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.

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