Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Part 1-11 The Lighter and The Men in The Waves

Our prayers to God were rewarded, and finally the the night began to end. In the first rays of light shining over the horizon we could see that we were in the heart of the sunken reefs. Boulders were scattered far across the sea. The raging breakers sprayed through the air.
About one hundred meters from the ship there was a quite large, flat boulder breaking up through the surface of the sea. Between that boulder and the ship was a gulf of boiling and seething waves.
"We may be able to see an island, climb up the mast and have a look," I ordered, and two men climbed up the still tottering mast. The morning mist was obscuring their sight and no islands were visible.
I spoke to the crew from my memory of the sea maps and navigation charts. "There are no visible islands. First, we must move to that nearby boulder. From there we will go in search of an island. The captain is always the last to go on land, so if I cannot make it, you must all continue on to the north. There will be islands there. If there is no water on those islands, cross over to the next island in the north-west. That should be Midway island.
"Well, we're going ashore, make preparations. Don't forget to unpack any supplies. Everyone, bring as many clothes as you can. Wear you winter clothes and your summer clothes. Put on your socks and your shoes. Put on your hats, and tie towels and hand cloths firmly around your heads. Tie as much as you can around your waist, the more layers the better, so tie them tight. Be careful not to drop your jack-knives."
Everyone bundled up like eskimos. It was because from now on we would need these clothes, and they would also prevent injury if someone was knocked from the boat by the waves that pummeled over the reefs.
"Let down the lighter."
At last, when the crew heard the order they had been steeling themselves for, they grew tense. We were entrusting our lives to this one lighter, so we could under no circumstances allow ourselves to relax. Every man knew that if the lighter was taken by the waves, not a single one of the sixteen could expect to survive. The lowering of the lighter was a utterly sobering operation that meant life or death.
While carefully watching the intervals of the unending waves I would shout, "there," at the right moment, and we would drop the boat onto the sea. If we were unlucky and the timing was bad, the vicious waves would lift the lighter and hurl it against the side of the ship, smashing it to pieces. Or again, it could swallow the boat in a single gulp, sucking it to the bottom of the sea and that would be the end.

The first step of the operation was to pour oil into the waves to calm them.
Oil is commonly poured from boats in times of rough waters, because when oil spreads over the surface of water it will calm even the fury of waves enraged to the point of madness.
Raging waves are like several thousands of stampeding stallions, their wild stark white manes streaming on forever. Pour in oil and the white manes are hidden, becoming simple waves moving up and down. We knew very well that since long ago, sailors of all the worlds countries have used oil to cool the fury of the waves.
It was when whalers on a ship being toyed with recklessly by the sea thought 'this is enough,' and were ready to give up, when suddenly the motion of the boat slowed and the waves stopped battering them. They saw an area of the sea that appeared strange with a dead whale floating nearby, and they understood that the waves were being quieted by the oil seeping from the whale. They learned that oil was effective in silencing the waves. And furthermore, only a little oil is enough. Just a single drop will quiet two square meters of the sea. For the lowering of a lighter, dripping about half a liter into the sea is enough to quiet the water on all sides of a ship for one hour. In the terms of an academian, the oil spreads out to the unimaginable thinness of one micrometer, a millionth of a millimeter, and coats the sea, calming the waves.

So in this fashion, the crew of the Ryuusui-Maru set about calming the raging waves.
We put sea-turtle and shark oil into oil tins, and after opening several small holes threw two and then three into the ocean. However they had no effect on the waves frothing and curling up the stone of the boulders.
At last, the helmsman and the boatswain climbed into the lighter, and everyone slowly lowered them with the pulley they were hanging from.
Watching for a break in the waves, I finally chose a moment and we lowered them onto the water.
A crest like a mountain crashed toward them. Just one gulp. Before we could blink, the boat and the men were gone.
After, only white waves bubbled fiercely across the surface.
The faces of all the dependable men changed color. The lighter which was the rope that held our lives had been swallowed by the waves. The two leaders that we depended on, the helmsman and the boatswain, had been swept away. We would no longer be saved.
I, the captain, gave up. Of course there is no mistake that the other crew did as well. No one said a word. We were pale faced and soaking wet.
Would the Ryuusui-Maru, just like this, suffer the same fate as the lighter? We all stared in silence at the mad white dancing waves.
One second, two seconds, three seconds.
Suddenly, two or three of the men raised surprised voices. Other men were pointing towards the boulder, chewing their words. I looked, and at the base of the flat boulder rising a few meters above the waves, the bottom of the capsized lighter had come to the surface.
'Ah.' Two black heads were floating up in the white waves.
'They made it,' the two men were climbing onto the boulder.
No matter how loud a shout, with the roaring of the waves and across hundred meters, it would not be heard. Waving hands and jumping, they let us know that the two of them were safe, the lighter too was fine.
"Banzai!" Without thinking, the shout came surging out with pleasure.
"Ah, fantastic!"
Everyone looked at each other, relieved.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Part 1-10 The Long Time Coming Dawn

Our Ryuusui-Maru was washed onto a sunken reef. Still, the boulder had bitten deep into the bottom of the ship and the prow was pointed in the direction of the waves, so that the hull did not immediately break apart and sink. A ship is designed to push through the waves as it sails, so the prow is made especially strong for this purpose.
First of all, I predicted that we could make it through the night. Though if the waves began to come from the side the ship would immediately be destroyed.
I gathered the crew on the deck and addressed them in the darkness.
"We have been sufficiently prepared for a situation like this for a long time. Swimming to land in this black night, through the waves crashing madly against the boulders, would be a waste of our lives. When the sun rises we will go ashore. We will persevere for three more hours. Each of you will gather the goods that you think will be essential from this moment to the end, be it five years or ten years, for survival on a desert island." I spoke those short words while we stood fast on the deck, the waves raining down on our heads. Then in a loud voice I gave orders.
"The four fishermen will protect the fishing boat. Tie it tight. It must not be lost to the waves.
"The four sailors will protect the lighter. Our lives depend on that lighter more than anything else. Boatswain, you too, protect the lighter.
"Fishing captain. In these waves, even if we can make it to shore safely, we will not be able to transport enough food supplies. Fishing gear is precious. Gather as much as you can and prepare it to be loaded.
"Helmsman Sakagibara, you will assemble the tools for digging a well; a shovel and a pick. These are necessary no matter what. Also, don't forget matches, binoculars, a saw and a hatchet.
"Cadets. Spending several years living on a deserted island and then simply returning home safely would be a disgrace the country of Japan. The study you have been hoping for for so long, you will carry out fully. Gather as many textbooks as you can, and get them ready to be moved out. Bring out all the books in the captains quarters. The sextant and the chronometer too.
"Alright everyone, get to work."
The boat squealed and ground up the boulder, and at the same time, all of the lamps inside the boat blew out. We were being rammed violently against the boulder so that the books flew from the bookshelves and the cutlery rolled and fell from the cupboards, being strewn across the floors and decks.
No matter how many times we relit the lamps, they immediately went out again. There was no wind, it was the unending spray from the waves that put them out. Everyone groped in the darkness, gathering their things while being showered with sea water.
The hull made strange creaking and screeching sounds as it was battered by the waves. Every time the waves crashed, there was some place that was destroyed, and something stolen away.
The fishing boat that was tied so firmly to prevent it from being swept away was assaulted by a single gigantic wave and smashed to pieces, not even a splinter remained behind. But the four men protecting the ship, like the brave sailors they were, fought through the raging waves of the storm. They all survived and not a single man was injured.
I gave orders to everyone and immediately ran into the captains quarters. I gathered the essential texts into a pile, tied them firmly in a wrapping cloth and put them on the bed. After that, while I was out on the deck giving instructions, a large wave came smashing in over the starboard side, tore away the door to the captains quarters and swept it over the port side. Everything inside the room was literally washed clean away. The maps, the navigation charts and the compass were all stolen away by the waves.
The only thing still not taken was the lighter. It was the one thing our lives truly depended on. Only this, we must not loose. The crew put all their strength into protecting the lighter.
Even in these trying times all sixteen crew worked calmly, especially the Old Man of Ogasawara, who urged on the young men and laid the preparations for our going ashore.
On this one night time truly passed slowly, the morning was a long time coming. We prayed to God--while being rained upon by waves--for the day to quickly come.
Hanta, of Ogasawaran birth, asked me, "will there be drinkable water on the island?"
I was shocked. No coral reefs have fresh water. However, what kind of disappointment would it cause among the crew, if I said that after all of this the island would not have precious life giving water?
After thinking everything over and while knowing it was a lie, I answered only after a great long pause, "there will be water."
For all that, we still had to endure one or two more hours before the day finally broke. I questioned the chances of our hull withstanding the waves until then.
Every time the great waves came crashing in the boat trembled. The planks of the deck warped and bent one by one out of their seams, and even walking became dangerous. The mast began to totter as if it might fall.
The helmsman shouted, "keep watch on the mast!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 1-9 Keep Your Eyes on The Sunken Reef!

