Arrived Miyonoura Ko, Yakushima

Position: 30 25.78 N 130 34.26 E
Alongside Miyonoura Ko
Wind: Calm
Weather: Overcast, rain clearing, cool
Day's run:54 nm

The sail to Miyonoura Ko finished much as it had started, with very little
wind, though when we left Amami-Oshima it was bright and sunny, and when we
arrived at Yakushima it was dark and raining. So my statement undoubtedly
points to a sailor's frame of mind, an obsession with what the wind is
doing, rather than an objective observation and report of actual conditions,
not that, of course, in these postmodern times, there is any such thing as
an objective observation of anything. (I happen to be re-reading a book
titled simply, and deceptively, “Truth: A Guide.” by Simon Blackburn.)

As I was saying, when I got to Yakushima the wind abandoned us.. This was
not because of a sudden change in the weather, but rather because we had
rounded the western headland of the island, and the island's high
mountainous interior casts a long wind shadow over its leeward side. We were
left wallowing in a light and fitful breeze, totally under-canvased with two
reefs in the main and a heavily furled jib. It was grey and getting dark,
and raining steadily. I contemplated what to do. Where we needed to go was
even deeper into the wind shadow so sailing meant a long and slow process.
This of itself did not bother me, though I have never been a fan of sailing
in the rain, but thoughts of what the weather was forecast to bring early in
the morning, namely strong north-easterlies, which would turn our calm and
windless port of refuge into a maelstrom and a nasty lee shore, did. Our
destination lay only seven miles away. It was time to make the Bright Red
Machine (it is still bright and red, may it long remain so) earn its keep.

At 18.00, rugged up in a few layers wet weather gear, I started the engine
and mentally steeled myself to a couple of hours behind the wheel. As it
steadily darkened, I maintained a compass of course of north-east, keeping
the dark looming landmass of Yakushima on the right, and the flashing white
light of the western cape directly astern on a the reciprocal bearing of
south-west. About an hour later, by which time it was very black indeed, the
light of Yahazu Saki, became visible from behind an adjacent headland. The
harbour I was aiming for was in a bay just to the west of it. I had studied
the chart and my plan was to head for Yahazu Saki light when it bore east,
then, when I could see the lights of the harbour, head for a red light that
marked the entrance to the harbour when it bore south. I do not normally
like to enter a strange port for the first time in the dark, but given the
unpleasant weather forecast in the offing I though if it looked safe I would
give it a go.

At 19.30 I was to the north of the bay in which I though Miyonour Ko lay. I
could see the red light marking the breakwater entrance to the harbour, and
a few shore lights beyond, but apart from these few lights it was all
surprisingly dark. The harbour must have been smaller than I was expecting.
With so little to guide me, steering for a solitary red light with no idea
of what lay beyond it did not appeal. I decided not to attempt the entry.
Disappointed that it looked like we were going to have to weather a
difficult night at sea, I motored north for a twenty minutes to put us at a
safe distance from the shore, shut the motor down, and allowed Sylph to
drift.

Every now and then I poked my head up to have a look around. Sylph was
drifting quite rapidly to the east, the GPS showing a boat speed of two
knots. I wondered whether it was tidal stream or current, or perhaps a
combination of both. But the drift was not going to be a problem I thought,
for when the north-easterly came it would soon blow us back again. As we
drifted around the headland of Yahazu Saki, I saw numerous bright white
lights a few miles further to the east. Hmm, I thought, there is something
odd about all this. I opened up the “S-Guide” and had a closer look at the
chartlets. Now I am not sure what happened but somewhere along the line I
had gotten it into my head that I should be entering the bay I was loitering
off, but the port I wanted, Miyonoura Ko, was actually much bigger and lay
about five miles on. I tried to recollect what had happened. I had the
correct chartlet in my notes, but, as I recall, in my conversation with the
Japanese yachtsman back in Tokunashima I had gained the impression that
there was no where for a yacht to berth in the main port and that it was
better to use the fishing port I was trying to get into. As things stood,
the fishing harbour did not look very appealing so I decided to motor on to
Miyonoura Ko It looked like it would be a lot easier to get into in the
dark.

