Tuesday, October 27, 2009

These Are The Times That Dry Men's Soles

Where were we last? Ah, yes. I was dissing the meteorologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

In the morning, the weather presenters on tee-vee were still predicting thundershowers, but looking out our window we saw a gray sky over a still lake. Ha! I knew it.

A dozen or more people were standing off shore casting fishing lines. Net fishermen were checking their nets. The air was still.

We met up in the dining room for breakfast - a buffet of Japanese and western style foods - and discussed our plans for the day. As the wind wasn't blowing and the hour still early, we walked along the shore for a bit.

After walking off breakfast, we checked out of the inn and headed for the harbor. As we set up the boat, the wind started to increase a tiny bit, but only to about 4 mph. We'd had a good breeze the day before, so this was OK . The main thing was, it wasn't raining. I assured Martin that it would not rain as he had no dry pants to change into now and needed to keep them that way for his long trip home in the afternoon. As we shoved off I felt something. Was that a raindrop? Nah! It wasn't going to rain.

We enjoyed the relatively placid water and leisurely pace. Still, there was enough wind to keep us moving along. It gave Martin a chance to see what it's like in calmer wind and take in more of the scenery.

There were fish jumping out of the water here and there. Suddenly, a small one of about 15 cm/6 inches in length, popped out of the water, flew right past Martin and landed inside the centerboard well! We could peer down and see it wiggling around, but had no way to reach it. By the time we docked it had escaped out the bottom. Wow. First fish caught aboard Bluesette! Congratulations, Martin. Sorry it got away.

After a time, Martin asked to have a go at the tiller. He had been in boats before, but not a sailing dinghy. We changed places and he took over helming while I handled the port jib sheet and main.

It's always tricky at first, learning to handle the tiller. Martin was surprised at how responsive the boat is and also how much one has to work at it. The wind came up a bit and we tried tacking a few times.

It was new experience to me in Bluesette to be handling the jib and not the tiller. Martin noticed the look on my face as I reoriented myself to the new position in the boat. It did seem strange.

Then, when coming about, Martin changed sides too quickly and we rolled precipitously. I popped the mainsheet from its cleat and things steadied. My bad for not doing a better job at briefing the crew. We changed places again.

K pointed out some very dark clouds to the East and shortly we heard a rumble of thunder. And then - the rain began. As we had agreed ahead of time, we immediately headed for the harbor, which was downwind from our position. The cloud followed us, however, and soon was emptying its moisture on Bluesette. So much for staying dry. The weather bureau's revenge was at hand.

(do click on these two to see the rain on the water and the boat and us) ...
Martin did his best to shrug it off (like a true Viking)

K didn't look at all amused - was it something I said? Perhaps it was raining lemon juice?

Ah, well. Showers and dry clothes would fix this. (except for Martin, who now had nothing dry to change into). What to do... I recalled seeing a new laundromat that we passed on the route that leads home and which wasn't too far out of way. So we went there and in a matter of minutes Martin had dry pants. Never a dull moment when you sail on Bluesette!

Time for lunch...

With Martin's interest in food issues - like food security (Japan only grows 40% of it's own caloric intake), food safety and sustainability - we had been wanting to take him to a farm association run market and restaurant we discovered about four years ago called JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant. K set the Insight's navi computer for "shortest route" to get to the restaurant. We were soon driving down very narrow, winding roads through farms. At one point a delivery truck pulled out ahead of us, but thankfully he was heading the same direction. Maybe we'll stick to the main road next time.

They feature locally grown produce and meats both in the market and the restaurant. The latter is an all you can eat affair. The building has a high open beamed dining room set in a forest with large picture windows to bring the outside in.

I took this picture on a previous visit to Doki Doki.

The food is displayed on a large wooden, two tiered table. Often, the dishes are labeled with a small sign with a picture of the farmer who provided the ingredients and a blurb from the chef who prepared it. The food is all very fresh as the amount of each dish put out is relatively small, so replaced often with a fresh batch or a different dish altogether. There are no chemical additives in the foods. The selection is amazing. You can read Martin's impressions here: Five Stars For The JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant.

After lunch and a visit to the market there, it was time to move on. We were heading in the general direction of the bus terminal, but there was another stop we wished to make along the way.

Both Martin and I have some background in Buddhism, albeit different sects. There is a temple in rural part of Hokota City which is little known outside the area, but of some historical significance, so that was our next stop.

Muryouju-ji (ji means temple) is on a hill overlooking a valley of rice fields. The gate is a the top of a long flight of steps (pant pant wheeze).