There was not a single star in the night sky. The indigo swells that rose and fell, rocking the ship in the daytime, were all the larger in the black sea of the night. Heaving up and down, we wondered where this current would take us.
As if bound by the unseen rope of Nature, we crew and our boat were helpless at the mercy of the tides. The swelling waves battered the ship like they were laughing in the face of our human frailty.
No matter how many times it's explained, someone who hasn't been there could never understand a captain's distress in a time like this.
On board the clock's bell rang, clanging out eight times in the dark of the night. When the ringing finished it was midnight of the twentieth.
About one hour later, I left my room to talk with the helmsman in the stern of the ship.
"We're in quite a bit of trouble here, aren't we?" I said, "It doesn't look like the wind will come out any time soon, but no matter, keep them measuring the ocean's depth."
As soon as I had spoken, the sailor measuring the depth beside us reported in a surprised voice, "the sounding line has struck bottom at one-hundred-and-ten fathoms."
Immediately, I shouted, "every man on deck!" and forced every sleeping crew member awake and put them on emergency alert.
I had the sailor measure the depth again right away, this time he reported, "sixty fathoms." (one-hundred-and-nine meters)
One-hundred-twenty fathoms, and then suddenly sixty fathoms. It was evidence that the boat was close to Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Pearl and Hermes reef's perpendicular boulders jut out from the depths like a folding screen, the tips barely breaking the surface. Surrounding each boulder is an area of about half a nautical mile, where the water is sixty fathoms deep.
It was now too late to prevent our being washed into the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes. Since we had come to shallow waters, I didn't care whether the sea floor was sand or mud or boulder. We had to throw in the anchor, "prepare the anchor!" I ordered.
The shouting of the sailor measuring the depth went on, "forty fathoms!" "thirty fathoms!" It was getting shallow quickly. We were being carried closer to the sunken reefs by the second.
"Twenty fathoms!" (thirty-six meters)
Now we were in danger.
I made the order, "throw in the starboard anchor!"
There was a crash, and the rattle of the chain as the starboard anchor fell from the prow into the sea. It sounded differently than usual. It was the sound of imminent danger.
The anchor's hooks did not catch on the boulders at the sea floor. The boat was still being washed along, dragging the anchor.
The waves washing in towards the reef and those coming back out to sea we were raging mad in the ocean in the dead of the night, crashing against the boulders in the shallow waters.
"Throw in the port side anchor!" I ordered, and it was thrown into the sea.
The two anchors finally took a firm hold on the boulders of the sea floor and the chain pulled tight.

At that time, the helmsman and the boatswain were manning the anchor in the bow. I, as captain, was issuing commands from the poop deck. A sailboat has no bridge, so it is standard for the captain to watch the state of the wind in the sails and to give orders from the stern.
So, when an anchor firmly catches hold of the sea floor, stops and pulls the chain tight, the prow too is pulled to a stop and it is no longer washed with the current. Next, the stern begins to quickly rotate in one direction. Before long the entire ship is pointing in the direction of the anchor, taking a fixed position. However, the waves that were assailing the prow when it stopped in this fashion were striking with the same strength as a head-on crash into an immovable boulder, they were truly enormous.
"The chain has pulled tight!" reported the helmsman, shouting.
"Right!" I answered. First I thought it was a good thing, but that same moment there was another thundering crash.
A giant wave had hit the prow. Like a tsunami, the sea water had risen into a huge mass and shattered against the prow. The boat lurched.
In the pit of my stomach. The vibration permeated through the hull of the ship.
I thought, "damn it all, the chain just broke," and as if to realize this thought, I heard the brave but tragic cry, "we've lost the starboard anchor!"
And when I was about to call out an answer, again...
In my stomach, the reply was a low tearing sound. And when I thought, ah, we've lost both anchors, a shout heaving like the swells of the tide came from the prow, "we've lost port side anchor as well!" It was too late.
I shouted the order, "all hands, prepare the emergency anchor!" This was our last resort.
A thunderous roar came. In this pitch black night I could not see around the ship, but it was the roar of waves battling boulders. The sunken reef was close.
With the broken anchor caught at the bottom of the sea, the boat was carried rapidly toward the rocks. Danger was quickly approaching. It was bad.
At his rate the hull would be smashed to pieces against the rocks and go under...
The fate of the ship now depended solely on the emergency reserve anchor we had stowed on board. Every member of the crew set to work desperately preparing this anchor.
You young cadets with your little experience cannot imagine what it was like on that tiny ship rocking in the waves.
It was pitch black, and we couldn't see anything.
It was past one o'clock in the morning, getting close to two.
Out of the deep ocean the swelling tide came hard, throwing itself recklessly against the sunken reef whose head was visible just above the waves. That tide would come rebounding back and would smash into the waves coming again and again at regular intervals, and whip into chaos, frothing and raging. Then, again, the waves would heave high all at once. All of these things came together and assaulted the boat. If I tried to put it all into a short phrase, I would say:
"The crazy dancing waves rocked the ship in their fury," or, "The raging billows swarmed upon the ship."
Well, it's close, but that isn't how it really was.
To put away any of your doubts, these waves were not a simple storm or rough water. The weather was calm, and there was no wind. Only the waves came heaving up and down, colliding violently into the sunken reef.
Every man urgently set upon preparing the reserve anchor. With the deck's angle changing wildly from front to back and left to right we had to take hold of something just to be able to stand.
Moreover, the starboard and port side anchors which had been thrown in already, were prepared to be used at any moment. But the spare anchor was firmly secured on the fore deck. It was tied so that however big the waves that crashed in, it wouldn't be washed away; however much the ship rocked, it wouldn't budge at all. If it did move, the anchor would tear a massive hole in the deck.
We were trying to untie the small chain and cord that held down reserve anchor, attach the thick anchor cord, and throw it into the sea. We could not afford even a little carelessness in this task. If the reserve anchor slipped because of the ships violent motion, someone could break a leg or arm.
The seasoned boatswain, the helmsman who would never flinch in the face of danger and four sailors with honed skills, were preparing the reserve anchor. In the lamp light, their faces were the color of pure intensity. The rest of the crew were unloading the anchor's cord.
The roar of the waves crashing into the boulders grew louder and louder.
"Ho, the waves are pure white here!"
"We're near the rocks!"
It must have already been too late. The ship was dragging a long chain on the sea floor so that the prow was pointed in the direction of the waves coming against us. We were being washed backwards.
A large wave lifted the prow up with ease and passed on towards the stern, heaving it up and plunging the prow down and forward.
There were two loud cracks and then a deafening snap from the bottom of the ship, the men on deck were struck dumb.
"We've been done in!"
A boulder had pierced the bottom of the ship.
The stone that had broken through was pushing up the bottom of the ship, lifting the deck with incredible power. Next, the pipes running from the pumps to the tanks burst through the deck. At the same time, the now immobile ship took it's first direct hit from the waves.
There was a boom and a splash as a mountain of sea water crashed onto the deck. It let it's great power run free, destroying whatever it touched and then flowed off the deck like a waterfall. Without leaving anything behind, it carried off all that it had destroyed. The savage waves came crashing in ceaselessly.
Even preparing the reserve anchor would be pointless now. After all we had gone through, we had been washed up onto the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The fate of the ship had been decided. It was two AM, and dawn was still far away.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Part 1-8 Pearl and Hermes Atoll

