Last kayaking in Japan

August 4, 2007

My last kayaking in Japan – surfing in the river kayak at Nobiru beach.

The previous day we got back from the beautiful Ajishima on what we were told was the last ferry before the typhoon waves got too big, so I was expecting some big surf today. It was obviously storm surf but the height wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it might be, I’d say from crest to trough somewhere around 5 feet on the bigger waves. Some of the waves were breaking really nicely – holding up for a long time and then crumbling down while others were dumping so it was really pot luck on a lot of runs. The beach shape was also a bit funny causing the waves to break flatten and then reform into a shore break with 2-3 footers and a 20m run into shore.

I’m not sure if I am getting better or less scared of the surf (by the way I think a helmet really helps your confidence) but I was able to get on a lot of waves and was even waiting for the bigger waves….

Still not doing very much; starting to carve a bit on the wave face and I think I even got the steering rudder worked out but I definately need to engage with the ‘power pocket’ of the wave more. Still, enjoying the speed very much. As usual got tossed a few times but had great fun.

It was raining when I started around 10am but the sun came out and the beach got busier by 1pm when I packed up – exhausted. So that was it.

Thanks Japan for a great place to sea kayak and surf: the pacific is a lovely warm ocean to learn to sea kayak.

Thanks also to everyone who helped me, taught me how to kayak and provided priceless snippets of information about sea kayaking in Japan…

Polar bears in the Northwest Passage

July 26, 2007

The story of renowned kayak surfer Martin leonard III crossing the Northwest passage on a surf ski makes very interesting reading (scroll down to 2.14.2006)
“Traveling in heavy bear country is very intimidating, and traveling solo is even worse; there is no one to outrun!”

And Victoria Jason (the first woman to paddle solo the Northwest Passage) getting chased by a Polar Bear:
“At one point they had to paddle ferociously to keep out of reach of a polar bear swimming after them. When they had escaped from the bear, and spread a map out over the two kayaks, the bear suddenly reappeared and they again had to paddle, but now the bear was getting so close, Vicki could see her yellow kayak reflected in its eyes.”

Summer’s here

July 24, 2007

At last sumer has arrived. 30 degrees washed out blue skies and bleached landscapes. The green of the rainy season will only last a few more days… This is my favorite time in Japan.

I went surfing again just to get in the sea and to cool down. The sea is still not super warm but is beautiful. Lots of washed up broken seashells on the beach from the recent Typhoon that I had to be careful off in my bare feet (practicing for when I ship my kayak boots back home on Monday).

The waves were only 1-2 feet high but I still had lots of fun carving and bongo sliding and I even managed my first, unexpected, roll in the surf – using the paddle in an extended C to C.

From 4 to 6pm I was all alone on this part of the beach. Then two surfers arrived and like assholes swam right out and just sat in the middle of the break I was surfing. I decided not to worry about it, it’s probably their break anyway.

About 30 minutes later a fisherman walked along the beach and started setting up his stuff right in front of where I was playing in the surf. I waved to him to make sure he saw me but before I had a chance to say anything, Plop, in went the heavy weight about 5m from me. Abunaii! I didn’t shout that but my wife says I should have – what an asshole. What I wanted to do was beach the kayak and start pumelling him… I restrained myself of course.

I find the problem with Japan is that because no one tells other people off – face saving is so important here – then people just do what they want. Around where they live or work they are restrained by duty (actually I think it’s “the neighbours”) but at the beach or in the mountains they are free to be totally sellfish. Hence beaches are covered in trash, car parks with piles of cigarette butts from the car ashtray, huge SUV’s drive down the beach, and Jet skiers come with 5m of swimmers. And fisherman act badly secure in the knowledge that no-one will say anything. And they would be right.

There are good and bad things everywhere right? I mean as Rik described in a comment here, the other extreme is North American rightousness…

I got rolled and had to swim three times (in 1-2 foot waves, I know!), once after battling through a small rip tide swimming the boat to shore I realised that a sit-inside kayak isn’t the right thing for me, for surfing. I should get a sit-on-top – be like surfers who never have to beach and bail, just climb back on if I fail to roll.

