Day 819 [Dec. 30/10 JST] -- Hawaii update: His 77th birthday nears

Today's Report
December 30/10 JST

Position:  21°17'N, 157°53'W (Honolulu) 

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  13.4%

As Saito-san waits out the stormy North Pacific winter, repairs continue, if at a more relaxed pace. Plans are now that he will leave Hawaii probably in mid to late March, giving him 4 to 6 weeks to make the last 3,500 nm. That would put him back in Japan by approximately mid-May.

He's also getting some medical care for a knee problem that is being treated with physical therapy and may require orthoscopic surgery, depending on what the doctors finally decide.

In the meantime, an auspicious date nears: Jan. 7, his 77th birthday.

We ordered a birthday present through West Marine that should arrive just in time, an all-weather sailing jacket from Henri Lloyd, the yachting clothing maker (and one of our contributing sponsors). Saito-san was provided an enviable wardrobe of foul weather and sundry other gear from Henri Lloyd prior to leaving Japan. But after more than 800 days and 23,000 nm, he's certainly due for a few replacements.

This new item in fact was donated, but this time not by a sponsor. Instead, we thought it fitting to purchase the jacket ($90 plus shipping) in the name of his general contributors, some of whom sent donations through PayPal. We thank them again for that and will make sure Saito-san knows it.  

Meanwhile, the skipper continues to support his daily living expenses and various boat repairs through his retirement pension, personal savings, and, not least, the volunteer help (including the occasional meal and party invite) of Team Hawaii. This volunteer group of Honolulu residents has grown to include Dave Cooper, Scott Gilbert, Ed Abbot, Kimmy Apo, and more recently, Naomi Wasano (commander of the Honolulu Sail and Power Squadron, a unit of the United States Power Squadrons) and Derek Nakamura. 

On another front, we are standing by for official word that Saito-san's request for extension of his six-month U.S. visa has been granted. About two weeks before the deadline he and Dave went to Immigration to make what they thought would be a standard extension request, but such things are no longer to be in the post 9-11 security climate. 

This time it's taking a full review by Homeland Security, supported by an essay on why he couldn't leave Hawaii, other supporting documents, and a check for $295 written out to Uncle Sam. 

This never-before-encountered scrutiny has nothing to do with Saito-san himself. It is now a standard requirement. If you have any lingering doubts about how dead serious vetting "foreigners" has all become, give a look here. This 10-page pdf explains the new requirements for persons wanting to extend their stay in the U.S. 

Our deep thanks to Derek and Dave for helping with the extension request, and to Kimmy, Naomi, and Scott for assisting with Saito-san's knee treatments and clinic appointments. 

Day 760 [Nov. 1/10 JST] -- Hawaii repairs update: More mysteries

Today's Report
November 1/10 JST

Position:  21°17'N, 157°53'W (Honolulu) 

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  13.4%

The saga continues.

We've been waiting for a point in the Hawaii repairs process to make an announcement on the departure date, but it remains elusive. Despite the continuing heroic efforts by our selfless volunteers, it seems that as one issue gets addressed, another three or four are revealed.

Money has been short, so as one pricy repair has been done, the next could then be tackled. Volunteer help has far reduced what would have been paid out, but repair parts, slip fees, and some professional services are now more than $10,000 (either already paid out or estimated), and mounting.

In recent weeks the degraded condition of the rigging and mast has given particular alarm. We were fortunate a few weeks ago to receive a generous donation from Harken Inc., on replacement of key parts of the jib furling system, for which we are hugely grateful. After that, it became obvious as well that the staysail furler needed key replacement parts, and so those have been ordered and are to arrive soon.

Inspections revealed that the welding repair on the mast failed during the first attempt to leave Hawaii. Shockingly, cracks reappeared at three of the four corners of the staysail halyard box in the area that had been professionally welded to repair earlier stress fractures, raising the prospect that rig tension was far greater than had been supposed. There is now little doubt that the mast was within a few days or even hours of snapping.

One theory is that the vessel's steel sides were oil-canned during the pounding NBSDIII received by much larger fishing boats in Punta Arenas, forcing the side plates to buckle and causing a huge strain on the rigging. This strain eventually showed itself in various ways, including cracks in fittings, furling drum turning difficulty, failed attachment pins, and those near-disastrous mast cracks. Proof of this over-tensioning became obvious when chief volunteer Dave Cooper was forced to resort to cutting through the seized starboard forward lower shroud with a power cutting tool and the shroud suddenly released with "quite a bang," he said.

A metal brace, referred to as a "mast plate doubler," was fabricated in New Zealand by the original mast-maker and delivered last week. This is now being attached in a painstaking process by Dave, requiring numerous trips up and down the mast, assisted by Saito-san and others. We hope to get pictures of the mast doubler soon, but you'll be about right if you think of a leg cast cut vertically in half, then carried aloft to be reassembled and attached with tapping screws and marine epoxy. With proper rig tension it is felt this should be enough for the return to Japan under reduced sails.

