Nagasaki, Hirado, and Yobuko

Nagasaki, Hirado, and Yobuko

We arrived at Dejima Wharf in the middle of Nagasaki and found plenty of empty space. The slips are small–maybe 40 feet–but the end ties are 100+ feet and both appeared available. Unable to raise anyone on the phone or radio, we tied up, only to find we were trapped by a locked gate. Turns out it was a holiday in Japan and nobody was working in the office. There we were in the middle of a vibrant city, stuck in boat jail!

We called Kirk, our agent in Japan, and asked if he knew how to contact the office on the holiday. He did not, and explained that we’d probably be kicked out of Dejima Wharf because there’s a 50-foot size limit. Discouraging, especially since Starr and three big Nordhavns had spent time here back in 2010.

After a few hours, Masami, a sailor on the other dock, recognized that we were probably stuck onboard. He walked over to lend us a gate key. Thank you, Masami!! We gave him a tour of Starr and chatted for a bit, then set out to explore Nagasaki.

Nagasaki Harbor is lined with industry. Boats of all sizes and descriptions, from local passenger ferries to small fishing boats to stealth naval ships, are built and repaired here. Watching all the activity was entertaining and educational.

During the Sakoku period (1603-1868), Japan was essentially closed to the outside world. Most Japanese citizens were prohibited from traveling abroad. International visitors were not allowed in. Trade with the West was limited and permitted only in Nagasaki, at Dejima, the Dutch trading post pictured below.

Dejima Wharf isn’t close to a supermarket, but small shops sold everything we needed. Here’s an example of a produce shop. Similar shops specialized in seafood, meat, and poultry.

When the marina office opened the following day, the harbormaster paid us a visit. He spoke little English, but made it clear we were too big for his float. We showed him pictures of Starr tied up here before, to no avail. We said we’d leave, but he wouldn’t let us. Wait for Customs, Immigration, and the Coast Guard, he said. We probably should have just left.

After waiting on the boat for an hour or so, a dozen officials arrived. They seemed quite serious and asked all sorts of questions. They explained that the dock we were tied to wasn’t strong enough for us. They wondered why we hadn’t asked permission to tie up. They seemed to doubt that we were allowed to be in Japan at all. We presented them with our paperwork. We showed them pictures of Starr here before. They eventually agreed to let us stay at the marina, but we’d need to tie up between the rough concrete wall and a tiny finger pier, rather than the end tie we were on. It would be a lot of work and the weather was lousy. We decided to head for Hirado, 50 miles to the north.

The harbormaster seemed concerned about this, too. Did we know about the currents, which are strong? Yes, that’s why we wanted to leave right now, so we could make it before dark and near slack. Did we know the float in Hirado was too small for us? No, it’s not–Starr had been there, too, and we’d measured the spaces on Google Earth. As we pulled away from the dock, he said he’d call the Coast Guard. No, please don’t call the Coast Guard!

The cruise north to Hirado was much calmer than expected. As a Pacific Northwest cruiser, it felt quite familiar. Some wind chop, fog, several knots of current in narrow passes, lots of traffic…a fun day on the water!

Passing Oshima Shipbuilding, with several new bulk carriers under construction. They build about 25 ships per year.
Japanese naval ship, one of several we saw underway

We made it to Hirado easily enough and found empty space on the innermost floating dock. Amazingly, four of our new friends from the Coast Guard had driven all the way from Nagasaki (2+ hours by car) to meet us in Hirado and ask the same questions they’d asked earlier in the day. They confirmed that we could stay where we were, but we’d need to register in the morning with the town tourist office.

Secured to the inner float in Hirado

A local boat with twin 25hp Yamahas with tiller control. We never saw it in operation, but I have many questions.

Historically Hirado was an important port for trade with Europe, first with the Portuguese, then the British, and most notably, the Dutch. The Dutch influence is apparent when walking through town.

Hirado Castle is a prominent landmark just above town. It’s open to the public and we enjoyed touring the grounds. It was built in the early 17th century by Matsuura Shigenobu, the feudal lord of Hirado, who was seeking to establish his power in the region. The castle was strategically located on a hill overlooking the city and the harbor, giving it a clear view of any approaching ships or armies. Hirado Castle played an important role in the politics and trade of the region, serving as a center of power and influence for over two hundred years. During its history, the castle was besieged and damaged several times, but it was always rebuilt and strengthened.

Spring in Japan means cherry blossoms. We enjoyed many throughout Hirado.

Don and I found a chandlery tucked away in town. We didn’t actually need anything, but enjoyed looking through the selection of boat stuff. They had some beautifully machined stainless steel plumbing fittings.

The hills provide lots of good walking. Skillfully-crafted stone staircases abound, although they’re quite slippery when wet. I only fell once.

When your feet get tired, a free footbath is conveniently located in town. It was often crowded but never full.

Of course there was time for drone flying, which gives a different perspective on the harbor and surrounding waterways.

