Position: 33 22.22 N 129 33.20 E
We enjoyed better winds yesterday than I had expected, so ended up entering the long gradually narrowing channel that leads to Hirado earlier than planned. There are currents of up to six knots in the approaches to Hirado. I do not like to be attempt the navigation of a narrow channel for the first time in the dark at the best of times, but six knots of current made it particularly perilous. There was a bay just before the bridge over the narrowest point of the straight, which, according to the chart, had a relatively shallow patch of nine meters. It has been my experience in the past that these shallow patches can be extremely difficult to find, even with GPS, unless, of course, one is trying to avoid them, in which case one always seems to being pushed onto them. Another concern I had was the likelihood of there being a fish farm or some other uncharted obstruction, but I thought the most prudent course of action under the circumstances was to check out the bay and if it looked safe to anchor for the night, then get underway again in the morning when I could see, and at around slack water when the tidal currents would be at a minimum.
We ended up approaching the bay at about 23.30 As we rounded the steep headland, its bright flashing white light giving me the confidence to pass it close by, the wind eased. I furled the headsail and Sylph glided slowly towards the shallow patch. I shone the spotlight all around looking for any possible obstructions but all appeared to be clear. While the depth had dropped from about forty meters to sixteen, as expected finding the nine meter spot proved impossible. I motored around looking for it, but in the end decided to settle on sixteen meters The anchor chain roared out of the cable locker under its own weight, and the thought of having to heave it all back in again in the morning I did not entertain with any relish. Still, all was secure for the night, and I could deal with the problem of getting the anchor in again after a good night’s sleep.
This is the first time we have anchored in Japanese waters. Most of Japan's coastline is steep to, and wherever there is a sheltered cove or bay, it is invariably occupied by a fishing port. We lay to the anchor peacefully overnight, with only the occasional wake of a passing ship setting Sylph rocking gently back and forth. Come morning I started weighing anchor nice and early. I calculated that slack water would be around 10.30, so started heaving in at 9.40. It was just as well. The cable holder on my windlass is worn and when there is a lot of weight on the chain it has a tendency to slip. This can be very frustrating, working at the winch, pumping the handle back and forth on the low speed setting, laboriously gaining a couple of feet of chain only to have it all slip back out again, and plus some. I tried different techniques, including standing on the cable holder at the same time as I worked the handle back and forth, but this was painfully slow and very awkward. I tried tapping the the chain more firmly into the cable holder with the end of the winch handle after every couple of pumps, but this was even slower. Eventually I settled on using a chain hook. I tied the hook off to the samson post with a length of line, attached the hook to the chain, then heaved in half a meter of chain. I would then move the hook forward on the chain and heave in a bit more chain. This way if the chain slipped it would only slip as far as the chain hook with its leash would allow. While still quite slow, this technique worked much more quickly and was not so ergonomically awkward as the other methods. At 10.20 the anchor was home and we continued on our way.
It was less than three miles to Hirado from the anchorage so I didn't bother setting sail, especially as the wind was light and I was not sure how much current we might encounter. The current proved to be minimal and we entered the small harbour at 11. I looked for the pontoon that Bosun Bird had recommended, the inner one on its eastern side, which soon revealed itself from behind the larger ferry terminal. I was once more disappointed to see that it was also being refurbished. It was surrounded with scaffolding and was clearly unusable. Fortunately there was a smaller pontoon a little ways further in the harbour. I had no idea if it was alright to tie up to it, but seeing as there was nowhere else, I proceeded alongside an empty spot with my usual idea of sorting things out once alongside.
This time round my strategy worked well. Instead of being immediately confronted by someone telling me I had to leave, within a couple of minutes of being alongside a man came up to me to say welcome. He introduced himself, Antonio. He was of Italian origin, was married to a Japanese lady, and taught piano for a living in Hirado. He told me that Sylph would be fine tied up where she was. This was a much better start to my visit to Hirado then Fukue. Antonio joined me on board for a cup of coffee and we had a most enjoyable conversation about quite an amazing range of subjects. I am hoping that we might catch up again while I am here.
Meanwhile my mobile wi-fi still has no connection. What a nuisance! However I have managed to find a nearby tourist information centre which provides free internet. It is only open during business hours but at least I will be able to keep up with my online studies while here.
All is well.