This one from dagger.
Some much nicer looking designs and a review of sit on top surf kayaks is here and here.

I also found out about the term Pearl in kayaking and a Plowing Ender, a related technique that I will try next time.

Of course proper surf kayaks are not sit on tops. Paddle Surfers United is a good place to read about boats like this one; the Reaction from Murky Water in Canada

the reaction

Marcus Demuth made it around Ireland

July 23, 2007

On 19th July Marcus Demuth made it around Ireland. 1,085 Miles in 34 paddling days with 8 storm bound days and endless rain and bad weather. Only once in his blog does he mention seeing the sun! eek.

Anyway I can’t wait for the images.

Surfing with a racing paddle

July 21, 2007

Having sold my sea kayak and paddle I am now forced to use the borrowed carbon fibre wing paddle for surfing. It was an interesting experience.

I got to the beach at noon and played around in 2-3 foot surf for a few hours. As ever I failed to roll except when setting up in advance (except once when the wave rolled me back up by itself). I need to find a roll that I can do from the back deck, which is usually the position I find myself having been tossed in surf: I’ve been leaning right back high bracing into the pile, trying to keep the bow from sinking…

The wing paddle peforms okay for high braces though it does have a tendancy to slide out but I found this managable, I could flip the blade to the back and draw back to finish on a low brace. However that might be to do with the size of these waves. Where it is less good is in the strain it puts on my lower back and joints punching through waves to get back out – the paddles inflexibility really takes it’s toll. The 60 degree feather was also too much in the surf and caused some soreness in my grip (probably gripping too tightly).

The waves today were very short frequency, about 6secs which is a short as they get here, so getting back out was the hardest part as you have to punch through at least 3 breaking waves.

I planned to go again on Sunday (9sec frequency and 4-5 foot waves predicted) but my body was too sore!

The oshika peninsula

July 20, 2007

Previously I was asked about camping on the Oshika Peninsula – one of my favourite places in Miyagi and one of the best sea kayaking destinations in Japan. Yesterday while packing up our house to move back to Scotland I came across a leaflet from Oshika and Ayukawa- a conglomeration of the small villages and hamlets on the oshika Peninsula.

It’s in Japanese but should still be useful.

front cover

page 1

page 2

page 2

A previous post with descriptions about the oshika peninsula and kayaking trips here, here, here and here.

海の日 Japan’s national day of the sea

July 16, 2007

Today was a national holiday in Japan – marine day (umi no hi). It is Japan’s newest holiday [1996] – one of 20 national holidays. I didn’t go kayaking sadly, still in Nagoya visiting my inlaws.

The sea has been wild these last few days as the largest typhoon ever recorded in July hit Japan. I got soaked visiting the amazing island Naoshima near Kobe which has become an art island with probably the world’s most amazing art gallery the chichu art gallery by Tadao Ando.

This is the best building I have ever visited (I’m an architect and have visited a lot of buildings). Please go to Naoshima.

chichu means “in the ground”

Surfing in the sun

July 10, 2007

Another evening surfing, this time in the sun.  Really beautiful day with the most beautiful sunset into the mountains. Alone on the beach and swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean (21 degrees now) I was overwhelmed by nostalgia for my soon to be lost Japan.

It is an amazing country.

No pictures again (makes blogging pretty boring) so here are some from Seacliffe Beach in Scotland (wikipedia) which will soon be my local surf beach.

copyright Edinburgh Kayak Club

The people surfing are members of the Edinburgh Kayak Club which will soon be my local club – I’m thinking of joining… You can see more pictures of their trip to Seacliffe beach in this gallery.

My surfing was ok. The sea was almost totally flat and the waves small but as usual the sand bar at Oku Matsushima pops up some nice little waves  perfect for a beginner like me. I guess 1-2 feet.

