A decent day of kayaking

June 13, 2006

Sunday 4 June 2006

Sunday and I am free to go kayaking. The weather is perfect: calm, overcast and dry.

I head to a launch spot at Oku Matsushima that I saw marked in a kayaking book for Japan. The place is actually a small fishing port with a concrete ramp down into the sea. There are a few fishermen with rods fishing from shore who studiously ignore me. Must get a few kayakers here I guess.

I launch and head out past the breakwater. The water is dead flat with just a few light wind ripples. The main hazards here is other boats – there are lost of them, fishing boats and pleasure boats and swarms of jet skis piloted by yakuza looking guys. I hate jet skis and I also want one. They look like lots of fun but they tend to attract thugs and morons. I was swimming one summer at the beach near here and this idiot on a jet ski came with 2m of me to jump the surf. The law in Japan states you need to be 100m from swimmers and for good reason – this was really dangerous. No wonder jet skiers have such a bad reputation. (At the bottom of this post is the headline of a story from the US about a jet skier hitting a kayaker).

I had planned to cross to some of the islands – the crossing is about half a mile – but, feeling a bit more adventurous, decided to head out to the pacific ocean side. I paddle the boring concreted channel that connects Matsushima bay to Ishinomaki bay noting the shallow spots for use with my bigger boat (see: "a bigger boat" post).

I get to the beach and stop to go to the bathroom – I forgot to bring any money so feel a bit embarrassed using the facilities without making a token contribution to the café’s sales. But paddle on.

I see a fishing boat disappear up an inlet and go to investigate. On my chart this is a dead end but here, in real life, is an open passage to the sea which looks man made but also at least 20 years old. Why is this not on the chart? Mental note don't trust Japanese charts.

On the other side is one of the many sea stacks and then the open ocean; well almost open it is part of the large Ishinomaki bay. The sea is calm where I am but there are maybe 1-2 foot swells past the stack.Somewhere on Woody’s kayak website (sorry I'm too lazy to go find it again but this site is good and interesting by an American kayaker who was in Japan) there is a description of how wave height can be exaggerated by the low aspect of a kayak.

I paddle around to have a look at the sea to consider my options. Beds of kelp kill all the waves and ripples and it’s a pleasure to sit the kayak on the waxy water and look out to sea.

Then I spot some white hands waving. Hello. No actually it’s the white blades of another kayaker heading my way. Is that a group? No its one kayaker passing two small fishing boats. I wait till the kayaker passes before heading out to where he was. I expect we might say hello – this is my first encounter in the field with another kayaker. He is also solo. Nice looking boat – 2 part probably fiberglass, yellow deck white hull. He barely nods and certainly no smile (maybe my low class plastic hull?). I play it cool. No biggie. Then head out into the sea. I am nervous at first but the boat handles well in the waves and so long as I keep a paddle in the water am feeling very comfortable.

The two small fishing boats turn out to be inflatable one man rafts and the guys in each seem to be doing well. They catch two or three smallish fish while I am watching. I can never remember the name of this fish but it’s the ugly prehistoric looking one with a huge mouth relative to body. I lock this location in.

I paddle on towards the breakwater ahead – entrance to a fishing port. The waves are a decent size as I get further out and I am getting some water on my spray skirt.

I hear the dull drone of a boat and turn the kayak to meet the wake of 4 pleasure boats one after the other 100m apart. I saw them where I beached before and they are obviously chartered by a bus tour. 10 people to each boat. They slow a little to pass and I hear some Japanese commentary which I think is about me and blank faces stare from the windows. I am very happy to be in a kayak.

The wake is quite big from these little boats and quite exciting. I can see the attraction of kayaking in waves. But I am getting tired and the breakwater is looking dull and inhospitable so I turn around and head back in.

This time though I skirt on the outside of the sea stacks and get a feel for the kayak with the sea following. Surfing, the tendency to broach and weather cocking. The waves are small but they give me a push and combined with the wind at my back I race around the headland towards shore. I also enjoy how easy it is turn if you time it with being atop a wave.

Here is a picture of where I was but taken by the people at Earth Quest

sea stacks

Dead ahead is the surf beach which I hope to be able to play in before I leave Japan. I hang left and go back in. Up ahead are lots of fishermen fishing off the sand bars. I feel like I am in their way and keep to one side while trying to look like I know what I am doing. Suddenly I feel the sandy bottom against my paddle. The water is only a foot deep. I am shocked. This is marked as the main exit from the bay in the chart. If I had gone this way in my bigger boat, we’d have had to get out and push. Bemused I have a 2 mile paddle back along flat water I try to get an even pace up, keep my cadence slow, push with my legs and torso and generally try to increase my efficiency. I used to be a keen cyclist and was taught early on that the main thing is to always keep the peddles turning and want to apply the same rule to kayaking.

I get back all the fishermen are gone. Pull the kayak up and out the water. The only thing I don’t like about this sport is the set up and break down times – loading, unloading, washing down, packing etc. takes about 1 hour either side.
But today was a decent 5 hour day of kayaking. I am tired but I still need to get a reliable self rescue method.

Kayaker Badly Injured By Jet Ski

San Diego, CA – …The jet ski hit Joan from behind on the left side, ran up her back hitting her in the head before careening off. Joan was in the water and shocked.The jet skiier turned right around, jumped in the water and swam over to help Joan.

The link to this story is broken so I can't get any more details. Sorry.

Lastly here is my route.june 4th trip


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