Ajishima or Kinkasan

July 10, 2006

Saturday 8 July 2006

The 8th July in many places would be hot and sunny. Maybe even in Scotland… But in Japan it is the rainy season and it is cool and cloudy. Not that I am complaining I know that in two weeks this season will be over and the weather will be very hot and muggy with temperatures in the mid 30’s. I may have to start getting up at 5am to avoid the heat.

Today I had the whole day to myself. My mother-in-law is visiting and I want to give her some time alone with her grandchildren. This isn’t just a sellfish, ‘there is someone else to look after the kids’ deal, although it is partly.

I decide that I should go somewhere different from usual as I have the whole day and therefore time to drive somewhere.The marine forecast is light winds, 12kmph (6-7knots) from the southeast and a small swell (less than 1.2m). It is to be cloudy all day with the chance of light rain temperature 22 degrees C, the water temperature a balmy 21 degrees C. Perfect really.

I decide to go to the Oshika peninsula and then paddle the 3.2km crossing to Ajishima to the southwest. I consider paddling to Kinkasan the famous island on the pacific east side of Oshika but decide against it as that would be an exposed crossing.


Besides Ajishima is famous as a tropical island with clear green water, sandy beaches and its own microclimate. I am told it is very beautiful. I figure this will be protected from the main ocean swells by the peninsula but note that the wind and wave swill be coming along the channel that I need to cross. Still 6knots is barely noticeable…

I leave home at 8:15 and drive through the ugliest town I know; Ishinomaki.

ugly town

I launch the boat at 9:45 from the last small village before Ayukawa, the kanji is 十八成 which means ‘18 turn into’ (I know all three of these babies) but that is not how it is pronounced or read.

launch site

Anyway it has a nice beach spoiled by the main road 5m back but good enough for launching a kayak. And I figure doing some rescue practice on the way back.

One could go from Ayukawa itself but I remember it as a busy harbour town with lots of commercial fishing, ferry and whale watching boats. I wonder where the whales are and if I’ll see any, but my guess to the first question is; a couple of miles off shore where the ocean floor suddenly shelves off into deep water and so to the second question; no.

I checked the weather forecast the night before but forgot to check again this morning. Hope nothing has changed. There seems to be no wind and the water is calm. Small swells well spaced apart roll under me. I paddle straight across, my plan is to circumnavigate the island (5km long by 1.6km wide), have lunch on a beach then paddle back.

After about 600m the wind picks up. It is coming from the north-east, not the SE as forecast on Friday. It is blowing off the land and is speeding up as it falls down the mountainous terrain. I think it might be about 10-15knots. I wish I had checked the forecast this morning. I know now that I have just set off from the lee shore and that the calm water was a result of the protection from the mountains. The wind will be faster across this channel now. What to do? I feel confident and want a challenge so push on.

About half way across are 4 old guys in a fishing boat obviously locals. I nod hello and one of them shouts something indistinct and points back to shore. This puts doubts in my mind, is there something I don’t know about?, but I want to make it across to the island. The waves are maybe 2 feet max but when I turn around to look at them they are creating white caps. Sometimes the wind gusts down and blows spray across my back. But I’m having fun and feel like I have been in worse (see ‘An amazing thing‘) I paddle on watching out for other traffic.

I am glad to make it to shore and get into the wind shadow of the island.

in the wind shadow

I start paddling round the island but as I round one headland get a scare as a big wave suddenly reveals a boomer just in front of me. The waves are a bit bigger and the wind is blowing spray into my face. I about turn and land at a tiny beach between the rocks to eat some lunch and back up my resolve.


The weather is not too much for me at all, but I am concerned that if the wind increases it will soon become too much. I consider the local fisherman’s unheard shout and the 14hours since I checked the forecast. The mountains across the channel are shrouded in clouds and look benign enough but could easily be holding back some weather front that is about to charge across at me. I decide that I should play it safe and get back across the channel while I still can. It will be a bit of a slog into the wind and waves but at least steering wont be an issue; I can just let me boat weather cock me across.

I consider trimming the boat with more weight up front so it ploughs through the waves a bit more but I’m not sure so decide against it.

As I get out into the channel the wind feels pretty strong (maybe 15-20knots but I’ve no way of being accurate) it is picking up the spray from the tops of the waves and blowing them in my face. I am so happy that I decide to wear my wet suit, I am soaked. The bow is riding high and slapping down into the water over the waves, the splashed water is then blowing over me. I would have been drier if the bow had more weight.

