27. Okinawa to Miyako-jima
Friday, October 1, 2010
What great hosts Tak and company are. Yesterday in Tokyo: lunch in department store, katsu-don. Last night, okinomiaki in Harajaku. Tak seems to take a special delight in hosting us. Does he do the same for everyone? I think so.
Dan, Evan and I have a lot of stuff: 5 humungous bags, checked. Boat, camping gear, food. Carry-ons with the heaviest stuff to keep the big bags to 22.5 kg. Carrying the 5 big bags plus carry-ons through the strange Kabukicho red light district of Shinjuku in the rain was quite something: the boys loaded down with two of the big bags, one strapped over each shoulder and me, the old guy, leading the way through known streets with just one big bag and pack. People hawking snack bars (girl talk) and soap baths. We could have used the baths.
We saw Jun last night at dinner. He gave us all sorts of reasons not to go. High, steep waves, etc. Not to mention the current running against us the whole way. But he said if we get to Ichigaki shima he may meet us there.
My plan, such as it is, is to wait for a good wave and weather window before leaving from either Naha or Kerma, whichever works. The 150 nautical mile open run from Kerama to Miyako-jima should be interesting. According to Fleet Numerical weather we do not have a window of opportunity for the long passage within the next 8 days, although we could go to Kerama on the third and wait.
October 5, 2010, Ginowan, Naha
No, we haven’t got our feet wet yet. But finally, we tented last night. Best sleep by far, not stuffy heat. A strong north wind breezing through. At marina for mostly pleasure power boats, on a little grass, beneath a small tree. Our shade from the very hot sun. Tomorrow a N.E. is supposed to blow, more moderately. It’s 25 NM to Kerama. Important not to underestimate this first leg. It will take all our daylight to get there. Shiro forgot the sails twice, we had to go back to Naky’s for them.
October 8, 2010, Zama-jima, Kerama
Paddled here on the 6th. Just before we set off from the boat ramp Shiro’s friend, the artist’ came by with a terrific breakfast which we all shared. Then Naky 4000 came too. They both wished us a good journey. These guys are great.
When we paddled away, I looked back and there was Naky, peering through the chain link fence, looking forlorn. He stood there for a long time. He wanted to come, but now he is a beekeeper with 300 hives and he can’t get away. He’s such a good paddling companion, I’ll miss him.
The paddle here was easy. Eight hours. Dan isn’t sick this time, thanks to Gravol, and Evan has grown into his big body. He’s strong. And yah, times have changed, the young guys are faster than the old dudes this year. It had to happen. Proud of these guys.
Camping here under a fly in heavy rain, first on the trip. There are sea turtles off the beach here, they come in at high tide to eat sea grass, usually with those green and black striped algae-eating feeder fish close underneath, as if suspended. The coral has made a modest comeback since the last bleaching. There is stag coral east of here. My waterproof camera leaked when I was shooting the turtles. Kaput.
These islands may have been part of the “China family” 300 years ago, but the feeling is Japanese wrapped around a Ryukyu heart, like Okinawa rice balls with spam musubi stuffed inside nori. The language is Japanese, but the pace is slow and easy.
A promising start
October 15, 2010, Ikema-jima, 24.925, 125.253
Looking back, it’s all a blur. The wind turned from the south somewhere before Ker-Miy4. About 70 NM from Zamami-jima. The rest we paddled against the current. 70 NM sailed. 80 paddled. 94 hours. 3 nights. And it’s all a muddle.
We had just left shore off Kerama when I realized that I had left an LED light hanging from a tree back at camp. We use these lights as beacons on our mast so we can be seen and keep together at night. We mount one on the mast and have another that we can raise with our jib sheet if the mast one burns out. So Shiro and I went back in our double for our spare. Dan decided to go ashore so he ran his and Evan’s sailing double up onto a small beach. They can be tough on gear. Then the four of us set off.
By the time we cleared the islands with a nice following breeze the boys discovered that their boat was filling up with water. It was interesting. Because they were sitting in sea socks that fit around the cockpit rims and with gear stuffed around them, they could not feel the water coming up until it impacted their thighs. By then the boats were about half full. It took a long time to pump out. They must have punched a hole on the coral when they stopped.
We had a little meeting and decided to carry on. With the breeze they could sail and pump at the same time. But then the breeze stopped. We were hoping that it would start up again and it did, but it turned against us. Every twenty minutes or so they had to stop and pump out for ten minutes. While they were stopped the current took us backwards. It was a lot of work. I was glad it was them and not Shiro and me. Yes, they were stronger than us but maybe not yet smarter. That will come too.
Approaching Ker-Miy 6 on the third day was just fantastic.
Ker-Miy 6 is just one of several waypoints that I had marked on our GPS map. My GPS points were like a road. There were waypoints marking a centre line and others running down either side, like borders of a road. We could tack to the outside waypoints, but the course was down the middle. Normally to conserve battery, we ran a compass course to a waypoint and checked course every half hour or so with the GPS. I am in total awe of early Polynesians and Micronesians who could navigate without compass over hundreds of miles using wave sets, birds, stars, and cloud formations.
