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Cruising the Seto Inland Sea

Stephen and Nancy Carlman

January 13th, 2018

Picture ten BCA members making noodle dough from salted flour and water, kneading it, dancing on it (in a plastic bag) to “YMCA”, slicing it into exactly 4 mm thick strips, boiling them, then eating the Udon in a flavourful soup.

This was not exactly what we expected to be part of a cruise in Japan, but the noodles were fun to make and good to eat.

Group holding Udon-making certificates.

Thanks to Past Commodore, Jennifer Handley and long time BCA member, Kirk Patterson, ten BCA members had an opportunity to cruise on the Seto Inland Sea in Japan in May 2017.

The five couples, three from Vancouver Island and two from the mainland, included Chris Stask and Jacquie Kidd, Glen and Mary Wilson, Lynn Zeidler and Stephen Dorsay, Deborah O’Connor and Jeremy Carpendale, Stephen and Nancy Carlman.

The Seto Inland Sea

The Seto Inland Sea is comparable to the Salish Sea, in that it lies between the Japanese main island of Honshu (where Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima are located) and the large island of Shikoku to the southeast, similar to the way Vancouver Island acts to protect the British Columbia mainland from the Pacific Ocean.  The Seto Inland Sea is also, like the Salish Sea, full of small islands to visit.

Honshu is as big as Britain (and Vancouver Island), but Shikoku is much smaller, about 1/5 of the size of Honshu, so it protects only the Seto Inland Sea and the southwestern part of the main island.

Where the Seto Inland Sea differs from our Salish Sea is that two recently-built bridges connect Honshu and Shikoku, leap-frogging some of the islands.

As one Japanese woman, a member of the Vancouver Rowing Club, explained to me, these bridges have killed the economy of Shikoku. Now that people can drive to Honshu and don’t have to rely on ferries, the stores in Imabari, her hometown, are shuttered.

It is interesting to contemplate what might happen if there were ever a bridge built from Vancouver Island to the mainland, crossing some Gulf Islands on the way.

The Cruise

Our cruise was seven days from the Island of Suo-oshima, west of Hiroshima to Bella Vista Marina in the centre of Honshu’s southern shore, stopping at various island ports.

We were all accommodated in six cabins on a Wharram 55’ wooden catamaran called Tiare, owned and skippered by New Zealander Daniel Springett, a resident with his Japanese wife and family in Yuge, one of our island stops.

The catamaran was easy to operate, with twin rudders connected simply by lines to a drum forward of the main cabin wheel and dagger boards that could be lowered to mitigate leeway.

We had been warned that the Seto Sea is often calm, (like the Salish Sea in August) so we did a lot of motoring, paying attention to and taking advantage of the strong currents between islands, also like British Columbia. Although we, being BCA members, were all willing to help with managing the boat, there was little to do while underway except steer. We followed GPS waypoints and charts and eyeballed the islands and occasional fishing boats.

Also like British Columbia, the scenery was range after range of hills and mountains, from dark to light in the distance. When we got close to the islands, however, we could see that the trees were different; not the firs and cedars we see on our coast. Although they are evergreens, they are, instead, sugi conifers, a very important tree in Japan used for houses, furniture, bridges, and paper-making.

Island landscape with one of the big shipbuilding facilities.

We did not notice the rumored clear-cutting or massive construction on the islands. This part of Japan is, as some say, about 100 years behind Tokyo. Villages are semi-deserted as young people have gone to the cities and old people have died, leaving houses abandoned. Ship-building still continues with parts of ships manufactured on one island and then barged to another to be assembled.

One day we were able to raise all three sails and enjoy a quiet sail for a couple of hours.  Daniel appreciated BCA members’ help with raising sails, steering, and docking. This day also happened to be when we were en route to Nio, and a boat from the Nio TV station came out to film us.

Glen Wilson and skipper Daniel Springett raising the sails on Tiare while Stephen Carlman steers.

