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Welcome to sailing yacht Alishan

Read more about the adventures and boat-projects on board of Alishan

Goodbye Kyushu

We left Fukuoka on September 20th, a little later then planned due to our upcoming residency status, which after 6 month still wasn’t decided, and once we got those stamps in our passport, typhoon nr 13 (Shanshan) paid us a visit. Luckily that was the only typhoon that bothered us on our way south, that means UNTILL we were in Japan’s last harbor, Ishigaki.

But first things first. Our first stop was in the most uninteresting port of Imari. Why did we go there? Because we wanted to sail in the Goto Retto island group and we needed a cruising permit. Foreign yachts can visit any “open port” at any time, but need cruising permits with strict itineraries for other places. These permits, necessary for each prefecture, can be obtained from a Ministry of Transportation office in that prefecture, usually located in these open ports. But there was no such office in Imari. Jaap just checked in with customs who told us to go to Sasebo, a bigger port further south and we continued early the next day. We had not really planned to go to Sasebo, as we would have to backtrack if we’d wanted to see the most northern islands of the Goto Retto, but we had time…

Around the corner of Kuyshu’s NW point lies Hirado. An idyllic town worth a visit if only there was room for a 43ft yacht. We had stopped there on our first run in Japan on Jan Haring, 17 years ago; this time we gave it a miss. The winds were light from the North and a south running current gave Alishan good speed and thus saw us entering the harbor of Sasebo in the middle of the afternoon.

Now, where??? should we go??? There was lots of big ship traffic around us. We were dodging them this way and that, discussing the possibilities, when a little Sasebo Port Control boat drew up behind us and a man pointed his finger to a little pontoon. There, to our big surprise, where 2 uniformed officials, waving 2 flags, one yellow and the other the Dutch red, white and blue! Apparantly Imari had phoned, so they prepared this little welcome for us. Jaap asked if they did this for every foreign yacht, but no, we were the first.  

 They took Jaap to clear in and see the Transportation Office people. Our plan of just getting the permit and sailing out again was not feasible; it doesn’t seem to be possible to issue a permit in a few minutes. Jaap had to come back the next day after lunch. In the meantime we could stay on this private little pontoon.

By now the fact that we had left Fukuoka, our hometown of 11 years, sank in and we began to enjoy our freedom. No appointments, no strict time schedule, just walking around town, leisurely looking at what was there. It felt wonderful. Even though the town of Sasebo really has nothing to offer. Only big hamburgers. We celebrated our freedom with adding another day, just for the hell of it. From now on we have all the time in the world! And got it back right the day after. Too windy to cross the strait to the Goto Retto and it did not look any better in the near future.

  So we changed course, sailed under these 2 bridges through this narrow passage (timing it well as the current runs up to 10 knots), and ended up in HtB.

Huis ten Bosch, a little piece of the Netherlands in Japan. We had been there on various occasions, (by car!) and I thought we had seen it all, but now, since that strong northerly kept on blowing, we discovered a few neat places. Like the “trick-photo” exhibition; the IMX theatre, where you see the movie all around you, even below you; Henk’s bicycle shop (Long tall Henk will you ever leave HtB?) and Ben’s stables. Henk and Ben, the only real Dutch items of House ten Bosch. 

At the trick photo gallery.

Scenes of Huis ten Bosch: The Dom Tower, Hoorn and Kinderdijk.


Henk on one of his specials

In the yacht harbor we met some other live-aboards, it was great to talk to them. In Fukuoka we had been on our “own” for so many years. Nori and Wakame loved the marina, many new “fishing” boats to explore. We had tried to keep the cats onboard, but it was hard on them. In Fukuoka they were locked in at night, but could come and go during the day. Here the jetties offered a nice playground where they did not easily get into other cats’ territories.

The HtB yacht harbor from the “Dom tower”

Just when the weather was getting better and we were planning to move on, an old friend stopped by. Jan from Belgium. Used to work in HtB but now he was getting the place ready for a visit by Floortje Dessing, caster of a popular travel program on Dutch TV. We were talked into staying a little longer and had the pleasure of spending the day with her and her team. For us it was great to be able to speak Dutch again. And make fun in Dutch. HtB provides enough to laugh about. It’s a nice place, don’t get me wrong, but just not so Dutch for us Kaaskoppen.