My only noteable event was getting cartwheeled when stationary and an unusually big wave suddenly reared up, I was hoping to hold on with a big high brace and leaning right back to the rear deck but as the front of my kayak disappeared down into the water my spray skirt popped a bit as the wave landed on me and water rushed in sinking the front and ending any hopes of saving it – I went over backwards and failed to roll.

Pretty exciting in an 8 foot river kayak in small surf wonder what it would be like in a 16foot sea kayak in huge storm surf?

Sea kayaking in Hokkaido

July 9, 2007

I think this kind of sums up the business of Sea Kayaking in Japan:
“Move through slowly to the great ocean with sea kayak. Sea kayak will give you healing time. Sea kayak has long body, so it has a feature to move straight and also have stability. Any age, first timer and experienced people, everyone can easy to enjoy sea kayak.”

At the Niseko Adventure Centre

Rafting with a sail

July 7, 2007

An interesting idea I think for a group – I guess you need at least 4 people for this to work:

“A tail wind meant that we could raft the boats together and hoist the purpose made sail. The sail is a sheet of tarpaulin with pockets for paddle blades in the top corners. These paddles are hoisted as masts by the front outside paddlers in the raft. Sheets from the top of the sail go back to the rear outside paddlers to take the strain of the sail. In this way we soon crossed the excellently named Hopeless Reach.”

posted by wanderings of a farmboy in Australia on a tour run by rivergods but sadly with no pictures of the sail or raft.

The same post goes on like this, next day:
“Although strong, the wind was behind us, so we rafted up again. The wind was so strong that we were physically not strong enough to hold the sail in place. Instead we hoisted our paddles in the air and this provided enough propulsion to move us at a descent speed.

After 2 hours of sailing like this we approached the Cape Peron. At this point Easterly waves started to meet the South-easterly waves we had been riding along. The resulting 2 metre of so seas on our aft quarter started trying to pull the raft apart. As the seas got bigger more ropes and eyelets snapped so that in the end most people were holding the kayaks together. One particularly large wave broke over the heads of the rear paddlers.

Just when we were at our most terrified we spotted a large dugong with her calf a short distance away. Our tribulations were forgotten briefly as we watched these rare and remarkable animals.

Eventually we were washed up on the more sheltered shoreline, where we broke up the raft, bailed out water and set off for Cape Peron.”

Souns interesting.

Sydney to Hobart

July 6, 2007

I’m very late but finally tracked Simeon Michaels down again.  He was quoted in this article talking about the disappearnce of Andrew McAuley back in February his comments seemed very good to me:

Mr Michaels did not want to speculate on the cause of Mr McAuley’s disappearance, but said exhaustion would have played a part.

“You spend a lot of time out on the ocean and it becomes really hard to focus (mentally). I can only imagine what it would be like after a month … Your thinking is not as sharp as usual. If you’ve been out on the water for 10 hours it’s really difficult to make a good decision.”

“What (Mr McAuley) was up against was the cumulative effect of a month of exhaustion and it looks like, without any damage to kayak, that that has caused whatever happened to happen.”

Mr Michaels, whose kayak is not set-up for sleeping, said he had 10 or 12 rest days since beginning his journey five weeks ago. He said he could not imagine paddling for 30 days without being able to rest or stretch properly.

“I find it really important to get out of the kayak and just stand up once a day. If I can pull in for a lunch break and just walk around, even for 15 minutes, that makes a huge difference to the next four hours’ paddling.

“The fact (Mr McAuley) can’t just get up and walk around would have been incredibly physically draining. Your body is not designed to sit and lie down.”

He finished his 2000km trip on March 21st.

route map sydney to hobbart

route map.

His blog has some interesting stories:

Thursday, 1st Feb:  Leaving Mallacoota

Pulling out of Mallacoota the Easterly was starting to build, and with a forecast 20 knot seabreeze and 4-6 foot of SE swell I was looking forward to a great day of wave riding.  The wind and swell built to 20 knots, then just kept building. Before I knew I was in a 30 knot “breeze” pushing an 8-12 foot swell.

