A bigger boat

June 13, 2006

Saturday 3rd June 2006

I have a Japanese power boat license – the lower grade 2 that allows me to pilot boats up to 12 tonnes, 12 nautical miles from shore. It was a nightmare getting this license due to language. I needed to sit the test in English so the only option was Tokyo (Naha while nice is just too far!). This meant 5 trips down to the megalopolis over the space of a month – for training seminars, practice sessions and then the test. This was all provided / supported by the Tokyo Power and Sail Squadron: here

Anyway several hundreds of pounds later I had my license. I considered buying a boat but due to our limited time in Japan decided on joining a rental club. Several hundreds of pounds later and I am a member able to take out power boats for fishing around the bay (and further – there is some good Marlin fishing to be had in the deep water off the Miyagi coast in September and October) and wakeboarding.

Wakeboarding is a sport like water skiing on a snowboard (although the boards tend to have fins unlike a snowboard). It’s a great sport, easy to learn and a fun way to spend sunny summer days. In August in Matsushima water temperatures must be about 25 degrees – sub tropical. But as we found out to our cost in May it is still pretty chilly.

I went out with Richard, Ben and Toa for a day’s wakeboarding. Toa is really good, Richard a natural though this was only his second time, I’m okay and this was Ben’s first time. It was pretty windy and conditions were difficult. We managed to find a sheltered spot but the runs were short. wakeboarding We all took turns and did okay but the cold water – despite wearing wetsuits – was getting to be too much. Ben wiped out badly – failing to let go and got dragged for a bit. He decided to stop and climbed back on the boat and promptly vomited the contents of his stomach. Apparently he swallowed too much sea water – never seen that before. Ben then crashed on the bottom of the boat and we decided to take a break – go to the toilet and take a look at the other side of the bay. We took the same route I paddled just the other day (28th May 2006) and was confident of water depths etc.

The pacific side of the bay has many beautiful caves, stacks and sculpted forms in sandstone. We followed one of the tour boats in and out of the inlets (in order to know where the deep water was). The sea was pretty big maybe 4 foot waves perhaps th result of sustained wind over the last week. But the sea was okay in the protected areas. We ended up about half way round the peninsula and rather than go back the way we came I suggested going round the headland. I wanted to scope out possible landing beaches for the kayak as well as get a feel for the sea state.

It’s quite difficult navigating in inland waters in Japan. There is just so much fishing and sea cultivating activity. Matsushima is famous for shellfish and oyster beds are everywhere, there are also seaweed farms and innumerable fishing nets. In winter it is almost impossible to get anywhere outside the shipping lanes but thankfully many of the seaweed farms disappear in spring.

As we round the headland and turn 90 degrees we have to cross the waves and the sea seemed and felt much bigger. The more exposed water had short deep swells and breaking white caps. The waves hitting us square abeam are rolling the little sports boat in a dramatic fashion and a sickening motion. I quite enjoy this kind of sea especially because I imagine how bad it would be if I was in my kayak, but the boys are not doing so well. Ben is sick again over the side and I feel bad that we didn’t go back. Rich is turning a shade of green. As waves break over our port side spray is soaking us, but as the pilot position is starboard I am doing not so bad. Again I feel sorry for this decision as the boys get soaked.

Navigation is still a challenge with the fishing lines, buoys and nets. I stay close to shore rather than take the long way round – out into more exposed ocean. We turn again 45 degrees round another headland and we now we have a following sea. It’s quite fun surfing the waves but we get even more spray as the boat plunges down the wave into the one in front. There are so many false headlands here – you round one cliff thinking the next one will signal the entrance to the bay only to find another beach – and it takes longer than I predict.

Then problems start. Coming up between two huge rocky outcrops maybe 200m apart there as lots of fishing lines with very poor flag markings – its very hard to see the ropes and floats in this sea. The outboard snags one of the ropes and I have to kill the engine and raise it up while Toa frees us up (Rich and Ben not good for much at the moment). We are taking big waves astern and it is a struggle for Toa. I’ve got my eyes on the rock we’re being pushed towards and the ropes up ahead and behind. Where do we go when he frees us? If we hit the rocks can we get off the boat / will it break up?

Toa gets the rope off – luckily it wasn’t wound round the prop or we’d have been goners. But we snag again as I guide us away from the rocks. Toa then does a sterling job using the boat hook to push the ropes down and we are free and away from the rock – not much in it in the end – 10m maybe. These fishing lines are a hazard to navigation!

The following sea continues to challenge my piloting but I can see one of the bay entrances ahead. A few minutes more and the waves have all gone and we’re back in the bay. Phew.

Ben being totally hard core then took another turn wakeboarding again.

I wondered how hard a trip like that would be in a kayak. I can’t imagine that my skills will ever be up to big seas and even if they were not sure I’d want to be in those kinds of seas. The weather was sunny and warm but the wind was fresh and although the waves weren’t huge and were fairly predictable they were big enough to worry me and that is in a bigger boat.

I guess that is one of the fascinations with the sea – how dangerous and powerful it is. I love the sea but I am also very wary of it; my mum too. She never wanted us to go sailing as kids even though we had an uncle with a catamaran and lots of invitations. But can you blame her? For a landlubber she had lost quite a few friends and family to the sea – her brother and friend drowned after capsizing at night just 40m from shore and a close friend and her husband sailing from Norway back to Scotland when their yacht was flipped by a freak wave – their adult son surviving the ordeal.

I think it is good to know that the sea can be frightening and can kill you.

Not that we came close today mum!


One Response to “A bigger boat”

  1. A very interesting article, it’s a while since I’ve had a chance to get out on the water. In case you need some parts or a new gori prop or yanmar saildrive engine feel free to contact us. We sell parts and engines for yachts, cruisers and other craft. If you need any advice please feel free to contact http://www.minardsdiesel.com we export around the world.

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