Meanwhile another mystery has developed around what's been found inside the fuel tanks. One of the tanks has been opened for inspection, the one that serves as the vessel's "day" tank, while there are three other tanks that feed the day tank as it becomes depleted. Up until Chile the fuel had been fine, with no evidence of fuel contamination. After departing, it was clear that the fuel had somehow become badly fouled, as one filter after another was used by Saito-san in an effort to keep the main engine and the auxiliary generator going. His first attempt to leave Chile was aborted when the engine gradually lost power and stopped working.

On opening the day tank, Dave a few days ago reported the following, after commenting that bad weather had temporarily halted work on the rigging and mast:

In light of the [weather] wash-out Saito-san and I decided to tackle the stbd tank cleaning. Pumped the fuel into the 55 gal jugs on deck and opened the manhole. We could see this tank is filled with a mud-like substance which coats almost all the surfaces. What exactly it is and where it came from can’t be determined but Saito-san keeps referring to Chile. Whatever it is it will be a job to get it out, cleaned, new manhole gasket made and cover back on. However I now see why he has had a “fuel problem.”

This picture shows the amount of sediment in the primary fuel filter.

This morning Saito-san reported that the tank has now been cleaned, with the assistance of Dave and a new volunteer, a Japanese cruiser by the name of Mr. Takita, who arrived in his own boat several weeks ago from Japan and will return in the spring.

Saito-san said earlier this week that he cannot predict for sure when everything will be ready, but is hoping for as early as a mid-November departure. "We can't rush it," he said again this morning, "because we have to do it one thing at a time and get it right."

Meanwhile, we've also been waiting for an all-clear on the weather front. The typhoon that went past Tokyo last night was a strong reminder that the boat must be in better than good shape before she departs Hawaii.

Day 704 [Sept. 6/10 JST] -- Hawaii repairs update: Next, the boat

Today's Report
September 6/10 JST

Position:  21°17'N, 157°53'W (Honolulu) 

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  13.4%

Our apologies for the update delay. We appreciate the several people who have written to ask how things are going. Happily, it seems well, thanks to Team Hawaii.

Since we are in Tokyo, it is impossible to know the full extent of effort by the volunteers assisting Saito-san. However, we are getting bits and pieces by email, as well as in our phone conversations with Saito-san.

It's clear that Dave Cooper has practically been living on the boat, as he has focused his efforts on getting NBSDIII ready once the typhoon season has largely passed and it's deemed safe to start the final miles back to Japan. So far, two typhoons have visited or neared Japan.

In the meantime, Ed Abbot, Scott Gilbert, and Kimmy have been helping patch up Saito-san, and could report last week that the medical checkup went well for someone in his mid-70s.

Saito-san's aching back was determined to be muscle strain from the arduous "U-turn" back to Hawaii that required numerous tacks during which the skipper was constantly cranking winches and man-handling the genoa. The heavy boat movement from opposing seas made it even worse. Last week he received several hours of therapy on his back, which Saito-san said helped. Our thanks to Ed for getting him to the specialist and Scott for helping with arrangements. Also for taking him back to the dentist for further work on his temporary bridge which has been troubling him. Kimmy assisted earlier, braving the unbelievably congested morning rush hour, as we mentioned in a previous post.

Through out all this, the volunteer team of Dave, Ed, and Scott (and more recently, Kimmy and new volunteer Glenn) embody the Hawaiian "Aloha Spirit" in a way that merits a statue in one of the parks that dot these magical isles of the Pacific. 

We suspect there may already be one for Dave somewhere, but one thing we've learned is that this long-time resident and master boatsman does not like to toot his own foghorn.

When it became clear there was little chance that NBSDIII would be able to make it back to Hawaii under her own power we were shocked to learn that a commercial tow those remaining 50 miles would be "at least" $6,000 -- a fee Dave said was "not unreasonable" considering the requirements of vessel, crew, insurance, fuel, and the fact it would have to be done overnight. Also, he reminded us, "This IS Hawaii."

So despite Dave's and his wonderful wife Nancy's plans to leave the next day on a week's cruise, he rang up Ed, described the potentially dire situation surrounding the boat's failing rigging, and within a few hours the two were on their way in Dave's 58-foot Swan Song to do the tow themselves. And they did, quite heroically in our book, especially considering that the commercial towing company said it would require three experienced crew, including a relief hand at the helm.

Ed reported there was one particularly dramatic moment when the tow line parted in pitch dark and strong wind, and they spent some anxious minutes getting the line back to Saito-san, which Ed did with a well-placed throw of a smaller leader line and attached fender as Dave maneuvered Swan Song close enough to reach. A day later, NBSDIII was back in port, and a few hours after that Dave, Nancy and Swan Song were off on their island cruise.