Interview with Floortje.

And then the day came we finally left for the Goto.Retto We had given up on that most northern place, the fisherina on Uke and headed straight for Nama. The town had changed little. We had been there 17 years before during a summer festival and it was noisy and lively then, but now the place was dead quiet. We kept some photos of that time and showed them to the people who dropped by. “All the young men have left” they said, “looking for better jobs in the cities.” But what hadn’t changed was the hospitality and generosity of the people. We got loaded with potatoes, onions, rice cakes and cookies.

The next day we sailed to Wakamatsu. The winds were light again and we motor-sailed between the islands, enjoying the scenery.

Alishan in Wakamatsu

What we still missed was decent fishing gear, so in Wakamatsu we took out some gift envelopes that we got in Fukuoka and spent the Yen. And sure enough, the next day, a small mahi mahi on the line.

Look at his grin!

When we got into the port of Arakawa Jaap showed it proudly to the fishermen, but they shrugged and tossed us some red snappers. “You better eat these, this is real fish.” And that was the start of a line of fish that worked itself towards Alishan with the regularity of once a day. Now, this place Arakawa is special. It has a hot spring, 25m from our spot along the dock. And we went there everyday!

The first day Nori hurt himself when he made an unauthorized and uncontrolled jump for freedom ashore. The scratch needed stitches badly! We asked the lady at the front desk of the inn where to go and she kindly lent us her car. Nori was fixed in no time, but needed to rest, so we stayed a whole week. And that was a week of walking, cycling, running and eating fish, fish and more fish. Mainly squid and mainly raw.

Ikezukuri, the best way to eat raw squid, prepared onboard by a local fisherman.

Thanks guys!

Something else, very tasty on these islands:

Sea urchin eggs on top of a bowl of rice, accompanied by a sweet pickle, fried or baked fish, miso soup and cups of green tea. The yellow stuff is pickled radish, good for digesting all that good food.

Amami and Okinawa

When we left the Goto Retto it wasn’t for Yakushima, as we had planned. The winds had been blowing steadily from the NE for a while and that left the only suitable anchorage quite exposed. Yakushima is higher then any mountain on Kyushu and the forest is supposed to be quite spectacular with huge, zillion years old cedar trees and we’d been looking forward to some good hikes.

Ah well, we can come back and it doesn’t look like this island will go very far……

So we made a bit of a jump to Amami Oshima, south of Kyushu. For many years I had been dreaming of this place, my favorite island of Japan. I even tried to get Seiha’s sacho-san to open an English school and send us there to teach. It was said jokingly, but then he mentioned it again when we left. If only I had pushed a bit more…

Back to the sailing: Arakawa –> Amami, 260 miles.

What a great start of that trip: 2 miles out Jaap discovered some stitches on the jib had come undone. We should have turned around to fix it maybe, but we didn’t and then decided not to use that sail at all incase it got worse and so we motor sailed mostly…there was hardly any wind anyway. Apart from that it was a pleasant 3 day trip. The cats were a bit at a loss their very first night at sea, wondering why we did not all go to sleep at the right times and changing watches was a 12 legged affair.

On the second day we saw something orange floating in the distance. Not so strange, there is a lot of garbage in this piece of sea. But it looked kind of nautical and we changed course. When we picked it up we saw it was a lifejacket. With thank goodness, no body inside.

Alishan in Daikuma.

Naze, the main harbor had no place for us, so we turned the corner and tied alongside a concrete wall in Daikuma. The sewing machine came out and we fixed the sail in just an hour. We managed to get a cruising permit for the Kagoshima prefecture using phone and fax and rode our bicycles for miles into town to look up Ani-san. He used to run the small yacht club, but with the tightening of cruising rules few yachts had ventured in Naze port and he’d changed his hobby to…wild pig hunting. However, he was pleased to see us and we signed the guestbook (again, we were here 11 years ago!) – with what looked like might be the last entry.

Ani was busy, but he took us for a drive to my favorite places, the beaches of Amami.

Some local yachties introduced us to Keimeishi, (a chicken dish) and local music, played on a 3 stringed samisen. We generally spend a lot of time with the locals, because many people love talking to foreigners – in Japanese.

