Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bluesette - Pandabonium Style

Nothing could sound so sweet to a Panda's ear as a trombone quintet (in this case, the St. Louis Low Brass Collective) playing Bluesette! Enjoy....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gone Sailing, So Saury Olive Oil

~ said Popeye the sailor man.

Wednesday's weather was even better than Monday's. A beautiful fall day for the beginning of Autumn. The air was in the 70s F and water the same, with blue skies dotted by puffy cumulus and wisps of cirrus clouds.

We arrived a bit later than usual as it was Ohigan, the Buddhist holiday at the Autumnal Equinox, and time for visiting the graves of ancestors with offerings of flowers, incense, water and rice cakes. In rural Japan, many graves are in small community or family plots or at the local temples. On days like this, as we walk down the street, the air is filled with the sweet scent of incense.

(side note: Contrary to popular belief - even among some Buddhists - the offerings are not for the deceased per se, but rather are a way for the living to reflect in appreciation on the fact that one does not create one's own life, but rather we owe our existence to others, especially to those who have gone before. The incense, flowers, etc. are simply expressions and reminders of that dharma - truth.)

After rigging Bluesette we had to wait a bit for someone to operate the cable winch, as all hands were busy teaching new sailors. So, we launched about 11:30 in winds of about 6 miles an hour. The painter on Bluesette is too short to be handy at the dock, as it is matched to the length of the tow rope on the sendai (dolly) so that both sendai and boat come out of the water together. I added a second small diameter painter that is much longer, so that when we leave the dock, K can just wrap it around a post, get into the boat holding the end of it and cast off when ever we are ready. Much less hassle than before.

Two Lasers and a Sea Hopper chased each other around the lake.

First times are often a learning experience, and K did everything well. However, I wasn't quite ready and hadn't said anything about casting off yet. Oops. I hadn't thought to work that out with K ahead of time. Ready or not, we were off! :-)

Lots of sailboats shared the lake. A young boy was sailing a pram again, his dad sailing with him part of the time and sometimes separately in a Laser. It turns out the boy had learned to sail in April and wanted to sail on a bigger late than the one he learned on.

There were also a group of three first timers sailing in a Semi (pronounced "seh-mee" - Japanese for a kind of cicada). The Semi sailboat is similar to the Lido 14, but a bit flatter in profile.

The harbor owner's son was on watch and if anyone got into trouble he would race out to them on a jet ski and lend assistance, which he did on several occasions.

We docked for a lunch break about 13:00 and headed for Mama's Kitchen. We both had the special lunch of the day - Sanma, known as Pacific Saury in English. Sanma is very popular in Japan and this day was an appropriate one for eating it, as it is an Autumn fish. It is usually salted and grilled as pictured below, but Mama'a dish was very different.

So Saury sorry to say, I didn't have my camera with me. Mama's cut the fish into four fillets and marinated them overnight in olive oil then floured and fried them. They were served on a bed of sliced greens to hold them up a bit on a square plate that was covered with olive oil and finely diced tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, and paprika - a beautiful presentation. It was accompanied with rice, miso soup, and a soft boiled egg (which in Japan is beyond soft boiled but not hard). The sanma was "oishi" - delicious. Desert was fresh pear slices and grapes. Perhaps the best lunch I've had at Mama's - which is saying a lot.

We got back to Bluesette about 14:00 for another hour and a half of sailing. Over lunch we agreed on the procedures for casting off, so this time we were both ready before letting go of the painter. The painter floats and is easy for K to retrieve from the water after we shove off.

As we got close to this wall on the lake (I was checking out the house which must have a great view) a man fishing there wasn't sure we'd turn in time and actually backed away from the railing.

The wind had picked up to about 9 mph, so we had a great time hiking out and getting wet. Good fun. Docking again at 15:30, the wind was just starting to go back down. Good timing.
The two Lasers and Sea Hopper head downwind for the yacht harbor.

I'll be doing more scratch removing and polishing this weekend since K has to work. The following weekend we have a guest joining us for sailing - hopefully both on Friday and on Saturday. Three in the boat will be interesting. Not sure how we'll organize things, but that will be part of the fun. Perhaps we'll also trade off with the one left on shore taking some pictures.

Oh, and that reminds me. I am hoping to be able to post better pictures next time. The Pentax Optio W60 I've been using is waterproof and fine for close shots with its wide angle lens, but it has no image stabilization system, so if I try to take a zoom shot, it invariably comes out blurred unless I am on shore with the camera set on a post.

