Captain Evan’s excellent GW adventure

By Timothy Langley and Evan Burkowsky

May 14, 2024

YouTube video of this journey: https://youtu.be/S7fmJc-GQFg

My Golden Week adventure was months in the making because first of all, I had to finish the restoration of my newest sailing acquisition, an originally decrepit 45 year-old Peterson ’33 sailing yacht. This beauty had been languishing in a Chiba tributary unloved for ~6 years until a Japanese friend introduced her to me (please see: https://tspsjapan.org/march-keelhaul-plus-cow-swag-boatshow-superkeelhaul/).

This effort took on a frantic pace as I needed to constantly replace and repair 45 year old parts, stays, clutches… it’s a long list… as they failed during sea trial just weeks earlier. Ultimately, I replaced the forestay and backstay the weekend beforehand… a pretty arduous exercise that involved being up the mast a dozen or so times.

But I digress…

On Sunday, we packed-up the good ship Garuda and launched at noon for our overnight non-stop sail to Mikurajima.

We took turns sailing in 3~4 hour shifts. Dinner was prepared from boiling a pouch of Tokyo Borch from Soup Stock… but in a sudden pitch, it all ended-up on the cabin flooring… so we ate crackers, kaki-no-tani and washed it down with suds. I took the midnight shift and sailed under the stars until sun-up, passing several dolphin pods at first light.

We hit Mikura at about 11:oo o’clock. Only one harbor, very tiny, designed mostly for the skiffs packed with 14 or so divers in wet-suits: while briefly in-port, about 4 of them came in to unload their riders. See that tiny line poking-out?

Mikura is a tiny circular island, ~300 people, tons of dolphins, and a very restrictive to ‘visitors’ policy: absolutely no pleasure boats or yachts allowed! In fact, anyone visiting this pristine island MUST be accompanied by a local guide one-way-or-the-other. Most people, therefore, come on the ferry with their own dive gear or in sunhats.

In any event, we touched land, tied-up, and explained to the port authority (who showed-up immediately dockside in a tiny k-truck), that we were there just to replenish our water. With a big smile with lots of teeth, he exclaimed, “You sailed all the way from Chiba?!?!”. We pushed-off 50 minutes later; him waving at us perfunctorily.

Our next destination was island # 6 in the chain, Miyakejima. Miyake is dominated by an active volcano so almost half the island is a no-go-zone. We departed Mikura at about noon, circled her counterclockwise, and fought a tough current raging between the two islands the whole way, so we ended-up arriving after sunset.

Mikurajima in the distance, then Miyakejima… facing south with the rest of the island chain to the back of the photographer. The entire top of this island is a no-go active volcano zone.

We headed immediately to find food and draft hydration before the entire street rolled-up, and found ourselves at the hotel near the harbor. Only one other yacht was in the harbor, a large 42′ Beneteau… so predictably there was a table of 13 people already seated and in mid-riotious laughter when we entered. It died down immediately as we entered (and were ushered to a table back in the corner) then started-up again with even MORE energy. In a surprisingly generous gesture, we were treated not only to a sumptuous meal, but the lady manager also ‘allowed’ us to bathe in the hotel baths… oh, that was heaven! I would like to ascribe this island-hospitality to my rugged good looks but I think it was only because she recognized Freddie-of-Niijima fame.

I forget how we got back on-board. But after coffee on Garuda at sun-up, we took a swim on a black-sand beach, and then …….

….we departed for the next closest island, #4 in the chain, Kozushima, at noon.

Once again, we were confronted by the Kuroshio Current forcing it’s way between the two islands. So the trip took us about 7 hours. This meant we arrived in-port (again) after dark. Unfortunately just as we were entering the cliff-encircled harbor, the engine died and we had to initiate emergency maneuvers right away: fishing boats with huge lights were jockeying to get into port, too, so we were in a bottleneck without power… a nail-biting situation.

Hoisting the main sail quickly again, we circled out of the traffic and just held steady while I bled the fuel line and restarted the engine. Turning the boat around, we sprinted back into Izu-Miura Port. Easy-peasy but wash down the deck of all the peesy-in-pantsy.

