The World Cup

I stayed up very late on Sunday. First dinner with Mary and Tim. Tim cooked Paella. He really is an excellent cook. I drove there intending to leave the car and walk home. You do not drink and drive in Japan. In the end, fellow guest Izumi sensei, a young Japanese professor who studies smell, suggested I share her cab. I was a little intimidated to do so as I smell of perspiration and old man. She was very polite.

I then stayed up to follow the final of the 50 overs world cup cricket. England beat New Zealand in an amazing match. I feel very sorry for the New Zealand team who seem good guys.

The weather has again been very non sailing – high winds. However Emily suggests an excursion on Monday. When I descend the stairs to the parking lot in front of the apartment building, I have moment of age. The car is not there. Of course not, I left it at Tim and Mary’s.

So I start walking. This is very wonderful as it is a beautiful day and the walk takes me along the coast. However I do not have a hat and I have not smeared on sun cream. It is noon, the height of sun intensity. I burn.


We try very hard but for the first day in weeks there is very little wind. Such that there is, changes direction making for poor sailing. After a period of flapping around, we motor out hoping to find more wind. No good and we give up.

My mooring is shared with a very friendly puffer fish.

He is my friend

Emily tries to film him.

Puffer fish
Nice sunset
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Today I find in my mailbox, a light pink envelope with drawings of happy families on it.

I believe it is my annual health insurance contribution demand.

This is the front.
This is the back.

I love the way the Japanese administration communicates. Nearly all official correspondence is in pink envelopes, covered in hearts, flowers,bunnies, little baby pigs, dancing children, bluebirds, kittens, happy old people.

The bill for a year of coverage for everything that could possibly go wrong healthwise is ¥34,107, about $315.

Thank you Japan.

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There was great glee the last time I went to the dentist about 2 weeks ago. Obviously having a molar pulled out is always a source of joy but also Mori sensei, who has a boat at Ginowan marina, announced that the rainy season was officially over and from here on in it was blue skies and fair winds.

Not so.

I stupidly took off my cockpit cover and of course there has subsequently been a series of thunderstorms. On Saturday morning I go to Ginowan and hobble to the boat.

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I rush back home and change out of drenched clothes. I then head out to the Tou Cafe and Gallery, where Okubo sensei is giving an Ikebana workshop. I am apprehensive. I have never done classical Japanese flower arranging before! My apprehension grows when I get to the cafe as I am the only man and the only non -Japanese. The other participants are beautiful, graceful women.

I should not have worried. I have a wonderful time. Tomomi sensei first demonstrates basic techniques. She starts with a wide bowl using a small, round, spiked block called a kenzan.

Spot the kenzan.

Then we move on to taller, narrower vases, in which Tomomi sensei shows how to build an internal grid made from flower stems that can support the flowers or leaves of the final display.

We then all get the same selection of flowers and leaves and are told we can select any of the wonderful Yachimun, Okinawan pottery, bowls or vases on display in the restaurant.

My only previous experience of flower arrangement is getting a big bunch of flowers and dumping them into a vase. This is very different. Tomomi sensei stresses harmony, aesthetics, minimalism and matching the display to the container. I do what I can with my thick clumsy fingers!

The atmosphere is wonderful, so relaxed and non-judgmental. We all giggle like schoolgirls, especially me. Listen to the movie.

Everyone is so happy.
My final piece.

Thanks to Tomomi, the Matsuda sisters, who run the place, and all the other participants for such a cool afternoon!

I then rebalance by rushing off to watch the Crusaders play the Jaguares in the final of the Super Rugby championship.

Very close.
We get to keep the Yachimun and the flowers!
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The Same Old Story

Repeatedly over the last 10 years, when self disgust at the state of my body becomes unbearable, I have taken up physical exercise. It usually causes more damage than good.

Five years ago I tore my meniscus in my right knee during a workout class. The operation was a lot of fun but the knee has been weak ever since.

Currently my physical self loathing is very high and I have joined a gym which is close to the marina in Ginowan.

Great showers.

This has been been working very well as I go down to the marina, fiddle with the boat, get very hot and sweaty then go to the gym. Do exercise and then have a fantastic shower.

I have been, I thought, very restrained in the intensity of the exercise. I do 30 minutes on a cycling machine and the another 30 minutes of different exercise machines. I do lots of repetition with very low weight loads.

Something clearly went wrong as I woke up yesterday to find my right knee horribly swollen and very painful. It will go away I tell myself. It did not, this morning the swelling is worse and it is almost impossible to bend the knee.

Wounded knee. It does not look much but believe me it is hyper swollen.

I go to the local village clinic. A long wait, Okinawan medicine is very democratic, first come, first served. In fact, come to think of it, I do not think there is private medicine here. I am probably wrong but I have never come across it.

After weight, temperature, blood pressure I go to see the doctor.. He gets it immediately and says he will have to drain the liquid from my knee. I hobble into an adjoining room where I get an ultra sound scan of the knee.

It’s a girl!

The very smiling nurse give me a print from the scan, explaining that the black area is fluid and that there is a lot of it.


Hobble to a further adjacent room, laid on an operating table, the doctor gives me a local anaesthetic and then plunges a big syringe into my knee. Great excitement at the volume of fluid that is sucked out. It is a new Okinawan record of 110 mL! The doctor says something about the fluid being bloody indicating something but I do not understand.

Yay, 110 mL! Everyone is very impressed. Strangers shake me by the hand.