The sea was a seething, heaving mass of whitecaps, waves were breaking all over my laden kayak, and with the endless beaches of this coast, there was nowhere to land.  I’d also made the mistake of packing my storm weather gear out of reach. By the time I neared Point Hicks I was cold and tiring, and hoping I could find somewhere to pull in.  It didn;t look good, in fact, the approach to Point Hicks was a horror show – waves exploding on the rocks of the point and on reefs well out to sea. With so much “action” it would would be easy to paddle straight onto a reef.  Shipwreck conditions. I gave the Point itself a wide berth, hoping to avoid outlying reefs, and also hopnig that  I would then be able to paddle back and find some shelter behind it.  Rounding the lighthouse I started to come into the wind shadow, but the swell was wrapping around headland and standing up in massive breakers before smashing into rocks.  Did I mention that it was low tide on the full moon? 

I was considering just paddling on through the night when I spotted a tiny cove wedged between rocks behind the headland.   Hoping to time the sets I cut across the swell, paddling for all I was worth, glancing over my shoulder waiting for the “armageddon” wave.  I made the shelter of the cove before anything came around the corner.  Later, I walked up to the lighthouse to warm up and shake out the tension. Seeing the fury of the ocean from this high vantage, I couldn’t believe I’d just been out there.  Towards dusk later the began to drop, and the close-out sets were replaced by the most perfect waves I’ve seen in a long time.  If only I had a surf board!

Instead I watched the waves peel unridden and golden in the sunset, ate a huge meal and had a great night’s sleep on a sand dune.

Friday 2nd February

Like most rivers,  the Bemm deposits lots of sand where it exits to the ocean,  and when river flow is low and the entrance closes, this leaves a shallow “bar” of sand out to sea, then a channel, then another bar on the shore. This gives you two sets of breakers to negotiate, with waves rising out of deep water to crash on the shallow bars.  Its much more difficult than your standard beach landing, a feature of this coastline which makes it so difficult to negotiate.

On the way in my timing was perfect.  I waited out the sets and rode in on a medium sized one, also avoiding being crunched in the smaller but nastier shorebreak.  

By the time I’d had a massive lunch, the tide had dropped a bit, and in addition to the big waves breaking out the back, the medium sized ones were now crunching down in the channel. That meant that there was no hanging around in the channel to time an escape between sets, I just had to go.  Having said that, the big ones out the back were mostly crumbling, with only the odd monster breaking top to bottom.

I got through the shorebreak, got through the channel, got over what I thought was the outside break. 

And then I saw it. 

The armageddon wave I’d avoided yesterday had found me. 

There was nowhere to go. In the hope that I could get over it I paddled for all I was worth, but it just had my name written on it. As the front of the kayak rose up the face in slow motion, I watched the lip curl over and come down on me from a huge height.  I was picked up like a toy, turned upside down, flung backwards, dragged underwater and pulled out of the kayak. 

Gathering my wits and possessions, I figured that the wave was such a freak that there probably wouldn’t be another breaking that far out.  Luckily I was right about that, and I managed to swim the kayak out, then I hopped up on the deck and paddled it with a very waterlogged cockpit past the breakers.  Safe and in the warm sunshine beyond the breakers, I was pumping out the cockpit and thinking what fun it had been when I saw two big gashes in the side of the kayak. The pressure of the wave had “creased” the kayak, and on one side the glass had split completely.  Leaving it structurally vulnerable, and taking on water. 

It was then that I was very grateful for my decision to swim the kayak out rather than go back in and start again.  There is almost no doubt that if I’d gone back through the channel and the shorebreak, the kayak would have broken up completely.

As it was, the Pittarak, famed for its toughness, had survived where just about anything else would have broken in half straight away.

Paddling those 20ks, water sloshing around my legs in a half smashed kayak, and a wrecked car to deal with in Eden, was a real low point in the trip.
Michaels arriving in Hobbart:

Simeon Michaels

For Sale SOLD

July 5, 2007

For Sale SOLD
One used kayak. plastic Dagger Charleston 15. Bought May 2006 Montbell Sendai for 145,000yen. For sale for 80,000yen. Will “throw in” a Harmony Feather Lock Paddle which cost 22,800yen new.



dagger charleston

profile view showing skeg down.