Muryouju-ji was founded in 806 and later renovated by the monk, Shinran Shonin, who lived there for three years starting in 1221. Shinran was the founder of the Jodo Shinshu (true pure land) sect of Buddhism - presently the largest sect in Japan. (It is known in the USA as Hongwanji and Buddhist Church of America). The worship hall was replaced in the early 1600s with the building one sees today.

The bell tower was built around 725 and is rung 108 times on New Years eve. K gave it a go.
On a previous visit, the temple hall itself was closed. It underwent a complete renovation starting in 2000, which took four years. This day, we were lucky and the hall was open and we went inside. A woman joined us - possibly the minister's wife - and lit a candle for us so that we could offer incense. She also told some things about the temple and its unusually elaborate decor and some of the history of the sect.

Altar with a statue of Amida Buddha. The carved panels above - some brightly painted and others gold plated - were made by the same artist who made the carvings for the famous Toshogu Shrine in Nikko in 1617.

A protective dragon greets one at the entrance.

Recent renovations included a new thatched roof.

The tall tree is a ginko, which may have been planted by Shinran Shonin himself as it is over 700 years old. To the right is a stone "Domae" - treasure house.

Then it was time to repel the Viking invader take Martin to the bus terminal for his long journey home - happily, attired in dry clothing. We'll do it again. Next time, just for kicks, in sunny weather!

Until next, sweet sailing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Viking Invades Hinuma

At the beginning of October, our friend Martin became our first guest aboard Bluesette. Martin is from Sweden and has lived in Japan for a long time. We met through blogging a few years back when my only blog was Pacific Islander. Martin writes Kurashi - News from Japan which is all about being GREEN and covers the issues of sustainability, food safety, ecology and energy as they affect life in Japan. He is the author of a new book (in Japanese) which is a guide to consumers on which foods are safest and what additives various Japanese companies may add to their food products. Japanese readers can check out the book here: Food Safety Ranking in Japan 2009

It's a two hour trip from Martin's home by train and bus. We picked him up at the bus terminal in Itako City and drove up the eastern shore of Lake Kitaura and on to Hinuma. The weather was going to be wet, but we were determined to go no matter what. Thinking the weather would likely be better in the afternoon, and not wanting to have to break for lunch later, we stopped at Mama's Kitchen.


K & Pandabonium - are we really gonna do this in the rain?

Martin is ready. Bluesette is ready.

We could barely make out the north shore 1 mile away - definitely IFR weather. The Hakutas obliged by launching Bluesette for us anyway, then retreated to the club house. Not sure what they thought of us at that point. Perhaps "baka" - crazy.

Ignoring the rain, we had a blast. The wind picked up a bit and we got sup some speed. Rather than trying to have 3 people change sides with each tack, Martin and K sat on either side of the boat manning the jib and trusting me to keep them from taking a swim.

Agent 99 -"we're soaked to the skin" Agent 86 - "and loving it!"

The mainsail acted as a great catchment system, intercepting the rain and sending it down and into the cockpit below. This insured that the crew got a double dose of rain and also kept them busy bailing.


None of us had prepared ourselves well for the rain. I left my rain gear at home by mistake, K didn't have any, and Martin brought a temporary rain suit, but only wore the pants. I guess we were just determined face the elements and beat them. Lucky for us it was fairly warm with water and air temps around 21C/70F.

After tucking in Bluesette under her cover for the night, it was nice to enjoy a hot shower at the club and get into some dry clothes.

Then it was time to head for Ikoinomura Hinuma - a prefecture run resort just half a kilometer from the harbor. K and I had had lunch there before, but had never stayed overnight.

Ikoi no mura Hinuma - " village of rest at Hinuma"

Our accommodations were spacious Japanese style rooms with tatami mat floors and lake views.

After settling in and having a bit of rest it was time for dinner. Two meals a day are included in the room charge and dinner is ordered ahead of time so it is ready when you arrive in the dinning room. In addition to the set meal, I had ordered a plate of fried freshly caught "haze" (Japanese Goby fish). While we did enjoy them, it was a bit much food as the set meal itself was quite a feast.

A couple of hours later, it was time for the onsen - hotspring baths - to relax the muscles and warm one's body for a sound sleep. The baths at Ikoi no mura Hinuma (separate for men and women) have big windows overlooking the lake. After our long, active day, it felt great.

While one is out for dinner, the maids move the furniture in the room and set out futons.

K is wearing the yukata which Japanese inns (ryokan) provide guests. They are worn everywhere in the resort [men are additionally provided a sort of jacket that goes over it (haori)]. The yukata is also for sleeping.