All of this treatment cost me ¥1,630 about $15! I got a 10 day prescription of pain killers and some stomach drug for ¥163. Thank you Japanese health system. Thank you Onna Clinic. As usual everything is done with huge smiles and endemic playfulness.

So, the knee is now better but I think the cause of the swelling is not fixed. I fear I have torn a ligament. The Doc says if it swells up again, he will send me for an MRI scan. I think this is inevitable.

It is still raining .

It gets much worse later with ferocious thunder and lightning.
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This rainy season has been the worst ever! Incredible rain such that visibility is reduced to 5 meters. When there were no thunderstorms, there was consistent drenching rain. Not good for sailing adventures.

On and On

One of the great sailing adventures is the Sabani boat race from Zamani island back to Okinawa. I was selected last year and it was totally memorable.

I was assured of a place in the boat for this year’s race due to my outstanding performance last year. I have been looking forward to it immensely. Not to be.

The boat is actually owned by a guy who manages a sort of orphanage, young peoples’ adventure set-up on Tokashiki, another island in the Keramas. The day before the race, there is much confusion as it appears he has offered places on the boat to some young people from his establishment and there will be no place on the boat for me! I use my skills in diplomacy, pointing out that this is Japan and the elderly must be respected, that young people must not always get what they want, bad for their character development. I also underline the safety risks, my vast experience, and that I would be ready to fight any of those young punks etc. It is no good as I am politely bumped from the boat.

The day of the race it is blowing 12 knots gusting to 18 knots more or less on the nose. There is a big swell. Sabanis are open canoes with a very basic sail. I would not take my boat out in these conditions!

Our boat last year. I would point out that the island in the distance is not the end of the race.

Of the 35 boats that set off, only 19 crossed the finishing line! The rest sank or abandoned on the way over. Our boat sank. The thwart that supports the mast, ripped out taking with it some side planks allowing the ocean to flood in, just as they crossed the finishing line. What an adventure!

Ah well , next year. I find a gift on my boat. It is a commemorative bottle of Awamori for the 2019 race.

Good Omen

To get over my disappointment I tune up the Portapotti. This is the toilet on the boat. The bottom part is filled with a mixture of water and excrement hating chemicals. These wait for the glorious moment when the flush hatch opens and they can get to work. The top part is filled with water that can flush stuff. It is a lot of fun but I doubt that I will use it. Women do not have the liberty of peeing off the side of the boat so I hope the beautiful and functioning Portapotti will lure lots of them aboard.

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The rain has been unrelenting. I cannot remember a year like it. My dreams of sailing around subtropical islands with steady wind and glorious weather have not yet been realized. At least I have succeeded in rigging a pretty good cockpit cover to keep out the worst of the rain.

When I do get to sail I will have to anchor from time to time. Around here the sea floor is nearly always coral and chucking a standard anchor into it rips up the coral badly. Not good. Okinawan boats have special coral anchors which are designed to hold well without damaging the coral, er too much.

I go to see my friend Nagahama san in the most catastrophic metal workshop in the world and he agrees to make me anchor. The result is a masterpiece.

Hand crafted in stainless steel. Thank you Nagahama san

I buy 2 fathoms of chain and we are ready to anchor when it stops raining.

A mess of anchors

I then head to the dentist. Mori sensei looks at the Xray and comes out with truly Japanese Kabuki Theater groans. I am scared.

I say, “What?”

He says, “Extract!”

I say “When?”

He says, “Now!”

He gives me a couple of pints of Novocaine using a syringe that plays electronic classical music. I get The March of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

He then pulls out my tooth. Ai san is also the best fun.

Mori sensei has extracted 2 of my 60 year old teeth and both events have been less disturbing than a visit to the hairdresser, er always disturbing for me as I have no hair.

Hic dente! Notice OIST pen

Ai san gives me my tooth back in a very pretty little tooth shaped box.

No alcohol no exercise. These two do not normally go together.

When I came to Okinawa to work at OIST, our ambition was to make the university one of the best in the world, so this is very gratifying.

Strangely enough, David Swinbanks and I were at St Andrews together in 1970!

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Whisky From Small Glasses

The rain goes on and on. I realize I have to fabricate a low lying cockpit cover to try and keep the majority of the rain out of the cockpit. Off I go and set to work. I also charge up the second battery. I have a major phobia of the battery being flat as I am blown onto a lee shore and so being unable to start the engine. Accordingly I have two batteries both of which I charge obsessively.

It is very damp, hot and dark but I scurry around cutting a tarpaulin to size for the cockpit cover.

Wet before the storm

Then happens the most violent thunderstorm I have, maybe, ever experienced. The sky is black at 2:00 in the afternoon. Lightning blasts down into the harbor and thunder cracks at insane volume. I am so scared and hide in the cabin as rain hammers down so hard that visibility is reduced to 5 meters.

So I brew up some coffee on the amazing spirit cooker that I have grown to love and settle in until the storm to passes over.

What a great device!

The storm does not pass over but grows wilder and frankly very scary. I expect to be fried by lightning at any moment.

I have my IPhone and earbuds and settle down to listen to a book I have bought from It is a detective story called Whisky From Small Glasses. It is set in Campbeltown, the town where I was born. It is very well read with perfect rendition of Glaswegian, West Highland and Ulster accents. It mixes Highland wit and jocularity with unspeakable violence. So far from the gentleness of Okinawa but it is where I come from.

The storm howls and roars on, the boat tugs at her mooring ropes, as I listen to a story that has so many cultural references to my early life. Great afternoon!

Nothing like the real thing
I wish I could have filmed the lightning but I was too frightened


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