Sunday, September 20, 2015

So Good

Japan has had the weirdest Summer in the nearly 11 years that Pandabonium has called it home. It was as if tsuyu or "rainy season" never stopped. Finally, we were able to align rain, wind, holidays, and K's work schedule to get out on the water today.

Last weekend offered false promises as although the big rains of two conspiring typhoons had subsided, the water level in Hinuma was still so high that it covered the pier which leads from the launching ramp to the floating docks, thus preventing the launch of any boats. Even now, the water level on the river leading from the lake to the sea is so high that most fishing boats still cannot navigate under the bridges to get to the ocean.

Last week the pier was under the surface of the lake!  In fact, Mr. Hakuta indicated that it came to the base of the top right Kanji character in the yellow sign ("no entry").   That is well over a meter above the decking of the pier.

A bit of excitement occurred in prepping the boat as I discovered some passengers while opening the cover. At first I thought it was a little tree frog as we had last year, but on close inspection, it turned out to be a rather large spider. Nearby, there was a ゲジゲジ - "gejigeji" - trying to hide under the out haul line. Gejigeji are a kind of centipede - not as fearsome as those in Hawaii, but very common in Japanese houses (even boats evidently) and while not as poisonous as the centipedes of Hawaii, they do sting. Happy to say I've never been stung by either kind, though both of my daughters were while growing up in Hawaii. I have since discovered that the spider is not harmful to humans. It is called "Huntsman" because instead of catching its prey in a web, it hunts and pounces.

A gejigeji tries to hide under the out haul line.

This female Huntsman spider looked plenty scary to Pandabonium.

Following these discoveries came a lot of yelling by the skipper at the crew to leave them alone as the crew ignored the skipper and attempted to "shoo" them away, which only succeeded in driving them further into the boat. Isn't sailing fun? Well, yes it is. The trouble arises when you don't sail often enough and freeloaders take up residence in the boat. Lesson learned. Visit the boat and clean it every few weeks, whether you go sailing or not.

I thought we would have winds of about 10 knots from the get go today, but even though we arrived in late morning, the wind was nearly calm.

At last, we launched onto a fairly flat lake under the power of our new paddle in the hands of K. After a few minutes of slow going, the wind started to pick up and we spent our remaining time on water with a lovely 6 or 7 knot breeze under clear skies with unlimited visibility.  


 While putting Bluesette away, I decided to take some pics around the launching ramp.   I glanced at K who was taking down the jib and could not resist taking her picture.

"And now for my grand finale..."
Perhaps it was the camera that took her focus off of what she was doing...  but instead of unscrewing the jib, she accidentally disconnected the fore stay, causing the mast to fall backward!  The mast hinge and the boom kept the mast from completely toppling over.

Critters and mishaps notwithstanding, it felt so good to get back to sailing...

Until next, sweet sailing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sailing - A Deal With The Devil?

I saw this boat at Otaru Shukutsu Marina Yacht Club in Hokkaido, Japan in July and loved the name. "Mephistopheles" is, of course, the demon of German folklore and central to the story of Faust trading his soul for unlimited knowlege.

We sailors all seem to make a sort of "deal with the devil" when we decide to purchase a boat, don't we?

For me, it is not one I would wish to recant. I think most sailors would agree - I can see it in their eyes and read it in their blogs.

Daina Krall, Live in Paris singing "Devil May Care" - enjoy.

Until next, sweet sailing!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

For Peat's Sake?

The Scottish castle looking building of the linked post was one of the places we planned to visit on this trip to Hokkaido.   It is the site of the original Nikka Whisky Distillery, founded in 1934 by Taketsuru Masataka.

Masataka was born to a family which had distilled sake since 1733, but in 1918 he went to Scotland  to study chemistry at the University of Glasgow.  He also worked in a number of whisky distilleries while there and in 1920 married Jessie Roberta "Rita" Cowan of Middlecroft, Kirkintilloch.

Rita and Masataka in 1920
Returning to Japan with his bride, he helped establish a whisky distillery for a company which would later become Suntory.     He started Nikka in 1934 and sold its first whisky in 1940.   The reason for choosing Yoichi, Hokkaido as the site for his distillery was that he thought that the location most resembled Scotland in its climate.  The fact that Hokkaido has plenty of peat - burned to dry the barley and thus add flavor to Scottish whiskies - may have played a role in that decision as well.  Oh, for peat's sake, why would a person want to live in a climate like that of Scotland?   Give me the tropics any day.

