Monday, November 16, 2009


We were back on the water with Bluesette on Sunday. The forecasted weather looked good in the morning, confirmed by a call to the yacht club. Light winds were forecast with a maximum of around 4 m/s (9 mph). Before sailing there were several things I wanted to get done. Mostly I wanted to fit all loose items with suction cups and short line, so that in the event of a capsize, they will stay put. I'll take some pics next time. They really work well as evidenced that our paddle and whisker pole stayed put in the capsize.

The rains of the past two weeks had left a puddle in the cockpit, in spite of the cover, so we mopped that up. Then we spread the cover out on the ground to dry it and clean it a bit. K cut out new waterproof patches for 3 small holes which had developed earlier (due to running the tie down rope over the cover rather than under it). Then we put up the mast and jib. The mast was a bit problematic as it was missing the nut that holds the bolt at its base in place. That bold keeps the mast attached to the deck, so is crucial. K found a replacement nut soon enough, and then working like a detective located the original on the ground. (A good crew is priceless).

By the time we got done, it was 11:30 and we decided to take an early lunch at Mama's Kitchen. The place was unusually busy with five customer cars in the lot. We took a seat by the lake side window. K had a teishoku tray with pork in ginger sauce as the main dish, while I opted for pasta with clams, asparagus, and mushrooms. While we ate, even more people showed up. We were happy to see Mama's so busy - though I didn't appreciate the smokers. Desert was cheesecake and fruit, which the two of us shared. The cook came out and presented us with two large sesame rolls stuffed with sweet potato slices to take home. We ate them with dinner and they were delicious.

At one point, two men came in and took a seat at the counter in front of the kitchen. After a few minutes, Mama came over to our table and introduced to us to one of the men who, it turns out, is her husband.

When we returned to the yacht harbor, we noticed two of the cars that had been at Mama's Kitchen were now there. Candidates for the Japan boating license were taking the practical exam today, and the cars belonged to two of them. They would be using the dock for the test as well as maneuvering around some buoys placed out on the lake, so we'd need to watch for them and not get in the way.

I don't think I'll ever tire of the view of Tsukuba-san. Although the mountain is only a modest 877 meters (2,788 feet) tall, it stands out above the Kanto plain, displaying its beautiful symmetry in every direction. K and I hiked to its summit a few years ago. We should do it again sometime and take a picture of lake Hinuma from there.

We launched a little after 13:00. The wind was nice at about 3 m/s (4.7 mph). The sky was clear and visibility very good, with Mt. Tsukuba dominating the view to the west. It was warm - 20C/68F - and K felt hot in her wetsuit. The only other sail boat (not counting windsurfers at the west end of the lake) was a sea hopper.

Some of the trees around the lake were taking on their autumnal tints, adding to the backdrop. Flights of ducks went by. Other birds were swimming in large groups, diving in unison to feed on the bottom in the shallows.

After a long downwind leg, we turn to follow the Sea Hopper. He was surprised as we gained on him, and kept looking back to check our progress. What he may not have realized is that while he was pointing up as high as he could into the wind, we were on a close reach that did not parallel his course, and being a bit off the wind were going faster.

We were on a port tack so sitting on the port side. While K held the camera for another shot (she takes most of the pictures), a large fish - about 40 cm (16 inches) - came out of the water close off our starboard bow and swam half out of the water around the bow and down the port side past K and then submerged. It was quite a sight and I was trying to tell her about it throughout the event, but she didn't believe me, so missed it entirely. She did get a nice shot of the Sea Hopper.

K declined to take the tiller this trip. A bit to much wind to try it again after the capsize. I know the saying goes that if you fall off a horse (something I have also experienced) you should get right back on. But I would hasten to add, not at a full gallop. Not even a canter.

The wind kept increasing, bit by bit, until after an hour or so, it was over 6 m/s (13.4 mph) with white caps on the water all across the lake. There were some pretty serious gusts too (though nowhere near like we saw November 1), and it began to feel like déjà vu all over again. The conditions were not the sort we came to sail in this day, so we headed for the dock.

I timed the turn at the dock just right so coasted right up to it, and K was ready with the grappling hook to catch the line on the dock. She pulled us alongside, hopped out onto to the dock and secured the bow in such a smooth flow of motion that it looked as if she'd been doing it all her life.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Way Haul Away

Bluesette's mainsail has been repaired and we're ready to "haul away" again.

North Sails Japan in Yokohama was quick about it - we emailed them a week ago, sent it in on Saturday night and got it back today (Friday). Cost was only ¥3000 (about $33.50), plus shipping. Granted that it was a small repair, but it was sure nice to get such quick service. The repair looks good too.

