Five years later, he taught me to sail. He was twenty five years younger than I am now when he wrote this. This is his story.
I love you, dad. Thanks for teaching me to sail.
Fast Wind" To Mikomoto
by: Donald E. Pedro
The place, Yokosuka, Japan. The date, September, 1963. There was more than the usual activity at the Yacht Club and for good reason. The personnel of the Navy Special Services were working many long and hard hours to make ready a long and sleek looking boat resting in skids outside the workshop. She was the "Kazahaya", meaning “fast wind”, a six meter racing sloop designed for racing and known as a "wet boat" by those who had sailed her. She was five and one-half foot in the beam, low of freeboard and her every line hinted of speed. Her mast was fifty four feet in high, and for balance, she had twenty-two hundred pounds of lead in the keel. The carpenters and sailmakers under the supervision of Chief Boatswain's Mates Gamblin and Mandell were busy while another crew worked the hull and decks over from bow to stern. Her mast lay on wooden horses in the workshop along with the spinnaker boom. There were modifications to be made, all metal fittings to be checked and replaced or reinforced if necessary.
When the information had been first published that the Nippon Ocean Racing Club was sponsoring an ocean race on the 20th of September, hopes soared throughout the Yacht Club members. There was the possibility that three boats from our club would be entered, the Hanafuji (23 feet), the Buckaneer (26 feet) and the Kazahaya (36 feet). Upon inquiring into the rules set forth by the NORC we found that the Hanafuji and the Buckaneer could not be entered due to noncompliance with the NORC requirements in their construction. For the crews who had anticipated racing these boats it was a great disappointment and I can understand how they felt. Captain Bernard W. Moulton, USN, ComNavForces, Japan had a list of people who had made themselves available as prospective crew members. I hoped that when the word was passed that I would be selected as part of the crew.
A close friend of mine, Johnny Collins, had introduced me to sailing only six months before. He had taught me everything I knew about handling boats under sail. I was working in the office the day I received the word from Captain Moulton that he would like for me to crew for him in the race. It was hard to believe that I had made it. I could hardly wait until I could tell my wife and Johnny. Living only a half block from the basin, I watched the progress on Kaz with anticipation and a growing restlessness.
Over the weeks that followed, I began to feel a close relationship develop with the boat. This was to be my first experience in an ocean race but the Kaz was a veteran of many. She had won her last ocean race in 1955 and, due to a large handicap placed on her, hadn't won a race since. Her sister ship, the Hayakaze, was lost at sea in the race of the previous year with all hands aboard. Not even the smallest trace of Hayakaze had been found nor a clue to why she had went down.
Our crew, having been picked weeks ago, were busy gathering together the things needed for the trip ahead. The crew consisted of Dr. Fritz Hodemaker from the Naval Hospital, Lt. Joseph Russell from Naval Supply Depot, Boatswain's Mate 2nd class, Bill Snow, from the USS AJAX, Chief Hospital Corpsman James Grolton and myself, both from the Naval Hospital. Six people who had one thing in common; to race the Kazahaya and win!
Captain Moulton had raced the Kaz before and was familiar with her. As a skipper, he was the best. It took a good skipper to race, bringing the crew and boat back safely. The race started at ten-thirty at night at the port of Koajiro-ko across Sagami-wen bay. It then ran between the southern tip of Honchu and Oshima Island, around Mikomoto Island and back on the same course to the island of Jogashima. One hundred miles that were designed to test both boat and crew. We had a good crew and one of the best boats built in Japan.
When I first spoke to the wife about the possibility of crewing on the ocean race she didn’t have much to say. She knew the sea could be dangerous but I think she consented because she knew how I loved the sea and sailing. Donn, the oldest of our three sons knew his father would be gone for a week and promised me he would take care of his Mother and Brothers while we were gone. He was a grown up little man for just four years old and I knew he would accept this responsibility with sincerity.
A list was made of the equipment we would need and given to Chief Gamblin. He would see that on the day that we were ready to load the boat that it would be complete down to the last item; sails, both working and racing, compasses and other navigational equipment, safety lines and life preservers, signal flares and so forth. The list was long but not one item could be omitted. The major work on the Kaz was finished and all we were waiting for was the morning of the 18th when she would be lowered into the water, allowing her mast to be fitted and secured. Her decks and the hull were glistening white down to the waterline. Due to some last minute work she wasn't set in the water until late that evening, which set our schedule back a little. I went down and watched adjustments being made on the shrouds and fore and aft stays supporting the mast.
The starboard spreader light was not working properly due to some malfunction. I can still see Chief Gamblin hanging precariously from the lower set of spreaders, trying his best to repair it. He had put in many extra hours in preparing the boat and we were all grateful for his work. When I left for home later that evening he was still on the boat checking her out to his satisfaction.