Tasty, interesting Japanese food

Besides the experience cruising and living on Tiare, we enjoyed the Japanese food arranged by Kirk in the two inns where we stayed before and after the cruise and at the various island stops.  Each meal had many small courses, including salads of Japanese vegetables, various sorts of fish, sometimes tender steak, and ending with rice and Miso soup.  Everything was beautifully presented on small plates or ceramic and wooden bowls.  We drank beer and sake–lots of sake–in most places, very occasionally red or white wine and once champagne.

At one meal, we had wild boar and were given knives and forks to eat it with. We all asked for chopsticks and were given them, but then learned that Japanese people use chopsticks for Japanese food and knives and forks for western food.


Kirk had arranged for us to tour various points of interest on the islands, including the aforementioned udon bakery,  a chopstick maker in Suo-oshima, a sake brewery in Horie, a 200-year-old vinegar factory in Nio, and a high quality towel factory in Imabari.  These towels are made using intricate German-made machines and are for sale in high end stores in Tokyo, where Japanese buy them as gifts.  The factory also makes special towels for use in onsen, the public mineral baths that Japanese people enjoy–as did we cruisers, particularly after a day of climbing hills (mountains?) to visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, some of which were dedicated to the welfare of sailors.

Kirk’s wide acquaintance with sailors in the area of the Seto Inland Sea also led to our being feted with a lunch of yakisoba in Imabari, a party at the Nio Yacht Club, and a special dinner in the former home of a salt factory magnate. The party at the yacht club was sponsored by both the yacht club and by the International Federation of Rotarian Yachters.  It included a dinner of both Japanese food and roast lamb, dancing to The Early Bloomers, a local rock and roll band, speech-making, mostly in English, and gift giving–a strong Japanese tradition.

Jacquie Kidd, Chris Stask, Deborah O’Connor, and Jeremy Carpendale dancing at the Nio Yacht Club party.

Kirk had asked us to bring BCA burgees, Canadian flags and pins, and other Canadian products to give to officials, sailors, and hosts.  Besides the burgees, we had a collection of   smoked salmon, chocolate toonies,  and maple cookies and syrup to give.  At various stops, the Japanese gave us onsen towels, fans, hand-printed linens, wooden plaques with Japanese lettering on them, and beautifully printed books about Kabuki theatre (unfortunately only in Japanese).  At the yacht club, because Stephen made the “thank you” speech, Nancy was given a 3” x 4” “bobble head” horse. These bobble heads are usually tigers, but we were told horses are Nio favourites.

We had only one unfortunate incident.  On the island of Yuge, we used electric-assist bicycles to the circle the Island.  The roads are narrow, with deep ditches on both sides and no curbs.  Stephen Dorsay’s bicycle somehow fell off the road into one of these ditches.  Fortunately, the basket of the bicycle took most of the impact, but Stephen damaged his face and leg.

Since the doctor’s office was closed on Saturday, the local fire department administered first aid, and Stephen kept his leg elevated on Tiare.

His walking was curtailed for our three days in Kyoto after the cruise, but he soon recovered completely back in Victoria.

The cruise ended with three days in Kyoto, the capital of Japan from 794-1868, before Tokyo.  Kyoto was spared US bombing in World War II, so the shrines and temples remain for tourists and school children to visit.  The children often stopped us to ask us questions and practice their English. Young women who visit Kyoto often rent kimono and all accessories to tour the town on foot.

In Kyoto, we stayed in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where each room is provided with a deep wooden bath, big towels, terrycloth and other robes, and “hapi”, jackets that look like smoking jackets.  Breakfast and evening dinner are served in traditional Japanese style, though we sat on chairs rather than on tatami mats–thank goodness for some of us not very flexible visitors.

All of us enjoyed the cruise very much and gave it high ratings when Kirk asked us for feedback.  Both Kirk and our skipper would like to offer a cruise again.  If they can do it, we definitely recommend signing up.


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