Hakodate Part 2

Taking up from where I left off two days ago, option two seems to have developed into option one, i.e. press on regardless. I was hoping to arrive off the western entrance to Tsugaru Kaikyo early yesterday but late on Thursday night as we got closer to the strait, the wind backed into the northeast, which meant not only a headwind but also a short steep sea as the wind was now against the north setting current. Later on Friday as we continued to push north, the winds also grew somewhat fitful, at times fresh requiring a reef in the mainsail, and at time light, leaving us wallowing and the bow falling off the wind.

In the afternoon I was ready to give up and was on the verge of turning around and backtracking about seventy miles to Akita, but before doing so I thought I would try heading inshore to see whether the land might offer a bit of a lee and a less confused sea. Also there was a headland that formed what I thought might be a sheltered bay where I could anchor for a while, though as I reflected on this option I decided it was not a very practical one for a number of reasons, not least of which was that the wind was forecast to remain in the east and strengthen for the next several days so if I went to anchor I thought that it would only delay a retreat to Akita.

I was wary of getting too close inshore for fear of losing the wind altogether, however the seas did improve marginally. I even motor sailed for a bit to try and keep Sylph moving against the choppy seas. As I am sure I have mentioned, a short steep sea is probably Sylph's greatest weakness. Her overhangs, round bilge, and fullish bow causes her to pitch and hobby horse, which in turn takes away all her forward momentum. She stalls, falls off the wind, and then it takes her a while to build up speed and come back onto course. All boats are compromises, and Sylph of course has her strengths as well, so I try not to curse her and her designer too vehemently in these somewhat frustrating and trying conditions.

By late afternoon we had worked our way that extra fifteen miles north and were getting close to Tappi Saki, the southern headland guarding the approaches to the Kaikyo. I knew if I continued on it would mean a night transit of the strait, but we had come this far, I thought I may as well press on and see what the conditions at the entrance were like.

As it turned out they were not as bad as I was expecting. The wind increased a notch but was at least steady, visibility was good, and the seas actually smoothed out. Such conditions of course drew us on. Hakodate lay half way along the strait in a large indentation on its northern side. This seemed a good goal to aim for. But by midnight conditions had deteriorated markedly. In particular visibility had reduced to less than half a mile in drizzle and fog. We were down to two reefs in the mainsail and a heavily furled jib bashing into a force 6 headwind. On the plus side the seas were not as steep as I had expected. The current going through the strait always goes east and can be relatively strong. With the wind strong out of the east against the current such conditions can make for a very nasty sea, but while the seas were significant they were quite manageable, and Sylph leaned over to the press of canvas and bravely pushed on, breasting each sea with relative ease. Meanwhile I spent the night either peering at the light of the AIS watching for tell tale tracks of merchant ships transiting the strait, plotting our position on the chart, and standing in the cockpit, head poked over the dodger squinting out into the damp dark windy night looking for lights of ships emerging from the gloom. Several times I tacked away from AIS tracks that were on a collision course, though sometimes I never saw the ship, or only did so after we had tacked.

While the seas were not as bad as I expected I came to the conclusion that the reason for this was that the east setting current was not very strong either. Presumable the fresh easterly breeze had slowed the current down significantly. I had been counting on the current to make for a relatively quick transit, if somewhat uncomfortable, but this was not to be. We made progress to into the strait only slowly and hopes for getting alongside towards midnight were soon whisked away on the cold wet wind. Come dawn we still had some fifteen miles to go, the wind was now touching force 7, a near gale, and progress to windward was painfully slow. Eventually as we clawed our way our way around Kittoshi Masaki, the headland at the south-western side of the bay in which Hakodate is situated, and as we did so we also gained some shelter from the wind and sea, which quickly abated. We had made it.

As we gained the shelter of the extensive bay, the mountain which forms the eastern side of the bay and in behind it the natural harbour which is Hakodate, the seas became flat and the wind calm. I thought of persisting with sailing for a bit, but tiredness and the disire to be alongside overcame the pure side of my soul, and I dropped sail, started the engine and motored the short distance to what on the chart looked like a small boat harbour. This turned out to be a fishing harbour, where, after motoring around a bit looking for somewhere I might tie up out of the way, I eventually chose a spot, where I thought it was unlikely that I would be able to remain, but at least from which I could obtain directions. Once tied up I changed into something a little less bedraggled and wet, and wandered the docks looking for the tell tale signs of a fishing cooperative office. This I was grateful to quickly find, and to be seated in its warm comfortable interior, with a cup of Japanese tea and being looked after by a gentleman who worked there. It took a little while to sort things out, but everyone was typically gracious and courteous. It seemed I could not stay in the fishing harbour and I was shown a map of where I needed to go. I was a little disappointed that I had to move on already without even a nap but there was clearly no choice and I said thank you and was just about to leave when I was told that one of the men would accompany me in the way of a pilot to show me where I needed to go. This I thought was very generous and also very helpful so it was in good spirits that Sylph motored the final couple of miles into the harbour where she is now tied up to what appears to be the international yacht berth (free I believe).

There are two foreign boats and two Japanese boats here. The two local yachts are circumnavigating Hokkaido, which I think would make for an interesting challenge in its own right, whereas the two foreigners, like me, are bound for the Aleutians. One of the boats I have met before, while in Fukuoka, from New Zealand. The other boat is from Canada and I managed to have a good chin wag with her friendly crew, though, in my tiredness, I have forgotten their names already. These two boats are planning on leaving Japan from Hakodate, and in fact have already made one attempt but were beaten back by strong headwinds and are now waiting for a change in the weather. Meanwhile my friends in Kushiro are similarly waiting for a break in the weather. I think, rather than continue up to Kushiro, I will also aim to leave Japan from here.

Now it is time for sleep number two.

All is well.