When I got home, I checked my gear again, sat down over a cup of coffee with my wife and discussed the race even more. The winds were unpredictable at this time of year. I prayed for good wind the next day and a running sea. The race was being held at the height of the typhoon season and consequently, caused concern with the crew. As a rule, the typhoons originated far enough South of Japan that if one did develop we would have ample enough warning. On the seventeenth we were getting gale force winds that were the aftermath of Gloria, having just swept through Taiwan and up the coast of China. It gave you something to think about, but was one of those things that no one mentioned, especially our crew. If a typhoon did develop we would get periodic reports from the Joint Typhoon Center in Guam through the Far East Network broadcasts.
With the race and weather on my mind, I didn’t sleep at all and tossed fitfully all night. The skipper wanted the crew down at the basin at seven the next morning with our personal gear, ready to load the boat. When morning finally came I was even more anxious to get underway. After a light breakfast and coffee I said goodbye to my wife and boys and walked down to the basin. The skipper and Bill Snow were already there and we started loading the equipment. Within a short time the others had arrived and we soon had everything aboard.
After the boat was ready, we made small talk while some minor work was being accomplished. During the conversation I made a remark referring to the pulleys that were being installed. This was a definite mistake on my part. The skipper let me know in no uncertain terms that pulleys belonged on farms and that they were referred to as blocks aboard a sailing vessel.
Aye, Aye, sir!
We rigged the main and working jib, made a last minute check on everything and were ready to go. Friends and family came down to see us off and see the Kaz for themselves. Bill Snow’s wife was concerned and tried to hide the fact that she was worried; I told her she had nothing to worry about. We had a fine boat and the skipper would bring us back safely. On orders from the skipper we raised the sails, cast off the bow and stern lines, and were underway at last. The anxiety that had built up inside of me seemed to fade away and we settled down to work. We set a course for Kannonzaki lighthouse and soon had it in sight. When we rounded the point the breeze picked up and we started to beat into the wind.
The large working Genoa went up and the old girl started to show her stuff. She pointed extremely high and sailed as smooth as glass. I soon found out why she was referred to as a "wet boat". The entire deck was soon wet from the spray her bow threw as she sliced through the sea. When running close hauled, our leeward deck was awash but she took to the ocean like she owned it. We hoped to reach Aburatsubo before dark so the skipper could get a look at the immediate area where the race would end. We beat into the wind for about four hours and soon had Misaki in sight. We dropped off on a port tack and sailed for the bridge that connected Jogashima with the mainland. We passed under the huge bridge, through the harbor and out to sea on a starboard tack for Aburatsubo. The sun was just falling over the horizon when we came to the anchorage. We dropped anchor and secured the boat for the night while the skipper went ashore to get a check on the weather for the next few days.
A privately owned boat from our Yacht Club was anchored only a short distance away. She was one of the few catamarans in Japan and was going to participate in the race unofficially. We passed the time talking back and forth about the merits of the two boats.
Chief Grolton was our cook and I must admit he did a fine job considering the conditions under which he had to work. We ate on the boat and settled down for the night in our sleeping bags. The next day, the one we had been waiting for, came soon. We raised our canvas just before noon and sailed for Koajiro where the race would start. When we arrived the catamaran had already anchored and invited us to tie up alongside. We talked about the race and made some final adjustments on the after stay, which was a little loose from the mast settling into the keel. Soon, darkness came and the race was only a few hours away. I felt the tension starting to build up inside again. I imagine the rest of the crew felt the same. We took down the working sails, stored them and bent on the racing main, jib and Genoa. The spinnaker sheets were laid out and ready to go in case we needed them. At ten o'clock we put on our life jackets and strapped on the belt and safety lines, which I learned later are indispensable on a pitching and tossing boat at sea. At ten-fifteen we said goodbye, wished our friends good luck and cast off the lines. We moved slowly up to the starting line.
Soon, other boats appeared out of the darkness. There were running lights all around us. Twenty boats in all and ours was the only American boat. The wind was calm and we made slow progress forward. The sails would fill themselves and then back. The "telltales” gave no indication as to wind direction as we waited patiently. When the race started we were still approaching the starting line, moving slowly forward. The lighter boats having an advantage soon disappeared in the darkness. Then we caught our first good wind and the sails filled. The Kaz started to move and a wake appeared off the stern. In what seemed a matter of minutes we overtook the last boat and could see stern lights ahead of us. The old girl closed the gap fast and soon we had passed all the other boats. Now, I knew why she was called "fast wind", she thrives on it. I was to find later in the race this was just a sample of what she could do. We beat into the wind toward Oshima island and as the wind increased, so did our speed. Our leeward rail was awash and the water was churning off the stern. In an hour or so we started passing through the shipping lanes. All eyes searched the darkness ahead for ships. Joe Russell had the helm as the skipper was busy taking navigational bearings and fixes so we would know our position on the charts at all times. The two compasses we had aboard checked out to within one degree of each other.
This was soon no place for formality and we were soon calling each other by our first names. By dawn the next morning we had Oshima in sight, which was understandable after the way we had run for the past nine hours.
