Saturday, March 26, 2011

Voyage Across the Pacific

One more drifters story if I may. My motivation:

l) San Diego connection - my second hometown in the U.S., where the Ehimeans landed, and my friend, a tea ceremony master of the Urasenke School in San Diego, brought it to my attention.

2) Ehimeans were the crew and I am also an Ehimean. I'm from east Ehime and they were from west Ehime. You may associate the name of Ehime-Maru, a Japanese fishing high school training ship that was sunk by the USS Greenville in 2001. That Ehime-Maru was based in Uwajima, in west Ehime.

What was different about the two captains, Jyukichi and Zensuke, was that Kamesaburo Yoshida (1873-1931) knew his destination. Kame, in Japanese, means turtle. (His name will be abbreviated as Kame hereafter.) Born to be a fisherman, he had learned from his boyhood how to maneuver the then popular "Utasebune", a ruggedly built, 10 meter (32 ft) long sailboat, close to the western Ketch or Yole in outward appearance. There is a movement to rebuild the Utasebune (with new high tech materials) and hold sailing competitions in and around Tokyo Bay.

Yes, Kame’s intent was to aim his ship toward Seattle, Washington in his Utasebune. He was there in his twenties and brought fortune back to his hometown Kawanoishi, Ehime. However, his business went bankrupt after the Russo-Japanese War ended and Japan went into an economic slump. Kawanoishi once flourished as an Utasebune port for transporting cargo and the business dried up because of the rise of railroad land transportation.

He wanted to revisit Seattle, but U.S. Immigration practically banned Japanese entry. Impatient with the slow visa approval, Kame devised to stow away in his own Utasebune. Four friends joined him. Yes, they were stowaways, not innocent drifters. Kame used speculative navigation, only with the compass and graduators, with the Polaris as guide, determining and maintaining the same latitude while sailing.

On May 11, 1912, a three-masted Sumiyoshimaru sailed out from Kominato, Chiba, ”50” years ahead of Kenichi Horie’s solo Pacific crossing adventure on a yacht. Atsuo Kojima, a Nippon Yusen retiree and sea story writer, found out about Kame's gallant adventure, traced their route in detail, and wrote a book in 2001 which won an Ehime Prefecture Culture Book Prize in 2002.

The voyage of Sumiyoshimaru seemed as hard as any sea captain had experienced, despite the well prepared drainage and storm protection devices. It drifted southerly without them noticing the passing islands of Hawaii and despite Kame's efforts to redress north, the ship headed to the Galapagos. Another desperate corrective northward sail and Kame's hunch finally got him to head toward Baja California, but Sumiyoshimaru got shipwrecked at Flat Rock, one step before landing and accomplishing his dream of crossing the Pacific in a Japan-made Utasebune.

Flat Rock is a little north of the famous Torrey Pines, now a California State national park and golf course of San Diego. Kame and the other four started walking north, probably along Camino Real, the King's Road, and were caught by U.S. Immigration officers. They were deported back to Japan after being fed well.

Undeterred, Kame tried again using the same stowaway ploy the following year, using a bigger 16-meter Utasebune with 26 friends and succeeded. They landed at Point Arena in Northern California. He was said to have engaged in salmon fishing in Vancouver Island until his death at 58. The surviving second voyage crew members erected a stone monument in his honor in Kawanoishi, now a part of Yahatahama City, Ehime.

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