We set out from Lisianski Island towards Midway Island and the next day, the 18th at noon to be exact, we calculated the ships position and found we had been washed twenty nautical miles north of our planned route. The northwards flowing current in this area was much stronger than we had expected, the boat having been washed so far off course.
On the way to Midway Island there is Pearl and Hermes Atoll, a collection of several sunken reefs. A crash into these reefs would be disastrous, so we had to sail southwards. Despite having been carried so far to the north, we set our course to take us ten nautical miles beyond Pearl and Hermes's southernmost reef.
Since the Ryuusui-Maru set sail from Honolulu Bay, it had been riding along comfortably on the North-East trade wind.

Pearl and Hermes Atoll is one continuous sunken reef and several low coral islands scattered over nine and a half nautical miles north-south and sixteen nautical miles east-west. Many stories of boats wrecked on this reefs have been passed down from the olden days. One of them goes like this:
The night of April 26th, 1822, two American whaling ships called the Pearl and the Hermes rode onto a small island ten nautical miles apart from each other, both boats were destroyed. Following that, the crews of the two ships gathered together and began survival on the deserted island. During that time they gathered the lumber, planks and nails of the wrecked ships, and working together they built a ship of about thirty tons. Upon that ship they managed to make their way to Hawaii. Taking the names of those two vessels, the reef has been known as Pearl and Hermes Atoll ever since.
Because these two whaling ships had been made of wood, they were able to recover the lumber and build another ship. If they had been steel like modern boats, they probably wouldn't have made it to Hawaii. On top of that, sailors of in the olden days were more industrious, and most were capable carpenters.

Setting out on a route that would take the Ryuusui-Maru safely around Pearl and Hermes Atoll, sails swelling in the wind, we continued on to Midway Island.
Before long the sun went down and it was ten PM of the 18th. The north-east wind that had been blowing until then suddenly fell silent. We no longer had wind.
If a boat is sailing on wind that stops, there is nothing the crew can do. At a time like this, the safest move is to throw in the anchor and stop the ship.
So, thinking that we should lay down anchor, we calculated the depth of the sea. Our sounding line can measure up to 120 fathoms (219 meters), but it didn't reach the sea floor. In other words, the ocean was incredibly deep. We had no choice but to let the boat be washed along.
We were carried quickly along at the whim of the current.
Before long the sea began to swell and the ship began to heave violently. The pitch black ocean, as if bullying a ship that could no longer move, swelled gradually higher and rocked the ship.
We were rocking so violently that the crew could not sleep during their breaks after finishing their shifts. I stayed out all day on the deck, staring at the sky, waiting for the wind to come back.
Like this, a terrible night fell and then the morning of the 19th broke. When the wind stopped the day before the weather had also changed. Clouds now covered the sky and hid the sun.
If we could just see the sun a little bit, we could use it to calculate our position. So with the sextant ready, I sat with the helmsman watching the sky. I had never worried so much for not knowing the position of my own ship.
So I tightened the watch, sending two men up the mast to keep a look out. I set them in two hour shifts, from morning to night, keeping watch in all directions.
Maybe they could spot an island on the horizon. Maybe there was an area where there was a change in the color of the ocean. Maybe there was some area where the seabirds were flocking. If they saw something they were to immediately report it, from the mast or from the deck, everyone kept a sharp watch, scanning the horizon all around the ship. But no one saw anything.
When the weather is good in these tropical waters, looking out from the mast you can see a sunken reef or shallow area by changes in the color of the water. It is best when the sun is high above the horizon. Even if there are some waves, when you have the light shining from behind you, you can easily tell apart sunken reefs or shallow waters.
Generally speaking when the ocean is very shallow, at about one meter, it's color is light bronze. From about ten to fifteen fathoms (eighteen to twenty-seven meters) it is a bluish-green. As the depth increases the blue disappears, and deeper than twenty fathoms (thirty-six meters) it becomes green. Deeper than that, it becomes dark green, and at more than thirty fathoms (fifty-five meters) it is indigo. Past that it becomes a blackish color which gets darker as the depth increases.
The sunken reefs just below the surface of the water can also be spotted by the waves, which foam white as they hit them.
Flocking birds do not always mean that an island is below. More commonly, birds are over schooling fish, which can be identified by their flight patterns. When the seabirds are flying around in circles, there is surely a school of fish below.
In any case, we prepared the anchor to be thrown in in case we spotted a shallow area in the ocean. Though we knew it was deep, we occasionally measured the depth. The sounding line still did not reach the sea floor. The flow of the tide was fast, and we all worried about what would happen.
It was an ominous and unpleasant nineteenth of April.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Part 1-7 The Island of Sea Turtles, The Island of Seabirds