Huge cloud banks on either side. Unlike our coast, the clouds are heavy and squat down on the sea. As the light disappeared, the clouds assumed the appearance of land. It seemed to my severely overtired brain that we were traveling down a channel and that the clouds offered shelter and safety. Except for the sparks coming out of them occasionally. Before this, the most fabulous sunset-driven light band took over the entire sky. Fan-shaped shafts, like some of the block shafts in cubist works. We were four insignificant guys in two ridiculously small crafts way out to sea, on a 150 nautical mile crossing, essentially at the mercy of the sea gods. I found this especially spiritual and uplifting.
Shiro at night
On our last night we had thought we might make it all the way to Miyako-jima, but soon realized we were way too late for that. As we approached the reefs guarding Miyako-jima, one of the many thunderclouds overtook us and suddenly we were in a storm. It was black, and then lightning hit very close and we could see how big the waves were. Sometimes it’s better not to know. We were surfing down some big ones as it all opened up on us. I tried not to think about that big aluminum lightning rod stepped between my legs.
I was trying to navigate on the GPS course, but we were swerving all over the place. I had to be mindful of the reefs ahead of us and Evan tailgating us close behind. Our GPS map for Miyako-jima was none too accurate. We were flying blind.
My paper chart showed almost no lights marked on the reefs, Shiro’s had maybe three, as did my GPS. But there were lights everywhere. What to steer for?
We headed north of the lights and tried to slow down as much as we could, bare bones, until daylight when we would hopefully thread our way through the reefs. I could only paddle for a few minutes without nodding off. Shiro was asleep as was Dan in the other boat. Evan was awake: All those late-night video games.
Nearing Ikema-jima, photo: Dan Elliot
I nodded off briefly. I don’t know for how long. Shiro took over for a while. By the time an incredible sunrise came up and the seas were flat calm, we were all more or less functioning. At 7:15 AM we arrived at Ikema-jima, a small island connected by a long bridge to Miyako-jima. I thought that the camping might be better there.
A guy named Kogee greeted us at the local gyoko and brought us some canned tea and a key for the water tap. Welcoming guy. We organized and then took a bus over the bridge into town. Four groggy guys wandering around a very hot Miyako. Ate an incredible ton katsu. Looked at a local beach, not good for camping. Nodded off in the air-conditioned ferry terminal. Wandered around more, nodded off. Walked to a restaurant that is owned by a friend of Shiro’s. She offered us some special noodle soup and bento, then drove us back to Ikema. She wouldn’t take any money from us. Two great moms. Great food.
We tented last night at the Gyoko. Maybe about midnight Dan wakened me. “It’s raining.” Put up fly. After that, thunder, lightning, and downpour, just like when we were on the water. By morning Evan had moved his tent because, as usual, he had pitched in a future lagoon. Mine was a little dryer, Dan’s better still. I was getting seepage, though, because the ground was totally saturated.
Shiro’s tent was a joke. All his stakes had floated out and the only thing holding down his tent was him. He must have been sleeping on his side because that was the footprint of his tent. All curled up. He’s a masterful sleeper and we let him be.
Dan, Evan and I got up. By the time one of the locals pulled up there were three gaijin dancing around under a boat shelter in knee deep water. The guy was a friend of Shiro’s friend. He put us up in a traditional tatami house. There is a typhoon coming. We are typhoon-waiting.
Shiro has a very sore back and can hardly stand. Perhaps we shouldn’t have let him sleep so long in his personal swamp. I have him on an ice pack (bag of peanuts from the freezer) and gave him some Ibuprofen.
Downstairs are four photos of the original family. The patriarch: taut, handsome, traditional dark blue robe. His lovely younger wife. Shiro says they both look mainland Japanese. The younger couple have rounder, softer faces. Their offspring? The younger man lived an easier life, an office guy. The patriarch made a lot of money fishing. This was the family home, but he also built one in town, in Hirar, for his mistress. Now the Hirar house is lived in full time, and this is a guesthouse.
He fished far away, to Palau and other places. I suspect that even in his time the big fish were already gone from around here. We never saw so much as one dolphin or shark on our journey here. This town is only old folks. The old guys sit around silently looking out to sea and the women seem to be at home. In ten years, who will be left?
Typhoon Megi is coming, but maybe will veer to the west tomorrow and smash into Taiwan. Talked on the Sat. phone today with T. She says seas are 7 to 17 feet for at least a week. Too bad. My plan is no plan: wait 5 days, until Oct 21, then see.
To behave like ancient seamen and wait! In our “busy, important lives” we are not used to that. Nonetheless, it costs us big time in lost Feathercraft production to be hanging around here. We need to make boats.
On the southern point here is an old lookout and fire lighthouse established by the Satsuma clan of Kagoshima in 1644. They controlled travel, and the fire was an aide to shipping. Somebody’s job day and night. Smoke and fire. These are coral islands, almost no elevation. Sugar cane, fishing, tourism, diving. They won’t talk about coral decline too much. Bad for business.