Chablis on Sagami Bay
Two red-faced older Japanese men crashed into the common room at the guesthouse I was staying at in Atami, south of Tokyo. They flopped bodily into bean-bag chairs and raised a beer to me, smiling broadly.
“Kanpai!” they chimed in unison.
“Hello, how are you?!”
I smiled back and raised my can of chuhi, a boozy soda lemonade. Their affability was a nice change from the more reticent Japanese tourists who were the primary occupants of the guesthouse. They introduced themselves as Yuki and Hiro. We got talking and they asked what a single Canadian traveler was doing in Atami, mostly popular with locals and families as a hot-springs destination.
I told them I had come to Japan on a slim chance to race sailboats, after cruising in the South Pacific. Their eyes lit up and Hiro choked on his beer.
“You’re a sailor? You sailed the Pacific?”
Only from Panama to Tahiti, I admitted.
“We’re sailors! We sailed from Tokyo to Atami today with our friends! We have to sail back in the morning, do you want to come with us?”
I couldn’t believe my luck. Atami had a marina and I had been planning to go down and attempt to make some sailing connections, language problems aside. But here were two exuberant locals eager to invite me along for a full day of sailing. I happily accepted and we agreed to meet in the morning.
The next day I ganged up with Yuki and his wife Fujiko, Hiro, and ten other Japanese sailors to head down to the docks. They were a varied group, ranging from their mid-30s to mid-60s, equally mixed between men and women. They were friendly and curious and hungover, a fact for which they profusely apologized to a comedic extent. Traditional Japanese hospitality blended with seemingly-genuine interest in my adventures, and everyone took turns introducing themselves, some in English, some in Japanese.
The boat was a slick, 40-foot racer-cruiser named Big Bird, with just enough room on deck for all 14 of us to find seats or hang our legs over the rails. I squeezed onto a space on the stern near the huge steering wheel and watched as Hiro and the primary sailing crew skillfully guided her out of the marina. It was a grey morning with enough wind to keep us moving but not to get us wet. We tacked northeast and she leaned over into the breeze as Atami drifted into the background.
For the next seven hours this amazing group of sailors plied me with beer and snacks and stories and questions. They were morning drinkers, the best kind of drinkers, and we cracked our first cans of Asahi as soon as the sails were set. At one point in the middle of the day an out-of-place bottle of Chablis made an appearance and was quickly demolished in cheap plastic cups. Hangovers were successfully slain, and good friends made. The day turned bright blue. I chalked it up to sailing serendipity.