The Aleutians To Subic Bay
A day after the Aleutians, we lost a calendar day crossing 180 degrees of longitude into the Eastern Hemisphere. The gray North Pacific was alive with birds. Laysan albatrosses hardly moved a wing coasting over swells; predatory fulmars boomeranged between sea and sky; our props stirred up food and cuddly kittiwakes followed, as did those walkers-on-water, the tiny storm petrels. A frontal passage brought a 12-hour northwest gale with big swollen seas and a salty tang in the air.
The landfall off Hokkaido, in northern Japan, gave us a taste of unyielding bureaucracy. “Your insurance company is under review for approval,” I was informed by our agents.
“No problem,” I said. “We’ll anchor for the night near Kushiro.”
“Don’t; you’ll be arrested,” was the response. So all night we dodged squid ships, glowing in the fog under clusters of spotlights and clanking machinery, jigging batteries of hooks. Always polite and smiling, the Japanese people made up for their stiff regulators. In Kushiro a man ran up to us and presented us with an origami crane; the taxi driver we had hired came to say goodbye with a bag of good-luck charms — plastic, gaudy and made in China! Our translator organized a dinner in his island village — a feast of fried fresh catch from Japan’s inland sea: whelks, oysters, soft shell crabs, shrimps and undersea spiders, centipedes and other stranger crawlers.
The coasts of Japan are very populated, contained and tamed in concrete. Great numbers of small freighters work the coastal waters, and they, bearers of the kamikaze spirit, gave no quarter when screeching around headlands, rocks and buoys. The cruising had a decidedly urban flavor — we were directed to go from one marina (large and efficient) to another. Whale Song wasn’t supposed to anchor but we managed: once off a yacht club’s moorings, once unnoticed in a night downpour and the third time for an hour before a patrol boat directed us inside a walled typhoon shelter. After the clean, pollution-free cities, our last stop, the tropical city of Okinawa — where plastic trash was blowing in the streets and an oppressive smog hung in the air — was a shock.
Between southern Japan and the Philippines, typhoons can whip up at any time of the year. Within 24 hours of Whale Song’s departure from Okinawa, an enormous ring formed around the evening sun; bands of cirrostratus like cosmic highways pointed south-southeast. Lekima, a named typhoon, was spinning 400 miles away. The quartering seas grew larger than any Whale Song had experienced yet, and the yacht surged wildly down waves. Crests broke against the hull, thudding against the Lexan storm covers on the deckhouse windows. Eventually the Philippines’ Babuyan Islands to the east blocked the big swells. However, a tropical depression ahead over Luzon was dumping torrential rains on Whale Song even after we docked in Subic Yacht Club. That system drifted westward, gradually developing into a 100-knot typhoon. Whale Song moved southward through the islands and away from yet another depression whirling itself into fury at the north. We looked forward to better weather on the way to Palau Islands, our next destination.
Whale Song’s cirucumnavigation adventure will continue in the July issue of Yachting.
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