13 May Onomichi, Su-Oshima, and Exiting the Inland Sea
After a wonderful four day stay at Suma Yacht Club, we began our westbound trip out of the Seto Inland Sea. We left at the crack-of-dawn to take advantage of favorable current through Akashi Strait. Starr reached nearly 12 knots as we passed through the narrows and under the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. Until 2022, Akashi Kaikyō Bridge’s 6500-foot central span was the longest of any suspension bridge in the world.
We followed our track 100nm back to Onomichi, one of our favorite stops from the inbound trip. It’s an ideal cruising destination: the waterfront bustles with activity, dozens of shops and restaurants are within a short walk of the boat, cultural sites await in the adjacent hills, and moorage is on a floating dock with power and water.
Onomichi is well-known for its 25 hillside temples and shrines, which date back to the 8th century.
The “Temple Walk” is a popular activity. A “staircase of 1000-steps” leads to Senko-ji Temple, near the top of the hills.
Seemingly endless variations on the route are possible–we did the walk several times, taking different turns and seeing new places each time.
The view of Onomichi and the Seto Inland Sea from Senko-ji Temple is magnificent. This temple was originally built more than 1200 years ago. Even today, construction on such a rugged, steep hillside presents many challenges. I can’t imagine the difficulty in 806AD.
At the top, the Onomichi City Museum of Art maintains beautiful park-like grounds:
A minimalist, newly-constructed viewing platform stands at the very top, about 800 feet above sea level, and it offers fantastic views. For those not interested in the walk, a cable car offers alternative transport.
Residents throughout Onomichi take pride in their community. It’s clean and feels prosperous without being busy. This man was pushing a cart and cleaning up trash that he found along the waterfront:
When we were here last week, Kazuhiri had stopped by Starr to welcome us to Onomichi. While walking through town on this visit, he saw me, pulled his moped over, said hello, and asked if we needed anything. A few hours later he came to Starr with his friend, Kyoko. They brought a traditional Japanese tea service and snacks and asked if they could come aboard to practice their English. They are both retired and have been learning English by listening to the radio. We had a delightful visit for several hours. Thank you for coming!
Before leaving the Seto Inland Sea, we needed to get enough diesel to reach Hokkaido, the northern-most of the main Japanese islands and our eventual jumping-off point for Alaska. Because pleasure boat marinas are few-and-far-between in Japan, and they are often set up for smaller boats than Starr, there aren’t many fuel docks. Local fishing boats usually get fuel from trucks. Given our limited Japanese language skills, arranging for a fuel delivery seemed daunting. Kirk to the rescue! He suggested we visit Su-Oshima. Local residents had built Kirk a small float to tie his sailboat to years ago, and he thought this would be a good place to get diesel and wait out some windy weather.
Starr is considerably larger and heavier than other boats that have used the float. Not wanting to inadvertently take the float away with us, we tied lines to the concrete wall rather than the float. Even so, the float was a very convenient boarding platform–much easier than getting on-and-off at the wall, especially with an 8-foot tidal exchange!
Su-Oshima is a small, pleasant village. A well-stocked grocery store and a quaint udon shop were a 10-minute walk away. An onsen–a Japanese bathhouse–was 20 minutes away.
Getting fuel was slow but easy. We’ve often joked that “everything is smaller in Japan,” most especially the cars and trucks, included the fuel trucks. The first truck to arrive carried 1000 liters, the second just 400 liters. That’s 264 and 106 gallons, respectively. Starr, by comparison, carries more than 3700 gallons.
Thankfully, we only needed 3000 liters (about 800 gallons) to get us to Hokkaido. Even so, the process took hours. The truck with 1000 liters stayed in place throughout the fueling. The 400-liter-truck raced back-and-forth to the fuel storage tanks to replenish the larger truck. The workers were as fast, efficient, and friendly as could be, despite the limitations. Each time they returned with the 400-liter-truck, they brought an extra 40 liters in jerry cans. It was fun and funny to watch.
Cash is used much more frequently in Japan than it is in the USA–much more frequently than we expected, to be honest. Almost all of our moorage has been cash-only, and cash was the only form of payment the fuel supplier would accept. The total for 3000 liters came to about 450,000 yen. After adjusting to USD and gallons, that’s about $4.30 USD per gallon. Buying fuel in foreign currency and the metric system always feels a bit disorienting.
A few scenes from around the harbor in Su-Oshima:
Throughout Su-Oshima, seawalls with closing gates lie well inland, closer to the houses than the harbor. We’re not sure if they’re used for tsunami protection or for storm surges during typhoons.
They appear very well built, with thick rubber gaskets and stout dogs.
This observatory above a buddhist temple piqued my interest and the walk up the hill was welcome exercise.
Toshi, a medical device salesman-turned-rice farmer, visited us one morning. His business career took him throughout the United States and he spoke excellent English.
Toshi explained that most of the local residents are retired. When he retired, he left Tokyo and moved here, into a 19th century farmhouse. He then began growing omachi rice for sake brewing and organic lemons. He’s passionate about living in the Japanese countryside, organic farming, and protecting the environment. In addition to great conversation and insight, he gave us a bottle of sake and big bag of lemons. Thank you Toshi!
We visited Ryuzaki Onsen, our first onsen since arriving in Japan. Onsen culture is an integral part of Japanese tradition and lifestyle. Onsen refers to natural hot springs, which are found throughout Japan, due to the country’s volcanic landscape. The hot springs are believed to have healing properties and are a popular destination for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Japanese onsen typically have indoor and outdoor bathing areas, with gender-segregated baths and clothing strictly prohibited. Visitors to an onsen are expected to follow specific etiquette, such as washing their bodies thoroughly before entering the hot springs and keeping quiet to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. Taking pictures is also prohibited. Rest assured, Ryuzaki Onsen is relaxing and peaceful!
We spent three nights at Su-Oshima while we waited for gusty winds to subside. When they did, we headed towards Kanmon Kaikyo to exit the Seto Inland Sea. As you may recall, Kanmon Kaikyo has currents that run to 8 or 9 knots.
Emboldened by our easy transit at slack on the way in, we decided we’d prefer to transit Kanmon Kaikyo on a good ebb, when the current would give us a nice speed boost. In order to make the timing work, we spent a night at anchor about 40nm from Kanmon Kaikyo . After so many nights at docks, a lazy evening at anchor felt really nice.
The next morning we got an early start to arrive at Kanmon Kaikyo near max ebb. As we approached, traffic built. In the shot below, there are a couple of tankers, a naval submarine, and a passenger ship.
Our timing worked well. We reached 14 knots burning just 7 gallons per hour.
Lighted signs along the shore provide information on the current. The photos below show the current is running 6 knots towards the west.
The water was turbulent in places, but never dangerously so. We enjoyed a fast, smooth ride.
Kanmon Martis, the traffic control scheme in charge of the waterway, seemed more concerned about our passage than we were. I intentionally plotted our course just outside the main channel. This kept us well clear of large ship traffic, but plenty far from shallow water.
As we entered Kanmon Kaikyo, traffic control called and asked that we stay close to the edge of the channel. A few minutes later, a different controller called, warning us of shallow water to starboard. I assured him we were aware of it, that we did have charts, and thanked him. A few minutes later, he called again with a similar warning. This repeated a few more times. Annoyed, we took his suggestion and moved towards the middle of the channel–in the way of the big ships, but free of his worry that we’d go aground.
Transiting Kanmon Kaikyo with six knots of current proved to be no big deal. As we exited and turned north, traffic quickly subsided and a bit of swell built. For the next month, we’ll be traveling north and east in the Sea of Japan. Stay tuned for more adventures!