You are here

Dive day #1: A first effort to locate the wreckage material (Kanrin Maru blog 1)

Sunday, September 9, 2018 - 04:50

Our research vessel for the coming days, the Dai-San Ebisu Maru.

Nature’s schedule, Nature’s rules

This year alone, Japan has been hit by multiple natural disasters, including a murdering heat and a record number of typhoons. When my trip to Japan began, typhoon ‘Jebi’ was also underway. While Jebi didn’t reach the area where I was staying at, an earthquake did hit Hokkaido just the night before we were to go to Kikonai. Sadly enough, the earthquake robbed quite a number of people from their homes, and even some from their lives.

At first we had our hopes that the earthquake would not upset our schedule, but it did slightly affect our plans. Much of Hokkaido suffered a power outage due the quake, including the town of Kikonai. The result was that the shinkansen (bullet train) did not go beyond the north end of Japan’s main island Honshu, so we had to take a ferry to make it across.

A formal morning to you, sir

Due to the delays in travel, our first full day at Kikonai was Friday. First, we met with Ōmori-san, mayor of Kikonai, with whom we discussed our schedule. We owe much to the municipality, as they arranged a research vessel and temporary funding, for which we expressed our sincerest thanks. We went on to visit the head of the Kamiiso Fishermen’s Association. Politically, the head of the local fishermen’s association has quite a lot of influence. Even though it was a short visit, it was a most important one. I’m sure the Bols ‘Oude Genever’ brought over from the Netherlands will emphasise just that.

Plunging in

In the afternoon, we made our way to the harbour of Izumisawa, the little village near Cape Saraki, where the Kanrin Maru shipwrecked in 1871. In front of it lies our area of interest, marked last year through the eyewitness account of the earlier mentioned professional diver, Yoshida-san. Waiting in the harbour, we found our research vessel, the Dai San Ebisu Maru (lit. ‘the third Ebisu boat’, Ebisu being a deity of fishermen, according to Japan’s traditional belief). Niida-san, a local fisherman whom we also met last year through our inquiries, is our local captain-for-hire.

We sailed out to approximately 500 metres from the harbour. Shortly after, Yoshida-san jumped in ahead, in an effort to try and locate the location of the wreckage material he last saw in 2007. Later, Takahashi-san joined him, and together they scoured the seabed for anything manmade. They circle-searched the area around a yellow buoy, using a rope of up to 30 metres – and they even went beyond that. Despite their efforts, however, our divers came up empty handed. As it so happens, the conditions underwater unfortunately weren’t good. Visibility was up to 5 or 6 metres, which is bad for Japanese standards, while a top and bottom current pulled in opposite directions, making the dive a tiresome expedition. With 21°C at surface level the temperature was fine though.

Frankly, not-so-ideal sea conditions are just part of the job. This is only our first real endeavour in trying to solve the mystery of the Kanrin Maru shipwreck. We didn’t expect it to be easy, so we won’t give up that easily either. Read the next blog to find out what our next efforts will establish.

From 7 to 9 September, the Maritime Programme and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology conduct a dive survey at Kikonai, Hokkaido (Japan), in an effort to locate the shipwreck of the Kanrin Maru. Leon Derksen participates on behalf of the Maritime Programme. Follow his blogs and vlogs here and on social media with #KanrinMaru.