25 Apr Miyajima to Suma Yacht Club
On our last morning in Miyajima, Brooke, Shannon, and Kat departed Starr. We’d had a great visit, but they needed to return to their real lives in Seattle. After sending them off, we got underway for Onimichi, about 50nm away.
Cruising on the Inland Sea has a lot of parallels with cruising the Pacific Northwest. Many of the passages are narrow and winding. Currents are strong, often a few knots and occasionally five or six, though they’re rarely hazardous. A key difference is traffic: it’s far, far heavier here than anywhere else I’ve cruised.
We spotted a Japanese Navy submarine along the way. This submarine was much smaller than what we’re used to seeing near Bremerton and Hood Canal.
When US Navy submarines travel through Puget Sound, they’re heavily guarded by surface craft with big machine guns. Here, the sub traveled alone. This sub is diesel-electric powered rather than nuclear powered. Japan has no nuclear submarines, but they’ve recently installed lithium batteries in one of their subs, apparently with great success. The new batteries give the sub more time underwater and enable it to recharge faster when on the surface.
Below is a not-uncommon radar view. The radar on the left is set to six miles and the radar on the right three miles. Target trails are five minutes. As you can see, there are A LOT of targets. At least half don’t broadcast AIS. We, along with nearly every boat we see, have Furuno radars. After traveling on the Inland Sea, I understand why Furuno takes radar so seriously…there’s a huge amount of boat traffic, moving in every direction, often changing directions and speed. Radar is an indispensable navigation aid.
We couldn’t figure out what the story was with the boat below. It’s not a barge; it has a rudder and a bulbous bow and is shaped like a ship. But there’s no house and it was being towed. We speculated that it’s being moved from one shipyard to another, either to complete construction or finish a refit.
We’re not sure what they’re using this floating crane for, but it’s absolutely massive. I tried to count the cables but lost track around 30.
Shipbuilding is big business in Japan. We came around a corner and spotted these magenta behemoths under construction. They’re among the biggest ships in the world, measuring more than 1300 feet long and 200 feet wide. One was nearly complete; another still had much work to go.
Next door is the mostly-shuttered, rusting hulk of Kure Works. This Nippon Steel facility shut down its last blast furnace in 2022 and will be fully closed by September 2023. A global glut of steel apparently made this aging facility uncompetitive, despite all the nearby shipbuilding activity.
A few miles later, we passed one of the nine shipyards of Imabari Shipbuilding. I’d never heard of them before, but they’re the largest shipbuilder in Japan and the fourth largest in the world. It’s a family business that’s been around since 1901. A fleet of bulk carriers was under construction for Navios.
Then we passed through a passage not more than 200 feet wide. It took us under a couple of bridges that reminded me of Rainbow Bridge in LaConner, WA. The passage was reminiscent of Swinomish Channel, too, with strong currents and lots of traffic. The traffic here, though, is often 200+ foot coastal freighters rather than 30-foot crab boats.
We arrived in Onimichi late in the afternoon. Currents run to three knots at the dock, which makes maneuvering challenging, so we timed our arrival to be near slack. Happily, we found the one Starr-sized slip was available. This is a new dock since Don and Sharry were here last. Moorage with water and power ran about $40USD for the night. We tied up and paid our fee.
Soon after we arrived, Kazuhiro knocked on the window to say hello and welcome us. He spoke enough English that we could actually have a conversation! He asked about our trip, where we’d been, and where we’re going. He recommended a sushi restaurant for dinner. We invited him aboard for a tour and to express our gratitude.
While walking around later, we stumbled upon the sushi restaurant where Don and Sharry dined with friends in 2011. The proprietor was still there and we enjoyed our meal.
Onomichi has a covered street lined with shops and restaurants runs through the middle of town. We walked along it in the evening, after most shops were closed.
Our inbound trip to Kobe is on a tight schedule, so we could only stay one night in Onimichi. This quick visit confirmed that it’s a place we want to spend more time next week when we’re traveling west, back towards the Sea of Japan, and have more flexibility.
Old and new, industrial and sacred, meet in sometimes-bizarre ways in Japan. Small temples like this are frequent along the shore, sometimes sandwiched between a steel mill and a shipyard.
For reasons that I can’t explain and don’t understand, the tidal exchange in the Seto Inland Sea is far greater than the tidal exchange outside of it. Exchanges often approach 10-feet. When tied to a wall in a fishing port–the most common moorage arrangement in Japan–this presents some problems. Lines have to be adjusted as the tide changes, to keep the boat from hanging on the lines or allowing the bow to swing perilously close to concrete. Fenders have to be adjusted so they don’t rise above the wall. The biggest challenge, though, is boarding the boat. When you go for dinner it might be an easy step off, but when returning a few hours later, you might have to shimmy down between a slimy, barnacle-y wall and the boat. Given this, we’ve tried to stay at floats as often as possible. Kirk told us about a float on the north shore of Shodoshima, a large island halfway between Onomichi and Kobe Yacht Club, so that’s where we went.
The float worked out perfectly. We enjoyed walking around the village, but found no restaurants or stores.
Sophisticated-looking floodgates protect the village. Or perhaps they’re used for controlling runoff and flooding rice paddies during the season?
The next day we got an early start to take advantage of the current on our way to Suma Yacht Club. Along the way we washed Starr. I’m trying to keep her looking at least as clean as the average public bus or fuel truck in Japan. Early in our trip here, I watched a bus driver cleaning his bus with a toothbrush. I’ve still got some work to do to reach that level of attention to detail.
We’d told Suma Yacht Club our ETA and they welcomed us with the most incredible hospitality we could have imagined. More on that next…it deserves its own post!