Broken paddle!

September 19, 2006

Saturday 16th september 2006

I set out as planed from a wee fishing port whose name I don’t know.


On the way out of the harbour, paddling past the lines of fishermen, the last guy, right at the edge of the harbour shouts me over. It seems he has lost his fishing rod, a boat came past, snagged his line and hauled his whole rod and line out into the water. He asks me to go and get it. I paddle out and spot the float on the other side of the harbour.

I’m not delighted to be hanging around at the edge of this harbour what with the fishing boats coming and going. I haul up the line but the rod isn’t attached, the line has broken off. On the other end however is a small fish so I get the dubious pleasure of watching it die on my sprayskirt as I paddle back to the old fisherman.

He is sad about his rod but tries to palm what looks like 5000yen ($40) into my hand, I take off saying, no way, no problem, with him shouting Onegai (please) as I go. Later I wonder if he meant for me to go looking for his rod and he’d give me the 5000 yen but surely no? The rod with reel would have sunk and without the line there would be no way of locating it. There would be no way I’d go diving for his rod around the entrance to the harbour.

The good thing about this encounter though is that I got a good look at his tackle set up. Interestingly there was no bait, just a sinker, 3 small feathered hooks and a big float on a sliding set up. I even got to keep one of the hooks when it got tangled in my spray skirt webbing.



I paddle out, there is a bit of a breeze and the waves are nice and the landscape very beautiful.



Past the headland though the waves are much bigger and the wind is creating a lot of chop. They are not the biggest waves I’ve seen (I enjoyed 2m high rolling swells in my Ise trip) but it’s the most ‘disturbed’ sea I’ve paddled in.


The waves are triangular and coming from a few different directions. I won’t make the crossing to the islands and instead head round to the next bay to a small beach I spotted from the road on the drive in.

I paddle about 100m out from the rocks to avoid the worst of the reflected waves but not too far as there is some other marine traffic to keep things interesting. It’s hard work because most strokes turn into braces, and several air strokes keep me stressed out and the choppy waves are splashing across my starboard side. I’m crossing the wind and waves which are coming slightly ‘abaft the beam’ and so constantly looking over my shoulder thinking of the Hawaiian saying “Never turn your back on the sea”.

It’s too choppy to take any pictures or to stop paddling. I’m also nursing my paddle; aware that it has a crack in it and maybe I shouldn’t be out in this sea pulling hard. I also don’t have a drink to hand and I need to pee but there is no safe landing spot. So all in it’s an uncomfortable hour’s paddle.


When I get to other side there is a big rock acting as a breaker and there is some quiet water behind. With the dark sky and the black rocks the sea looks pretty ominous. But it is also very beautiful, where it is less than about 4m deep you can see the sea bed and the water colour is a kind or emerald green.


Ahead is the Nuclear power station.


I wonder if they have any security to seaward (I took a wrong turn on the way to the put-in and met their security barrier on the road) and whether I should be taking/posting pictures. It is an ugly boxy building, like all nuclear power plants I’ve seen (this is my third after Hunterston-B and Doonray in Scotland). It’s a shame these plants aren’t architecturally more interesting – here is a link to some pictures of power plants all over the world.


Pondering the safety of the sea urchins and clams harvested in the bay around the power plant I paddle in the relative calm of the bay. The swells are still rolling through but the wind has been cut out by the cliffs and it is a relief to be able to paddle with ease.

I spot some sea caves – not yet fully developed but one of then still 20m deep and paddle in. I like the colour of the sea in the dark.



Still needing to pee and getting hungry I head to the beach. I spotted it from the road and there appeared to be some small surf to play in.

The beach is covered in flotsam and jetsam – junk. It looks terrible.


Most of it plastic bottles but there are some nice old bits of wood, a few pieces of which I pick up. There is an amazing ‘hairy’ buoy, covered with muscles


There are also some big plastic bottles with handles which I consider taking back and cutting down as my ‘bailer’ but I don’t find one that’s quite right.

I do however find this:


This will make a perfect handline. I had been thinking about carving my own but here is one ready formed, with holes and a groove for the line and it floats. There are about 20 of them on the beach, I guess they are floats for nets. Watch this space for if it works as a fishing rod.


I eat lunch, yaki-soba and some onigiri (rice balls) and then add my wet suit trousers to the top I was wearing and go for some surf action. At this point my camera (cell phone) battery dies so no more pictures.

