska, Vicky managed to find a few remaining empty spaces in which to cram more stores.










In the weekday peace of the MYC we had time to contemplate the boys’ artistic efforts for the birthday of ‘Mango’s’ skipper, Jimmy. We were also able to spot the artistic and historical efforts of some cruising friends on the visitors boards posted around the Club walls.


For a couple of months we had been suffering from fatigued batteries, whose demands for charging were increasingly annoying both for the noise of the engine and its heat in the tropics. By the time we reached Guam it was clear that they were not going to see out the year. For a while we thought that we might have to resort to buying lead acid batteries, which we knew would be unacceptable for offshore racing safety regulations when we returned to NZ. In the end we were fortunate to find some gel batteries at a reasonable price though they were one size up from those we had. After a quick rebuild of the after battery box, however, they were heaved aboard and shoe-horned into position. A vast improvement.












In our few days in Guam we also did a little socialising, meeting a few of the MYC’s members at one of their weekend social gatherings. We were also thankful to Chris and Cindy Bell for their help with our post and general local knowledge. We left behind our own artistic efforts to adorn the Club’s walls.


We had met Japanese sailor, Nishi, in Pohnpei with his wife, Hiroko. He gave us a good deal of useful advance information about Japan and about the likely conditions on the coming passage north. After Hiroko flew home to Nagasaki, Nishi set off just before us single-handed toward Chichi Jima in the Ogasawara island group of which Iwo Jima is a part. After nine days in Guam we too headed off, initially with a view to clear in at Kagoshima. We had hoped to go to Naze on Amami- o-shima, but were told that we would be unable to clear in there. Sadly there is no- where between Okinawa and Kyushu where foreigners can clear in to Japan.



We knew that the passage north into temperate waters would likely be rather different from the gentler tropical passages which had carried us from Fiji though to Guam. However, it was something of a rude and painful shock, for Vicky at least, to have the reality brought home in the first few hours. As it happened there was a fresh northeaster blowing when we left, with some unpleasant seas running down the west side of Guam, kicked up by opposing current. One of these seas came aboard in the cockpit, picked Vicky up and threw her head-first into the steering pedestal. At first it seemed that we might have to turn back. However, when it became clear that nothing was broken and that Vicky’s tough nut had survived without concussion, she insisted that we continue on. The resulting bruises were pretty spectacular and Tom worried all the way to Japan that they would be convincing evidence of another sad case of domestic violence.







Fortunately the weather generally eased and though we were well into the latter half of November, the water temperature stayed so high that we began to wonder whether the sensor was bust. However, after two nights of frighteningly extravagant lightning and thunder things calmed down. As we experienced when we went to Alaska in 2002, there is a lot more shipping in the northern Pacific than in other ocean areas we have crossed. There was also more wild life, with the odd pilot whale, pods of dolphins and our first albatross – a short-tailed – since NZ.





The passage also brought home the toll that 6,000 miles of sailing had taken on the boat. The engine decided that it required attention in mid-ocean, the seizing on jib hanks needed to be renewed, mainsail sliders broke and were replaced. However, the biggest nuisance came on our final night at sea, beating in the Kuro Shio, the current which sweeps up the Japanese east coast from the south. Having failed to end-for-end or change the nip on the main halyard, its cover finally chafed through at the clutch. The spectra core was still easily strong enough to take the load, but the split cover made it impossible to further reef the main, a step which was definitely necessary that night. After internal cursing and debate, Tom finally removed enough cover to take another reef and then removed the whole remaining 70’, with the blisters to show for it.







By the afternoon of the following day we were tucked under the lee of Shikoku Island gently motoring toward Wakayama on the south coast of Honshu. While on passage we had been in touch with long-term Japanese resident cruisers Jaap and Marijke on ‘Alishan’. They in turn had put us in touch with fellow Dutch cruisers, Henrik and Hanna on ‘Bannister’ who we had in fact met in Puerto Montt, Chile in 2004 – such is the cruiser network. The long and short was that the ‘Bannisters’ had found a nice spot at Tannowa Yacht Harbour just south of Osaka. They said that the winter rates were very reasonable and the Harbour Master was extremely helpful. So we contacted Takeda San, who assured us that space was available and that he could arrange for official check in. As a result on the morning of Sunday 28 November 2010, we motored into Marina City at Wakayama to be greeted by Takeda San and cleared by Quarantine. The following day we motored gently round to Tannowa for clearance by Immigration and Customs.


During that short trip round we got our first strong impressions of the nature of Japan. The port of Wakayama like so much of Japan, bristles with the evidence of industry. There are ships small and large everywhere, some lying at anchor awaiting cargo or off-loading but scores bustling along the coast. In addition, there were hundreds of small fishing boats everywhere. The whole place sparkled with industriousness. These were people who were very intent on making things and moving them. It is hardly surprising that Japan has been so successful economically.










We were warmly welcomed to Tannowa Yacht Harbour and had hardly secured before we were taking advantage of the last of the warm and sunny autumn weather to get coats of varnish on anything we could reach. In the event, we managed everything on deck except the port side of the hull, which will have to wait until spring, the longest it has gone without a coat in many years.





From almost the moment that we arrived we were overwhelmed with Japanese hospitality. Takeda San, Tannowa Harbour Master, had already made us very welcome and had done so much to make our arrival easier. This was followed by an equally warm welcome from the Osaka Bay Tannowa Yacht Club, represented by former Commodore Yoshido San (right) and long-standing Committee Member Kakihara San (middle). Both have become friends for whose help and kindness we are very grateful.






Having got out our bikes, we also pedalled into Tannowa, only five minutes away, which can best be described as a dormitory suburb of the city of Osaka, some 30 kilometres to the northeast. From what little we have seen so far, the mix of building in Tannowa is fairly typical of the non-urban landscape. Small houses are packed densely together with a mix of fairly characterless modern houses and older, lower buildings, sometimes of traditional wooden construction. Where ever there is a patch of ground not covered by a structure there is a little garden, occasionally with some flowers, but always with vegetables. There are even small rice fields in slightly larger patches. Perhaps this interest in growing food where ever possible is partially explained by the fairly high price of food in the shops. Unfortunately this applies particularly to fruit and vegetables.




As non-Japanese speakers or readers daily life in Japan is an interesting challenge. Fortunately as the sign at the left shows, many basic signs in more built up areas and on transport routes (roads, trains, airports and stations) are in both Japanese and romaji (roman letters) usually English. However, as we found at the laundrette, instructions are by no means always comprehensible. It is a little like being deposited on an alien but similar planet or being a four or five year old trying to work out what the adult world is all about.





In the week before we had to fly off to New York we were dined out twice by our hospitable Japanese hosts. Kakihara San first introduced us to some Japanese cuisine aboard his boat, while Kondo San and his wife, Hiroko, kindly entertained us at their home with a much more extensive introduction to a delicious variety of Japanese food. This was followed by a party at the Yacht Club. The Japanese love to party and we soon realised that we would have to pace ourselves if we were to survive.


After a hectic week, Kondo San kindly rose in the wee hours to drive us to Kansai Airport, 7 December, to catch our flight to New York, where we were heading to be with Tom’s family for Christmas 2010 and to care for his ailing Mum.