Hometown: The Netherlands
In Japan: 24 years
Identity: Skipper, Fukuoka Sunset Sailing
Jaap Mulder first sailed into Hakata bay with his wife Marijke in 1989, as part of a yacht race during Yokatopia Expo from Auckland, Fukuoka’s sister city in New Zealand. The pair, who have “always been on adventures”, had set off from their home in the Netherlands five years previously on a self-built boat. They have since left three times to travel the world, visiting over 50 countries by sea, yet the pull of “the bay, mountains, seasons, and some good friends” always brings them back to Fukuoka for more. Alishan, their current vessel, is now moored in Meinohama port alongside luxury catamaran “Fu Kyo”, which Jaap skippers for Fukuoka Sunset Sailing. When not setting sail with his customers for an evening jaunt, he enjoys running, hiking and fishing, and helps out at the local fish market. Jaap says Japan is a “cruising paradise” as the sailing scene is still relatively quiet, it’s safe and easy to moor a boat and there are many secret spots to discover – starting with the islands around Fukuoka, of course.
What’s the story of Fukuoka Sunset Sailing?
My wife and I originally sailed from Holland to New Zealand in 1984, and lived there for a while. Then in 1989 we did a yacht race from Auckland to Fukuoka, as part of the Yokatopia Expo. We ended up staying here for two years, and then cruised back to New Zealand. After another year and half there, we didn’t like our jobs so we set sail again, back to Fukuoka. This time we stayed for 11 years, living on the boat and making friends in the Harbour. Three years ago our friends introduced me to someone who had just bought a catamaran and needed a crew. Together we went to the Goto islands, around the mainland to Kobe and to Okinawa, where we helped out with some charter sailing. Back in Fukuoka, we thought we should try something similar in this beautiful bay. Nobody had done it here before, so we had to figure out how to get the special licence and find a place to park the boat. But all that went well.
How would you describe your everyday life?
Three times a week I go running at 6am, then either work online, updating our homepage and Facebook, or do maintenance on the boat. Customers usually come in the late afternoon, so I prepare the boat, then we go out for the sunset. That’s my sail boat life, but I also have a fish boat life! On Sunday mornings my wife and I both get up at 4am to help out at the fish market in the Harbour. The market specialises in live fish so I help kill the fish the Japanese way. On weekdays I often go out on the fishing boats too, all day and sometimes all night. I’m actually trained to be a physical therapist, but I’ve slowly learnt the Japanese fishing style by watching.On Sunday to Thursday my wife and I eat fish, then on Friday we have a special treat – chicken!
What kind of experiences can your customers look forward to?
People can experience being away from land, in a luxury boat. We do offer longer trips to the islands, but the majority of people come for sunset sailing, which is about three hours. You don’t need experience, as we sail you around, but I really try and get everyone to help out. You don’t need a licence to try driving the boat. Catamarans are very safe – a glass of wine will stay on the table, unlike on an ordinary sail boat. For about 90% of my customers, it’s their first time on a boat and they are often amazed and ask lots of questions.
Have you had any memorable trips?
There’s an experienced sailor who has his own sailing yacht, but he comes with his friends – Fu Kyo is a party boat for him. Once five girls and five boys came on a group date, who had never met before. They were nervous when they came on board, then we went out on the bay, which is really relaxing. Of course, they were drinking a little, and by the time we got back to the Harbour, the atmosphere had totally changed. Most people are from Fukuoka, although a month ago a group of Russians came to the city with their own boat, who wanted to go fishing with us.
What about your own sailing adventures?
We’ve met very interesting people and travellers, and we’ve been to over 50 countries and travelled 80,000 miles by boat. I want to go again! The nice thing about travelling by sea is you have your own hotel wherever you go, with your own bed, books and cooking. If you like it, you stay, and if you don’t, you move on. It’s not so great if you want to go inland, though, as it’s sometimes difficult to find somewhere safe to park the boat. For the last ocean trip, we’ve been travelling in South East Asia. We also went 80km up a saltwater river through a jungle in Borneo, where we saw orangutans and crocodiles. One night we were woken up by three elephants crossing the river right in front of us.
You have a very unique lifestyle. What is it like to live on a boat?
We’ve been living on a boat for 30 years and we still don’t think about buying or renting a house – it’s become a part of us. It’s not easy in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter, but we feel close to nature. I check the weather daily for the week ahead, as I want to be prepared for storms. Life can be much cheaper living on a boat. We worked to buy it and it’s our house. A lot of people live on boats in the Netherlands, but we are very unusual in Japan. I don’t know anyone else in Kyushu who lives on a boat. It’s not illegal, but Japanese people are always surprised.