An occluded front had formed over the area. That's when a cold front and warm front collide and duke it out as to which will win. It can be very hard to predict the weather with any certainty when this occurs until something breaks. I bet on the warm front winning and bringing improved conditions with it.

The weather bureau, however, was forecasting more rain and even thundershowers for the next day. Ha! What do they know?

つづく (to be continued)

Until next, sweet sailing!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Playing Catchup

Or is it Katsup?

Sorry to be behind in my posts. ' Been busier than a three-balled tomcat on a Saturday night. I've got a couple posts I'll put up in a day or two.

Yesterday we went up to the port town of Ōarai, Ibaraki. The southerly end of Ōarai, in which the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute facility is located, touches the eastern shore of Lake Hinuma. The port is toward the northern end of town. The beaches along Ōarai are popular with windsurfers, surfers, and in summer, everyone in Ibaraki who wants to cool off in the ocean.

I was hunting for neoprene boots. My feet are wide and I have trouble finding shoes that fit - especially in Japan - so internet shopping for them is out for me. K has no problem there, but wanted to check out what was out there.

Ōarai is port - 50 miles north of Tokyo - is the port for catching a ferry up to Japan's northern most main island of Hokkaido. As we ate lunch, we watched the Sunflower Sapporo enter the harbor and dock. At 630 feet long and over 13,000 gross tons, she is one of several Sunflower ships which make the 500 mile trip each day carrying cars, trucks, and up to 632 passengers.

After poking around we found a few shops - mostly disappointing - to check out. I was beginning to feel like we wasted our time, but on a whim, K followed a sign for "Yellow Sands Surf Shop" that led us to a small building right on Ōarai beach. It turned out to be a good find.

I found a pair of 5mm boots that fit me well. They are from a Japanese company called Surf8. Made for surfing, they have a 2 part sole which doesn't cover the arch, so are more flexible. They also have a divider inside that goes between the big toe and the 2nd toe and gives one added support. The soles grip really well. So, for sailing through November and in the still cool months of April and May next year, I should have Cozy Toes*.

K came home empty handed, but wasn't disappointed as she has several leads online, so should have boots, if not a wetsuit as well, next week.

Until next, sweet sailing.

*Cozy Toes - a swing band tune written by Lennie Niehaus.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life Lessons From Sailing

Sailing a boat offers many lessons which are applicable to one's life. A friend recently posted a diagram similar to the one below on her blog in a completely different context. It is a feedback circuit that is equally applicable to one's life and to sailing a boat (or flying an airplane).

We learn to read the way the boat is sailing and to adjust things - trim the jib, move the tiller, shift our weight, and so on - as needed to keep it sailing "happily".

Somehow, most of us find it simple when applying this to sailing, but get tripped up on all sorts of "issues" rather than applying it to our lives. Since college days (back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth), I have referred to the problem as the "yes, but" syndrome. Yes, we know we should change something, but we have "X" rationalizations for not doing so.

Well, if we find this kind of feedback circuit useful when sailing, perhaps we should learn to get off our "buts" when the feedback is telling us a change or adjustment (big or small) is needed in our lives.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another Blast

We had a fun two days of sailing and sight seeing with our visitor last weekend. I'll have a full post with lots of pics up as soon as possible. Plenty of wind, and rain. We got soaked, but had a great time.

Meanwhile, here we go again with a storm. Typhoon Melor is howling outside the door and we won't see the worst of it for a couple of hours yet. So far, so good here.

I'm glad we went up to the lake yesterday and replaced the tie down rope (Bluesette and her sendai are tied to heavy eyelets set in the concrete parking area).

Before heading up there, we stopped in town and picked up a box of manju (a baked pastry filled with white bean paste) for the Hokutas. After I finished re-securing the boat, Mrs. Hokuta made tea and we sat in the club house with them and had tea and manju while chatting about the storm and sailing. They had pictures of typhoon damage at the harbor from about 7 years ago - wave surges lifted the decking right off the pier pilings and ripped huge chunks (one by two meters each!) of concrete out of bridges that used to connect each dock to the shore.

Typhoon Melor is heading inland now and it is hoped that it will be greatly slowed by landfall and Japan's mountains. Still, we expect 50 kt plus winds here shortly.

On a brighter note, K discussed taking an all-day sailing course with Mr. Hakuta and she is set to go next Monday, which is a national holiday ["Health and Sports Day" appropriately enough]. I'll sail solo while she takes the course. I'm looking forward to sharing the tiller with her on future outings.

Until next, sweet sailing.