After a few days we hoisted the sails again to move to the southern end of Amami, to the small town Koniya, located on a sort small scale inland sea. But again, Alishan with a draft of close to 2m needs space and we had to leave the harbor again. No problem, lots of places to anchor, but it was nearly dark. So we phoned an old acquaintance, Swiss–French Patrick who to our surprise was still there and directed us over to his place, on Kakeroma Island, just a few miles to the south. And 30 minutes later we had a full swing party onboard with lots of old stories and new stories and plans were made for the next days on this island, full of bush and more bush and beaches!

Kakeroma, one of the Amami group islands, is a kind of wild place, sparsely inhabited, with rugged, steep mountains covered in jungle like forests. About 40km east–west, but only 4 or 5km wide. Cycling across was a real challenge. The views are stunning and so are the little tucked-in bays where the Japanese used to hide their ships in WW II. Strewn about are a few villages of about 25 – 30 houses and one town of maybe 150. We went for drives in a Japanese Jeep and Marijke got her snorkeling gear out. We spent the days exploring, often with Pat and his wife Monica and in the evenings we sat together, talking boats, creating meals. One thing we had not counted on was the absence of shops. But a joined ferry-trip to the “city” across the bay took care of that. Although the temperatures had dropped below 20C in northern Kyushu, here it was still quite warm and pleasantly dry. We had a wonderful time. Kakeroma is beautiful! The island has only one black side: Snakes. Deadly poisonous and in big quantities. You better not go anywhere without a big torch at night. They can jump. They are scary! So scary we could not find our running shoes.

Read here more about Kakeroma…..but come back neh.

The best thing for Jaap was Patrick and Monica’s bath house, it was filled every night, heated with driftwood and we all took turns. On this “remote” island our on-board internet connection didn’t work (of course;-)) ), but to our big surprise, the ferry terminal around the corner had a computer with internet - to be used for-free!

One person we met here who is trying to make a living for him and his family by taking customers out on the boat that they lived on for 3 years before their baby was born.

If ever you plan a visit, hook up with Ryu and Tae

When Patrick left to deliver a Tashiba he’d fixed up to Wakayama, we realized we should move on as well. As soon as the winds looked right we left, this time for Okinawa, 150 mile south.

You won’t believe it, but that is Alishan sailing. Photo taken by Monica: Big Thanks

Okinawa is a very popular holiday destination, nicknamed as Japan’s Hawaii. Naha, the main city is a real city with shopping malls, restaurants, bars and even a monorail. After getting the ever necessary cruising permit, we left Naha’s big ships port, not to go to Gillowan, the island’s main yacht harbor, but to go to Kadena, a small pleasure boat harbor used by the USA military. We had more or less been invited by John, an e-mail contact from the time we were selling Jan Haring. As it happened, John was just leaving the island for a holiday when we called him, but he left instructions with friends and consequently a whole team of American yachties got up to look after us: They took us out eating, driving, shopping (on the military base, very useful and cheap), washing, you name it. The only thing we managed to do by ourselves was visit it’s famous aquarium. This aquarium keeps whale sharks (they are biggg) among all other fish that swim around in the Kuro Shio, the “Black Current” that runs from the Philippines north.

Read and see more.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Okinawa, stayed longer as planned of course, got to meet John and his wife Naomi in the end and made friends whom we sure hope to meet again. Thank you all for your care, Jack, Pam, Greg, Silvia, John, Naomi and others.

Alishan in Kadena.

We had that cruising permit, so we could legally sail to the more remote islands just to the west of Okinawa, the Kerama Retto. At the ministry of Transportation I needed to specify the places we wanted to anchor and because we really had no idea, on the charts anywhere seemed nice, we had given them a list of all names we could think of and got permission for all. We left on November the 6th for what seemed at first an easy trip of 20 miles, but turned out to be quite rough, with big steep waves caused by the strong Kuro Shio against 30 knots of wind. We had not bothered to check the weather report well for such a small body of water and some typhoon, way to the NE of us, sent us strong northerlies. It shook our senses and we realized that you’ve got to be prepared for everything at all times.