Now the Ryuusui-Maru was kicking up waves, moving North-West along the Hawaiian Island chain.
One day the sun came up and we found ourselves in sight of the French Frigate Shoals. The French Frigate Shoals are a crescent shaped coral reef, inside this reef are several a small, sand islands. We chose one of these islands and anchored the Ryuusui-Maru one nautical mile offshore.
We immediately lowered the fishing boat to send an exploration crew on land, and the fishing captain led five sailors and fisherman ashore.
When the fishing boat landed, the six men found several large, black, moving objects.
After going for a closer look, they found the objects were Chelonia mydas with meter long shells, shuffling about the island. Mixed in were a few hawksbill turtles as well.
"Catch every last one of them!"
Everyone, from one side of the island to the other, turned the turtles onto their backs.
Like this, with their heavy shells below them and short legs and neck which can only be pulled into their shells, the turtles are helpless. These large creatures are remarkably strong from the front, so if you are trying to turn one from the front you need three or four full-grown adults. However, from the back, a single person can roll one with ease. A single turtle weighs from 130 to about 220 kilograms.
They put the turtles in rope baskets, "and ready, and heave!" and in pairs hoisted the rope onto their shoulders and carried them to the fishing boat moored at the water's edge.
In the sheer delight of this catch, they carried more and more turtles, piling them up upside-down until it looked like the waves would come in over the gunwales.
"Thats enough already," shouted the fishing captain. "If we load any more the boat will sink under the turtles. Make as many trips as it takes!"
I, in charge of the men keeping watch back on the ship, was hugely satisfied with the catch brought back by the fishing boat, and loaded the the turtles upside-down onto the deck.
After this coral reef of sea-turtles, we continued further to the North-West.
We passed nearby a pyramid-like island whose upper peak was pure white. This island was called Gardener Island. No grass or trees grow on it and its peak is white from bird droppings.
There were just so many, it was an island of only birds. From far away, the flocking birds looked like paint splashed across the sky. The island itself looked marbled with fat.
At exactly noon of the second day after passing this island, the lookout spotted something that looked like two or three hairs growing out of the distant horizon. It was Laysan Island.
On this low coral island, green vines and weeds grow thick and beautiful over the white sand. The distinctive two coconut trees and one hornbeam tree standing on the island make it a good landmark for voyagers at sea. Ten odd years ago the Americans brought several workmen across the ocean and performed a large scale gathering of bird droppings, which was then sent to Hawaii as fertilizer for sugarcane.
There were a great many fish in the ocean around the island. In other words, there were many fish to eat, so birds flocked there too.

Since the Ryuusui-Maru had set sail out of Honolulu, more than one month passed before we knew it. When we arrived near the deserted Lisianski Island, it was already mid-May.
We brought the boat near Lisianski Island and dropped the anchor. Here we checked the alignment of our chronometer; the exact clock used to determine the position of a boat. After measuring the height of the AM, PM and noon sun with the sextant, and then calculating the latitude and longitude, we found that our chronometer was still exact.
Lisianski Island is a low sand island. Grass and small trees grew and there were many seabirds, sea-turtles and fish. Several seals, like the owners of the island, sat on the beach. When they saw us coming, they fled to the sea.
The name of this island is Russian, named in memory of the captain of the Russian ship that discovered it in 1805.
On May seventeenth, after exploring this island, the Ryuusui-Maru headed further to the North-West, for the last island of the Hawaiian Island chain. We were heading for water, and Midway Island.
At this time, the quarry loaded onto the Ryuusui-Maru was one-thousand shark, three-hundred-and-twenty Chelonia mydas, two-hundred hawksbills and many, many seabirds.

Of the seabirds, the Albatross is the biggest. It's meat is edible though it doesn't taste good, and it's eggs can be eaten as well. The large tail feathers are used to decorate Western-style hats for women and the soft breast feathers are good for lining the inside of women's coats. The other feathers are exported as stuffing for pillows and blankets.
When an albatross takes flight from the ocean, as long as there is wind, it need only face it, stretch it's large wings, and it will waft into the air with no difficulty at all. However, when there is no wind they must flap their wings, kick and run over the surface of the water before they jump into flight, just like other birds.
On land, the albatross is a terribly awkward runner and walker. Anyone can come at one from the front and simply pull out it's wings and there is nothing the bird can do. For this they are so fittingly called the "Fool's Bird." Even more, in the gigantic flocks on deserted islands, they can be easily struck down by anyone with a strong pole.
In any case, the Ryuusui-Maru had a fantastic catch, we had already met our goals for exploring these islands. Once we had dug up drinking water on Midway Island, we could sail straight from there, upon the ocean, home to Japan.
Everyone on the Ryuusui-Maru was filled with high spirits.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Part 1-6 Homewards, to Japan

The Ryuusui-Maru, now more than ever, was folded into the bosom of nature, floating dauntlessly upon the waves of the great wide ocean. We filled the sails with a fresh wind and pointed the prow on a route that would run along the uninhabited islands of Hawaii.
It is shortest going in a straight line toward Japan, but along the way the ocean becomes deep and the fish are scarce. So we chose a circular route that would take us from island to island.
Fish and seabirds were confirmed in large numbers around these islands, so we would try our prospects there. And another thing, long ago sperm whale were known to frequent the area near these islands. Whaling ships in pursuit of those whales sometimes made reports of discovering small uninhabited islands as well. Still, in recent times the sperm whale had not been showing themselves in this area. This could be because the squid and octopus, the whales' food, had also disappeared.
Otherwise, when the oceans currents change, sometimes the whale leave. It's also possible that the currents had shifted. I'd like to do more research on this topic.
When you find a whale, no matter how fearless it is, it can be taken down. This is part of the excitement.
Beyond these things we also had to think about our supply of drinking water. Although we had our large and small tanks, you cannot just stop at any island and find water whenever your supply runs out. So we would stop at Midway Island to dig up spring water. This was another reason for our going the long way around from island to island.
We were following islands, though going on a sailboat from one island to the next depends on the condition of the wind, and can take up to three or four days.
Anyway, at every island we went to, there were many fish. And seabirds--albatross--flocked in huge numbers. The shark fishing was also good.
Nevertheless, no matter how many fish there were, we could not bide our time at any one island. We were rushing to get home not a day later than possible. We shortened our explorations accordingly and continued on home.
The first island we came to was Niihau Island. It is an utterly barren island made of boulders and has no inhabitants. However, long long ago, people did live there. There was an area resembling a ceremony ground surrounded by a wide stone wall, and many stone statues were left behind. There were also things left by people who had come later by boat. It was like a museum. Also, there were many seabirds and fish.
The next island we saw was rugged and uneven, made of lava which had flowed from from a volcano at the sea floor. The island jutted sharply down into the water, and would battle the ocean until the end.
An army of blue waves assaulted it from the sea. They formed ranks and hurled themselves against the fortress of boulders, coming endlessly, again and again. Each crash shook the island, burst into white and as it fell to pieces, sunk it's jaws into the boulders below. Above, the spray that was sent forth engulfed the precipice, and in the sweltering sun of the tropics it formed a seven colored rainbow over the edge of the cliffs. This battle would continue forever.
From time to time, people of the ocean witness things like this with their own eyes. And each time, as if they are learning it for the first time, the reality of nature's sheer power is driven home. Then, if they understand how weak they are in the face of nature, by that fact alone their spirits are strengthened.