K with the barrel head sign inside the entrance.
Whisky is not of particular interest to either of us, but I decided to take K up there because she had enjoyed watching an NHK Asadora (morning drama) called "Massan" which was based on the lives of Masataka and Rita.  Because of the drama, the distillery has become a popular destination for Japanese tourists.  Tour buses roll in and out all day long.  Visitors can stroll around the original distillery buildings on a self-guided tour (with signs in Japanese and English) or take a guided tour at specified times during the day.   Admission is free.

The original buildings make for an interesting tour, while on the adjacent land, Asahi runs the modern distillery.

Still life?  Ahem.   From these stills, the whisky was decanted into large vats in the next room, and ultimately, into oak barrels for aging.  A large screen at the entrance to this room plays a video showing how these stills were operated.

Inside one of many warehouses, there is a display of aging barrels along with audio-video and step by step  displays showing how barrels are made and what the pieces look like at each step.

After visiting an aging room, K seems hardly to have aged at all. ;)

Named for Rita, this was the management office in the center of the plant.

The Taketsuru home.   Originally built in 1935, it was rebuilt by Yoichi town after WWII.  Short commute, eh?

 K inside the Nikka Whisky museum, which is filled with personal and distillery artifacts.  There is also a bar in there where you can purchase whisky samples.

Some of the photographs and other memorabilia on display.

The Taketsurus.

At end of the self-tour, K went into the sampling room and had free samples of whisky and the apple wine which they started producing while waiting for the first single malt whisky to age.

Pandabonium at the monument to Masataka Taketsuru

In July of 2015, Nikka Whisky won several awards at the International Spirits Challenge in London, including Distiller of the Year and the Best International Blend Trophy along with six gold  medals for individual products.

Rita passed away in January of 1961 at age 64.  Masataka passed in 1989.

We had lunch at the distillery restaurant which was quite good.   Our timing was just right as some tour groups were arriving just as we were leaving.   We then visited the gift shop before heading to the train station to go to our next stop - Otaru City.

The distillery as seen from the Yoichi train station.

JR Yoichi parking lot.
Sittin' at Yoichi Station, got a ticket for my destination....

All aboard!
つづく (to be continued)

Until next,  sweet sailing.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Curses!, Thwarted Again

And Bluesette doesn't even have thwarts.

Last Saturday the weather turned against us once more.   It seems it is either raining or too windy whenever we have a day free to go sailing.   Tomorrow looked really promising with winds of 5 to 10 knots and sunny skies.  K made the call this evening to the yacht harbor to let them know we were coming.

Alas, the weather tomorrow will be excellent as I expected, but due to the typhoon rains of the last two days (which many of you have seen on news casts around the world) Lake Hinuma is filled nearly to the top of the levee and the yacht harbor launching ramp.   Our pier, which leads from the launching ramp to the floating dock,  is underwater.   They won't be launching any boats until the lake's waters recede.

While our neighborhood was spared the heavy rains and flooding of Typhoons Etau and Kilo, just 40 miles to our West the city of Joso was inundated when the levee of the Kinugawa River was breached.    Scenes of people by rescued by helicopter from rooftops filled the news.

We are thankful that we have so many helicopters to deal with such situations around Japan and that the cities and prefectures stage practice emergency drills which keep everyone involved ready to help.  (K often participates in such drills in Ibaraki as an Japanese/English interpreter.)

I have a new respect for typhoons.   Just days ago I was downplaying their potential for damage as they are often a low energy event - like a tropical depression or storm.   But while they don't always pack the winds of a cyclone or hurricane, they can still bring huge amounts of water.  

Until next, sweet sailing.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Beat The Heat

In July of this year, 24,567 people in Japan were taken to hospital by ambulance due to complications from the heat (mostly heat stroke).  39 of those people were dead on arrival.   Fortunately, Pandabonium had planned an escape for us up north to Hokkaido, where temperatures were ten or so degrees Fahrenheit lower for the last week in July.

K drove us to Narita in her Honda Vezel (sold as HR-V in the USA).   This was the first time she had it on the Expressway since getting it last September and she was a little nervous as her previous car, the Honda Insight, felt a bit unstable at those speeds.  To our relief, the Vezel behaved well - rock solid in fact - though the fuel efficiency dropped from her usual 52 mpg  or more to around 30 mpg at around 65 mph.  Oh well, it was only a 40 minute drive.  We left the car with a car park company which gave us a ride to the airport just a few minutes away.

Must be fun to work on the ramp in the blazing sun. Not.