An hour later we were slowly approaching the larger, much better lit
entrance. Nonetheless, in the rain and gloom, it was not easy to make things
out. I would slowly motor, than drift for a bit, shine the spot light hither
and thither to make sure no surprises not marked on the chart lay in our
way, and thus gradually I found my way in amongst the wharves and piers of
the harbour. I aimed for an inner part of the harbour where a couple of
piers were marked. They looked like they might offer some sanctuary for a
small boat. As I rounded a protecting breakwater I could see a nice long
covered floating pontoon, with large sturdy fenders on either side. It
looked a great refuge, but it was pretty obviously not intended for the
likes of Sylph. My guess was that it was designed for an inter-island ferry.
It seemed that my yachting guide from Tokunashima was right, there was
nowhere for a small boat in Miyonoura Ko. Still, I was in port now, and I
figured that if it was a ferry terminal than nothing was going to be
happening until dawn, so I may as well have a rest here and sort things out
in the morning.

As we approached the pontoon I could hear loud wailings, like a thousand
lost souls waiting to be let into Hades. It did not take me long to work out
where the noise was coming from. The large steel pontoon structure was
moving slightly with the surge that was making its way into the harbour and
around the breakwaters. The pontoon was kept in position by large steel
piles passing through it at numerous points, and the wailing was the sound
of steel grinding against steel. It was a doleful melancholic sound. The
piles all seemed to be tuned slightly differently, and one would set up a
long drawn out wail, while several others would join in on a different note
just moments later, a chorus to the main dirge. Then all would go quiet for
a moment, then the heart wrenching wailing would start again. As a place of
rest for the night I felt like I was taking shelter in a haunted house.
Still, I figured, it was better than getting caught out in a nasty change of
weather outside, and if one is tired enough you can sleep through most
anything.

I soon had Sylph secured. The nice big fenders held her off, the wind was
blowing her off, and the fact that the structure was a floating pontoon
meant that I did not have to worry about tides and tending lines through the
night. Satisfied that she would be OK for the night, I contacted the coast
guard via VHF radio to let them know I was safely alongside. Unfortunately I
made the mistake of mentioning that I was at a ferry terminal and asked the
officer for advice as to where I might go in the morning. With the language
problems and poor VHF reception, it then took over an hour, two satellite
phone calls, and ultimately a few emails before the officer on duty was
satisfied with the situation. I turned the masthead anchor light on to
reduce the risk of a fast ferry rounding the breakwater in the morning,
undoubtedly operating in near auto after many, many alongsides in the usual
spot, and finding his unconscious routine being brought sharply into focus
by the unexpected sight of an Australian yacht sitting where he expected to
go. I worried that if this happened that all sorts of mayhem might ensue. I
set the alarm nice and early, before sunrise, so that I could reconnoitre
the harbour at first light and move from the terminal as soon as it was
practicable.

Thus, with images invading my mind of a ferry piling up on the rocks as it
careered out of control trying to avoid Sylph, and the subsequent enquiries
and law suits, and with the thousand lost souls wailing for entrance to the
underworld, sleep was rather fitful. Nonetheless sleep I did. At 5.30 the
alarm went off. It was still dark, and raining, but we had not had any
ferries entering the harbour yet, and the wind had indeed swung round and
was blowing fresh from the north-east. Thus far I felt vindicated in the
decisions I had made. I donned boots and foul weather gear and went for a
walk. I immediately discovered that a small well protected boat harbour lay
hidden away behind a breakwater but a stone's throw to the south of the
ferry terminal. I walked out along the breakwater to where the entrance to
the inner boat harbour was located. It had a flashing red beacon on its
extremity, but as I looked over the breakwater's edge into the swirling
waters of the narrow channel which had to be negotiated to gain access to
its inner sanctuary, waves pounding on the rocks less than twenty meters
away, I knew it definitely was not something I would want to try in the
dark, even if I was very familiar with the entrance.

