Our last blog post was in January 2020. At that time, we were sitting in our loft in downtown Seattle, having just spent the holidays with family and friends.
We had some quality time with parents, siblings, kids, and grandchildren. I had written about shrines in Japan for the blog, and we were gathering items to take back to the boat. We had left the Buffalo in a nice marina in Fukuoka, under the care of our friend and quasi-agent Kirk Patterson. He lives in Fukuoka, has cruised extensively, and has been an invaluable help in navigating Japan, both onboard and off. We planned to return in March in order to enjoy three or four more months of cruising there, before jumping off from Hokkaido to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
COVID hit, and travel restrictions prevented our return to Buffalo Nickel. Japan was, and still is, completely closed to foreign tourists such as ourselves. As we sit here now over a year later, we finally have some plans in place to share. We’ll also catch you up on how we spent our time in the States.
It didn’t take long to realize this pandemic was going to be far more involved than a two-week lockdown. Waiting it out for a year or longer in our tiny condo wasn’t very appealing. All the things that attracted us to it (lock-and-leave so we could travel, proximity to great restaurants, bars, museums, and other services and amenities) would no longer be relevant. So we bought a car, the first we’ve owned since 2009, and found a home with some room and a view overlooking Bellingham, WA and the San Juan Islands. A spacious house on five acres, with a wood shop for Stan, in a vibrant community. Or at least it will be vibrant again, once everything opens up. We have deer, geese, bald eagles, coyotes, mountain lions and bears; most days we see at least one of them, although the lion is elusive.
But the big news is……. drum roll…… we two retired veterinarians, pet-less since we moved aboard our first boat in 2006, went out and got two kittens. Ash is named after a character in the movie Alien. His “sister” (unrelated) is a tiny calico born with a short, kinked tail, so we named her Crooked Hillary. They bring us joy every day.
We are still denied entry to Japan. But we’ve been lucky enough to have two friends, one from New Zealand, the other from England, both experienced captains, who can get special visas by virtue of their marine engineering qualifications. They will make the passage to Alaska. Val and I will meet them in Dutch Harbor mid-June-ish. Then the two of us will spend the season cruising between Dutch Harbor and Prince William Sound. And yes, we have succumbed and decided that Crooked and Ash will join us. Boat cats!
We’re not sure where we will end up wintering the Buffalo, likely Kodiak Island, perhaps Homer?
Months ago, a commercial fisherman in Alaska found our blog and reached out to us via email. He has followed the FPB boats and Steve Dashew for some time, and we’ve made plans to meet him in Alaska. In the interim, he has introduced us to a number of other people who have thirty-plus years of local knowledge in western Alaska. We have always found other boaters, in this case commercial fishermen, to be a wealth of information, and we can tell that their guidance will guarantee us a glorious time in Alaska.
By the way, anyone even considering Japan should just make plans to go. It’s been a real highlight for us. The language barrier, lack of cruising resources and bureaucracy can be daunting, but we found that Kirk’s services made all the difference. It’s like nothing we have ever done, and our only regret is missing the northern half of the country due to COVID. We’ll do it by land though, down the road.
On a more logistical note, those of you who are American and cruising outside the US may have encountered the same boat insurance issues that we have: limited availability at rapidly rising rates. No US carrier would even look at us for the passage from Japan to Alaska. For various minor and unrelated reasons, we decided to flag our FPB 70 in the Marshall Islands rather than the US. As an unintended consequence, we were able to get great coverage at a decent cost from Pantaenius Europe using a broker in Germany who is terrific. This was only possible because we were not US-flagged. The “flag of convenience” process is pretty easy, and something to consider if you are having similar insurance challenges.