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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Luke Solo

I have great ambition for single handed sailing around the Ryukyu Islands. I determine to sail all by myself on Sunday to see if I can manage on my own. It is a very beautiful day but there is hardly any wind.

The first challenge of going solo is raising the sails. This has to be done facing into the wind otherwise the sails fill and become unmanageable. It is nice to have someone on the tiller keeping the boat headed into the wind as you pull on the throat and peak halyards to raise the the mighty main sail. I get the the boat into the wind and with the motor just ticking over I tighten the tiller tamer such that the tiller cannot move from side to side and accordingly bring the boat to port or starboard, filling the half way raised sail and causing mayhem.

It works well and I raise the mainsail without fuss. The jib is easy as it has a roller reefing system. You just pull on a jib sheet and the sail sets. Actually it took a lot of work with Nick to get the system to work smoothly but now it is perfect.

Inside the cabin. 30 degrees outside.

So we flap around for an hour or so but there is not enough wind to drive the boat anywhere. However the sky is blue, the sea is blue and I am happy. The wind such as there is, is blowing on shore and I finally give up and start to run back to the harbor. Now the wind disappears completely and we have to motor in. I manage to get the sails down, the fenders out and come alongside without too much embarrassment.

Not very exciting but all good experience.

Petit a petit
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At Last

So the dreadful weather lets up and at last there is a nice day. In Okinawa you expect the weather to be wonderful all the time and we are left bewildered by poor conditions.

Luckily Emily is free to crew and off we go. This is essentially only my second sail since I went out with Nick a month ago.

The passage out of Ginowan Marina is not easy. Of course you could motor out and in but then why have a sailing boat? The wind is offshore so getting out is pretty easy. However, getting back in means tacking across a fairly narrow channel with reef on both sides.

So, we practice running out and the beating back in. Beating back to Okinawa in previous boats has been a long and tedious business, but the Norfolk Gypsy is very taught and points well into the wind. Hooray!

Emily is patient as we do not actually go anywhere but rather practice.

The weather is overcast at the start of the sail but soon the glorious turquoise takes over

Here is a short video.

Emily helms

Let’s hope that this is finally the start of sailing fun.

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My best friend died suddenly on Sunday. I am desperately sad.

Sandy was the most entertaining man I have ever met. He lied about everything so convincingly that he created his own universe of hilarity into which you were sucked to join the fun.

He was a genius

For 30 years we had the best times. Each meeting was a opportunity to generate humour, whether linguistic or practical. In this we were always aided by his wonderful wife Zandra.

Thank you Sandy. I had been looking forward to spending a lot of time together at the chateau.

Not to be.

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