I just got a replacement camera - an Olympus μ Tough 8000 (called Stylus in USA, I think). The Olympus has 12 megapixels (vs 10 on Pentax), is also waterproof and has a zoom feature, but more importantly, has optical image stabilization to keep those zoom shots crisp. It should make it possible to offer pics that get you closer to the action. We'll see soon enough.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bluesette Meets Her Neighbor

The American expatriate next door...

As mentioned previously, this is "Silver Week" in Japan, a vacation from Saturday to Wednesday created by a cluster of holidays - Monday, Respect for the Aged Day (mind your comments!); Tuesday, Autumnal Equinox (celebrated as Ohigan by Buddhists here) which is usually September 23rd; Wednesday, Kokumin no kyūjitsu ("the day between two holidays"). The last needs a bit of explaining. Japanese law states that if there is only one non-holiday between two holidays (in this case Respect for the Aged Day on the 21st and Autumnal Equinox on the 23rd) that day should be made a holiday too, but placed after the other two.

Now that I've made that crystal clear (like mud)... we missed sailing last weekend due to the typhoon so decided to sail today (Monday) and again Wednesday since K has the days off. When we walked out to the boat, a man was uncovering the boat next to Bluesette. We had never seen it uncovered before. Hakuta-san (the yacht club owner) introduced us to the boat's owner, Mr. Y.

It turns out that we are not the only ones to have imported a sailboat from the USA, for Y-san's boat is from Florida - a "Com-Pac Picnic". Y-san took sailing instruction at the yacht club, purchased the Com-Pac and has been sailing Hinuma for the past three years.
So Bluesette has a "fellow American" (boat) next door.

Y-san's Com-Pac being moved to the launching ramp

The boat is 14 feet long, like the Lido, but 6" wider, has almost the same sail area and due to its self bailing cockpit and high profile hull, is 200 pounds heavier. It's a cat boat design - ie the mast is all the way forward on the boat - and has a gaff rig (the top of the sail is supported by a sort of second boom called a gaff). It's a very stout boat that is easy to set up and very well suited to single handed sailing. Y-san has a small outboard motor so he can power down the river to Oarai Port should he choose too.
Y-san, ready to sail

We were expecting very light winds today so were pleasantly surprised at the 2 to 3 m/s plus (4.5 to 6.7 mph) that we experienced. Likewise, the sky was cloudy in the morning, but gradually cleared considerably. It was a great day for sailing and we shared the lake with Y-san, the school's two JR boats, a sailing canoe, and father and son - the father in a Laser or Sea Hopper, the young son in a small pram.

The boating license applicants were busy taking the practical exam from the government officials.

An armada of fishing boats. These folks were out to catch "haze" (hah-zay), known elsewhere as Japanese Goby. They are small (only about 12 cm) bottom dwelling fish that are said to be quite tasty.

As we made a long downwind run, a hawk kept us company, circling just ahead of Bluesette.

Y-san in his Com-Pac

We docked just minutes ahead of Y-san and pulled Bluesette out of the water. Before we left I gave Y-san the web address for this blog, so I hope he sees it and likes the pictures.

It was 14:20 when we reached Mama's Kitchen, so we missed the lunch specials of the day. No worries. I had deep fried fish, salad, shijimi clam miso soup, rice, horenso (Japanese spinach), and fish tsukudani (tiny fish boiled in water, soy sauce, sugar, and sweet sake). K had pasta with crab and tomato sauce and chocolate cake roll with fruit slices. The cook gave us fresh, warm, anpan (adzuki bean sweet rolls) to take home. Life is good at lake Hinuma.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Update: I got an email from Y-san and he explained the name of his boat: "Silvervine". A clever name. His Com-Pac boat model is"Picnic" and the design is a cat boat, as mentioned above. Well, in East Asia there is a vine called Matatabi which has the same effect on cats (the animal variety) as does catnip in the Western world. Matatabi is called silvervine in English. In addition, "matatabi" means "travel on indefinitely". So he named his Picnic Cat "Silvervine".

We're looking forward to seeing him again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flights of Fancy

On Friday the 11th, I returned to the harbor to work on some of the scratches on Bluesette. The blue hull is pretty, but it does show scratches. I don't mind a minor scratch here or there, but we've had a couple from the dock and a series of minor "mystery" ones down the starboard side and I wanted to get rid of those. The minor ones were semi-circles that appeared in a row, sort of like a handwriting student might practice a cursive lower case "e". That suggests wave action or a bobbing boat, perhaps rubbing against the end of one of the sendai (dolly) blocks when being retrieved from the water? I'll make sure that there are no sharp edges that could do that - I have a suspicion that there is - and cover or remove it.