Having read up on surfing I actually manage to surf properly, albeit on 1-2 foot waves. Starting with the broach and surf, I make it all the way up to shore several times bracing into the wave. The trick is to really edge the kayak into the waves before it hits. I also figured out how to get off the wave when it break down which felt like river kayaking.

I realise that my kayak is not great for surfing – a bit too beamy and even on these small waves it broaches very quickly.

I also do some rolling practice and despite the cool air the water is lovely and warm. I cycle through all 4 of my rolls, surf a bit and generally have lots of fun. Just as I’m thinking of finishing up to paddle along towards the power station I paddle out a bit to try a deep water roll, I go over, set up and am about to do the pull when I feel my paddle sheer in half.

It feels like a knife going through butter, the aluminium shaft bends, twists and then comes totally apart in my hands, all in the space of about 1 second. I’m still upside down and initially I consider trying for a roll with one of the paddle blades but then realise I have more pressing concerns than rolling up. I wet exit and swim the boat to shore with the two halfs of my paddle in the cockpit. I have no back up paddle.

The beach I am on is not far away from the put-in and is only about 800m from a road – I could walk out of this situation. But the walk is through what would best be described as jungle. Thick forest and undergrowth and a very steep (60 degrees at least) climb. I doubt if I can make it with my boat. I am very calm, but what to do?


view from road down to beach

I try walking up towards the road and don’t get 50m. I am worried about snakes (I’ve seen three sankes in the last two weeks – camping) and there is no way my kayak can get through here.

I have three industrial strength plastic cable-ties (I visualize the other two lying in the boot of my car) and a brand new roll of duck tape. I need to splint my paddle and see how it feels. Now I feel happy about the amount of junk on the beach. There is lots of bamboo which is great as I remember hearing that it boasts an equivalent strength of weight ratio as steel. I rummage around the big piles till I find a shortish piece, about 800mm long and 20mm diameter of green bamboo. I try to break it with my knee – no chance. This is looking good. I cable-tie it against the paddle shaft, using its slight bow to really tension it up. I then apply lashings of duck tape. It works great – the bamboo is perfect length and perfect diameter; I can still get my hand round the paddle fairly comfortably.

I take it into the water and test it out, getting it wet and bracing against the surf. It feels pretty good and no de-lamination of the duck tape. Okay I’ve made my decision; I will paddle my way out, I’m not looking forward to the exposed part of the sea but I wasn’t looking forward to that anyway. I keep my wet suit on, load up the boat and head out.

Into the headwind and not wanting to pull hard on the paddle my progress is pretty slow. All the fishing boats which were around earlier have disappeared a fact which takes away my back up option – signal for help and get a lift back to the put-in. The only boat I see is the fast moving ferry from Onagawa to Kinkasan but at about 1 km off my port side and in 1.5m high waves I doubt it would even see me if I needed it.

The paddle is doing okay though and paddling slightly into the waves is a bit more comfortable than the other way round. My fingers are a bit sore from the increased grip size but I rest them on the off side of the stroke and try to stay relaxed. A couple of times I get a scare as a bigger than usual wave suddenly crests above me but my confidence with bracing and broaching is up and make it round the headland. I left the beach at 2.30 and get back to the put-in at 4.15. A long time for what I reckoned was 3-4km.

The put-in

put in

My splinted paddle



I’ve learned my lesson you’ll be glad to hear. I’m going to get a spare paddle and take it with me whenever I go paddling. The key lesson however is that it was stupid to go paddling with a damaged paddle. What an idiot.

The other lessons I learned are that bamboo is good, if I had had to use normal wood the paddle would have gotten unreasonably / unusably wide – perhaps I’ll keep a length of bamboo for just such use. I also learned that I need a good knife. I also need some emergency stuff that I don’t have – waterproof matches, a bivoac bag and a decent length of rope (long enough to haul a kayak up a hill).

On the plus side I did have a repair kit and it worked. I also made a good reasoned decision based on conditions and my own experience. I also learned that I am calm in bad situations, actually its more like remembered – I’ve had worse.

Lots of action:

A lost fishing rod, a hooked hook, big waves and choppy seas, sea caves, some good flotsam, surfing broaching and rolling, a broken paddle and emergency splint. Good experience, a bit scary at times but thats part of the attraction.

my route:


A nice old street in the fishing village



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