A day of yachting in Tokyo Bay – despite the early morning start – might just be the perfect way to get out there and enjoy a different side of Tokyo.
It’s 6am on a Sunday morning, an early start on an already excruciatingly hot day, and I’m feeling a little apprehensive; I am about to take part in my first ever yacht race. With no boating experience whatsoever, surely all I will be doing is getting in the way?
As it turned out after I reached the marina to which I’d been invited by Tokyo Yacht Club, that was probably all I did end up doing. I certainly didn’t contribute much to the outcome of the race, yet in the spirit of things, that really didn’t seem to matter.
Sitting alongside an experienced crew of seven – all of whom looked the part in Yacht Club T-shirts, shorts and with sturdy footwear at the end of their sea legs – I soon found out why yacht racing is seen as one of the world’s most exciting sports. Fast paced, thrilling and at times a little bumpy, it was an exhilarating and eye-opening way to be starting a summer’s morning.
Yumenoshima, where things get going, is a ten-minute walk from Shin-Kiba station and an area with a large sports park, a museum, a tropical greenhouse dome, eucalyptus trees and a huge marina with hundreds of boats that come in all shapes and sizes, from one-man fishing boats to extravagant and sleek millionaire’s yachts. It is quite a place, and I was surprised to discover that it was originally built using waste landfill as a potential solution to Tokyo’s garbage problems in the 1950s.
Above: Yumenoshima Marina, where the writer first got his sea legs.
Covered over with what I guess is more than just a top layer of soil, there was no Tokyo trash in sight as I took a rather pleasant stroll around the Marina – and got directions from a sole dog walker – before I met up with the team. They made me feel at home right away and seemed genuinely delighted to be welcoming another member. I just hoped they weren’t expecting much of me!
After a brief captain’s meeting (the main point of order was a discussion on lodging protests and an agreement that races might be cancelled in case of bad weather), it was time to load the boat, check the conditions and double check everything was securely tightened before setting sail.
There was a really relaxed mood as we departed in gentle water. Slowly sailing towards the open ocean with the sea breeze blowing against our faces, this was a chance for everyone to unwind and compose ourselves before things started to get serious – with a main race every month and other specials throughout the summer, it’s clear these guys love to compete.
“The crew work frantically, pulling the ropes, fiddling and tweaking with the lines, desperately trying to get the sail ready while the captain orchestrates everything from the back of the boat … then it’s all hands to the pump as the horn goes off, signaling the commencement of battle”
As we sailed out further, the views became more spectacular. Disneyland and Disney Sea in the background, Tokyo Skytree and the huge new Tokyo Gate Bridge up ahead, Japan’s capital looks even more special when viewed from a boat. According to the crew, Mt. Fuji can also be seen on clear days, but by now unfortunately this wasn’t one of them.
That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm, however. There was a great deal of excitement in the air as we got closer to the start line. More than anything these race meetings are about having fun, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an edge to them. Having not won all year, our team, Junior Seven, was determined to grab a first victory.
It’s not long before the warning buzzer sounds, indicating five minutes before the start of the race. During that time the crew work frantically, pulling the ropes, fiddling and tweaking with the lines, desperately trying to get the sail ready while the captain orchestrates everything from the back of the boat. It’s all hands to the pump as the horn goes off, signaling the commencement of battle.
There are different competitions depending on the class of the boat; we are in one of the slower races, though it feels pretty quick to me. Smashing through the waves is quite an adrenaline rush as I hang on to the side, knowing that one small slip could put me in the water.
That certainly didn’t seem to faze any of the crew, who each focused all of their attention on getting over the finish line at the front of the pack. Things were looking good, our boat was in the lead by a few lengths but it seemed it would be tight. As captain Masakazu Kojima glanced round to see how close the opposition was, he knew that one small mistake could cost his team victory.
Fortunately, the team was on fire, holding on and eventually pulling ahead to record their first win of the year – making it seem easy in the end… I was christened a good luck charm, though I wouldn’t want to take all of the credit! I think the success may have been more to do with strong tactics, a coordinated worth ethic and good leadership skills.
The second race was cancelled due to strong winds so we decided to have a beer on board as we headed back to the Marina for lunch and a trophy presentation in the large clubhouse that is scattered with plaques commemorating past successes.
It was a great way to finish what had been a wonderful day with lots of excitement and a great bunch of people. It is something I would love to experience again, only next time I hope to be more than simply a good luck charm.
If you are interested in getting involved in your own race day, contact the Tokyo Yacht club through its website: www.tyc.gr.jp
Image: Makoto Ishii / Shutterstock.com