A dragon fly came by to supervise my work. It hung around the boat for a couple of hours.

Anyway, I wet sanded each section by hand to remove the scratches, starting with 350 grade paper and working my way to 1500, five different grades in all. Then I finished with rubbing compound using an orbital car polisher, and then a buffing. Three hours work in all - in the sun. Ugh. I was still not fully satisfied, but it was time to head for the train. Tomorrow, I'll return and go over it all with a lighter rubbing compound, which I hope will finish the job.

The airshow on the 13th was fun. I haven't selected the pictures to use in a post (which will be on Pacific-Islander), but here's one for any aviation buffs out there. Do you recognize this plane?

If you guessed F-16, you're close, but no cigar. It's a Mitsubishi F-2 built 60% in Japan by Mitusbishi and 40% in the USA by Lockheed Martin. It was based on the F-16 wing, but is larger, with 25% more wing area, larger elevator, light weight composite construction, 2 more weapons stations, modern avionics, and a host of other differences. Due to some mid-stream design changes (and meddling by Washington) they ended up costing over $100 million a copy, so they cut the order from 140 planes to 94. There are about 60 in service at present.

Here's consolation prize (in Japan, everybody wins something) - a Blue Impulse video so you can have a taste of what we saw:

3 minutes 5 seconds - you may want to turn your volume DOWN

In October, the US Air Force team, Thunderbirds, will visit Japan and put on a show along with Blue Impulse up at the Blue Impulse home base of Matsushima airbase in Miyagi Prefecture. 'Wish I could go, but that's too far north from us for me to justify the expense.

This weekend, a passing typhoon off the coast brought too much wind with it. Saturday we called the harbor and the wind was about 10 m/s (22 mph)! Not too much for landing a Cessna in a crosswind on Maui, but much too much for us to sail Bluesette. They were doing another boat licensing class and said it was really difficult. Today, Sunday, it is even worse, and they are not launching any boats of any kind.

It will quiet down by Tuesday, and we'll go then. It might be busy up there as this is Japan's first "Silver Week" - a string of holidays falling together, giving most people a vacation from the 19th to the 23rd. The railroads and airports have been jammed as they are during the annual "Golden Week" (April 29 to May 5). Whatever. Hinuma is never too busy. I just hope the weather is as predicted.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Maiko's Bluesette

Maiko is an award winning jazz violinist from Kobe who has been performing professionally for about ten years in Japan. A graduate of the Kyoto University of Arts she has played violin since the age of three.

This arrangement warms up gradually, and it's worth the wait. In addition to Maiko's musical excursions on violin, the piano and bass solos are excellent (how often can one honestly say the "bass solo was awesome?"). And while the drummer doesn't have a solo, he adds just the right beat and accents for the rest of the quartet.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bluesette Bliss

Due to the airshow this Sunday, the 13th, we didn't think we'd be back on the lake until the following week, but K took Thursday, the 10th off, so we got to go sailing after all.

(click photos to enlarge)

Beautiful day at lake Hinuma. As it was a weekday, there was no one else on the water.

There was not much wind - 1 to 2 m/s (2.2 - 4.4 mph). We'd get going for a few minutes, only to slow again. That was fine, but the wind could not make up its mind which way to go. I would establish a course and then follow the bit of yarn on the shroud and watch in amazement as it gradually changed direction. I'd keep adjusting our course and we'd go through a turn of 30, 60, 90, and then 120 degrees as I tried to maintain the same angle of attack to the wind! The weird thing was, these shifting winds seemed to be located at the north and south side of the lake. And formed a kind of trap that kept one in one location or the other. The only way out was to tack back and forth in quick succession to break out to the other side . Mind boggling, but fun.

At 11:30, the cities of Japan play chimes to let everyone know it is approaching lunch time (different cities may adopt different times. Ours play at 11:45). The funny thing is, two cities - Ibaraki Town and Hokota City - share lake Hinuma. We were at mid-lake at that time. First we heard Ibaraki Town's chimes start with a traditional Japanese melody, and then, seconds later, Hokota City started playing Green Sleeves. The tunes clashed with each other over the lake in a strange sort of "battle of the bands". Happily, the tunes only last about 30 seconds.

Village of no return? The wind conspired to keep us coming right back to this part of the lake. It reminded me of the story by Japanese author Kobo Abe - "Woman in the Dunes" about a man who is trapped by a woman living in a house that is surrounded by ever-encroaching sand dunes.