The wind held strong for the next three or four hours, then dropped off to nothing about ten o'clock. We were finally becalmed and sat for an hour or so. Wasting precious time, we all waited anxiously for a sign of wind on the water. Mr. Purdy, CDR,USN retired, was on the racing committee and soon came into view, checking on the boats. He was in his own private power boat called Gypsea, out of Tokyo. We talked for awhile and then he left to check on the whereabouts of the other boats. About noon on the 21st the wind began to pick up; you could see patches of it on the surface of the water. We raised the spinnaker and had a short run downwind with Oshima off the port beam. The wind shifted and we went on a port tack, taking down the spinnaker. The wind picked up again and the sea began to run rough, which was exactly what the Kaz thrived on. I can remember once when I went forward to bring the Genoa across on a new tack, the sea was actually running over my ankles. Joe Russell had the same experience later on the leeward side of the boat while taking up some slack in the Jib halyard. We finally had Oshima off the port beam and then looked for Mikomoto island which was ahead of us off the starboard bow. It was beginning to get overcast which made it that much more difficult to pick out land masses. Whenever we got on a starboard tack, Jim Grolton would make us sandwiches and coffee. This was the only time he could get into the refrigerator without everything spilling out over the deck of the cabin.
We sighted Mikomoto at 1830 on the 21st and made the final tack that would bring us between the mainland and the island. The wind had picked up considerably and the sea was getting rougher. We ran on a port tack until the skipper felt that we had cleared the island enough to go around her if we went to a starboard tack. When we were ready the skipper brought her around through the wind and she took off as though she had been shot from a cannon. We had to reef the main in order to keep the sea from running through our cockpit. She had heeled far enough that water was running about three feet up on the Genoa. We doused it and run up the topsail to compensate and yet not lose speed. As the bow would drop into the sea, spray would cover the entire boat. The skipper warned us that there were shoals that encircled the island and to keep a close watch for any indications. Night was falling as we rounded the island and fell off on a starboard tack. She was really moving fast now.
The wind was strong enough that the skipper thought it best not to try to jibe her stem through the wind and risk losing a boom or the mast. He decided instead, to tack up into the wind and then fell off with the wind off the stern. This was all accomplished within a matter of seconds, too fast to think about and the crew had to act rapidly and efficiently. Someone made a comment about being halfway through the race and it sure felt good. By this time we were all wet and the strain was beginning to show on the faces of the crew. We still had a lot of hard work ahead of ourselves so there was no real relaxing. Darkness had completely enveloped us by now. The wind was off the port quarter allowing us to run before the wind with the sea foaming and boiling off the stern.
Fritz Hodemaker was at the helm and had his hands full at the time. We were on course 050 which, if the wind held, would bring us to the end of the race and Jogashima. The skipper hadn't slept a wink yet and, seeing the marked strain on his face. I wondered just how far he could push himself without some rest. We ran on into the night with the main winged out to starboard and the Genoa out to port. Rigging the spinnaker was discussed but the skipper decided the wind was a little too strong. The swells were about four feet high around us, but we were running ahead of them as if the Kaz was a giant surfboard.
By this time the crew was exhausted and it was beginning to show. The skipper relieved Fritz from the helm and let him rest. Jim Grolton and Joe Pussell were down below. Bill Snow was asleep on the cabin top leaning against the foot of the mast. I flipped on the compass light periodically calling off the readings to the skipper. After about seven hours at this breakneck pace, we saw what appeared to be a light on the horizon. The skipper timed the intervals of the flashing light and confirmed it as the lighthouse at Jogashima. Fritz took the helm but had to give it up because of his eyes playing tricks on him. We soon picked up other flashing buoys to confirmed our position. We were close to the end of the race.
We were in the shipping lanes again and the skipper had the entire crew topside as lookouts. It was now about 0230 on the 22nd and we were still half an hour out. When we got close enough to the sea wall that led into the harbor the skipper had the main taken down and we sailed through the small opening in the wall with just the jib raised. Bill and Joe were up forward, ready with the heaving line and anchors. We brought her in at 0300 and dropped anchor. The jib was brought down and we went about securing the boat.
It had taken us a total of 29 hours to complete the race. We were all exhausted. While we bagged the sails and stowed lines, the skipper went ashore to report to the race committee to learn that we were the first boat in . We took off the life jackets and safety lines and relaxed for the first time since the race had started.
We slept aboard until nine that morning and then got ready to leave for Yokosuka. We bent on the working sails, raised our bow and stern anchors and fell off on starboard tack under the bridge and Misaki point. The sun was out and the sea was running smooth. We took turns at the helm while the others slept. The leisurely cruise back felt good and gave us all a chance to get unwound.
Joe Russell wrote a note with our names on it and the fact we had participated in tbe 1963 NORC Ocean race, sealed it in a bottle and tossed it over the side.
We rounded Kennon-eeki lighthouse at 0430 and sailed for the Yacht Club. Two or three of the clubs boats came out to greet us and congratulate us on being the first boat in. One thing I must say is, it was an experience I will never forget. I only hope that I will be in the next race in 1964. We had a beautiful boat, a good crew and the best as far as we were concerned for a skipper.
I found out at a later date that we had finished eighth in the final standings on corrected time due to the handicap, but they couldn't take away the fact that we were the first boat in!