Our first opportunity to sail will be Sunday, but we're keeping a wary eye on the weather as it looks like winds might be ten knots - more than we want this trip. We'll go up there in any case and if we don't go sailing there is work I can do on the boat and I also want to bring the "Hinuma-cycle" home for maintenance.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roll, Roll, Roll, Your Boat...

We thought we had seen a bad day until reading a post on the M Squared blog from last May. Seems the Willamette Sailing Club in Portland, Oregon put on their Spring Fling Lido 14 regatta this year on May 2nd and 3rd. Some boats from Eugene came up to join the fun and there a total of 12 boats starting.

As with our day, things for them got very interesting very fast. One of the participants related the following:

"The skipper's meeting started at 2:00 under partly sunny skies and an 8 to 10 knot breeze. The first race started on time at 3:00 under menacing skies, a building breeze, and claps of thunder. About 30 seconds later a squall rolled across the river. As it hit [us], we luffed the sails and watched them flog in the wind. It wasn't enough to prevent us from being blown over. We tried to prevent the turtle to no avail. We righted the boat and were immediately blown right back over. We decided to wait for the wind to ease a bit before trying again. So, we climbed on top of the turtled boat and began to wait. I looked behind me to see if anybody else had capsized and counted 7 more of the 12 starters turtled as we were. Only 4 boats remained upright, 1 being an 81 year old [with] his grandson on board for his first ride in a sailboat.

"The rescue boats arrived in no time at all, including 3, 2 manned jet skis from the Portland Fire Rescue team.

"[We] were able to right our boat the second time about the same time the rescue boat arrived and decided to accept the tow they offered rather than sail back, as our machismo seems to have evaporated at some point during the adventure.

"Several people had abandoned their boats in favor of the rescue ride as the river water got very cold, very quickly. It took a while to get all the people and boats back to WSC and the race committee decided to cancel racing for the rest of the day. Nobody was hurt and no boats were damaged.

2 races were completed on Sunday in very light winds with [one of our own] taking home a 3rd place trophy in the A Fleet."

Cold water and rain too. Almost makes our little adventure look like a piece of cake. Eight boats turned turtle? Maybe they should look into mast floats...

Until next, sweet sailing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

How many words is a camera worth? A cellphone with a camera?

There won't be any sailing pictures with this post. The reason will become evident soon enough.

K had things to do all Saturday (Halloween) up in Mito City, so we decided to go sailing on Sunday. But Sunday morning, K was having cold feet. She was waiting for something she ordered, which of course didn't arrive until almost noon. So we were going to have a late start. It was our 5th Anniversary and we had dinner plans in the evening - would a lunch at Mama's spoil our appetite? Would be be late getting back, etc. etc. - woman logic. Perhaps the visit to the beautician Saturday played a part.

Anyway, I had already put all of our gear into the car as was ready to go. I went into grumpy Panda mode (sorry O Docker, this is about the most drama I can come up with). I told K we could skip lunch and if we got hungry we could have SoyJoy bars and cold tea while sailing and be back plenty early for dinner. Finally, she relented and off we went to the lake.

The weather was warm with scattered to broken cumulus and light winds at around 2 to 4 knots. It was forecast to stay that way until picking up to 6 then 8 knots in the late afternoon. K was wearing her new wetsuit and boots, I had my usual garb and new neoprene boots.

When we launched the wind backed off quite a bit with just a patch in the middle of the lake. When we reached the other side and turned around, I searched out that patch of wind. Be careful what you wish for. Suddenly things began to change and we soon found ourselves hiking out as far as we could while I was busy with the main sail and tiller. The wind was building fast until reaching about 15 knots or so. 15 knots is about the most a Lido 14, a family boat, is comfortable with. It is also at the edge of the envelope for my capabilities.

More experienced Lido 14 sailors can handle wind like this. In August of last year at the 51st Lido 14 Class Championship on lake Fern Ridge Lake near Eugene, Oregon they had 18 to 20 knot winds during a practice and 15 knots during the race. "We had a hard time keeping the boat under control," said Mark Schroeder, a local veteran.

This was certainly more than we could handle and we headed back toward the dock. It was going to take more than one tack as getting anywhere upwind was a struggle. The wind speed continued to increase and many times I had to let the main so far out that it was against the shrouds, yet we would still take on water. Then the big gusts came, and it was game over.

We both made some mistakes which ultimately kept us from righting the boat. I should have stood on the centerboard trunk and climbed over to stand on the centerboard, while K moved to the bow. But I jumped in the water instead and made my way around to the centerboard. K however, went after our cooler, letting go of the boat and so got separated from it as the wind pushed the hull along. I tried for the centerboard from the water, but did not have the jib sheet to grab onto and so slid right off as the boat started to right. The Lido has a lot of buoyancy so centerboard is pretty far above the water when the boat is on its side. At least the mast float was preventing us from turning turtle.

