Japan to alaska

So it’s been a while. QUITE a while, in fact. I might have made a blog post last spring, all about how we were getting ready to get the Buffalo out of Japan, finally, and on to Alaska for the summer cruising season. You might have noticed that this did not happen.

Our friend Captain Steve had his visa exemption issued, giving him official permission to get a visa and travel to Japan from New Zealand. Then Covid surged in Japan, and all bets were off. No visa for Steve, Stan, myself, or anyone else. We were too despondent to bother updating the blog with that bit of news; so we just hunkered down and lived our best life here in Bellingham, WA with our two new cats, Ash and Crooked Hillary.

Buffalo Nickel hunkered down and lived her… second-best life, tied to the dock in Fukuoka, under the care of our friend Kirk.

As of today, Japan is STILL not letting foreign tourists in at will. But through a happy series of coincidences, word of mouth three degrees of separation away, and “get me on the next flight to Honolulu!”, Stan was introduced to a Japanese national (who goes by Mike in the US.) Mike had the ability and the inclination to help him get a business visa to travel to Japan.

Mike and Stan, a pair of grey foxes in their natural habitat

After stopping in Tokyo to visit Mike, Stan rejoined the boat in late April, with Steve following along from New Zealand three weeks later. After 2.5 years at the dock, the theme of their time in Fukuoka was boat work: maintenance, testing of systems, updates, and repairs. 

Stan in the engine room
Steve at the main helm

Mechanically, she seemed in fine shape; shockingly so, in fact. The two main engines and the generator were healthy and happy (the boat is designed for easy fresh water flushing capability when leaving her sitting for more than a few days…but still.) The water maker was an even bigger surprise: since we weren’t planning to be gone that long when we left her in Japan late December of 2019, we did not bother pickling the membranes of the water maker to preserve them. All this time, Kirk has been giving the unit a fresh water flush every two weeks, and that’s all. Water makers are one of, if not THE most picky and bratty systems aboard most cruising boats, with ours being no exception. And yet, the unit fired right up, and proceeded to dump pristine water into our tanks, whose existing contents were somehow also clean and crystal clear. 

You expect the mechanical systems, with their pumps, impellers, and other moving parts, to suffer from long periods of disuse. That was not the case aboard Buffalo Nickel, at all. On the other hand, her electronics presented them with all kinds of issues.

One of our two navigation computers gave them the blue screen of death on startup, necessitating hours of call time with support getting Windows re-installed, then the Furuno navigation software up and running again. Our Maretron monitoring system uses its own black box to display all kinds of vessel data on one of our displays. That black box was dead on arrival. And our handheld Iridium satellite phone… also not working. To top it off, after both nav computers were up and running again, two of the three main helm display monitors died, during the same night. Gremlins!!!

Underbelly of the main helm

Our helm is cleverly designed to lift up, allowing easy access to the intimidating but well labeled guts underneath. In the pic above, and the previous one where Steve is at work, the blue background is the underside of the main helm, and the backs of the instruments installed on it. 

Much labor, hassle, and frustration ensued. But it wasn’t all toil and trouble. Evenings were spent catching up with old friends, and making new ones. 

Stan, Kirk, Kirk’s wife Tsuyuko, and Mike in our salon
Meeting Kirk at a local restaurant, Fukuoka
Four for dinner: Tsuyuko, Kirk, Stan, and Steve
Here’s to a fine meal!

Finally the time came to make the multi-day passage from Fukuoka, in western Japan, to Hakodate, on the easternmost island of Hokkaido. 

Buffalo Nickel’s foredeck as seen from the main helm

That passage turned out to be either a nightmare, or the perfect shakedown cruise, depending on your point of view. Weather was rather far from predictions, and conditions were awful in the Sea of Japan, with sustained winds of 40 knots on the nose for over 24 hours of it, and not much better the rest of the time. Seas were 20 feet at 6 seconds. Stan took pics of the chaos and mess aboard, but they are frankly too depressing to publish! The Buffalo passed her shakedown cruise with flying colors though, inspiring confidence for the big passage: from Hokkaido to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. 

During their time in Hakodate, a bit more preparation, provisioning, etc. — and a lot more socializing — were the order of the day. 

New friends Aya and Yoshiaki
Steve making eggplant parmigiana
Evenings in the local pub

They made their last hop, from Hakodate to Kushiro, a small port toward the eastern end of Hokkaido.

Tied to a wall in Kushiro

Their weather window opened almost immediately after that… and a damn fine one, too. Before leaving, they heard a persistent bumping sound against the hull. They finally traced it to a monstrosity formed of fishing net, rope, floats, and kelp, which had arrived by the river’s current and hung up on one of our stabilizer fins. Good they got rid of that instead of dragging it all the way to Alaska!

Get that thing offa me!
Lines cast off

As of today, they are most of the way to Attu Station, the outermost of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. They have had almost dead calm conditions, perfect for passagemaking under power (other than the fog, which is only a minor annoyance.) 

I am scheduled to leave on July 7, after attending my nephew Jason’s wedding in Santa Barbara, to fly on one of the two weekly flights to the island of Adak to meet them. (Google has Adak labeled on the satellite map below.) I’m so excited to finally be opening this new chapter, I can hardly sit still!

Talk soon, dear readers!

12 thoughts on “Japan to alaska

  1. What a pleasant surprise it is to receive your latest post on a sunny morning in Christchurch, New Zealand.
    I’m equally as excited that you are both going to be back on the sea’s and I’ll get to hear lot more of Buffalo Nickel adventures, can’t wait for more!
    What a great boat FPB 701 really is while being lassoed to the dock…. will be great to hear about some stats on the fuel burn to Alaska.
    Enjoy, safe travels!

  2. What great news – Buffalo Nickel is underway!! I’ve missed the updates on your cruising on beautiful Buffalo Nickel. Now I can look forward to more!!! Jerry Dow former owner of the “Island Star lll” Selene 5302. We met when you came aboard olypen.comat an early Roche Harbor rendezvous. I love your boat and your blog!!!

    1. Oh Jerry we remember you very well! I just texted Stan via satellite to tell him you reached out. We are thrilled to be getting back underway, and so is our boat!

  3. What an excellent chronicle of The Buffalo days of covid.
    I’am happy the trials and tribulations have been tested.
    Next obstacle is swimming cats!
    I can’t wait to see this ship 🛳 of the sea 🌊 in person.

  4. Dear Val;
    I just finished reading your update and there are no words to describe how happy I am for you, Stan and BUFFALO NICKEL!!
    This catharsis has been way too long in coming, and I wish you much happiness in reuniting with your lovely yacht!
    All the very best.
    James

  5. So very happy for you both. Finally!!! Love your blog and looking forward to hearing more of your adventures. Love to you and Stan. Would love to meet up with you sometime, somewhere in the future. We are still enjoying traveling. Finally going to Antarctica, our 7th continent.

  6. You really should have included Dad’s video of his phone flying out of his hands. 😉 Great post, Val!!

  7. Wow! What an odyssey😳. Wishing Stan & Steve more calm seas and a safe journey. You too. Getting to Adak will be an adventure for you all. Happy reunion 😘

  8. Great to hear your back underway and have the boat all working again. We are on our boat, M/V Happy in north east Maine. All is well here and look forward to seeing you in person in the future.
    Wytie and Sally

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Wytie! Makes me instantly recall fond memories of Barra de Navidad… we’ve both landed in cooler climes since then it seems!

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