This detail not of my kayak (but other than colour it’s the same).

harmony paddle

The Harmony paddle’s “featherlock” mechanism broke so I epoxy glued the shaft together and it is now a one piece, fixed 30 degree feather. Otherwise it works fine.

The 2006 Montbell kayak catalog entry in Japanese (this kayak has been discontinued).

And the text from the catalog in Japanese. (English description available here)
457cm long 63cm wide with a 97x45cm cockpit. It weighs 26kg and can support up to 145kg. It has a simple skeg to aid tracking. It is very stable kayak suited to a larger frame person. However I am 163cm and weigh 64kg (i.e. small) and with a little foam padding, it fits fine.

The kayak is a great starter kayak. It is very comfortable, roomy and stable. I bought it so I could fish and take pictures in a stable kayak, but in fact ended up doing more adventurous things. I have surfed this kayak, learned to roll in it and had great fun paddling around Miyagi and Iwate.

The condition is very good: there are the usual scratches and scuffs on the bottom of plastic hull but no more than you would expect and none are deep or affect performance. The skeg works fine as do the footpegs, adjustable (and vey comfortable) seat, adjustable thigh braces and everything else is as new. I have installed foam knee braces and foam padding to the seat; these can be removed or adjusted easily. The internal foam bulkheads have pinholes to allow air expansion, and the rear bulkhead leaks slightly but it has been like this since I bought it and is manageable.

more pictures:

on beach

beach near Onagawa

rolling on a foggy day

rolling on a foggy day


Me in the kayak


At Izushima on a foggy day


Realised 2 more minor defects: firstly I lost the net bag that velcros to the back of the seat (after about a week of owning the boat) and secondly the kayak’s hull is deformed slightly where it is strapped to the roofrack – inevitable with plastic kayaks.

Surfing in the rain

June 30, 2007

It’s the rainy season in Japan. Up here it lasts from June 20th – July 20th give or take a few days. When it’s over it gets VERY hot, like 35 degrees, so the rain is to be enjoyed.

I went surfing again today. I only really have time for surfing at the moment – I go when my kids go for their nap and am back not long after they wake up. As my social work cousin says “3 kids under 5” (apparantly it’s one of the indicators used in social work to predict high risk families – whatever that means).

When I got to put in at 2:30 the waves were looking great, long curling spilling waves.


Avoiding the six or so surfers (none of them that good) I started playing around. It was great! The waves were a bit higher than last time – maybe 2-3 feet.

After about an hour though the waves started to change. I missed one wave and then got dumped on by a huge wave paddling back out, I managed to brace into it and stay upright but it popped my spray skirt and I sank – funny feeling. (One problem with the river kayak is that it doesn’t have any flotation). I swam the boat to shore bailed and then padled back out but didn’t make it again, got rolled and failed to roll in the soup.

Same again beach and bail. Then I noticed all but two of the surfers had gone and watching the surf realised that the incoming tide had changed the waves to shorter dumping waves.

Anyway I persevered and surfed for another hour (bailing out twice more). I also practiced rolling in the surf – waiting in the surf zone and then rolling just as a wave was about to break on me coming up through the aerated soup.

I also realised what is wrong with my ‘big kayak’ roll: practising with the river kayak has made me lazy and I’m not doing enough to get the beamy sea kayak over (the river kayak is just so much easier).

5 weeks left in Matsushima, then 1 week in Tokyo then back to Scotland…

car and river kayak

ps I bonded my paddle together with an epoxy type resin and it worked really well – no hint of movement. But it is now a 30 degree feather fixed paddle that I can’t take home with me.