I then made the mistake of trying to grab K while holding onto our stern line. She was already too far away for that to work. Realizing that was foolish I went around the boat again to throw the jib sheet over the side for something to grab on to. Then once again went around to the centerboard to climb onto it. By this time, all the swimming around had tired me out and I couldn't pull myself up on the centerboard any longer. Time to wait for help.

K was trying to use her waterproof cell phone which was on a strap around her neck. With the wind whipping the water, she could not see the screen well enough to make the call. (Lesson - before sailing, ready the help number so you just need to press one button). By this time the boat and I had been blown 50 meters or more downwind from her. Some fisherman in one of the long wooden boats that are so common here, had called it a day and were on their way across the lake when they spotted K and picked her up. They tried to pick me up as well, but I couldn't make it over the high (it seemed at the time) side of the boat.

One other sailboat was also caught on the lake. It was a SeaHopper (Laser-like Yamama) sailed by Mr. "I". I-san came over and picked me up, it was easy to get into that boat. It took several tacks to get back to the dock and we nearly capsized twice in the process. It wasn't the strong wind for the SeaHopper so much as the gusts. When we got near the dock, I jumped off to wade the rest of the way in, so I-san could take his boat over to the other dock.

Normally, when someone has trouble, Hakuta-san or his son launches a jet ski and help is on the way fairly quickly. This day, Hakuta-san was half a kilometer away on a community weeding project and his son was busy teaching a licensing class, so Hakuta-san didn't get back until we had already arrived at the dock. He went out on a jet ski and towed Bluesette back. The mast float kept the top of the mast from going under, and I had lowered the jib and partly lowered the main, so it wasn't so difficult to tow. Once back at the dock, sheltered form the wind by the trees, it was simple to right her.

Of course, I realized how foolish it was that we had never practiced capsizing and righting the boat. Our safety gear worked well (always wear a lifevest on the water!), but we were not prepared to handle the situation, and for that I have no excuse. Had we been ready, it would not have been difficult to right the boat, perhaps bring down the main and sail back on the jib. Or if we could not get back on our own, K could have made the call for help to the yacht harbor from the boat. As pointed out in the previous post comments, some previous practice with the anchor might have also been useful while waiting for a tow.

The main sail was slightly damaged in the knock down. Up near the head of the sail, a 16 cm stretch of the bolt - a line that is stitched into the luff of the sail to keep it attached to the mast - was uncovered as the material around it was torn out. The sail is being repaired now at North Sails Japan in Yokohama and won't cost much - about $35 plus shipping.

K lost her new waterproof cellphone. Perhaps it came off while she struggled aboard the fishing boat. It was insured, so within a few days she had a new one at about 1/7 the cost of new. Hopefully we won't be charged for calls made by some flounder.

Most other things in the boat were tied down or well stowed. One exception was the most expensive of course - my new Olympus camera which K had been using on the way across the lake. It was in the cubby up in the bow, but now resides at the bottom of Lake Hinuma. Ouch. I now have devised a way to easily keep it secure anywhere in the boat, yet convenient for use. At least I won't lose my other camera now.

We have always been fairly well prepared for the expected. The lesson here is to be prepared for the unexpected. And safety drills are not to be put off, but discussed and rehearsed early on and repeated. K has learned not to go after drifting items, but to stay with the boat.

That night I got the wind records for Tokyo International Airport at Narita. Narita is about 30 miles from Hinuma, but was directly upwind on Sunday. What we experienced would have passed Narita about one and a half to two hours earlier. The chart is interesting.

Wind speed in knots along left edge.

After showers and a change, Mrs. Hakuta served us some hot tea and we talked with I-san and Hakuta-san about what had happened, the mistakes we made, and things we did right. We expressed our gratitude for all the help extended to us.

A Sweet-Bluesette post should always include food...

We made it home in time for our dinner out at an Italian restaurant in Kashima (our fair city) called Trattoria Cinquecento (there are two old Fiat Cinquecento cars parked out front). We had a wonderful feast of Italian style smoked fish, various shell fish, and wood fired oven baked pizza. We were waited on by the owner and his son while other family members did the cooking. They restaurant is in a wing connected to their house.

They grow their own herbs and when K declined the offer for a free espresso as it might keep her from sleeping well, the owner made a special herb tea for K which contained apple, mint, oregano, and lavender, for a good night's rest. Before we left he brought out mason jars full of the dried herbs and mixed a baggie full of the blend for us to take home. ("no really, officer, it's just herbs").

We had a table by the bay window.

Quite a day with much to think about and much to be grateful for. We should be back on the water in a week or so. Be safe out there.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Winged Migration

K's sailing course was on a Monday. The following Saturday we were both looking forward to taking Bluesette out together again. The weather was looking to be boring - gray skies, light winds, but we could sail, so we went.