As we slowed to a crawl, we could see dancing lights on the far-off quay: a large yacht already berthed, the occupants pouring out like an army, motioning us to berth beside them. In fact, they swarmed to a spot and were waving us on frantically! It was pretty not-hilarious as the lot of them, already drunk and flashing their headlamps, successfully destroyed my night vision. After I yelled them off, I tied-up single-handedly without incident. Only half-night blinded.

My best friend on this larger yacht, Yuki-san, visited with a fine bottle of Laphroaig, my favorite scotch. This was his ‘congratulations’ on me for finishing the derelict yacht Garuda that he, in fact, originally introduced to me exactly one year earlier (please see: https://tspsjapan.org/golden-week-2023-sail-report-2/).

I think all Yuki’s sailor-friends were curious about the restoration, too, but now were cowering inside their much larger and spendorific vessel. Which was fine with me. Yuki-san stayed and we talked & laughed into the night until we fell asleep. What a great evening!

Throughout the night, various boats would come alongside to disgorge their catches. It was not the perfect place to tie-up (well… the guy’s in Yuki’s boat were drunk, after all) but well-protected. With high seas and gale force winds approaching, we were good for the night. It was not until sunrise before we could catch the grandeur of the topography and wow, what a dramatic setting!

Yuki’s boat left the next morning without fanfare while we stayed hunkered-down. The concrete walls protecting the port are unbelievably massive, but we were told that waves even crash-over them sometimes! It is unbelievable how violent the seas can become way out here in the open ocean.

We dove in the cove nearby and inadvertently caused a huge controversy. While it WAS Golden Week and it WAS a swimming beach, the police and port authorities were alerted that swimmers were in trouble in the bay (obviously because they were swimming and so of course they were in trouble?), so of course everyone and their brother came out to see the ‘rescue’. We did not know it then, but they have cameras on the port and these were laser-focused on the swimmers (us). To make this even more spectacular, on this particular island, the harbor video feed is broadcast to EVERY home and business on the whole friggin’ island! We heard about it afterwards everywhere we went: the bath house, the yakiniku shop, the moped rental shop…! Wow, “just be aware of local customs and superstitions” they said. Umi wa kowai, yo.

Most people run AWAY from trouble!

The port in Kozu is very nicely protected, dedicated mostly to a huge number of fishing boats and few yachts. A massive landslide scar on the nearby cliffside characterizes this beautiful port. With bad weather setting-in, we hunkered-down and spent two days here, diving, hiking into town, working on the boat some more.

Screenshot

After the weather cleared, we departed Miyake around noon on Day 4 and headed to the next island, Niijima. This is the island where Freddie has been living for the last 2.5 years as a JET….which was helpful to us throughout our journey because EVERYONE, no matter where we went or what island (even the toothy guy on Mikura!) knew Freddie! So we got some gaijin-pass which we of course maximized to the hilt… especially with that poor sole cop on Miyake fresh out of the Academy… his first posting!

Anyway (this is getting long…): Niijima for only a day (our Day 5 of 7) … enough to provision-up, hit Freddie’s favorite bar, spend the night, do some laundry, get a decent cup of coffee, then hit the high seas once more.

We departed after feasting on a bento lunch from the nearby town. This was while still tied to the quay in an insanely crowded port.

This was on Thursday, almost the tail-end of GW… so I guess everyone-with-a-sailboat made a sprint after the bad weather only as far as Niijima to overnight, then like us: hit Oshima for an overnight, then home-port on Sunday. And that is precisely how things turned out: insanely crowded in Niijima, same thing in Habu harbor in Oshima.

Day 6: The sailing from Niijima was undoubtedly the best, most enjoyable day of sailing: beautiful sunny skies, calm seas, steady breeze pushing us towards Oshima, the Kuroshio Current moving us in the same general direction. It was glorious. Freddie broke out his guitar, Deliverance-singer Timothy busted-out a harmonica, and we sang tunes we all knew but with made-up scandalous stanzas and rhymes, all joining-in singing ridiculous recurring choruses… one survived several nautical miles, in fact. Three-part harmony.

Once again, in the dark we entered the narrow passage that leads from the sea into a collapsed caldera that forms the circular Habu harbor, tall cliffs towering immediately above the moorings. The dimly lit harbor is so packed full of vessels that they are pointed into the moorings instead of sideways.

