Friday, July 22, 2011

Head In The Clouds

Sometimes I look up into the sky and just say, "wow".

I saw this in the sky this afternoon...

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Until next, sweet sailing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Perfect Crescendo

"Old musicians never die, they just decrescendo."

Not me. Not yet! Today we had a perfect crescendo - of wind on the water.

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A coot was enjoying one of the docks to itself when we arrived at the yacht harbor.


It was another hot day in Ibaraki, with the temperature quickly rising to 32C (90 F) by the time we reached the lake. That's not counting the heat index due to 55% humidity. Uhg! Kimie walked Momo the Wonder Dog this morning at 7:00 AM, but returned saying that earlier would probably be better due to the heat. The lake water was in the eighties on the Fahrenheit scale, offering scant relief.

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R-17 Actus

As we got Bluesette ready to sail, I was very happy to see other boats setting up too - a Cicada (about the size of Bluesette), some Sea Hoppers (Laser impersonators?) and a boat I've only seen on the water twice so far - an R-17 Actus (above). A family of four plus a friend was getting ready to go out on a motor boat. More action than we've seen at the lake in while, and a most welcome sight.

The Actus is a about 16 feet long with a 6 3/4 foot beam and has a dagger board with a 100 kg (220 lbs) weight on it. The designer was Ichiro Yokoyama, who has had a hand in many sailboats and some motorboats (and "others"), including the wave powered Suntory Mermaid II catamaran which, as I reported on Pacific Islander blog, Ken-ichi Horie sailed from Hawaii to Japan in 2008.

Designed as a safe family dinghy, the Actus is exactly what the fellow at Hinuma was looking for, and he named his boat "HAMN", which Kimie discovered is a name made from the initials of the names of the owner, his wife, and two children.

When we launched, the lake looked much as it had a week ago and we were worried that we'd end up whistling for the wind most of the morning. (The other sailor's tradition for conjuring wind - sticking a knife in the mast - is out of the question on Bluesette, due to the aluminum mast.) Happily, it was calm as I mounted the rudder, lowered the centerboard and raised the sails, then just as I finished, a nice 3 to 4 knot breeze presented itself, and we were off!

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Kayak fishermen


We ran across (not literally) three guys with sit on top kayaks fishing with casting reels. After we had been out for thirty minutes or so, they made for shore as the wind started to pick up further.
Soon we had 5 to 6 knots to play with. The Actus and other sailboats came out and at times we "raced" each other - unannounced, but well understood judging by the courses taken. Bluesette acquits herself well against this competition inspite of my ineptitude. This was due to 1) the fellow with the Actus was sailing with main only and has twice the empty weight of the Lido in any case; 2) we generally beat a Sea Hopper/Laser on most tacks any day in winds under 10 knots due (I guess) to sail area; and 3) there were three people aboard the Cicada giving it a weight disadvantage.


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R-17 Actus under sail as other boats launch in the distance


The wind gradually increased to about 8 knots, at which point the waves on the lake start to quest and we start getting wet with spray (especially Kimie). Nice speed though and we slice through the water while hiking out. The breeze was fairly steady for a change.



By the time we started to head back to the dock, the wind was up to around 10 knots. I was starting to feel the dreaded "Tillerman fingers cramp" coming on, and thanks to his posts on the subject was keenly self aware as to what I was doing. I was in fact grasping the main sheet rather tightly, but also, due to the heat had downed some fruit juice and green tea, but felt that the heat was affecting my balance of salts and water. I relaxed on the main sheet a bit and it prevented any full on cramping. My personal conclusion is that it takes a combination of careful technique, physical fitness, and balanced body nutrients to keep muscle cramps at bay. Not being in a race, I had the happy option of calling it a day.

Our docking maneuvers went well, except that Kimie had a bit of a time jumping to the dock. She managed, though I wish she had waited until I had a firm grip of the guy line on the dock which would have made it easier for her. Another minor lesson learned.

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A Sea Hopper comes up behind the Actus on a reach.


After we got Bluesette secured, I went down the dock and grabbed the bowline for the Actus as he came in. He had no other help, other than a small outboard, and appreciated a hand.

Strangley, as if by cue, the wind started to decresendo as we pulled Bluesette out of the water. By the time we washed her down and put her away, the other boats had also come in. I guess everyone was hungry for lunch. We sure were. We got to Mama's well after one.

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After ice water and a salad, I ordered spaghetti with mushrooms and spiced cod roe, and Kimie had spaghetti with asparagus and asari clams (called Manila clams in the USA).

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Frogma has said something to the effect that "you know it's hot when dinner starts with ice cream". Well, we didn't start with it, but our lunch did finish with "fruit punch" ice cream.

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Delicious and oh so welcome. The high today was 95° F with 55% relative humidity. On the heat index, they say that combination "feels like 108°".

Until next, sweet sailing. (and be careful out there in the heat).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hot Sailing

Japan has four seasons - too cold, too wet, too hot, and too windy. "Tsuyu", the "too rainy" season, officially ended today for the area from Kyushu in the south west, all the way up to where we are on the Kanto Plain. That means it is now "TOO HOT" season.

How hot was it? So hot that to keep from being burned, I had to hold the (aluminum) tiller by its foam handle under the water until it cooled down before attaching it to the rudder. The weather folk say it got to 33°C (91°F) with humidity in the 55% range (Feels like 95°F). We think it was hotter than that out on the water. The white cockpit surface was OK to touch, but we could not rest our hands on the blue gunwales without feeling the heat big time.

Mindful of the risk of heat stroke, we had a cooler stocked with fruit juices and green tea, and went through over half of it while sailing.