Here and there a few grottoes were visible in the wind swept rock face. Several sea birds were screeching and flying around each other chaotically. I did not see many resting their wings on the boulders. This island was called Necker, and it was a desert island.
It was around ten AM, and we began fishing. We had a great catch of shark, pulling in large ones in rapid fire succession.
A three meter shark was skillfully pulled on board by one of my men. The mere sight of it was exhilarating, however even the slightest mistake could not be afforded. We took extra precautions to guard our hands while removing the hook from it's gigantic mouth. We took extra care of our footsteps to not be thrown overboard. A hand or foot would be bitten clean off if it could sink in it's sharp teeth. Because of it's size and fury, it felt more like big game hunting that any kind of fishing.
The one who assiduously cut the fins from the shark as it was tied to the base of the mast, was a fisherman from Hokkaido's Kunashiri Island, whom we called Kunashiri. He was a young man with broad shoulders, thick arms and legs and a round face. Opposite him in the disposal of the fins was a naturalized Japanese Ogasawaran. The blue-eyed, bearded warrior was fifty-five years old, an old hand at catching whale and the oldest crew member. He was loved like a father by the younger men, who called him "Oyajisan," meaning father, or "Old Man Ogasawara." He was a true man of the sea.

Kunashiri, while looking at the island, said, "hey, Oyajisan, that island is really fantastic, isn't it?"
The Ogasawaran was holding a fin and gazing at the island. "You're right, it's no ordinary island. There's a story 'round it."
Two cadets, Asano and Akita, overheard these words. They were now on their way back from morning classes in the captains quarters to their private lodgings in the bow, stepping over and around the sharks laid out on the deck, their notebooks and textbooks under their arms.
"Oyajisan, it looks so strange and gnarled. Is there something going on there?"
"There is, but it's better if you youngsters don't know about it."
Asano cut in, "you've got to teach us. We can learn from anything here, isn't that what the captain is always saying, Oyajisan?"
"Well, it's probably better if I just told you." The Ogasawaran stood up and pointed at the island.
"You see, the mountain is eighty-four meters tall. It's deserted, but there are signs that long, long ago people lived there. From more recent times, there is a row of over thirty gravestones.
"Over thirty tombstones?"
"Thats right. It's said that long ago, a foreign ship was wrecked at sea and drifted here. For seven years they lived in those grottoes until they finally starved to death."
Asano, Akita and Kunishiri all looked up at the summit in awe.
The bulges in the rock cast ominous shadows in the sunlight of the east seas. Flocking like a sudden gust of wind, the birds flew away from the shadows.
The surf washed over and over, sinking it's white fangs into the shores of the island.
Thinking of the more than thirty people who were now tombstones standing in a row on this lonely desert island, with our hometowns several thousand nautical miles away, Akita spoke in a tearful voice. "After living there for seven years, they just starved to death... couldn't they catch fish anymore?"
Then, suddenly someone struck the shoulders of the two cadets. They both jumped, turned, and found the fishing captain standing there.
The captain withdrew his hand from his pocket clutching several biscuits, and threw them into the sea.
The flock of sea birds who were flying around the boat twisted at once and suddenly dove. They snatched up every last biscuit and ate them while whirling back into air.
"Why did you feed them to the birds?" said Asano, and the captain turned his face to the island.
"It goes to the graves on the island."
"But, the birds stole it all."
We all solemnly watched the island.
Then the Ogasawaran shouted, "no matter who you are, the grave is the end! We all know this! But for them to have fought for seven years is a great thing. Truly, truly great. What do you say, young men, will you fight?"
The three cadets replied almost at once, "We'll fight! Even ten years--"
"These young men are wonderful, with them on board I can feel at ease! Ah ha ha ha!"
The Old Man of Ogasawara chased away the gloom with his laughter.
While we spoke like this the boat sailed along, and the melancholy stone mountain and the thunder of the crashing waves gradually shrank into the horizon far behind us. However, the story of the over thirty gravestones would not disappear so quickly from the hearts of the ships three young cadets.
Though they would never doubt that such a thing could happen to us as well...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Part 1-5 The Model for All the Worlds Sailors

That is how the Ryuusui-Maru made it to safety.
However, there were other troubles. We had to make major repairs to the ship, buy anchors and load up the ship with food supplies. We needed these things, but did not have the money to afford it.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself in a foreign bay like this, trying to overhaul a ship and stock up on provisions. The original aim of the Hokkaido Reclamation, the owner of the Ryuusui-Maru, was simply to reap the benefits of letting a poor band of men voyage to the south sea for the winter, catch a boat-full of shark, sea-turtles and waterfowl, and if possible a sperm whale.
At length I confessed impoverished state to some Japanese Honolulu residents. After discussing it they said in gracious words, "we sympathize with you. We too are Japanese, we should do something to help you." They ran an article for a Ryuusui-Maru fundraiser in a Japanese language newspaper.
At the same time, a peculiar rumor began to spread among the non-Japanese residents of Honolulu. "Look at that ship. It's only a tiny Japanese sailboat, but they have the nerve to fly that giant Rising Sun. They're saying they came into port for aid, but before they came into the bay didn't outrun a steamboat? Just because they ran into a little rough water they think they can swindle their way into a kings ransom."
People of every nationality on Honolulu told this rumor.
Before long a message from the bay authority came to the Ryuusui-Maru anchored in the bay, for "the captain to present himself immediately in person."
I went ashore and set out for City Hall, where I was led to was a large, stately room. On the far wall hung a nautical chart of the Pacific Ocean. Before that, three American officials sat around a large table, busy at work. I entered the room unceremoniously and the officials stood and shook hands with me. We exchanged minimal greetings and one of the men said, "well, have a seat captain," while gesturing to a chair. I took my seat and the three officers sat opposite the table facing me. Another nautical map was spread out on the table. After sitting down, one of them spoke quietly but harshly, "Captain, you wrote us saying that you entered Honolulu Bay seeking aid, is that correct?"
He continued without waiting for a reply, pointing to the chart on the table. "Take a look at this map. In your report it says that here, your boat lost it's anchors, your mast was damaged and your water tank broken in the strong western wind. Following this you came here, but in this area the currents only run from the north-east. Not to mention the north-east trade wind must also have been blowing. Are you saying that you sailed a distance of almost 2000 nautical miles against the currents and the wind on a tiny sailboat that could effectively be called a shipwreck? That and further, did you not outrun a coastal patrol steamship before you entered Honolulu Bay?
"Your marine accident report impossible. We cannot accept a fabricated repot." With this, he threw the English copy of my marine accident report on the table in front of me.
I was completely and utterly surprised. Then I was angry. But, you boys too, will go overseas. In the future you may run into similar situations and at a time like this, if you get angry you lose. If you talk you can understand.
So, I explained the story of our misfortune from the beginning, slowly and in detail. I didn't just explain it to them, I expounded it. This was an issue concerning the credibility of all Japanese ships. I spoke sincerely, and tried with all my heart to let them know the truth. When I finished my story, I implored them, "knowing this, sirs, can you still say that the report is a fabrication?"
It is said the the truth speaks to the heavens, and it does. The three American officials stood. One man suddenly reached out a large hand, squeezed mine, and while pumping it said, "Captain, we see it from your side now."
The three glum frowns became shining smiles. Another of the officers said, "yes, yes, we should become sympathizers for the captain as well. The first thing we'll do is waive the bay entry tax, the anchoring tax and the piloting and the tugboat fees. Beside that, is there anything else we can do to help you?"
"Currently, we need good drinking water."
"What? Only drinking water? That's a simple matter. We'll have the Ryuusui-Maru serviced before you can make it back on board. I'll make the order by phone right away."
I left City Hall and went straight to the Japanese Consulate to report what happened.
After hearing the news, the consul said to me, "this is fantastic. After that is taken care of, the donations of the Japanese population here can cover the repairs. Now we can relax and make all the necessary repairs."
When I heard this, the gratitude for my countrymen sent a shiver to my bones. The money for the repairs was gathered in a week.

