Surviving the fearsome storms of the Japanese sea


Ship diary Chichijima to Bepu, Japan (680 nautical miles)

Day 0 – 12.12.2017 (Tuesday)

Preparations for the winter sailing from Chichijima Island to Kyushu Island have started. All day we clean, fortify and tie everything really carefully. The security ropes are fixed on the rails all over the boat and life belts are set. We have also bought several winter sleeping bags from the thrift shop in the library. I finish fixing the front mast, paint it and wind the protruding bolts with tape and rags.

In the mean time our Japanese friends organize a farewell party on the shore. More than 20 people wave at us, with tears in their eyes, while we approach “Alabama” with the overloaded dinghy. Our Japanese friends have given us cookies, sushi and many fruits and vegetables. Our hearts remain on Chichijima. It is actually not true that Japanese people don’t show their emotions – in our experience it is the contrary.

The moment the boat goes out of the bay huge waves appear and 20 knots north wind start blowing. Our course is north-west (320 degrees). The wind is head on which makes sailing on sails quite hard so the engine needs to be turned on. After the storm two days ago, during which our dinghy was turned upside down and we lost its peddles, we are much more careful now.

2018-06-26 13.19.47Sailing from Ogasawara to Kyushu

Day 1 – 13.12 (Wednesday)

We sail 170 miles but actually advance 130 miles in our direction because of the head on wind. “Alabama” is very inclined to its port side (left side) and swings with a big amplitude which makes the people, who are prone to sea sickness, to vomit uncontrollably.

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095033Rough seas

It is dark. The sun sets at 5 p.m. and we are still not used to it. Temperatures are low so the crew quickly loses its enthusiasm to experiment with the angles by which the sails are set. In the evening we haul in sail and decide to advance using the engine. Sailing in this manner reduces our speed in half, to just 3 knots, and we cross 40 miles less because of this. Big waves crash on the deck and sometimes splash on the windscreen of the control cabin. This forces us to tie the lid of the corridor in order to not be taken away by the waves.


Day 2 – 14.12 (Thursday)

Sailing with the speed of a snail. The forecast predicts mighty storms with a wind speed more than 30 knots. The mizzen is partially set as well as the small front sail (baby stay sail) which increases our speed to 5+ knots.

In the afternoon the wind gets stronger so we set the middle sail too. The boat is flying. Our happiness though lasts for just half an hour. The sail gets torn and it needs to be taken in. In the evening the wind and the waves subside. This is a great moment for those suffering from sea sickness so they come out, eat and smoke cigarettes. Someone finds a caterpillar in the pile of vegetables that our Japanese friends gave us. Alejo makes her a special box-house. Now we have yet another pet together with the geckos, moths and ants. The caterpillar is beautiful.

Around 2 a.m. Jimmy is turned off (that is how we named the engine) and fed with oil. The sky is full of stars.

Day 3 – 15.11 (Friday)

The sea is as smooth as glass. Wind is almost non-existing at this point. People enjoy the warm sun that fades away with every mile we cross. We seal the hatch of the front compartment and take out the sea water which came in during the storm. In the evening the menu is coco-nut-milk-macaroni with Tabasco sauce and curry cooked by a Japanese recipe and salty cookies made of chick-peas flour. There’s no wind but tomorrow there will be a storm. At 3 p.m. we have 323 miles left to our destination.


Day 4 – 16.12 (Saturday)

I wake up at 4 a.m. Wind has changed its direction and now blows from south-east. We haul in the mizzen and set the small sail. The sun rise in the morning is magnificent but soon we enter inside a wall of clouds covering half the horizon. The sea is calm all day. Then the wind changes direction again as it turns head on. All sails are hauled in and everyone is prepared for the storm. After feeding Jimmy, the engine, some serious quantity of oil the sail continues using the motors. Magy cooks an amazing semolina cake.  Meanwhile I fix the navigational lights and then cook bread. Later we catch a big colorful mahi-mahi fish.

In the afternoon the boat starts rocking more and more. Everything in the kitchen is flying in all directions because of the big waves. At 3 p.m. there are 190 miles left to our destination – Beppu Island that is famous for its many warm mineral springs.

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095039The boat rocks like crazy in all directions

At 8 p.m. the storm is upon us. “Alabama” swings uncontrollably and nose dives in the 4 meter tall waves. The strong wind turns over the top of the waves chopping them. One cannot stay on the deck as it rocks so hard. Water washes the hatches. It is impossible to move forward so we approach the waves on the side. The autopilot goes wild and loses control so we switch to manual. This is the most fearsome storm we have ever seen so far.