Winds were fickle at zero to 7 knots from various directions, but we had a good time. I enjoy the challenge of shifting winds. On occasions when the wind slacked, I knew to keep the crew busy this time, so made up chores like scooping up jetsam or deploying/taking in the whisker pole. Here are the pics...

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Three Two Men In A Boat They rowed straight across the lake, south to north lugging a silent outboard motor. Why? I don't know. To get to the other side?


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Above: An interesting portable sailboat with a hard center hull and pontoons mounted on the sides. I made a mental note of the name when it was being set up, but of course can't remember it now.

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Two Yamaha Seahoppers also came out to play - as we were coming in.


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It's nice having the Hakutas to take care of the launching and retrieval. I have a childhood memory of an expensive car backing down a boat ramp at Santa Barbara Harbor ... and on into the water until the entire back seat area was submerged in sea water. Must have smelled nice after that.


Mrs. H told us that there was another earthquake off the Tohoku region this morning at about 10 AM and wondered how I handled earthquakes. Kimie told her I grew up in California and was conditioned for them. We had been the road at the time this morning and didn't feel it at all. When Kimie translated the information to me she mistakenly gave the magnitude as 9.1.
I must have turned white as she immediately corrected it to 7.1 on the Richter. Still plenty big, but my mind had reeled at the thought of what a 9.1 could mean. Happily, no major damage or tsunami was reported.

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A shower later it was time for Mama's. Here's Kimie in her new "A Song For Japan" T-shirt.

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A closer look at lunch - Thick slice of salmon in a cream sauce, curried veggies, horenso (Japanese spinach) with bonito flakes, rice, pickled veggies, and miso soup with shijimi clams. The salmon was the best I've had in quite a while. That is saying a lot since I eat salmon about three times a week.

Did I mention that the weather was hot?

Until next, sweet sailing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Up A Lazy River

at the Itako City "Ayame Matsuri" - Iris Festival -
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Iris Festival "Abassadors" greet guests


Long ago, the Tonegawa river flowed through Tokyo and into Tokyo Bay. It's course was never steady and every big storm brought floods and course changes to the river. So, about 400 years ago, Ieyasu Tokugawa (the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate) began a project called the “Eastward Transfer of the Tonegawa river”, which changed the river's course eastward to the Pacific Ocean just south of what is now Kashima City. The project helped to protect Edo from floods and aided the development of agriculture in this area. It was also designed to offer protection against invasion from the north.

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Itako grows one million iris plants with five hundred different varieties


This also resulted in a waterway that allowed fish and rice from what is now Ibaraki Prefecture to be shipped by boat to markets in Edo. The lakes, canals, and rivers were the major means of transportation. Itako city, located where lakes Kitaura and Kasumigaura empty into the Tonegawa river, became a transportation hub, in turn creating a tourist trade.

Map from this great travel site: Let's Travel Around Japan!

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One can take a ride up the Maekawa on a robune (oar powered skiff).

Today, transportation is primarily by rail and truck, but the days of poling and sculling boats through the canals and rivers are not forgotten. They are celebrated especially during Itako City's Ayame Matsuri - Iris Festival - during which people come by the busload to take a step back in time, enjoy viewing a million iris flowers along the Maekawa, listen to ancient music, watch dancers, and take rides in traditional "robune" - boats powered by a single sculling oar mounted on the stern. The oar, called a "ro" is common to Japan and China and consists of a curved handle connected at a pivot point to a horizontal oar blade.

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Our oarsman learned to do this at age six and has carried on for seventy years since then. He said that it takes a few months to learn to use the oar effectively, but poling with a bamboo pole is more difficult and may require three years or more to master. The volunteers who do this during the festival agree to make ten trips a day with eight people in the boat.


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The tour boat businesses have long since switched from using bamboo poles, to small outboards as the primary source of power (though poles are still kept on board). This was in part due to the dredging of the Maekawa which made part of it too deep for poling. Many of the women who run these boats have been doing so for over 50 years.

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Happily, there are younger people ready to carry on the traditions.


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Women in traditional yukata with woven hats and baskets tend to the iris plants.



The iris festival dancers wind their way through the iris beds. The dance uses gestures from ancient times common to local festivals and Japanese Buddhist Bon dances which take place in August.


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At lunch we had a view of the Hitachi Tonegawa river which connects lake Kasumigaura with the Tonegawa river.


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Unagi - broiled eels served on rice - is a very popular treat throughout Japan.


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The eels hatch in waters off the Philippines and swim up rivers in Japan.


After lunch, it was time for a wedding...


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At an Itako style wedding, the bride and her parents form a proccession through the iris gardens, and board a specially prepared robune which contains a hope chest of sorts as well as symbolic gifts of rice and sake for the groom. The groom waits downstream as the bride and her parents float past friends, relatives, and other well wishers. Watching this has become a popular tourist attraction in its own right, so the city and tour companies provide actors to play the roles on days when there is no actual wedding scheduled. This day, we saw the saw the real thing.

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These days, the great waters of the Tonegawa river system are used primarily to provide drinking water to large parts of Tokyo and the Kanto Plain, as well as flood control and recreational boating. But who knows? As the global energy crisis continues to emerge, perhaps these rivers and canals will find their past role as transportation "highways" revived. In the meantime, festivals such as the Ayame Matsuri give us a glimpse of the past in a fun and beautiful way.

Until next, sweet sailing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blossoming Soon...

On Sweet Bluesette - Itako City Iris Festival (Ayame Matsuri) in full bloom with flowers, canal boats, oars, dancers, ambassador girls, a bride, and grilled eels for lunch. (Just the eels were for lunch.)



Until next, sweet sailing.