But the waves are really manageable. Steering isn’t a problem and I feel in control. There are some very high speed gusts sometimes that force me low on the foredeck and make me grip my paddle tight (remind me to buy or make a paddle leash). I drop my shoulders and adopt a low stroke but am making headway. There are lots of boats mostly heading out to sea from Ayukawa but one huge commercial fishing boat about a mile away is heading my way. I feel a bit exposed in the middle of the channel and up the tempo to get across. It’s okay though the boat passes 200m behind me.

The crossing took about 45minutes, less than I had thought, and I’m relieved to get a rest on the other side. On the lee shore there is about 200m of calm. And so I explore that coast.


There are some small caves and ‘rock gardens’ which I play around in. I paddle round the headland to Ayukawa and as suspected this is not a good launch point. Lots of marine traffic!

There are some fish farming pods dotted around the bay and I check one of them out. Some big, 10-15kg, fish are swimming round in circles and jumping. They look very beautiful and colourful. My guess is sea trout but I’ve never seen them this big and in Japan I have very little confidence in fish identification – they have lots of fish I’ve never seen or heard of.

The fish farm reminds me of this photograph (copyright: Peter McBride) from John Bowermaster’s croatia trip (image 11).

tuna farm

the caption: In this pen are 93 giant tunas – averaging 550 pounds each! – which require lots of herring to fatten them. Each day more than 10 tons of herring, brought from Scandinavia, are shoveled into these pens of fast-swimming tuna.

Unfortunately my pictures don’t compare, and 15kg trout don’t compare to 250kg tuna. I am reliably informed that in Japan one tuna fish is worth about the same as a new car (they didn’t say what brand; I imaged a small one in the 6-8,000pounds sterling category).

geology is different

I paddle back and do some practice at the beach. Wet exit and swim to shore was difficult. I think I should have 15m of rope and the best way to do this is swim then pull, swim then pull. Swimming with the boat is so slow. I also resolve to take off the spray-skirt and put it on the boat if I have to do this for real. I also decide to put my fins in the boat to aid the swim. Good things were that my idea of neoprene gloves on the rear deck to counteract cold hands worked really well – as soon as I go in I will put these on. Verdict: need more equipment.

I drag the boat onto the beach and empty it, get back in and do another wet exit this time practicing a paddle float rescue. This doesn’t work well at all. The paddle float seems to float too high in the water and feels very unstable, maybe less air required? The paddle is also a bit loose in the bungees and keeps turning away from the boat. I need to customize the deck to grip the paddle. I also don’t like the uselessness of the paddle for bracing while the float is attached. Verdict: needs more work.


Lastly I wet exit and go under the boat and try breathing in the trapped air. Cool, it works. I wonder how long I could stay under here breathing? Seems to be a good way to stay out of the bad weather?


When I pull the boat out of the water there are some old guys securing their fishing boat in the harbour. One comes up and says hello and asks if I paddled to Ajishima, I say yes and he says “Wow, in that little boat” (in Japanese). It is then I recognise him as the guy that scared me in the middle of the channel shouting something and pointing to shore. He has obviously not seen many sea kayaks and doesn’t know about their capability – to withstand seas MUCH greater than today. I resolve to take fishermen’s warnings with a pinch of salt – and to check the forecast on the day.

I drive round the headland and take a look at the open ocean and Kinkasan – shrouded in clouds.


As suspected the sea is much less disturbed here. Even though it is exposed it didn’t have the ‘wind blown’ look of the channel where I was paddling. Obviously the wind is coming over the mountains then falling downhill, speeding up and hitting the so called ‘protected side with some pace. I should have gone to Kinkasan!

I drive home along the coast road looking for put in places for future use. There is a tiny atmospheric village with a nice port and good put-in place for a kayak if you want to go to Kinkasan. Again don’t know for sure how to read it, maybe Haku, the town’s name in kanji means ‘overnight’ 泊. Its about 5km north of Ayukawa.


Haku is tiny, don’t let the too large fishing fleet for such a small village confuse you.


On the way home I pass a house almost swamped in the foliage surrounding it. The rainy season really makes everything lush and green.

old house

I get home to a lovely dinner, sashimi and rice wrapped in nori (seaweed) and chicken karage, a cold Asahi Super Dry.

asahi super dry

By 8.15pm I am fast asleep; exhausted.

Lastly here is my route.




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