This entails of course dropping anchor and playing out the rode until you moor both port & starboard bow lines to the cleats on land. We snuggled into a row of about 7 yachts all lined-up sardinelike. With again sailors from the neighboring boats springing into action to assist, I had to mildly scold them for blinding me and instructing them in a firm tone to “please leave me alone so I can execute this maneuver thankyouverymuch…”.

The harbor became very quiet after that. But we tied-up without incident. Funny thing is, the harbor was completely empty when we awoke at first light. Maybe it was something I said.

The morning after docking bow-first into the Habu port 12 hours earlier.

We didn’t even bother to go ashore on Day 7. We just made coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in it, eat whatever rations we had, Timothy did his Sunday briefing on political goings-on, and then we head back to our home-port of Hota.

This was expected to be a 5~7 hour clip across the large stretch of water between Miura and Boso Peninsulas… but the wind was not entirely in our favor. As a result, we sprinted into Sagami Bay, well past Miura Peninsula, then jibbed for a straight run towards Tateyama.

Miura Peninsula in the background. With a pose like this, Freddie is fortunate for not being tossed off on, like, a dozen occasions.
But his guitaring was amazing!
As were the nigroni Freddie decided were a good idea while in-port… amazingly concocted in rapid fashion! Nine-shots in each one, you know… served with diminishing returns and increasing unsteadiness. Made the singing sound better-n-better… the chorus more lewd and increasingly scandalous. Maybe that is why the harbor was empty when we awoke?

In this way, we cut perpendicular across the busy shipping lane coming out of / into Tokyo Harbor and inner Tokyo. Garuda gave us almost 7 knots throughout but the angle made the distance twice as far. It was a comfortable ride but took 7 hours: I slept most of the way and relied on Langley and Snoxall to get us home without killing us: they did relatively well.

We arrived on Sunday with daylight still abundant, Children’s Day, with a bonus day-off the following day (Monday, yay!) to get our landlegs back and to recuperate.

This was a great journey with lots of happenings: Garuda got plenty of exercise and we knocked out lots of her kinks, for example addressing air getting into the fuel line, the furling-line to the Genoa getting hung-up, re-installing the original two-way radio…. plus a dozen other issues. We all learned lots more about sailing, jibing, mooring, heaving-to, knots, anchoring, safety. We were all hooked-in throughout the adventure in harnesses whether in the cockpit or deckside.

This is not very clear but the line on the right is our 24 hour run from home-port Hota on the Chiba Peninsula to Mikurajima. We circled Mikura just for the hell of it before heading to Miyake. This whole leg took about 30 hours, consuming Day 1 and Day 2. The rest is island hopping until returning 7 days later. The entire journey was ~270 nm.

It is a long story but I hope the photos convey the wonder and pure sense of freedom and being out that we experienced. If you post a comment or rib me with a joke that would be rewarding. Thanks for getting this far!

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Timothy Langley

About Timothy Langley

I have only been sailing for the last 5 years or so. I was originally drawn to TSPS and to the alien-to-me suggestion of sailing (I wasn't really looking) when a friend invited me to a Keelhaul. Several friends and old-timers who I never imagined were connected to the sea were active Members. After a few pints and lots of lobbying, I thought "why not...". I stopped hitting the sauna on weekends and working on old cars and, in no time, was sailing regularly. In my plight for sailing opportunities & begging for crewing time on someone else's yacht, I stumbled on a decrepit yacht that needed some attention. So I purchased it, fixed it up and sailed the heck out of it. It is now a very proper and reliable sailing vessel. And, as a consequence, I have become somewhat competent as a solo sailor (though this is a long road). I long for something bigger (Santana is a 40 year old Yamaha 26' possessing a proper enclosed head, a good galley, two berths, dry, comfy, reliable: sleeps 4) but in the meantime I am out on the Pacific almost every weekend. Completely smitten.

3 thoughts on “Captain Evan’s excellent GW adventure

  1. I think you guys won the prize for best cruise, though you had some real competition.
    If Mike S had better wind I think it would have been a tie.

  2. You guys are Google famous! I found this post while looking for information about mooring at Habu harbor and got sucked into reading the whole darn thing. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world, looks like it was a great time.

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