Are there any inconveniences to boat life?
We’re used to the movement of the boat. We don’t have the luxury of a washing machine, as it uses a lot of water, and we have only limited electricity from solar panels. We have to go to the coin laundry. Our boat carries 600 liter of water and yes, sometimes the water tank is empty, so we have to fill it. And do other major maintenance, once every two years. I don’t see many negative things though.
You’ve travelled a lot, but often returned to Fukuoka. Why?
We were in our late 20s when we left, and we built our first boat ourselves. We have always been on adventures. Fukuoka is such a nice place. We have left three times, but each time we return to Hakata Bay, we are struck by what a beautiful city it is, with the bay, the mountains, its transportation, the four seasons… we have many good friends here too.
How do you feel about life in Japan?
One of the major advantages is safety, and having a good place to moor the boat. In Australia and New Zealand there are lots of burglars, but not here. There are many secret spots that you can only reach by boat! We spent three or four days exploring an island off the coast near Yobuko called Madara Shima, where we met some local people. To be there was just magic, there were no other tourists. In the Harbour we saw a commercial fishing boat – half an hour later Marijke was eating fugu with the fishermen! Japan is a cruising paradise. It’s easy to go off the beaten track. When we went down to Okinawa in 2006, we stopped off at lots of islands and people often knocked on the boat and offered us a shower or their cars to explore the island. It’s give and take – we always invite people on board to see how we live, too.
How is the sailing scene in Fukuoka?
People are very keen on dinghy sailing and I see students from high schools training every day. Some Olympic medallists train at Odo, the next marina along from us. The yachting scene in Japan is way behind elsewhere, though. It’s easier to import parts for the boat from abroad than to find them in Japan, as it’s such a small market. In Auckland, every day there is a yacht race. I think it’s because it’s something new and people don’t know how to enjoy it, and they don’t like sitting in the sun so much. I think more people will sail in the future, but it’s expensive and there aren’t many marinas to park a boat.
Do you have any other hobbies?
My second hobby is running, and my wife’s is bird watching. It’s good fun to sail to the islands and explore by running. I’m involved with a group of hikers. We started by running half marathons on the road, but two weeks ago seven of us took the last train to Karatsu and ran 55km to Sasebo, through the night. I’m off skiing in Hokkaido tomorrow and after that I’m flying to Hong Kong for a marathon in the mountains. The sea and mountains seem to go together – my boat is called Alishan, which is the name of the most famous mountain in Taiwan.
What different kinds of wildlife have you seen?
In Okinawa, we ran into this bunch of dolphins, who played with us for about 45 minutes. It was so fun and exciting. Here in Fukuoka there aren’t many dolphins, I only see a few sometimes when fishing outside the bay. There are turtles sometimes too, but if they come into the bay, they are usually sick. I’ve seen whales and dolphins down in Kagoshima, and sharks… they come close to the beach, but don’t worry, they’re not the type that eat humans – the ones we catch have no teeth. We’ve been snorkelling in the South Pacific likeTahiti and Bora Bora, and my wife never worries about sharks!
How about the future?
Sometimes my boss of Fukuoka Sunset Sailing says, “Yaap, let’s buy another boat and go to America!”, and we both would love to go to Alaska one day. For now, I’ve got a beautiful job here, and my wife is happy teaching a few classes at the elementary school. In Japan, I’d like to go to Hokkaido. It’s great to explore the stops in between. When we picked up this lifestyle, we decided not to have children, so we are only responsible to each other. We have two cats and we feel responsible to the community. We look out for the fishermen and they look out for us. When we left in 2006 to go to Singapore, it was quite painful, because they’re more family to us than my real family back in Europe. At least once a week I get a phone call from the fishermen inviting me to have a bath at one of their houses!
Have you ever visited Dejima (an Edo era Dutch trading island) in Nagasaki?
Yes, that’s fun. Nagasaki is great. Before Dejima, the Dutch were in Hirado. When the outsiders did business with Japan, the emperor said that the foreigners had to move to Dejima. When we first arrived here, we were cruising around a little and ended up in Hirado in one of the worst typhoons we’ve had in Japan. The day after, when the typhoon was over, the city council came out, we were given flowers and were in the newspapers! Before coming to Japan, we had no idea about the history of the Japan/Dutch relationship.
For more details about Yaap’s boats and Fukuoka Sunset Sailing, please visit http://www.syalishan.com/, http://syalishan.blogspot.jp/, and their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FukuokaSunsetSailing1. Information for visiting yachts can be found at http://boatingjapan.blogspot.jp/.
Interview by Katie Forster for Fukuoka Now.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn184, Apr. 2014)