This is how the misconceptions of the Honolulu government were corrected and the Ryuusui-Maru's reputation restored. The English newspapers went so far as to publish praise for us on a daily basis. They wrote about our chivalry, morality, disciple and our abstinence from even a single drop alcohol.
Foreign people believe that the best friend of sailors around the world is alcohol. However, the men of the Ryuusui-Maru showed that they had cut off this old friend. For the foreigners it was shocking news.
At that time, a Christian missionary ship was anchored in Honolulu Bay preparing to move to western seas. They wanted moral, abstinent sailors, but were starting to believe that such sailors couldn't be found anywhere in the world. So they had a high opinion of the Ryuusui-Maru's crew, and began trying to recruit our helmsman, sailors and fishermen.
They began to say things like, "a ship like the Ryuusui-Maru is bound to have another disaster at sea, and the next time you won't be saved. The wages are low, and did you say you eat rice mixed with barley? That really is a shame. You know on the mission ship, we eat three Western style meals a day and the wages are sky high. Above that, you get a new uniform, a new set of shoes and a new hat four times a year. The ship is big enough to have rooms for each crew member, and there is enough water to bathe every day. We never go through stormy weather and we spend most of our time anchored at port. What's more is we have sermon every day.
"How does that sound? Leave the Ryuusui-Maru. If you join us, you can send money home to your family every month. You're parents won't ever have to work again."
They tried to sway the hearts of the Ryuusui-Maru's crew, but our sixteen hearts would not be swayed.
This loyalty moved the hearts of the foreigners even further, who said, "the crew of the Ryuusui-Maru should be the model for for all the sailors of the world," and brought donations and supplies for the Ryuusui-Maru to the Japanese consulate.
"We appreciate your help," the consulate told them, "but the Japanese of Honolulu have decided to pay the repairs. We cannot accept your money. You should send supplies only, to the Ryuusui-Maru."
So, the repairs for the ship progressed like a dream until finally we decided to set sail on April fourth.

Two weeks before the Ryuusui-Maru had a broken mast, the water tank was destroyed, and like a crab who has lost it's claws, we were anchorless; it entered the bay as a scarred, pitiful vessel. Now, the masts were new and a fine set of anchors had been collected. It had been repaired from bow to stern, reborn a magnificent vision.
The morning of April fourth came. A pilot came on board the Ryuusui-Maru, and drawn by a tugboat we headed out of the bay.
Our large Japanese flag flew high at the stern of the ship, warming the hearts of our Japanese brothers and foreign friends alike. The crews of ships anchored in the bay went on deck, waved their hats and raised their hands to send us off.
The tugboat chugged along, letting off clouds of black smoke. It left the mouth of the bay and pulled us out into the ocean. Outside of the bay a fine wind was blowing.
The rope that connected us to the tugboat was released, and the pilot on board gave us all firm handshakes saying, "well, good luck Captain. May you have a splendid voyage, may you fill your boat with game, and may you arrive home unharmed." With that he boarded the piloting ship that had pulled up next to the Ryuusui-Maru, and shouted, "Does anyone have mail? Does anyone have mail to send home? This is the last call for mail!" They were the final, kind words of the bay pilot. It would be months before we returned home, but there were no letters to send.
"Thank you, everyone has already sent their letters."
He smiled, nodded and raised his hand. O, Honolulu Bay, good bye! We were profoundly affected by the help we received from friends and strangers in an unexpected time, but now the Shyu-Mu-Shyu Islanders were on our minds. How long could they wait for the Ryuusui-Maru? We should already go home like and arrow sent flying--however we had another, unexpected fate waiting ahead.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Part 1-4 The Great West Wind

After finishing all of our preparations, on December 28th of 1898, we shipped out into the Tokyo estuary and the next day entered the Yokosuka Navy bay. We filled our tanks with precious water from the navy waterworks, and with high and rising spirits we let down our sails and rode out to the Pacific Ocean.
On the the first dawn of the new year we prayed in the sea near Izu Peninsula looking back again and again at Mount Fuji standing majestically in the blue sky. The sixteen of us were burning with ambition, the wind chasing us and catching in the sails, we rode the Ryuusui-Maru to the south, to the south.
Day by day we voyaged on, and on the 17th of January, we arrived in the vicinity of our destination; Shintori Island.
That morning, we were enveloped in mist on all four sides and could not clearly see the horizon. Water fowl flew around the ship and steadily grew in number. At around eight o'clock the sea water had already began to turn the eccentric color of the Black Current, but quickly reverted to whitish green. There was no mistake that coming closer to an island. We calculated the depth as seventeen fathoms (thirty-one meters). The sea bottom was coral.
"Land ho!" shouted the lookout, stretching out his right hand with all his might and pointing.
I thought for a moment that I saw something slide through thin milky fog, like a boulder written in watery ink, but then it was gone.
I decided to lay down the anchor and stop the ship until the fog cleared, and tied a small anchor to a cable and threw it in.
However the claws of the anchor slipped over the coral boulders at the bottom of the sea and the ship didn't stop. The anchor grated and dragged and the ship was pulled along on the tide. I pulled up the anchor and tied another slightly bigger anchor to the cable, and threw the two in together. The two anchors caught well on the sea bottom and the ship stopped.
"Well, let's do some shark fishing," I said, and as soon as the ship came to a full stop we began.
Suddenly a strong westerly squall began to blow. It howled in the masts and rigging and the sea was whipped to a foam. The hull was blasted by the Great West Wind, the cable went taut and,
that hair-raising sound rang and the cable broke. Right away I threw in the port side's large anchor and chain and stopped the ship.
Immediately following that, we lowered the lighter onto the sea raging in the wind, and started the retrieval of the lost anchors. A large buoy with a cable is attached to the anchor, so even if the cable to the boat is torn, you can draw in the buoy's cable and try to raise up the anchor.
The lighter crew tried to raise the anchor, but no matter how hard they worked, it wouldn't come up. Two anchors were likely firmly stuck in a crevice between boulders. The Great West Wind raged harder and harder, the waves grew larger and larger, and the lighter crew were swept over by the waves. When it was too dangerous for them to continue I finally called it off.
Despite this, the shark fishing had gone well. In the three hours that we were performing the anchor retrieval, dozens of shark were piled onto the deck, some as big as twenty meters long.
The Great West Wind blew on and the time went by until at about four in the evening when, out of nowhere, the boat was suddenly swept loose.
We drew in the chain and anchor but the anchor was gone, it had broken off near the bottom. What a terrible day for anchors! We had lost all three; small, medium and large, in a seven hour span.
We lost all three but there was nothing we could do. We unrolled the sails and began to sail for refuge. The waves maddened by the wind violently rocked the boat until around daybreak of the eighteenth, when the stay-sail of our front mast became loose. However is was not a problem, and we were able to make provisional repairs.
The Great West Wind went on blowing more and more intensely. In the middle of the night on the same day, the upper part of our front mast broke. Then, below deck, the large tank of our water supply was damaged and all the water spilled out. That one small tank became the fountain of life for sixteen people.
All hands were thrown about by the raging wind and waves as we worked through the night repairing the mast. At dawn we finished the repairs, but we still had no better method than to sail along on the wind. So we did, zig-zagging east and west.
The Great West Wind continued blowing for one week. On noon of the twenty-fourth we had been blown several hundred nautical miles east of Shintori Island, or more precisely, in the vicinity of 170 degrees longitude east.
We were in no longer in any position to be exploring for pirate islands. If we were to return to Japan, we would have to go against this Great West Wind, cross over a thousand nautical miles, combat the squalls and waves on a tiny sail boat with a broken mast and loosened stay-sail. It was far, but with a wind behind our backs, going to Honolulu bay in the Hawaiian Islands was the most certain route. There we could get fully repaired, prepare for another voyage and return to Japan. There is an old saying: "the longest way around is the fastest way home."
Also, if we headed towards Honolulu there were many islands to stop at along the way. If worse came to worse and our provisions ran out, we could eat fish and drink the fresh water that springs on islands. If we grew desperate for water, we could drink the water of sea-turtles, which were plentiful on these islands. Sea-turtles carry from one to two liters of fresh water in their bellies.
The north-east trade wind (a wind which blows from the north-east all year round) blows around these islands. If the Great West Wind stopped, in the opposite direction the north-east trade wind would start blowing. We could continue by tacking the boat against this wind. We determined ourselves to do this, and set course for Honolulu.
However, we needed drinkable water as soon as possible, so we set out for the closest island--Midway Atoll.
Midway Atoll is the most western island of the Hawaiian Islands, about one thousand nautical miles from Honolulu Bay. The atoll is only about twenty meters above sea level, but if you dig a little bit, spring water comes rising up. We wanted to first load up on drinking water from there.
Nevertheless, the Great West Wind was too strong, and we could not make our way. We had no choice but to give up and head for Honolulu.