Day 5 – 17.12 (Sunday)

The day starts early – a little after midnight. Jimmy chokes for a second, then coughs a little, starts slowing down and finally stops. This couldn’t happen in a better moment as we are right in the middle of the storm. The boat is now totally out of control and waves starts playing with it as if it is a piece of styrofoam. We go to the machine compartment and the fun starts. First we disassemble the engine, clean it and change the filters – all this while the boat rocks like crazy and we are surrounded by sharp metal objects. Later it turns out that the battery is dead. So we need to move the heavy batteries on the slippery floor, recharge them and change them. All this continues to 4:30 a.m. when finally Jimmy starts showing signs of life. In the meantime we try to control the boat waiting for the sun rise that seems to never come.

Finally light breaks at around 7:30 a.m. and it is finally possible to see what the situation around us is. Waves are as tall as mountains. They hang for a second 2 meters above the rails and then hit the boat creating rivers of ice cold water. The wind is crazy – 30 knots!!! The engine works full force but we stay in one place. At some point we decide to set the raft mizzen (the small part of the back sail). Alejo and Tom get dressed like Eskimos people, tie themselves and go out on the deck. The boat rocks insanely. I lose control of the boom sail for a second, it swings dangerously for a moment but then I manage to catch it again. Just before we set the sail I see a big black cloud coming our way, forming a nice typhoon funnel stretching from the sky to the sea surface.

We tie the sail again as much as we can since our hands are frozen and leave the deck. For 24 hours of zigzag travelling we manage to barely cross 12 miles which in itself is record breaking… if you are in some weird competition for slow sailing. At least we are alive!

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095014Giant waves

Out of nowhere the two French pirates engage in a heated dispute and we need to intervene to stop them from fighting.

I sleep for a few short hours and in the evening enter the machine compartment for a routine check. What I see shocks me. Everything is covered in diesel fuel!!! I panic, grab the hose, which serves to provide oxygen to the reservoir, and still wondering what to do I see that the diesel fuel comes namely from it. After screaming at the others to stop the engine I tie the hose and start pumping the diesel fuel out. Some time later I am all covered in fuel but happy that “Alabama” didn’t catch fire. It would have been really ridiculous to burn in the middle of the ocean, surrounded with nothing but water 🙂

Ден 6 – 18.12 (Monday)

I wake up and feel kind of posh so I put on the plush morning gown which Father Bartolomei from Fiji gave me, grab a cup of coffee and go out on the deck to enjoy the sun and the calm sea. Then I start daydreaming that I am the owner of a super yacht. My baroque idyll quickly fades away as I see that one of the front hatches is broken and the compartment is filled with water. Nothing left to do but to throw away the warm gown and the coffee and to start pumping water out. Waves are still big and the compartment is very narrow. In addition every now and a wave goes through the broken hatch and covers me in cold water. Anyway the storm is over and everyone is happy that “Alabama” survived – she really is a good girl.

Our advancement continues, this time even following the right course. Few times sails are set and then hauled in. For the first time we see many ships sailing around us. There are at least ten of them. In the evening all three sails are set. The boat inclines on one side and ramps up its speed. The dinner is beans and Japanese-style noodles. The crew is happy. There are less than 100 miles left. At 10 p.m. the middle sail gets torn in the middle (no pun intended) 🙂


Day 7 – 19.12 (Tuesday)
16:50 – 8,4 miles left to Beppu’s port. Everything goes smoothly: the wind subsides, the waves are small, our speed is 5,5 knots. But around noon it all changes as we enter the channel between Kyushu and Shikoku . The strong current and head-on wind stop our advancement. At this point there is nothing else to be done but to set a sail and change direction. The current is too strong though and pushes us towards the rocky coast. Luckily we cross the channel going as close as 3 mils to the shore.

2018-06-26 13.13.43The channel between Kyushu and Shikoku

Kyushu Island shows us its beautiful ragged cliffs but there are also some not so pleasant to us views – tall smoking chimneys, cisterns and cranes. We are back to civilization after a whole year spent into the wild. We are so happy that we are alive and will soon step on solid land.

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095052Industrial zones

At 4 p.m. the front sail (the big Genoa) is torn. Luckily we manage to take it in fast and then fix it. The mizzen is set and Magy sets her personal sail – the baby sail, which got a new name during the storm and it is now called Storm Sail. We are really grateful to Jimmy, the engine, and “Alabama”, the boat, as they didn’t betray us and endured everything.

It is getting dark as we approach Beppu, its lights, its tall buildings and busy highways. The owner of the boat Mr. Windy booked one of the quays for us in advance and we tie the boat. No one comes to check us here but before that we passed by a security motor boat and the officers on it took a good look at us.

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095045Close to Beppu

The engine is turned down and we celebrate our arrival with hot chocolate. Later the crew goes on a night walk in search of onsen (Japanese bath with mineral springs). Beppu has the biggest concentration of such springs in Japan. Our eyes can’t stop looking around like crazy. At this moment I am so impressed by the big trucks on the highway. Soon we find an old traditional onsen. It costs 5 dollars per person (500 yens). Inside it there are many pools, waterfalls and faucets with mineral water as well as a small Japanese garden.

LRM_EXPORT_20180609_095107Star Wars people 🙂

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