Crocodile attacks Sandy Robson’s kayak

June 29, 2007

Following the link upped by kayak quixotica I read the story about Sandy Robson’s June 5th (day 162 of her round Australia expedition) encounter with a large crocodile following several nights of croc anxeity (as prey):

“The wind was producing a bit of wave action onto a steep beach and the water was not clear so I thought I would go a little further and explore for a more favourable landing. I paddled along next to the big granite rocks on Villis Point and rounded the point to find the perfect sheltered beach with campsite potential on the headland. Around the point the water was sheltered and calm. The beach would be a fantastic landing. Then as I paddled in, I heard Dave Winkworth’s voice in my head. It was him talking about the Gulf, “Crocs like calm water”…I paddled a few more strokes and noticed a few mangroves on the inside of the point. The voice in my head, “Shit! Mangroves”. I dismissed them because there were not many and rationalised that it would be ok. Then SLAM! That sound changed everything… A sound like someone had just slammed two bricks together as hard as possible on the stern of my kayak. My heart rate accelerated. Adrenaline poured into my system. My voice in my head knew that it could only be one thing. I forced myself to turn my head to look. I saw a large croc with its head fully out of the water, jaws open and right on the back of my kayak. I think at this point I may have sworn – “F***!”. I certainly never thought to say Crikey!

Dave’s voice was in my head again “If you see a croc just paddle away”. I considered whether my situation would allow me to paddle out to sea, rather than be chased off the water and onto the shore. Bugger that! In order for me to paddle out of this bay and back out to sea I would have to face a big croc head on – not an option. I happily paddled as fast as I could away from gaping croc jaws and towards the beach. All I could think was “Please don’t get me, Please don’t get me, Please don’t get me, Please don’t get me…” all the way to the beach. Actually I don’t think I just thought it, I said it out loud like some kind of mantra. I did not know if I would be able to pull my spray deck loop, leap out and run up the beach fast enough. This is the place where I knew I would be the most vulnerable to an attack. I took a glance behind to see if I had a croc on my tail. Shit where is it? The bow of the kayak hit the sand and I already had the spray deck off and was running up the beach, thankfully without getting tangled up in my paddle leash. No croc chased behind me so I was able to relax a little and hurriedly pull my kayak up out of the danger zone. Then I saw it in the bay arching its back, puffing itself up and fully displaying its tail. This had certainly been a territorial attack from a large male croc.”

Read the rest of the entry; the croc continues to harrass her and she has to portage out, then sets up camp to decide what to do. I obviously can’t imagine how frightning that must have been!

image from the steve irwin mosaic tribute site

image source 

The late Andrew McAuley also writes about a crocodile encounter in the same area:

“I was momentarily paralyzed as I sat bolt upright in my kayak. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The crocodile, that was not much shorter than my 5.8 metre kayak, did not appear to hesitate as it started swimming towards me. Fortunately I was close to shore. Unfortunately there were only rocks to land on. Keeping an eye on the crocodile swimming towards me I managed to catch a small wave into the rocks. When the cruel sound of gel-coat and fiberglass scraping off the bottom of the kayak brought me to a halt I quickly bailed out. When I turned around the crocodile was on the next wave in behind me. Using myself as bait I attracted the crocodile away from the kayak. When it seemed to lose interest in me, I ran back to my kayak and reluctantly pushed it back into the water. I had to keep moving so as not to run out of water. It was another three days before I reached South Goulbourne Island and spoke to another person about the encounter…

The strong wind had picked up from the southwest and was blowing me into the mangroves. Keeping a very keen eye out for crocodiles I decided to change course and make the most of the wind. All of a sudden there was a loud ‘BANG’ at the back of my kayak. My heart sank and I had a sickening feeling in my stomach, as I looked around expecting to see a set of large jaws crushing the end of my kayak. To my relief I could only see a dark shadow of a shark swim away from my rudder. My paddling speed picked up after that encounter.”

Australia eh?

A LINK to a news story about a canoeist / fisherman knocked into the water and ‘taken’ in 2005 plus a list of other attcks in recent years.

Paddling Lexicon

June 29, 2007

is a site with lots of definitions of… well… paddling lexicon. Most of them serious, some less so:

Kayak [] n. 1. an oblong banana shaped boat with a hole in the bottom from which the occupant dangles.  Can be propelled the wrong way up by experts. (definition courtesy of Pete Knowles)