Now Dave is enthusiastically back to helping Saito-san get his tired vessel back into condition for the 13% of the circumnavigation that remains.

Ed and Scott, who say they have "actual jobs," have been helping on their days off, while Dave himself is a fairly recent retiree and can devote more time. Dave said Glenn, the newest Team Hawaii member, spent several hours last week "hanging upside-down" as he cleaned the bilge of diesel, a dirty job no one else was willing to do for money. All waste cloths and pumped-out bilge water had to be carefully disposed in accordance with strict US Coast Guard regs that forbid even a slight sheen on the water.

Dave said he could now work in the engine room without becoming coated in diesel, hydraulic fluid, sea water, etc., that had created a murky, slippery soup in the aft bilge.

Thanks Glenn!

Team Hawaii are now all off doing their own cruising over the long Labor Day weekend on a much deserved break.


After nearly two years mostly under way, NBSDIII is certainly not a boat in "Bristol condition." When she departed Yokohama in October 2008, she did in fact look very nice, and had received a great deal of attention both cosmetically (inside and out) and mechanically, and had been well muscled for the contrary circumnavigation with a newly installed engine, new mast, strongly reinforced rigging, and state-of-the-art heavy weather mainsail.

But a lot can happen in two years and over 24,000 "wrong way" miles, especially if you include 9 frigid months being bashed by larger boats in a tiny fishing harbor on the exposed Strait of Magellan in extreme southern Chile.

At the moment of this writing, it is 1° C in that tiny harbor in Punta Arenas. There was no shore power, no hot showers other than occasionally offered by a few good-hearted locals, and virtually no on-board heating. And Saito-san would not -- could not -- make his first attempt to leave Punta Arenas until January. 

Today's temp in Punta Arenas, Chile

At some point we suspect a book, or at least a long article, will describe the rigors that the vessel and her captain have gone through, but Dave has pulled together his own account of what he has so far found, some surprising, despite the attention of a number of qualified mechanics and riggers in half a dozen ports.

It's a wonder NBSDIII made it as far as she did, as Dave has now written us several times -- an assessment he has repeated but NOT always on the same problem.

We'll attempt to summarize what he's found and has fixed, or will fix, in the next few posts.

Day 690 [Aug. 23/10 JST] -- Hawaii repairs update: First, the man

Today's Report
August 23/10 JST

Position:  21°17'N, 157°53'W (Honolulu) 

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  13.4%

Saito-san is now into his third week in Honolulu on his second port call there for repairs.

The focus at the moment is divided between 1) the skipper and his health, 2) determining just what went awry during his first attempt to depart Hawaii, and 3) what can be done to reduce the chance it will happen again.

We'll address each in separate installments of the Daily Log. For now: How the skipper himself is faring.

Saito-san's Condition
Judging from what we know so far, as we await the results of x-rays and other medical tests, he seems to be in reasonably good shape in light of all the stress he has gone through. And dealing with his several health matters, faced by the traffic situation there, with no easy phone contact, has been daunting.

Fortunately, "Team Hawaii" is now up to five persons, with the recent welcome addition of Kimmy as introduced through Ed Abbot. The others are Dave Cooper, Scott Gilbert, and Saito-san himself. In fact, Kimmy played a starring (and heroic) role last week.

Thanks to the combined efforts of Scott and Ed, Saito-san has been fitted with a new temporary dental bridge to replace the upper bridge shattered by a biscuit very early in the circumnavigation. He told us yesterday (with the best enunciation we've heard in nearly two years!) that it's been causing him some gum soreness, but he thinks his mouth will adjust soon enough.

Of more concern is his back, for which Kimmy drove him through morning rush hour traffic last week to a clinic for another, and more extensive, physical exam.

The skipper was earlier given a clean bill of health in June. His back was already nagging him then but later was aggravated by boat movement during his punishing, 13-day upwind bash back to Hawaii. He also additionally strained it during the extended pumping sessions over several days until that dangerous seawater leak could finally be stopped.

We'll hear the word on the tests in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Ed and Scott labored to get him a working cell phone. After various false starts (and at least 5 visits to Best Buy) that miracle of technology finally happened and between the new dental bridge and absent the broken Iridium reception, he sounds like he's in the next room. (In fact, like a college kid calling home, his first request to Tokyo was: "Send more money!")

If you recall how utterly exhausted he looked in the several news interviews on his first arrival, then this shot from Ed will come as a welcome reassurance that "repairs" on the skipper seem to be going well.

This is how he looks with his "new smile" and after more than a fortnight of rest, good food, and the many kindnesses of good friends. As Rose Bliss, Saito's guardian angel (along with her husband Pablo) down in Punta Arenas exclaimed by email: "Goodness gracious! Is that the same man?"

At right, how he looked upon arrival in June on KITV-ABC News.