From there the Ryuusui-Maru sailed on, and on the eleventh day, February the fourth, we saw the first Hawaiian island. For three or four days we stayed within sight of the islands, and we moved by hopping from one to the other.
More than anything, we were after drinkable water, so when we approached the first island, we lowered the fishing boat and set out to find some. The waves were violent and we were unable to make it ashore. We made land on the next island, but found no water.
However, on these uninhabited island there were large sea-turtles. They were chelonia mydas (green turtles) with shells around a meter long and more of them than we could carry back with us to the ship. And if that's not enough, their meat tastes better than beef. Off shore, you could catch shark two meters or longer.
Like this, we sailed on seeing only endless sky and sea. February passed and it was March twenty-fifth. At two PM of this day, we noticed a line of black smoke rising on the north-east horizon.
It was a steamship.
We prepared our international signal flag and waited for the steamship to approach. We had reason to do this.
A steam boat running on mechanical power can barrel on in a direct line toward it's goal regardless of wind or ocean current. They also know their speed. Because of that they know, in the dead center of the ocean, exactly where they are. On a sailboat, the direction of the wind, it's strength, and also the currents are all hindrances. You cannot move like a steam boat.
So, when a sailboat crosses paths with a steamboat on the great expanse of the sea, they ask, "where are we?"
It is the custom of all the people of the seas of the world.
As they came closer the line of smoke on the horizon grew fatter and darker. Before long a mast, smoke stack and hull gradually rose out of the horizon. We raised a large rising sun flag in the stern. Our ship was small, but it was a Japanese ship. Our sixteen crew members were representatives of the citizens of Japan. On the steamship they raised the US flag.
At three-thirty PM the distance between both ships was 800 meters. On our ship we raised the international signal flag and signaled to the steamship, "what are your coordinates?"
The steamship responded to our signal and raised a large string of signal flags. The meaning of their signal spelled out to "165 degrees west longitude, 25 degrees north latitude."
"Thank you," we signaled.
The steamboat leisurely sailed on waving the signal, "we pray that you have happy voyage," and leaving us behind. They quickly grew far and before long had disappeared somewhere into the horizon.
In this way, the steamboat and the sailboat are like the rabbit and the turtle. On our ship, like a turtle, we set our course in a straight line for Honolulu.

The morning of the twenty-second, we were offshore of Honolulu. We raised our signal flag and called the bay pilots. Led by a tugboat, the Ryuusui-Maru entered the bay and dropped anchor.
I went ashore to the Honolulu Japanese consulate. I submitted a marine accident report to the consul, and to receive shelter, I explained our reasons for entering the bay. Then, through the consulate, I had a separate English language report delivered to the Honolulu public office.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Part 1-3 Preparing the Expedition Ship

The ship had to be able to weather through however many months it would take, and whatever stormy weather we might meet on the ocean. In preparing the ship for departure, the first thing is mending the hull and replacing the rigging.
You need navigation charts and books to cross the ocean: maps and detailed explanations of islands and ocean currents. We acquired precision machines from overseas to calculate our position, and also borrowed them from the navy and merchant marine school. There were three sextants, two chronometers and we also had an magnificent mariner's compass installed on board. It was beautiful, far better than the average fishing boat.
The crew were are hand picked veterans of the sea. Our helmsman was Sakutaro Sakakibara. He had rare and valuable experience from his tens of years working on the open sea. He was a fisherman who served sometimes as captain, sometimes as helmsman, and had some experience as a boatswain as well. Beyond that, he always conducted himself morally and had an outstanding personality. I could always rely on him as an adviser.
Our fishing captain was Koukichiro Suzuki. He had worked from the seven islands of Izu peninsula to the Ogasawara islands. With a rich background in the business and a degree in fisheries, he was a seasoned fisherman. He had also been in a few shipwrecks and was an industrious problem solver. Indispensable on a long ocean voyage, he was our front-line commander in action.
With all this hardening of real life experience, he was an exceptional, talented, but mild mannered boatswain.
Beside them, there were four who served on the Hokkaido Reclamation. They had been put through several years of toil and hardships from the Shyu-Mu-Shyu Islands' winter hibernation, and also had excellent experience in fishery.
There were two trainees, graduates of the Marine Institute. These two wanted to build up hands on experience and research, and then go on to make their own names in maritime Japan.
There were three Ogasawara Islanders, who had become Japanese citizens. They had blood from American whalers and had lived on the uninhabited islands of Ogasawara, which the whalers had made to a base long ago. In 1875 Ogasawara Island was made a Japanese territory, and the three longed to be Japanese, and in their hearts became Japanese while being born men of the sea.
The rest were three sailors and fishermen. These fifteen worked with all their hearts, and served my every call.

