The accidental tourist

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate August 28, 2012 05:48 pm

Japanese sailor graciously waiting for repair parts

Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson Japanese sailor Katsumi Moritaka is currently stranded in Crescent City Harbor as his boat, Only You (below) awaits repairs.
Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson Japanese sailor Katsumi Moritaka is currently stranded in Crescent City Harbor as his boat, Only You (below) awaits repairs.
The Crescent City Harbor has reason to be leery of visits from Japan, namely last year’s damaging tsunami created by a 9.0 Japanese earthquake.

A more recent visitor from the Far East is much friendlier, but you must discern this from smiles and offers of coffee and fruit  — unless you speak Japanese.

Katsumi Moritaka, a 75-year-old adventurer from Osaka, Japan, has been stranded in the Crescent City Harbor for more than a month due to engine and mast trouble on his 34-foot ketch, “Only You,” hampering his plans to sail around the world.

Moritaka hardly speaks any English, forcing harbor workers to decipher his predicament using Google Translate and phone calls to a translator at the Japanese consulate in San Francisco.

“It’s kind of frustrating when you can’t communicate with somebody and you’re trying to deal with something as expensive and delicate as boats are,” said Mark Grogan, a harbor maintenance worker, who has helped the wayfaring sailor.

Moritaka’s sailboat is currently dry-docked near the Harbor District office, while Tom Connolly, a retired mechanic who contracts with the harbor, continues to toil with the three-cylinder diesel engine made by Yanmar. Connolly said the valves were “full of crud” and the piston rings had seized, and ordering parts has been time-consuming.

“It’s a real convoluted mess to get parts for a Yanmar,” said Connolly said, who’s been patient with the process considering the situation.

“I’d hate to be in a foreign country and have nobody help me, and he’s a nice guy — shoot, he’s made me lunch twice,” Connolly said.

Debbie McAndrews, who works in the harbor office, said Moritaka brought her yogurt and Nilla wafers after she helped him pay his AT&T bill for 3G service on his laptop.

When the Triplicate paid a recent visit to Only You, Moritaka didn’t waste any time before brewing coffee and slicing oranges and apples to offer his guests.

He passed around a brochure from his recycle and ecology company that he started and passed down to his family.

Then he showed pictures of himself in Kodiak, Alaska, where he went to visit a friend, and unexpectedly spent almost a year when boat trouble started early. 

He had left Osaka, Japan, in the spring of 2011 with plans to sail to Kodiak, then down the entire West Coast of the Americas, through the Strait of Magellan, up the East Coast to New York, then across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and Red Seas, across the Indian Ocean, and finally passing by Indonesia and the Philippines before returning to Japan.

He didn’t make it.

Less than a month after leaving Japan, a typhoon damaged his mast and rigging on his way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.

“Trouble, trouble,” Moritaka said, describing his circumstances since in his limited English. There wasn’t anyone available to fix his mast and rigging in Dutch Harbor or Kodiak, so after making some temporary repairs, he continued down the coast aimed for Moss Landing in Monterey Bay.

Crescent City was supposed to be just one of the dozens of his rest points, but when his engine blew out just outside the harbor, he had to be towed back in by the Coast Guard. Now he waits.

After all of the unplanned repairs, Moritaka is cutting the trip short. He said he’s lonesome. Now, he will cruise down to San Diego, then to Tahiti, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and then back to Japan. This will still take him roughly another two years. 

While in Monterey, he plans to fly back to Japan to obtain visas he will need for the new route.

He likes how the ocean connects the world, and he sails to feed his curiosity about other countries and cultures. He enjoys the communication he has with people around the world — even when it’s strained.

Moritaka’s itinerary was translated by Crescent City local Akio Yamada, who is from Japan and was informed about his countryman’s predicament. He took Moritaka to Jedediah Smith State Park on Monday to look at the world’s tallest trees.

“There is no such thing like it in Japan, so he really liked it,” Yamada said. 

Yamada thinks the sailor is “amazing” to take on such an adventure at 75.

“I’m 69 next year and I don’t have guts to do that — and by himself,” Yamada said.

Moritaka lightly pounded his chest, saying heart and guts are what make him an adventurer.

“Old but young,” Moritaka managed to say, grabbing his gold earring while saying “young.”

Moritaka said he was surprised to find out that Crescent City Harbor was damaged by the Japanese earthquake. He lost two sailing friends in the tsunami that devastated Japanese coastal towns.

With his frequent grin, he bowed and apologized while Yamada translated: “he’s sorry for the mess.”

 

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