I felt I didn't dare venture very far from a line north from the harbor as the unpredictable direction and often weak wind speed might make it hard to get back. We had been out a bit over an hour and decided to dock, take a lunch break, and see if things improved later on. If not, we'd take a drive and explore the north shore by car.

We reefed the sails and borrowed some fenders to keep the fickle winds from pushing Bluesette against the dock while we went to lunch. When I took this picture of K, the light hit the street-glo lettering on Bluesette, lighting it up.

Mama's Kitchen, we soon discovered, is closed on Thursdays, so we opted for Ikoinomura Hinuma, the resort just a few hundred meters down the road. (next door to Mama's).

K had a pork cutlet, while I had tempura. The restaurant has a view of the lake so we could keep our eye on the wind as we ate.

A lone red windsurfing sail took the water.

The wind did indeed pick up as hoped, to 2 to 3 m/s (4.5 to 6.7 mph) and gradually rising. As the direction was such we could easily go east and west on the lake. I took us as far west as we could safely go. In addition to getting shallow at that end, there are increasing numbers of nets strung there. Some pics taken by K...

Fish splash - we often see striped mullet jumping, but catching them with the camera is almost impossible.

Resort where we had lunch

I found a scientific study of lake Hinuma on the "internets tubes" showing a map with depth contours - very handy. I printed it out post card size and had K laminate it.

Loons fly over Hinuma with Mt. Tsukuba in the distance.

We had such a good time Thursday afternoon that we were late getting back to the harbor. As we approached, the wind was from the south - ie offshore - and for the last 100 meters, almost entirely blocked by the trees. K broke out the paddle to give us a boost for while, then a little puff came along and took us the rest of the way to the dock.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

No Such Thing As A Free Launch?

(Pictures in this post can be clicked to display a much larger image.)

This morning we headed for the lake for a "freebie". We've launched ten times and so today's winching fee would be waived.

We stopped along the way to check out an overhead crane along the shore of Kitaura lake, which K had spotted from the main road. The roads to the lake were very narrow, so we parked the car and walked a route which zig-zagged between farm houses and rice paddies. It was a beautiful morning and K picked a ginger blossom which added a heavenly scent to the scene. The small boat harbor, like so many along Kitaura, is little used and there are some boats tied there with weeds growing in them, while others are half submerged. Obviously abandoned and too much trouble for authorities to take away - the aftermath of Japan's "lost decade". Still, some old beaten up fishing boats are still operating there - one can tell by their newer looking outboard motors, neatly stowed fishing nets and other gear.

The boat with fore and aft poles is used for net fishing, the net being strung at the ends of the poles and dragged sideways, a method invented in the 19th century and used by sail powered fishing boats called Hobikisen which could be seen on this lake as late as a couple of decades ago.

The first order of business at Hinuma Yacht Harbor was to finish the lettering job on Bluesette. I had left the decal with the transfer membrane still covering it so that the letters could bond well to the hull. It was facing north and covered by the boat cover, so it would not get heated by the sun or dry out. In the morning, I spayed the transfer membrane with slightly soapy water again and gently pulled it off. E Viola.



Now we have a name that can be read in daylight as well as being reflective at night. We sailed with it right after applying it, but had no problems. After it sits for several days to completely dry out, I'll cover it with boat wax.

The decals were both from StreetGlo. Excellent product and service for everything from numbering to full custom graphics for commercial boats. (They do motorcycle stripes too). They took the time to answer my emails and offered me great advice on how best to remove the existing decal (I used a water based paint remover, but another option is warming it with a hair drier) - and also what NOT to do. They have an excellent video on how to apply new decals which I'll include here for anyone thinking about putting lettering their boat. As you'll see, using this method really makes it easy, but you have to be patient when doing it as the video emphasizes.

By the way, you may notice that Bluesette doesn't have any registration numbers. That is because in Japan, boats under 5 meters (16.4 feet) in length don't get registered. And by keeping it at the harbor, we don't have to license a trailer either. (read, no taxes).

K thinks this whole topic is a bit boring (she's tired of me asking her, "doesn't the new decal look great?") so I'll move on...

The Hakutas (owners of the yacht harbor) were holding a class today for people studying to get a boating license. In Japan anyone who skippers a motorized vessel of any sort with more than a 2 hp engine, needs a license. The course gives one everything needed for a Class II license, which allows one to sail up to a 20 ton boat within 5 nautical miles of shore. Trust me, Japan's oceans are no place for an amateur, and the fishing and freight traffic is so intense, you had really better know what you are doing, so the licensing requirement is a very reasonable one. A medical certification is required as well. After completing the course, there is a written exam and a practical demonstration test.