It was normal for a ship to not have a doctor riding on board. Because of this, boats out at sea sometimes fell into quite terrible circumstances.
On one seal hunting ship called the Hi-No-Demaru, every crew member was infected with the smallpox. When it looked like they were going to be wiped out, by pure luck the boat was washed ashore and they were saved.
On another ship in the south sea, called the Matsuzaka-Maru, the entire crew developed beriberi and became unable to move. Finally, three members somehow became able to move around the deck, and guided themselves to Ogasawara Island. There are several similar stories.
Japan's sailors eat white rice, so they develop beriberi easily, and often meet with disaster in the middle of the ocean.
On the Ryuusui-Maru, to avoid this terrifying beriberi, we swore to mix barley into our rice.
The rice barley mixture does not taste good, however for our country, we would ride far out on the Black Current. Barley-rice would make us strong, so we should eat it.
So we mixed rice and barley, half and half, and ate it eagerly.
Other food supplies and any other luxuries are not fit for veterans of the sea. Through the cheap, healthy and long months, and the voyage through the tropics, we would pick carefully through the provisions we had saved up and pack the rest back into storage.
We also resigned ourselves to "never, ever drink alcohol." We all swore to this adamantly.
Everyone saw a doctor and received a diagnosis and vaccinations. On board, in place of a doctor was me, the captain. For that work I equipped the ship with enough of all the necessary medicine and medical devices.
In a boat floating on the sea, you can measure the amount of life you have left by the amount of drinkable water. Bad water is the root of disease.
So we made one large and one small pure water tank. We would them filled from the Navy's water supply in the Yokosuka.
Shabby clothes were fine, so we prepared a lot of them and always wore the worst ones first.
We were especially careful about our bedding, and decided that every member sleep on a blanket. This is the standard, because although some fishing boats use futon, it can be bad for hygiene.

The goal of our voyage was to be fishing. There was no need to even mention preparation of fishing gear.
We lined up shark fishing tools and tools for collecting shark oil. Shark fishing hooks, line and bait have to be tried out in the field, so we collected ones used on Japan's coast, ones used near Ogasawara Island, and ones used in foreign countries. All were to be tried and tested.
The tools for catching sea turtles too, were ones used near the Ogasawara islands, and by other South Sea Islanders. We also prepared a kettle for collecting turtle oil.
In the hopes that we could catch a whale, we assembled the basic whaling gear needed to catch a well sized sperm whale. If you spot a whale on a lighter or a fishing boat, you charge the whale and engage it head to head and take it down with harpoons, hand spears, and harpoons equipped with explosives.
I, the captain, had whaling experience. The newly Japanese crew were the grandsons of whalers. They would always talk of their hopes to run across a whale while brandishing their harpoons.

Part 1-2 The Dispatch Destination of the Ryuusui-Maru

Sugawa-Kun has been asking me to tell the story of the deserted island for a long time, hasn't he. Today I'll tell you the whole thing.
The Ryuusui-Maru was a seventy-six ton, two masted schooner, running between Shyu-Mu-Shyu Island and the mainland.
The island was covered in snow and ice in the winter, and traffic from the mainland was cut off. Because of this, the Ryuusui-Maru would stay at the estuary in Tokyo from Fall to Spring. This was a total waste, and on top of that the able and skilled crew would all have to leave the ship and only a few watchmen were left on board.
When Spring came around and it was time for the boat to ship out again, we could never assemble as many crew members as we hoped. It wasn't just the Ryuusui-Maru, every fishing boat and sail boat in north Japan had the same problem.
So when the boat was put to rest for the winter, I decided to head out to the warm south seas, from Shintori Island to the Okasawara Archipelagio, searching for fishing business until Spring came again.
There were 200 sailing and fishing ships sent to port in the winter, but if possible they could be reassigned to work in the south seas. This was really a great thing for Japan. I also looked for similar opportunity with Ryuusui-Maru, and like that, I set out again. It was the Fall of 1898.
I had thought up some ideas.
In the farthest southeast of Japan near Shintori Island was an island called Grampus Island (the island was twenty-five degrees north latitude and one-hundred-fifty-three degrees east longitude, but possibly because of a volcanic eruption is has sunk to the bottom of the ocean.) Some whaling captains say that the island didn't exist, but others say it did. Some also said that long ago it was a pirate hideaway. It was a place that no one went, and among the people who knew those seas, it was seen as a place never to go.
At any rate, finding the island would be a great help for Japan. Even if just because of having been a pirate's secret hideaway, with some luck we might be able to find their buried treasure.
If I found that pirate island I could set up base there and explore the islands and ocean to my hearts content. And to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by of lack of vegetables which has long plagued sailors, I could plant fields and harvest new crop. For that, I had acquired a large store of vegetable seeds.
That and one more idea. In the south sea you could pick up ambergris, floating in large clumps like jellyfish in the sea. It was even said you could find it washed up on the shores of deserted islands.
Ambergris comes from the body of a sperm whale, and is used to make perfume. It is extremely valuable, and depending on the quality, it can be worth it's weight in gold. Some clumps are as big as one hundred kilograms.
I was thinking I might be able to pick up one of two of these. The truth is, since the olden days, stories of finding large clumps like that weren't so rare.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Part 1-1 Captain Nakagawa's Story

This was forty-six years ago, when I was aboard the Koto-no-Omaru for a field practical at Tokyo Nautical College. Our professor at the time, Kurakichi Nakagawa Sensei, related his experiences to us. He moved me in the pit of my stomach, it's a story that I'll never forget my whole life.
Forty-six years ago would be 1903, and it was May. We were on the Koto-no-Omaru anchored in Tateyama Bay of Chiba Prefecture.
The boat was large at 800 tons, with three fat masts rising up to the sky, each fit with five long sailing yards.
Those yards were lined up so perfectly that looking up above your head they looked like one, stretching out just past the gunwale.
I can still remember the figure Professor Nakagawa struck then. We were at the base of the third mast in the back half of the ship. He sat in a folding chair, and we, in our white work clothes, sat cross legged on the deck in front of him. We listened with all our hearts as he went on in his excited Tohoku accent.
Professor Nakagawa wasn't a tall man, but he was sturdy, and had a tanned face. Below his nose was a pitch black mustache that looked just like the sailing yards, jutting out to the left and right. His eyes glinted. Sometimes he would flash his pure white teeth.
While he had a stern demeanor, the warmth of his heart always flowed out. Despite this being a terribly rude comparison, he always reminded me of a square-faced, majestic fur-seal, lazing on top of a boulder.
Come to think of it, the three of us breathlessly listening sitting on the deck cross-legged in our brown stained white work clothes, must have looked just like little seals as well.
In his younger days Professor Nakagawa took a whaling ship to America, chased whales, and after coming back to Japan became the captain of a sea otter hunting ship. He caught otter and seal in the northern seas and after that he became the captain of a ship called the Ryuusui-Maru in the Hokkaido Reclamation.
The Hokkaido Reclamation was and expedition led by Captain Shigetada Gunji to the the tip of the Kuril Islands, the northernmost part of Japan. This tip was Shyu-Mu-Shyu Island where the the expedition members lived. The Ryuusui-Maru ran between the mainland and Shyu-Mu-Shyu Island, carrying information, food, supplies and anything gained in the reclamation of the Kurils.
The Ryuusui-Maru was eventually shipwrecked in the south seas. After that Captain Nakagawa became the first class helmsman on the practice ship Koto-no-Omaru, and was now sending us young sailors though intensive training.
I was always asking Professor Nakagawa to tell me the story of the trouble they ran into in the middle of the Pacific, and about being washed ashore a deserted island. After asking so many times, it was now that he finally told us the tale.
The sun was already sinking into the sea, Tateyama Bay was being wrapped in the evening mist. The other students had gone back to dry land for the weekend, and on-board you could only hear one sound.

In the story that follows below, the "I" is Professor Nakamura.
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