Beer-can Racing off Japan

Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
30
Close-reaching to glory off the coast of Japan

Close-reaching to glory off the coast of Japan

Every sailor, regardless of experience, feels some trepidation when meeting a new captain or crew for the first time. How well will their personalities fit? How do the others handle stressful situations? Will you live up to your own hype? These anxious thoughts were all racing through my mind as I approached my new captain. Then I found myself contemplating a somewhat unusual question: Do I bow or shake hands?

I was in Japan. The serendipitous story of how I got there is a tale for another time, but suffice it to say that my jitters were exacerbated by being about as far from Kansas (ahem, Toronto) as I could get—so I hedged my bets and both bowed and shook hands at the same time. While the captain didn’t look particularly impressed, I wasn’t immediately dismissed either. Accomplishing this one small task left me with only a mountain of additional uncertainty to climb.

Captain Makoto and his first mate, Ryo, get into the zone

Captain Makoto and his first mate, Ryo, get into the zone

Joining Captain Makoto, his first mate, Ryo, and crewmember, Suzuki-san, I had arrived at the venerable Aburatsubo Yacht Club, located just south of Tokyo along Japan’s Pacific coast, for its traditional end-of-season race against the nearby Enoshima Yacht Club. I was told that Aburatsubo is considered to be the country’s oldest sailing club, and the competition, Enoshima, has the pedigree of being associated with Japan’s Olympic sailing venue. This race, while casual, was an important one. I could feel the weight of expectation as the crew prepared our boat, Ranka, for the trials ahead.

My first reprieve came when I happily discovered that Japanese sailors use many of the same terms as we native English speakers. Ryo occasionally translated for me, but the fundamentals were already in place—including tack, gybe, port, starboard and hike.

Beyond that, while Makoto was stern and businesslike in the beginning, he quickly loosened up as we gained on the bigger boats and left a growing field of competitors in our wake. My own confidence also improved as he gave me an approving nod while I trimmed the jib in a shifting breeze. Next thing I knew, the joy of racing a fast boat in perfect weather had spread among us all, and I found myself laughing along with the others as a rogue wave gave us a salty rinse on the rail.

The race itself was a 20-mile windward-leeward that brought us into the jagged shadow of Enoshima island, tucked into the northeast corner of Sagami Bay. Gorgeous wooden temples peeked out from heavy jungle, so that at one point, I caught myself staring at my surroundings rather than paying attention to the headsail. Thankfully, Makoto didn’t notice.

The author (front row left) joins the celebration alongside some soon-to-be sashimi

The author (front row left) joins the celebration alongside some soon-to-be sashimi

Eventually, the 18-knot wind shifted east, and we were able to sail downwind on a broad reach, with Ranka flying over the light chop. During the final sprint to the finish, gusts over 20 knots were knocking many of our competitors off course. But expert main trim by Ryo kept Ranka on her feet the entire way, and we blew over the line with a cheer.

Cultural differences aside, the scene after the race would have been recognizable to anyone who has ever hauled sheets from Tahiti to Tenerife. Lines were coiled, winch handles were put away, sail covers went on—and the unmistakable sound of beer cans clunking in coolers began to make itself heard from every point of the compass.

A huge party followed, during which Makoto whooped joyously as Ranka was called out as the third-place finisher. Aburatsubo was also declared the winning club, but by that time, everyone seemed too suffused with good cheer and Asahi pilsners to really care. By now my anxiety had long since been replaced by an amicable inner glow, and I didn’t need to speak the language to enjoy the familiar rounds of tall tales being told. I felt welcome there, on the other side of the world, and I grinned like an idiot as I dug into a big plate of fresh tuna and raised my beer for yet another toast with my fellow sailors. 

Photos by Russ Rowlands

February 2018

Related

01b-Over-Loch-Scavig

Cruising Across the North Sea

Conventional wisdom says sleeping in the V-berth while offshore is a bad idea. It can be like a diabolical amusement ride that tosses a sailor to and fro, inducing stomach-churning weightlessness. And yet, here I am, nestled in the tilted corner created by my berth and the ...read more

GG17-SAONA47-DX0796

Boat Review: Fountaine Pajot Saona 47

Here’s a riddle: What is less than 50ft long, has two hulls, three big cabins and four decks? Answer: The Fountaine Pajot Saona 47. In fact, it may even be five levels if you count the large engine rooms. This boat is a “space craft” in every sense of the word.DESIGN & ...read more

RichardBennettMIDNIGHT-RAMBLER3249x202

Storm Sails: Do you Need Them?

Many sailors embarking on ocean passages will take along the obligatory storm jib and trysail, with the vague idea that they may come in handy. Few sailors, however, have a real understanding of how and when to set them.It doesn’t help matters when we hear from seasoned sailors ...read more

IntheWater(1)

Boaters University Unveils Rescue Course

Boaters University has just announced its latest online course, Safety & Rescue at Sea, taught by Mario Vittone, whose name you might recognize from the pages of our sister publication, Soundings Magazine and his Lifelines blog.Mario Vittone is a retired U.S. Coast Guard rescue ...read more

IMG_20170920_132819

How to: Installing New Electronics

I had been sailing my Tayana 42, Eclipse, for a few years without any installed electronics on board. I’d gone pretty far up and down the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts with paper charts, the Navionics app on my Android phone, a hand-bearing compass and the ship’s compass. ...read more

02-Douglas-Adkins---Coriolis---Orcas-Island-KevinLightPhoto

A Phoenix-like Concordia

Cutting a fine wake on the cobalt-blue waters of West Sound on Orcas Island, Coriolis sparkles like a diamond. Her lovely silhouette is offset by emerald forests that frame the ocean, within spitting distance of the border with Canada. Seen up close, this Concordia yawl is a ...read more

IMG_1051

The Latest Boat Trends from Dusseldorf

The world’s biggest boat and watersports show, held in Düsseldorf on the banks of Germany’s Rhine River each January, is the place to scope out emerging trends in the boat design and building.What would be the new trends for 2018 and beyond? Hint—sophisticated electronics figure ...read more