The class meant that power boats would be operating from the dock and we had to fit ourselves in for launch and return. We left the dock at 11:00, a bit hurriedly in order to get out of their way.

The winds were perfect for us at about 3 m/s (6.7 mph). That's enough to give us some speed and make things interesting without having to work too hard at avoiding a capsize. It also means K doesn't get soaking wet - well, at least not from the waste up. ;^)

No searching for wind this day. Not only was there a nice breeze, it was uncommonly steady in both strength and direction over the whole lake.

In a coincidence you will understand by the end of this post, we were both wearing Blue Impulse aerobatic team towels around our necks.

There were seven sailboats on the water, the most we've seen. A few windsurfers too. Thankfully few PWCs (jet skis) with their intrusively loud engines. (It is hard to get away from the sound of internal combustion engines these days).

Perhaps blown into the lake by the recent typhoon (which broke the glass entrance door of the clubhouse), we came across trash now and then - a can, a foam food container, a plastic bag. We made a game of plucking them from the lake.

A Laser flies by as we scoot downwind. The other sails belong to Sea Hoppers, a Yamaha version of the Laser.

Across the lake from the club and a bit west is the launching point for windsurfers.

We were due back at 13:00 but as we approached the dock there was a power boat coming down the ramp. We went across the lake a couple of times to give them time to launch. However they tied up behind another power boat. I decided that since the wind was up to about 4 m/s and there were two boats already tied up on the leeward side of the dock, I'd use the walk in method of docking. K called the clubhouse with her (waterproof) cellphone and asked if we would be in the way if we docked. No problem. As we approached, Mr. Hakuta came out with his long bamboo pole and motioned for me to dock in the 6 meter or so space between the power boats. I made a sweeping turn into the wind and coasted up to the doc, K grabbing the bamboo pole so Mr. Hakuta could pull us in and tie us to the dock.

After we lifted the centerboard, removed the tiller and lowered the sails, he rigged up extensions to our bow and stern lines so he could maneuver us around the powerboat between us and the ramp. K stayed in the boat.

Like a puppet master, Mr. Hakuta leads Bluesette gently onto her sendai.

It was past 14:00 by the time we had everything put away and headed for Mama's Kitchen. The special was unagi (broiled freshwater eel), with rice, pickles, miso soup, baked kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and flat peas.

Next weekend we won't be on the water as the JASDF (Japan Air Self Defense Force) is having an open house and airshow at Hyakuri Air Base, which is about 10 km from lake Hinuma. We're not keen on military machinery, but do love to watch airplanes fly, and the JASDF aerobatic team, Blue Impulse, is outstanding.

Until next, sweet sailing. (and flying)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sailing Abroad

Last week Wednesday, we took a break from sailing Bluesette and took a look at some venues far afield. New York, Cape Cod, the Mediteranean, a mysterious volcanic island.

(All of them are located an 80 minute bus ride from us at Tokyo DisneySea.)

Mediterranean Harbor

Hudson River Rowing Club under the elevated train in the American Waterfront area which is based on a concept of early 20th Century New York.

A 65 foot replica tug boat - Hercules

Steam ship "Columbia". This serves as a backdrop for the waterfront and shows put on there as well as houses two restaurants. The ship is about 425 feet long and 82 feet wide. It's an impressive prop with a lot of detail.

K in front of a section of the Mediterranean Harbor called Fortress Explorations with a replica Galleon called Renaissance. The volcano of Mysterious Island is in the upper left corner.

Captain Nemo's submarine Nautilus in the lagoon of Mysterious Island.

Cape Cod

Sailboats in New York (note "Sea Wolf", center, named for Jack London's novel no doubt)

Peaking over "Cape Cod", one can see across Tokyo Bay to the 100 meter (328 ft.) tall wind turbine at Wakasu Kaihin Park. On a really clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible.

There is more to DisneySea - a futuristic Port Discovery, Lost River Delta featuring Indiana Jones, Mermaid Lagoon and Arabian Coast. I'll do a more complete report on the Pacific Islander blog as time permits. In general, I liked it. It's aimed a bit more toward a slightly older crowd than Disneyland, yet retains elements that little kids like.

The DisneySea website in English is here: Tokyo DisneySea

After the rainy skies left behind by Typhoon 11 (Tropical Storm Krovanh) clear up, we'll be back on the lake with Bluesette.