Once in the Kerama we picked a lovely anchorage between little islands with steep green hills, few roads and houses and clean white beaches. The snorkeling was full on. The dingy was supposed to be our main means of transportation, but the outboard engine didn’t cooperate and so all the exploring was done in the vicinity of Alishan, but hey, this is paradise. Who wants to complain?

A few days later we sailed to Zamami, a bigger bay in the same group to meet with some Okinawa boats. Jack, Delane, Robby and friends joined us for a weekend of more snorkeling and more fun.

This little bugger of a coral block managed to keep us awake half the night, when we dragged anchor for the 3rd time in the well protected bay of Zamami. It was the first test for our brand new Brucy…passed it with a minus score. For sure we’ll have to get more anchor chain, the Bruce with only 50 meters of chain isn’t enough for Alishan’s weight.

We miss Jan Haring’s CQR proven anchoring set up.

After 2 more windy days in Zamami, we left for Miyako Jima, an overnight sail.

Miyako Jima

Like 15 years ago, the trip from Keramo Retto to Miyako Jima was a pleasant one.

Light seas, nice breeze and beautiful skies….Wow if sailing was always like this…

By sunrise we spotted land and a few hours later we tied Alishan alongside the wharf in Ikema Port. It took the officials only 20 minutes to spot us;-)) Not many foreign yachts come here (2 or 3 a year) But all paperwork was okay and the good times could start.

Ikema Port is on a small island at the northern tip of Miyako Jima. Since our visit 15 years ago the island had gotten a bridge connection to the “main land”, thus it became crowded! They even had to install a traffic light! However, the crowds prefer the summer months apparently, because was still that tranquilly “island” as we remembered it.

John and Naomi from Okinawa had given us the phone number of Naomi’s niece Sayaka, who lives here on the main island. She had already been informed (ahum, instructed) to look after us ...and so she did. The next day she took us all over the island to show us the nice spots, the supermarkets, (did we again have to do all that shopping?) and so on. Remarkable was that all over the island we would find road signs to the airport; it is located dead center of the island.

Sayaka, with son Leon

Sayaka, with son Leon

What was for lunch? Looks yummy, and so it was: Goya Champuru :

Goya, Okinawa’s vegetable, which can be bitter as hell, stir fried with tofu, egg and SPAM. Okay that last bit can be left aside, but it does flavor the food.

We were even allowed to have her car for a day or 2. Nice isn’t it? Mind you Miyako Jima isn’t that big, but the main town was just too far away. Besides, the on board internet connection didn’t work so we had to take the laptop into town to check our email, the weather etc. (just the last 2 days of our stay I found out that the on board internet connection DID when we took the laptop on deck near the mast…OK if it didn’t rain;-))

Miyako Jima is green, that is, it’s very green as there are a lot of sugar cane fields. Water is NO Problem as there is plenty of spring-water. Besides the sugar cane there is a lot of cattle farming (btw, all calves are shipped to Japan’s mainland for further fattening) And Miyako is famous for its coral, so there is plenty of diving tourism. It is one of the nicer islands of the Ryukyu chain. It has no mountains, so it’s good for cycling, and…. NO SNAKES!


Read here more about mysterious Miyako Jima…and come back.

Anyway, what did we do all day?

Well Marijke continued her shelling, snorkeling and beach combing and Jaap went for the odd run over the island. Of course some boat jobs were done, like filling water tanks, oil changes (2 engines, pfff), cleaning the SS on deck. Do you think I wish I had a proper job?

Of course the outboard engine got a service job: blocked up carburetor due to lack of use! Hope to avoid that problem in the future…keep on cruising J

And we met up with a lot of great people resulting in a couple of good feeds together. For sure we have to mention Chikako, who runs a catering service on the island…weren’t we lucky!

