Adventures in the North Pacific (with the inimitable Arnold!)
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Travels after the 1991 Melbourne to Osaka Yacht Race
It was May 1991 and I was sitting in Osaka tasked with sailing Knots, a Swan 53 to San Francisco. I had an able crew member in Dorothée, who was to join in Hokkaido, and was looking for one more. Arnold Tickle had just completed the race onboard his own yacht Kidnapped and was keen for an adventure. As was occasionally the case with Arnold, there were just a couple of things to “sort-out” and if I helped it would be quicker. The main thing was that Arnold just needed to move his yacht to another marina, which he said was “just around the corner”. Oh, and I needed to come out to dinner with him and a couple of Japanese guys he had made friends with and we could move his yacht the next day. Dinner involved plenty of Asahi beer and, as is normal for Japan, some “interesting” dishes. I’m up for trying most things once but I drew the line at something they called “Basashi”. Arnold dived in but it was a strange looking raw meat. I kept querying what it was and eventually they made the klip klop sound you make with your tongue. “Horse?”, I said disbelievingly but they smiled and laughed and said “Hai Hai (yes, yes), bad racehorse, good for eating only”. To his credit, Arnold only paused briefly before having another piece while I politely declined, drawing the line at raw racehorse!
The inimitable Arnold on tour in Hokkaido
The next day I turned up on board Kidnapped ready to move the boat to the next marina. From memory, we had one other person to help us. Arnold had bought a carton of beer, which seemed a lot for a short delivery and off we went. This was before electronic charts, so I pulled out the paper charts and asked Arnold to point out where the marina was. He vaguely pointed on the chart and said it was called Shima Yacht Harbour. Eventually, I found it and did some calculations, came up on deck and said, “Arnold, the marina is 170 nm away!! Do you even have any food on board”? “Oh, is it that far, I think I have a couple of muesli bars and we have beer”.
This was my introduction to Arnold and planning. It was drizzling so at least I had left with some wet weather gear. I remember there was plenty of wind so, once we got out of Osaka Bay, we were reaching fast on this Sayer 40. It was then that the sail got a “bit” more interesting. First thing was that I noticed quite a bit of water below, and it looked like it was coming from the coach roof side windows. “Arnold, these windows seem to be leaking badly! Did you have any problems with them during the race?”. “No he said, they were fine during the race except for a very small leak but I thought I would re-caulk them anyway so I took them all off and was going to reseal them but I ran out of time so I just stuck them back for the move to the marina. They will be fine”.
Next thing was that the swell picked up as we got south and back into the North Pacific. Now, I can’t be certain whether it was the beers from the night before, or the beers since leaving Osaka, or the raw racehorse, BUT Arnold started to look a bit queasy and then was violently ill. At this point he retired below where the water continued to pour into the cabin through the leaking windows.
They say things always happen in threes. Well, the next thing was fog; thick fog! The fog results from warm moist air moving from the Kurishio Current over the colder water close to shore. This fog was pea-soup fog and it was cold and damp. The other small issue was that, in 1991, more than 400 ships traversed this route every 24 hours and there were large numbers of smaller fishing boats so we had a bit on! Meanwhile Arnold lay comatose in his bunk, blissfully unaware.
I am not sure how Arnold and his crew Tony Vick navigated in the Osaka race, but I guess it was a bit drier down below. I found a timber hatch cover and managed to find a semi-dry spot to draw some lines on the chart and plot a fix to confirm where we were, then went back on deck in the now freezing cold wind and rain. We only had a small jib and the main up and were ripping along. We stayed closer to shore to try to avoid the big ships, whose fog horns we could hear blaring through the mist and concentrated on dodging fishing boats as they emerged from the gloom. This went on till we turned north and got some relief from the traffic. We continued sailing through the night. I think we found a muesli bar and I guess I should be grateful there was some drinking water onboard.
Dawn came, the fog lifted, and we slowly warmed up on approach to Shima Yacht Harbor. The two of us on deck were shattered. Arnold’s head popped up from down below. In his normal laconic Airlie Beach drawl he said, “Morning boys, sorry, I’m not sure that basashi agreed with me”.
Kidnapped safely berthed in Shima Harbour after the passage from Osaka.
So, we arrived and Kidnapped was safely berthed for the time being. We made our way back to Osaka overland. We readied Knots for departure and a great young woman named Jill decided to join us for some of the trip. Jill spoke Japanese so this was a big help.
We had an uneventful trip north to Hokkaido (once you get used to the fog and mass of fishing boats!) and spent a delightful two weeks berthed in Kushiro touring around and being made welcome by the local yachties. We even made the local news!
Famous in Kushiro. (Arnold 3rd from left and Will beside him).
It was a great setup with only three active keel boats in Kushiro at the time but two yacht clubs! There was the Westport Yacht Club with Khoki Nakano as the Commodore and the Yacht Club of Kushiro run by Capt. Shigemi Seki. When I say yacht clubs it was clear these places were cool little bars. The social side of yachting was on full display for our two weeks and we were sad to leave on the 1st July bound for the Aleutian Islands. Dorothee had joined us on 28th June so we were back to three crew.
Will and Arnold enjoying food and beer in Kushiro.
There are three things I remember clearly about the passage up to the Aleutians. I remember sailing through the middle of a fleet of 50-60 Russian Purse Seiners, each at least 80 feet long. It took a few hours to sail through the fleet and at times we were close enough to see crew clustered around open fires in 44 gallon drums on the back decks.
Passing close by a Russian purse seiner en route to the Aleutians.
I also remember heaving-to in a nasty storm for only the second time in my life. It enabled us to have a rest and a sleep and to get warm while the storm passed. The third thing I remember is a conversation Dorothée and I had with Arnold, which at the time seemed ridiculous. We were talking about visiting the USA and Arnold said in his normal laid-back style, “I know a bloke in the US, I will probably run into him”. We went over the size of the US population and the chance of it happening, but Arnold was insistent, “He is in Alaska somewhere and we are going there”. Now remember, this is before mobile phones and email was in common use only in universities. Compuserve and AOL only showed up in 1995 and by the end of 1996 less than 10% of the US were on the internet and this was 1991. So, it was not like Arnold was going to email his mate or call him from the middle of the North Pacific. For now, the conversation disappeared into the mist.
Sailing through the ever present fog.