One of the impressive things in Japan is just how many seawalls, breakwaters, and harbors there are. Hirado Island has at least a dozen harbors. Somewhere I read that Japan’s coastline is the most developed in the world, with something like 40% modified with concrete. It’s the stuff of nightmares for environmentalists, but a concession to reality for Japan. They act as a bulwark against coastal erosion, storm surges, and tsunamis–threats that have plagued Japan forever.

The harbor we tied up in was pretty quiet (except for ferries), but a nearby harbor bustled with fish boat activity. More than 100 small fish boats must have been moored there.

Near the fishing port, we met Tsugio and Maria Christina. He’s Japanese and she’s Filipino. He grew up in the home where they now live and operate a small cafe. We had lunch at their cafe, learned that he loves boats, and invited them for a tour of Starr in exchange for a ride back to the boat.

Pictures Tsugio shared of one of his sailboats

During Tsugio’s visit to Starr, he invited us back to their home for dinner. Of course we said yes. He and Maria Christina insisted on providing transportation, and at the appointed hour, Remko, their neighbor, arrived and whisked us away.

Remko spoke excellent English. He’s Dutch by birth and has lived in Japan for the last 16 years. His day job is running an artist-in-residence program for European ceramicists visiting Japan. In his spare time, he works as a translator. He answered my endless questions about Japanese culture and politics with great patience.

Maria Christina prepared a delicious meal with several courses…fish, spaghetti, bread, steamed vegetables, gratin potatoes, and more! Thank you Maria Christina and Tsugio for the excellent meal and even better company. Thank you Remko for translating, educating, and driving us!

From Hirado we made the short run to Yobuko, a village located on the northwest coast of Kyushu Island. The village is renowned for its thriving fishing industry, which specializes in squid. Don and Sharry had visited back in 2010.

Walking through town illustrated some of the challenges facing modern, rural Japan. A few new houses were interspersed among many more abandoned homes and businesses. Japan’s population has been shrinking for decades and there simply aren’t enough people to occupy and care for all the housing, particularly in rural areas.

Note the street itself, which was brand new and painstakingly arranged and detailed.

I never tire of looking at harbors, boats, and their equipment. Cruisers often get hung up (pun intended) on pedantic arguments about what type of anchor to use. Below is the anchor that’s on just about every Japanese boat we’ve seen. A strange design, but it must work well enough. We don’t see Japanese boats washed up on beaches.

Squid boats utilize lights to attract their prey. Most of them have beautifully done wiring like the boat below…tidy, well secured, complete with service loops. This owner/skipper clearly takes pride in his work.

Seafood is everywhere in Yobuko, from roadside stands to fish markets and restaurants. Different vendors employ varying techniques to dry the squid:

Starr was moored next to a very busy lunch restaurant that specializes in squid. Some of it was cooked:

And some was so fresh that it was still moving:

When Starr was in Yobuko in 2010, Don and Sharry befriended Jun, a local resident who owned the chandlery in town. Since then, Jun closed the business and moved to Hokkaido, but his brother, Koichiro, still lives here. He came by for a visit and we called Jun to help translate. The warmth and hospitality of the Japanese is really impressive, even when the language barrier feels insurmountable.

Next stop: the big city, Fukuoka, where we’ll tie up at a bona-fide marina located next to an outlet mall rather than local fishermen.

  • Peter Powell
    Posted at 14:16h, 02 April Reply

    Well done! Love your stories and pictures, it’s like I’m actually there with you guys!

  • Valerie Creighton
    Posted at 14:45h, 02 April Reply

    Great to read your accounts of all these destinations we enjoyed. I believe we also “enjoyed” the same coast guard officials! Ah well, all part of the adventure!

  • Donna Hawley
    Posted at 15:21h, 02 April Reply

    The pictures and the stories draw me in so . My personal
    Tour guide . I smile and laugh and hold my
    Breath until conclusion of Coast Guard interaction All from
    The comfort of my couch. Donna

  • Steve Komorous
    Posted at 15:32h, 02 April Reply

    What a post. Informative, exciting, adventurous, and resilient. There is so much good in people. I wish the world would calm down and see that. You all are inspiring. Thank you. Continued safe voyages. God Bless.

  • Chris Clothier
    Posted at 20:09h, 02 April Reply

    great commentary and photos. You are “the adventurers”! and so wonderful that you could reconnect with friends from you previous visit.

  • Yasuko
    Posted at 20:12h, 02 April Reply

    Thank you for sharing beautiful pictures.
    I love the picture of all squid meal at Hirado.
    And I can almost taste it. How lucky you are.
    I also enjoy reading the detailed account of your exchanges with Japanese people. Thank you for taking me on the ride with you.

  • Andrew E Howard
    Posted at 21:03h, 02 April Reply

    Thanks for the very well documented stories and pictures. Keep it up guys.

  • michael s. castleton
    Posted at 21:03h, 02 April Reply

    Lovely narrative and pictures . I enjoy posts immensely. Thank you. Keep them coming !

  • Jan and Tom White
    Posted at 16:25h, 03 April Reply

    Such a fantastic array of photos. Your trip sounds like a dream come true. So glad you’re having a successful trip.

  • Anna Serra
    Posted at 18:48h, 12 April Reply

    Great post!

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