Marijke had met Chikako once in Fukuoka, when she flew over with a sick dog. She came to the harbor to say hello and took us to a local produce market. There she explained what to do with and how to cook the strange looking island veggies. Like the one with thick leathery leaves with a name that translates as “medicine of 100 southern clouds" and others that we call airplane beans and spongy cucumbers, yuck! Unless you know what to do with them. And she knows. Chikako also makes and sells mango jam and dukkah, both made with local ingredients. Dukkah comes from the Middle East and is a nutty type dip for bread. Try it, it’s tasty and easy: just dip a piece of bread in olive oil, then in the dukkah – and eat. Good with beer or wine. But also nice as a topping on salad, fish, meat or tofu. It comes in hot and mild. If you want to find out more, mail Chikako at


or take a look at her website HERE

We hired (for some cookies) one of the local village dogs to keep Nori and Wakame on board. The cats didn’t like it, but they must have thought: Hey doggy-boy, you get cookies, but we are out of the rain…

During our stay we didn’t see much sunshine (real autumn weather) and it was very windy most of the days…but then one day it all looked okay so we left for another overnight sail to… Ishigaki Shima. (By now you’ve probably figured it out: shima or jima means island)

Ishigaki Jima

The overnighter from Miyako was roly-poly, with bumpy seas caused by the strong Kuro Shio and a dead down wind course. Somehow closer to Ishigaki Island, the wind went around and once we got to the SW corner of the island…we had a solid 25 knots on the nose! So Yanmar took over for the last 10 miles and accompanied by a spectacular red sunrise we motored into port. We remembered where to go and went alongside a local yacht at the yacht pontoon. Of course the officials were there to check us out (thanks for looking after us customs and JCG, but we do hope your boss will supply you with a VHF in the future …) followed by a line of yachties. The good times started already before we tied off Alishan properly!!

A few hours later everybody went there own way and as that overnighter was one of very little sleep we crashed by lunch time… only to be woken up 30 minutes later by a front with 40+ knot wind… remember that red sky… that broke the mooring lines of our neighbor and send us almost on to the rocks wasn’t it for that 1 extra line I had set… It took a good 30 minute struggle to get the 2 boats back to the pontoon. Pff what a wind and a rain! You’re never too old to learn…and to make silly mistakes. 🙁

Alishan in Ishigaki port, at the yacht pontoon, under calm conditions.

The idea was to spend 3 weeks in this group, exploring the outer islands and then leave Japan for Hong Kong, so we could be there before Christmas.

We started alright. That means the exploring part. We hooked up with Mike of sy Hanalee, who takes customers sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and on jungle trips.

The jungle trip was fun. Especially that last part of the flying fox.

Look out, here she comes….

And there he goes….

Friends we had made during our first time here took us for drives and trips to the small islands of Kohama and Kayama, where only rabbits live and the snorkeling is great.

Marijke with Fukami san, who we had met 15 years ago.

We took the ferry to Taketomi jima, an island like an open air-museum, well worth seeing. No “naijin” (people outside Yaeyama) can live there and all houses to be newly built have to be in traditional style, with typical tile roofs and Shisa, protecting lions, on top. Bright bougainvillea’s, walls of coral and unsealed roads make for a very pretty picture. No cars can go to this island, though the local tour guides drive minivans with tourists. The main way of transportation however is bicycle, or water buffalo-cart.

Indeed many flowers,…

Looking down on Main Steet.

Just to warn you!

“Public transportation".

Another fun 1 day trip was to Iriomote, where we rented canoes and hiked to one of the many waterfalls. We didn’t get to see the local wildcat, but saw some awesome colored birds and lots of different butterflies. Also the star shaped sand of the beach at the NW point. We drove from east to west and back – Iriomote isn’t very big – and decided to come back one day and see more.

13 Years ago we left New Zealand onboard Jan Haring bound for Fiji. On that very same day sy Shizane with a Japanese family with 3 kids left for Tonga. We had spent some time together in Whangarei, helping Kuri and Fusa to get started on their trip back home to… Ishigaki. A few months later we met once more in Vanuatu, but not again since now. They are now back in their Japanese island style life, running a small café that doubles as a yacht club. The kids have left home, looking for excitement in the big cities, but Mum and Dad seem happy.

Here we are at a pit-stop at the Ishigaki Club Med….showing our visitors pass.

Together with friends they rent a piece of land to grow veggies and we were asked to leave our mark by planting a tree. Marijke planted a lemon tree and Jaap a mixed orange–lime type called Shikikan, pronounced she-key-can. The newspaper got involved too and we became famous celebrities for one day. That brought some other people on board we’d met 15 years ago. All in all we made and re-made friends all the time.