I walked back to Sylph for breakfast and a cup of tea while I waited for
daylight. As I was enjoying the warmth of the tea I heard a tap on the hull.
Going on deck two men were on the pontoon and were clearly pleased to see
someone was on board. A smile, and arms crossed top form an X, made it clear
that I had to move. I think I managed to convey to them that I had come in
in the dark and was only seeking temporary shelter. As has been the case
with my limited experience thus far in Japan, there was no aggression, just
polite discussion all round. The ferry people managed to communicate to me
that the first ferry did not arrive until ten so there was no great rush for
me to leave. This was welcome news. I had decided that the best time to
negotiate the boat harbour entrance would be at high water, which wasn't for
over an hour. After the officials left, I set the alarm, and grabbed an
extra hour, despite the banshees, of less troubled sleep.

The subsequent move into the boat harbour went well. I swung Sylph around
the breakwater, staying close to its steep and deep sides, the depth sounder
showing six meters all the way in, and I found an empty berth to tie up to.
The only problem that revealed itself once I had secured Sylph's lines was
that a little shed near where I had chosen to come alongside, with some
pipes and gauges appended to it, led me to realise that I had chosen the
fuel berth to tie up to. Still, I thought, at least a fuel berth is a public
spot and I won't upset anyone unless they want fuel, and then I can always
claim that I wanted fuel as well.

Now that the time was getting on towards business hours I went in search of
someone who might be able to assist me with sorting out a more permanent
berth. A nearby spiralling high peaked silver roof, clearly housing some
shops, caught my attention so I made my way to its doors. Inside I found a
coffee shop and a cultural centre. After a little bit of relaying a lady was
soon found who spoke reasonable English. She was very helpful and before I
knew what was happening she had rung the relevant local authorities. She
confirmed that I had in fact tied up to the fuel dock, but that the
officials would be here in about two hours (their office was two hours drive
away!) and they would sort everything out when they got here. Would I be OK
to wait on my boat until they got here? Yes, I said, it will give me a
chance to clean myself up and, I thought, maybe even have another little
snooze

The officials duly turned up, five of them in two motor cars. None of them
could speak English so I suggested that we go to the cultural centre and
talk to the lady who had made the phone call on my behalf. In my experience
of Japan so far, I cannot help but think what a burden the public service
must be to the Japanese economy. Five men driving two hours, one of whom was
clearly in charge and did all the talking, so I have no idea what the other
four men came for, only to tell me that it was alright for me to stay where
I was. Actually that is not quite how it went, for a short while after
telling me that it was OK for Sylph to be in the boat harbour the senior
person remembered that I was at the fuel dock and that I would need to move.
A new location was soon sorted out for Sylph. The gentlemen helped me tie up
and in doing so clearly established that there was not a sailor amongst
them, nor anyone that knew what to do with a rope, yet alone how to tie a
knot in one. However, I am of course grateful for their help, and the fact
that Sylph is now safely tied up. Admittedly the berth is not my first
choice, as it is close by the boat harbour entrance, and if the weather
becomes too severe from the north I imagine that a nasty surge could build
up in in this area of the boat harbour, but we will deal with that if we
need to.

It is still raining. (My interpreter from the cultural centre told me that
in Yakushima it rains for 35 days in every month.) I have caught up on some
sleep, and been for a short walk as far as the nearest supermarket, which
turned out to be a combined hardware, electrical and clothing store, as well
as selling the usual supermarket items. I browsed there for a bit, and that
is the extent of my sightseeing in Miyonoura Ko to this point. Maybe there
will be a break in the rain tomorrow.

All is well.