Arriving before noon, we decided on an early lunch so as not to break up the day later. Mama's Kitchen severed up a tasty lunch as usual. The desert was beautiful, with a fruit tart and fresh pear slice, grape and persimmon.

On the way out, we were each given a present - candy canes in a glass with a thank you card. "Thank You" on my card was in English. Nice touch. Mama's was celebrating their first year in business. We wish them continued success.

Out on the lake, a large flock of ducks was resting on the surface, on their way south for the winter. While we sailed they would occasionally take to the air and flies along the shore before settling again. The left the area entirely by the end of the day.

The title of this post is taken from a documentary movie of the same name. Released in 2003, it follows the migrations of birds in various parts of the world using ultralight aircraft to put you right in the formations. If you missed this film, go rent it or buy it. You can read more about it and watch the trailer here: Winged Migration.

The wind was light, but we moved right along on a broad reach. We switched places so K could take the tiller of Bluesette for the first time. She tried various tacks, running down wind for a bit so I could see what it was like to put up the whisker pole, seeing how high she could point into the wind when close hauled, and practicing coming about. I gave her a hand with the mainsheet now and then, but she was skippering the boat.

I think she liked it. ;^)

As mentioned above, there were birds at the lake that we normally don't see. There was also something missing that we normally do see - bamboo stakes to which nets are tied. Hurray. The season was over for whatever they catch in those nets, so all the rows and rows of stakes which at time blocked our way in some parts of the lake were gone. Only a few stakes remained.

A quiet afternoon on the lake, but a joy all the same. As we headed back to the harbor, a caravan of fishing boats crossed our path - migrating home, like us.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Captain K

K has taken an all day sailing course. Her instructor was Mr. Hakuta, owner of the Hinuma Yacht Harbor. I was all for it as my own knowledge is so limited and also because I knew it would be so much easier for her to learn the concepts in Japanese rather than in English.

While she sat down in the club house with Mr. Hakuta, I went out on Bluesette, sailing her single handed for the first time. The last time I sailed a Lido 14 by myself was as a boy in hull number 443. It was fun, and interesting to see what the boat handled like when 105 lbs lighter. I have to admit, though, that I missed K's company. Not just her help on the jib and hiking out to balance the boat, but as someone I am used to sharing the experience with. That was a large part of the reason for choosing a Lido 14 over a smaller boat - for us to sail together.

When I saw them walking out to the boats, I came back in and docked to find out what the plan was, and watched them set up the training boat, a Yamaha "Sea Martin". The boat is designed for students and is similar in layout to the larger Sea Hopper so that students can easily move up.

I got back in Bluesette and went out again. For the first time, we were both sailing on the lake in different boats. I made sure to sail to another area of the lake so as not be a distraction. When I saw them coming back toward the dock, I headed back too. There are two ramps and docks at Hinuma Yacht Harbor. One for boats on a sendai (four wheeled berth) and one for lighter boats which can be launched from a hand cart. So as K docked by one ramp, I tied up at the other, and we took a break for lunch.

This day we had brought bento lunches with us in order to save time. The Yacht club has stone picnic tables with a nice view of the lake, so we ate outdoors. As we did we saw the high school students coming in from practice on their three Flying Juniors.

A well camouflaged kamakiri - praying mantis - sat on the hedge before us and seemed to be begging for a bite of our lunch. Sorry, pal, we don't have any insects to offer you.

Then it was time to go back out.

K and Mr. Hakuta sailed together for a time and then K tried it solo. She had a little trouble at first, getting the boat into "irons" (for non-sailing readers, that's when to point the boat too close to the wind, the sails just luff and you lose the speed you would need to turn, so you are kind of stuck). She worked her way out of it, but not without first having her sailing cap knocked into the lake where it remains.

I watched her as she sailed to the far northeast part of the lake and back. Mr. Hakuta went out on his jet ski to watch and offer instructions if needed. She did just fine.

Needless to say, I was happy and proud for her. As I marveled at the sight of the sun's rays lighting up a cloud to the west and casting shadows and sun beams with the silhouette of Mt. Tsukuba in the distance, I suddenly had a disturbing thought - what if she enjoyed it so much that she decides she wants her own sailboat to sail by herself? Oh, dear.

She was waiting for me on the dock with a big smile on her face as I slowed the boat and approached.

Lucky for me, K doesn't want her own boat. She is very glad she spent the day learning more about sailing and how to manage a boat on her own - though she admitted it was pretty scary to solo. Mr. Hakuta presented her with a booklet on sailing and a length of line with which to practice tying knots. Perhaps in the spring she'll do another all day course. For now she can enjoy sailing all the more and we can take turns at the tiller. Aye, aye, Capt. K. We'll go on learning together while we sail Bluesette.

Until next, sweet sailing.