By now the temperature was going down and winter was coming. Time to move on. Jaap studied the weather charts day after day. Several typhoons, so late in this year, were moving over the Philippines, causing too much wind in the Bashi Channel,. This body of water south of Taiwan is tricky in normal circumstances. When winds and currents are in opposite directions, as is usually the case during the winter months, they create huge seas. The point was to make it to Hong Kong before this winter pattern settled in, but all these late typhoons made it impossible. Durion, Utor and Trami caused havoc in the Philippines and Vietnam and caused us to stay put.

Typhoon Utor is heading into the Philippines, a Big High pressure is coming off mainland China, and 2 frontal systems to the East of Ishigaki…No good news for the start of a trip around the bottom of Taiwan.

Then, one day, all looked okay. The variety of weather forecast programs showed a window of less wind between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. We planned to get to the entrance of the 40 mile channel in the early morning hours, to clear it within 6 hours, and continue the last 250 miles to Hong Kong. So we checked out with customs and immigration on Thursday morning. They would not do it the day before, so an early start was out. By 10:00 am we were out of the harbor, heading West. The winds were strong, picking up as we left the protection of Ishigaki. After clearing Iriomote Island we could change course to SW, but we never came that far. 2 hours later huge seas were washing over Alishan’s deck and the wind speedometer read 30 knots. This was not a good way to start a trip that was likely to get worse. We turned around and anchored in the lee of the island, to wait and see. But the winds didn’t lessen and by the end of the day we realized we would not make our window anymore. So we headed back to port.

Officials were not happy, but they understood and we promised them we’d choose a better day next time.

So, we are back. Studying the weather again. By now the winter pattern has completely settled in and the forecasts give gale warnings non-stop. It doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving until spring. So today, the day of writing, it’s early January and we are at Ishigaki. Still. Too bad? I don’t know. Good things and bad things always come together. The morning we cleared back in Marijke lost a piece of tooth filling and headed straight for the dentist. Now, 4 weeks later, she is still under treatment and very glad she wasn’t at sea!

So we are waiting. We started some HK-planned jobs as waxing the deck, varnishing the teak and sorting out loads of shells ….. and of course we keep ourselves busy with socializing.

Christmas and New years’ Eve came. And so did our friends Nobuko and Kenichi Kakoh from Fukuoka. It was great to see them again and catch up on the latest news of our hometown Fukuoka.

Some sights here in Ishigaki:

They like walls here, all to keep seawater where it belongs. Last September Typhoon Shanshan dropped by with 130 knots wind! With according waves! The wall on the left as they have been for 100s or thousands of years, the one on the right a more modern version.

There is no cemetery. After leaving this world the whole family gets together again in a building like a small mausoleum on a favorite piece of land. Found anywhere, all over the islands.

The hiking is good, there are plenty trails leading you in the dense jungle on Mt. Banna and Mt. Omoto.

 Marijke and Jaap are off again. So we stay behind looking after the boats on the pontoon.

Where did those 2 leggers go anyway???



Japanese lesson number 1: What’s written on this box?

(Hint: meow).

This is a road sign, found on Iriomote: Please take care not to run over the rare Iriomote Nekko (indigenous wild cat). Only less than a hundred are out there, road kill is enemy number 1!

Hmm, another warning sign…No idea what it’s for…..

This is a vending machine we found on Kakeroma Island somewhere in the mangrove whop-whops.

Insert some money…and out come the balls…

Take you place at the T spot, ….swing the club….

That’s where you should aim for…80 yards, hole-in-one…If it’s low tide you can see your score…if it’s high tide???? Poor fish and crabs…

 Roadside Map of Kakeroma Island. Not many roads, more ferries.

The girl looks happy; don’t know about the salary man.😄

Sign at the beach in Ishigaki. Warning for very stingy jelly fish. Next to the sign is a box with a bottle of vinegar….In case of ….

Very attentive to have the info also in English! A rare fact, esp. in the remote islands of Japan.

We are happy: It’s winter now so No Jelly Fish.

Yes that’s what you deserve…..It’s true, Japanese fishermen (pro and fun) like to catch fish and leave a mess…

It’s everybody’s beach, let’s keep it clean…once you make it over the fence…

This sign, spotted in a fishing harbor tells the bikies to STOP making noise…..

Hmmm, is that where tsunamis come from?