The cabin crew finally boarded and we were soon to follow.  Note that the pilot has put up a shade in the cockpit windows.

We took an inexpensive ride in a crowded Airbus A320 (with apologies to my youngest daughter, who works for Boeing).   It was a quick trip, just 1.5 hours to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, from where we boarded a JR train to the JR Sapporo station.

Why didn't we take the Shinkansen?,  you may ask.   Well, I for one would have loved to, however, at this time the Seikan Zuidou - the tunnel which connects Honshu and Hokkaido - is not wired with the high voltage necessary for a Shinkansen line.   So far, people have taken an overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Hokkaido.   That train will soon be removed from service when the higher voltage wiring is installed in the tunnel. 
he sleeper trains are also being eliminated because ridership is off something like 80% of what it was in the 1980s.  

So sometime in the next year, you will only be able to reach Hokkaido by rail on a Shinkansen train.   Many people will be sad to see the romantic "Blue Sleeper" trains (the Cassiopea and the Hokutosei) go.  But it takes 16 hours from Tokyo to Sapporo and for us, 16 hours is time we don't have to spare on a short vacation - nostalgia or no. 

We stayed at a hotel Hotel Monterey Sapporo, which is just a five minute walk from the JR train station.

Our fourth floor room had a view of sorts of the Sapporo TV Tower.

In the morning we caught a highway express bus (at the train station) for Yoichi City - about an hour and twenty minutes with some scenic shoreline for the last 20 minutes or so of the ride.

Within minutes of getting off the bus, we were standing in front of what looked for anything like the entrance to a Scottish castle.  What is this thing doing in Hokkaido of all places?

つづく (to be continued)

Until next, sweet sailing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shelter From The Storm

While we have a more substantial garage than the average Japanese household, it being a fully enclosed one car type, it isn't exactly spacious.  With three bicycles and a car in there, along with various tools and stored items, we were pretty much at the limit, so adding a recumbent trike was not going to work.   I needed another shelter for the trike.

Bicycle shelters are not uncommon here, but they usually are erected over bare ground or gravel which results in humidity problems (read "rust").    So I went about building something with a raised floor.

A year or so ago I had replaced Momo's large bench with a smaller one which is easier for her, as an older dog, to jump onto.  The old bench was set aside and was no longer in use.   I unbolted the legs of the old one which left me with two 90 cm square platforms with rails on the bottom.

I purchased a suitably sized shelter kit made of aluminum tubing and vinyl covering.  Well, I should say that most were too small, being designed for one bike and some were too large.   I went with "too large", but it worked out fine.  I bought three sheets of 90 x 180 cm plywood (painted on one side, as suggested by K) and cut them into pieces with a circular saw to make a floor for my "trike garage".  The floor with base is heavy enough to prevent even high winds from moving it.

I screwed a center strip of plywood to hold the two platforms together, then added two larger pieces to form the front and back of the floor.   Then, I attached the base of the aluminum tube frame of the shelter to the edge of the floor using some electrical conduit straps.  I drilled countersunk holes for the flooring screws so that the floor is flat with no screw heads sticking up.

K and I carried that into position and added the rest of the frame and the cover, which is held down by elastic cords that go through gromets in the cover and are wrapped around the frame.   The garage measures about 160 cm wide by 220 cm long.   There is a zippered roll-up door at one end and the opening roughly matches the car garage awning width so opens right onto the concrete pad in front of the car garage.

The interior is about 170 cm high along the centerline.
I cut some left over ply to fit into the back of the garage as a shelf, coating the bare wood portion with urethane varnish along with some plywood strips to reinforce it in the center and at the side edges.

I found some plastic ramps at the home center which make it easy to roll  a bike or the trike into and out of the garage.    Now I have a shelter which holds my Raleigh and my trike.   The bottom of the floor is about 11 cm above the ground.   My bike and trike are high and dry in any weather.
Air pump and windscreen fairing (rolled up) on the shelf in the background.  Gekko FX 26 parked inside.  Ramp along the front base for easy entry and exit.  The flag pole has a connection just below the flag for easy mast shortening.

I keep the Raleigh bike along side the Gekko trike.  This gives us a bit more room in the car garage.  When we're not home, it's easy to link the bike and trike together with a security cable and lock.   Of course, most of the time, the door is zipped shut.  The project took about a day to complete. 

The project only took a day to complete.

Saturday's weather lools very promising for sailing (knock on fiberglass).

Until next, sweet sailing.