With dawn our situation of the evening was reversed. Now the quay was the first-row orchestra and Andrea Gail the stage. Jim Hoffman, sleeping wrapped in a blanket on deck, opened his eyes with the first light and stared into 30 pairs of eyes opposite. Gradually our audience increased, until it seemed that the entire village had assembled. Respectfully they watched us breakfast in the cockpit and—again—helpfully they handed our lines on departure.
Outside, the southerly swells had increased—rather inexplicably, as the typhoon was well past. Slugging our way southward to round Iro Saki again, I was reminded of conditions off the northern European coast, the British Isles or the North Sea: strong currents, a steeply rising ocean floor, a leeward position in relation to the open sea, influence from frontal weather systems originating in polar regions, intense circular storms sweeping up from the tropics. Offshore sailing in Japan can be rugged, even lethal. Last year 11 lives were lost when two boats foundered somewhere near O-shima Island on a single short race across Sagami Bay.
Spring and fall are the best seasons for boating in Japan. The typhoon season parallels that of the Caribbean—July through September. In October the days are clear and crisp. Winds are reliable. Good sailing conditions extend through November, although the nights are likely to be chill. Most boats are laid up from December through March, appearing with the spring buds of April. Then cruising conditions are delightful until the rainy season commences in mid-June, running for about a month. Mid-July through August is not ideal, being on the warm and humid side, but perfectly agreeable, always with the proviso that a daily typhoon check is maintained. In September the prudent skipper stays close to dependable home moorings.
Now, as Andrea Gail rounded the Horn of Iro Saki, we seemed suddenly to encounter the weather of all seasons. The sea rose to smite us, seemingly from every point of the compass at the same moment. After several hours of head winds, the breeze faired for a short time, then suddenly jumped through 180 degrees, from south to north. Just as quickly, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and landmarks were swallowed in fog. Nantucket could not have pulled a neater disappearing act. But the lighthouse perched above the entrance to Shimoda was already over the bow, and soon we picked up the island marking the turn into the river anchorage. Entering, Mike and Jim were amazed by new construction along the harbor rim. Japan, along with the rest of the world, has learned to make the most of leisure. Hotels are mushrooming in places considered remote only yesterday. We found a berth wedged among sampans and settled snugly below, while overhead the rigging whined the universal song of the nor'easter.
Shimoda was the site of the first American consulate. In the afternoon we made a shore expedition to the temple of Gyokusen, where the American envoy, Townsend Harris, set up residence after Commodore Perry signed an agreement with the Tokugawa Shogunate under the guns of Perry's fleet. Prophetically, Harris noted in his diary on Sept. 4, 1856: "This day I hoist the first Consular flag ever seen in this Empire. Grim reflections—ominous of change—undoubted beginning of the end. Query—if for real good of Japan." Strangely, Gyokusenji has become a shrine for Japanese sightseers, too, perhaps because of the legend of Tojin Okichi, Harris' maidservant. The two had a romantic attachment not only forming the theme of a favorite kabuki drama but setting an agreeable precedent for successive waves of visitors. Tojin Okichi has her own shrine on the other side of town.
It continued to blow hard the following day, so I confined my research to eating Japanese food. On a street behind the waterfront Jim and I found a superb little sushi bar called the Irifune ("the boat come in"). Outside it was plain enough, no decoration beyond a calligraphic sign above the door. Inside it was simple, too, but charming: a pine counter scrubbed white, wicker stools in front, a low glass case above. Under the case as part of the counter was a trough filled with black pebbles, over which water jetted from a hidden pipe—a running-water finger bowl, so to speak, and much needed. Sushi is eaten with the fingers.
In the refrigerated case in front of us were things to be combined with rice in the nearest approach to a sandwich in the Japanese diet: slices of octopus, shrimp, squid, tuna, sea bream, abalone and eel, fresh roe and edible portions of sea urchins. Jim and I had entered with the intention of having sushi us hors d'oeuvre before continuing to a hotel on the bayfront for lunch, but we got no farther than the Irifune, sampling almost everything. Among others, there was a wonderful tidbit called une, a patty of rice wrapped in paper-thin seaweed topped with sea urchin, and another with the French-sounding name of avec: seaweed and tuna and hot sauce and cucumber slices and rice arranged in layers on a tiny bamboo mat which was then rolled and pressed and afterwards sliced in the form of a miniature jelly roll.
The next morning it was a bit harder to hoist sails than usual. Above, the sky was clear except for scattered cirrus, although in the distance the shore was touched by a frosty haze. Course now east, breeze now east, reminding me of the old yachtsmen's dictum that the trouble with sailing is that the wind is either dead ahead or dead astern, and there is always too little or too much. Setting main, fore-staysail and big jib topsail, we began a slow beat toward the active volcanic island of O-shima.
For the first time the ocean was reasonably calm. As I sat watching on the deckhouse, the volcanic cones of Niijima and Kozu-shima became visible, part of a chain of seven islands that extends some 157 nautical miles to sea—and is all part of metropolitan Tokyo. Soon afterward, O-shima itself appeared, to rise rapidly as the breeze freshened.
As we neared, a plume of smoke lifted from O-shima's central crater to join the cloud cover. The upper slopes of the island's mountain core were barren lava, but there was a verdant green belt girdling the shore. We drew into Habu, the only protected port on the island. Here, by agreement, I jump ship to taxi to Okada for an early-morning assault on Mt. Mihara. "The present crater is reached by passing through a lava bed of two miles on the summit," states Japan, The Official Guide, published by the Japan Travel Bureau. "A fine view of Mt. Fuji and other islands can be obtained...." I went to see for myself.