Whakaari arrived in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan on 24th July from the Russian Kurils. All my crew felt exhilarated after an intensive sailing passage, time spent in Kamchatka (tho we all felt it was much too brief), exploring the remote Aleutians, describing it as the Trip of a Lifetime. Without autopilot for much of the trip, and distances too big for my fuel tankage we really had to sail the boat, and sail her we did. The watches came and went, some demanding reefing in big seas, others just floating quietly along at slow speeds in glassy seas. Four big men with all the necessary winter gear for high latitudes sailing take up alot of room, and after a few days things get a bit chaotic, especially when slamming in strong conditions. But we managed to prepare good regular meals, and due to the cold temps, the lack of a reefer didn't affect us too much. The occasional cod made up for the limited fresh meat in our diet.
I enjoyed returning to paper chart plotting as we left US territory and into the Bering Sea and Russian waters where there are no Navionics charts available. The six day crossing was an interesting mix of hard sailing, much of it on a beam reach, light winds when judicious use of fuel didn't mean just running on motor, power management with no sun for the solar panel, and the wind generator having died just after the last blow (and two long winters in the north at high speed-I feel it served me well, but a few more weeks wouldv'e been good!), so more hand steering than using autopilot, as we really needed power for the radar in the fog and dark with so much ship traffic around us- the AIS was working overtime! We arrived at the 12 mile limit in sublime conditions, just floating thru the early hours watching the sunrise over spectacular volcanoes on the Kamchatka peninsula. Then the protracted formalities began-enough said!
Since leaving Sand Point Whakaari put over 3400 nautical miles past her keel, much of it in cold temperatures (water temp 6 degrees) under low fog and cloud, and often big seas and high winds. The amount of equipment failures and damage to gear astounded and frustrated me, especially after the month long job of replacements and maintenance done in Sand Point, and more work in Dutch,
and the jury rig for the broken boom is still in place while I determine welding or replacement costs here in Japan.
An ascent of Mt Cleveland looked to be on the cards, the clouds parting to reveal the volcano to be almost fully snow clad and steaming quietly. Our first day there was spent reinforcing the boom with the spinnaker boom after two crash gybes in an unexpected blow running flat from Dutch. Then we lost an anchor and all the chain when a big swell knocked off the snubber and the gusts overwhelmed the windlass lock. So another day waiting for the conditions to improve so we could drag for the anchor chain, (which was successful) But although the forecast was great for a summit attempt there was a big storm heading our way, moving up from Hawaii, so with no shelter within 135 miles of The Islands of the Four Mountains we had to race away and hunker down in Sviechnikof Harbor on Amelia Island, where we spent 48 hours riding out constant 40 knot winds and 50 knot gusts.
The short time frame in Russia (due essentially to only being allowed 30 days with a pre determined start, and arriving 8 days late after that date because of many boat repair issues in Dutch, then storm damage and sheltering before making the run across the Bering Sea) was frustrating, so much so some of us just want to turn around and go back while we are so close.
However we had committed to a week long expedition type tour of the Kamchatka Volcanoes Park, and that was a huge amount of fun with a great VolcanoesLand crew, a summit was achieved, and we experienced some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen, lunar landscapes, dead forest, lava flows, caves, and hot springs....all the while enjoying great food, vodka, singing sessions and developing lasting friendships.
The captain and crew of Dumbo, a 40' motor sailer we were side-tied to, became great mates, and we in fact buddy boated with them to the Kurils, until our visa period was up and we were forced to close the border and make for Japan. But not before having a party with them in Severo-Kurilsk sharing vodka and snacks and some crazy karaoke before watching the World Cup Football final together. They had a Japanese research team aboard, filming Orca and Sealion populations in the southern Kurils
Our timing for arriving in Otaru couldn’t have been better as the festival to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary (and especially its connection with the sea) had just begun and culminated with very impressive fireworks, parades of dancers in traditional costume, and taiko drumming that was just awesome!
The change in conditions from Kamchatka to Hokkaido has been at once delightful and brutal. A modern port, with excellent facilities in Otaru, compared to being side tied to another yacht at simple small steel edged floats in PK with no services and surrounded by rusting hulks; the price of everything so much higher in Japan; shedding all our winter layers, needed for the -5 to +5 deg C only two-three days further north, as temperatures rose quickly heading south, now sweating and gasping in 32-36 deg C. Now we need that reefer!
But in terms of the welcome, hospitality, and open generosity, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski and Otaru are both at the top of my list - None of us have ever experienced such warmth and generosity as we did in these two wonderful places.