Archive for May, 2007

Nigel Foster and a polar bear

May 31, 2007

Nigel Foster wrote this description of his encounter with a polar bear. One of those heart pounding reads. Full story and more here.

Ten days into our trip, we paddled into sheltered water amongst a group of rocky islets. I was looking for a place to pee. Hidden from the choppy water was a narrow dead-end of a channel, scarcely wider than my kayak; the perfect dock! I drifted to the end and climbed out onto the sloping rock. Kristin had come in behind me but content to stay in her kayak, suggested I left my kayak floating where it was. I climbed higher up the undulating rock and stretched. The last ice-age had covered this whole region in an ice sheet that had ground the rock smooth. Now as I looked down I could see the bands and striations patterning the rock in pink, green-grey and black, polished like the growth rings in a slice of tree.

My eyes casually traced the sinuous folds of a single threadlike band of dark rock as it meandered between clusters of bright crystals that sparkled in the sunlight. Suddenly I spotted a movement, a patch of ivory-white fur had appeared above the rock about 60 feet away. In moments the polar bear was in full view, head held low, striding purposefully toward me. In long easy strides it approached quickly, its fur swinging heavily around its long legs and huge body.

I grabbed my pfd and sprayskirt and turned away. Anxious not to provoke a charge, I walked steadily toward my kayak, calling out “Kristin! Back off into deep water! Now!” “Now!” She looked over her stern to see me approaching with the bear only yards behind me. As she attempted to reverse from the slot, I reached my own kayak and slid into the cockpit.

The water level was falling. Mid-tide it would fall 2 inches every minute in this area of huge tidal exchange. Kristin’s kayak was already aground. Again I urged her to get away. She pushed hard against the rock with both hands but her kayak was too heavily laden for her to push over the obstacle. “Nigel! I’m stuck! Should I get out?” I got out of my kayak and popped open my day-hatch to grab my flare gun.

The bear stopped when it reached the stern of Kristin’s kayak. Its huge head extended toward her. It was close enough to reach her with its forepaw, so it was unlikely she would be able to escape to open water. I tried to control my fear and focus on loading the flare gun. Fumbling, I broke open the barrel and inserted a red cartridge.

I snapped the barrel shut and cocked the firing pin. I aimed vaguely to one side of the huge animal, hoping to shoot close enough to startle it but anxious not to hit it. A flare gun is not meant to be an accurate firearm, and I was worried that if I hit the bear it might provoke an attack. I squeezed the trigger. “Poof!” The flare rushed past the bear and bounced off the rock. IN the brightness of day the ball of incandescence seemed as insignificant as the muffled report of the gun. Yet it was enough to surprise the bear. It bounded a few yards from us up the rock.

Kristin climbed out of her kayak. By the time I’d broken open the flare gun and pulled out the spent cartridge case, the bear was back, standing next to us. I loaded another flare. Kristin tried to slide her kayak, but stopped when the bear craned its neck to sniff at the dry-bag strapped to her rear deck. The deck bag contained vacuum-packed freeze-dried food. Even if the bags were airtight, I knew we had probably transferred all kinds of scents to it from out hands.

Polar bears are known to have the keenest sense of smell of any mammal and have been known to pick up the scent of a seal from a distance of more than five miles and to track it down. Kristin stood by her front hatch. I aimed at the rock beside the bear and set off the second flare. The huge white head turned and it sniffed the rock where the flare had hit, before turning its attention onto Kristin. This time the flare had done little to distract the bear.

Kristin stood beside her kayak and looked up at the bear. “Bear! Bear! Be Gone!” she commanded loudly and firmly. It struck me as an odd thing to say, almost funny. “Go away!” might have made more sense, but here was this slender woman looking up at a creature the size of a car, speaking in what sounded like Old English. “Bear-Be-Gone!” she demanded again, enunciating each word slowly and deliberately as if she were trying to sell a new brand of pest repellent or stain remover. Her choice of words seemed absurd, but I was relieved that she was calmly facing up to this bear instead of screaming or running away, either of which could encourage an attack.The bear stood facing her just feet away, its mouth hanging slightly open. Its head was as broad as Kristin’s shoulders. I was ready to fire my next flare. I had decided to shoot straight at the bear if it attacked, but I wasn’t sure if a direct hit would deter the bear or enrage it. The bear shuffled on its four huge paws. I fired again, just off to the side. The whoosh of the red fireball flying close past the bear didn’t get so much as a sideways glance. The bear continued to study Kristin. A polar bear can pounce 20 feet from standing, and this one was less than 10 feet from us. “Bear be Gone!” Kristin insisted. The bear looked at me, looked back at her, then half turned, shuffled its huge paws and wandered a few paces up the rock away from us.Kristin instantly dragged her kayak backward until it was afloat and with a single fluid movement was in the cockpit and backing toward open water. The bear turned. I hauled my kayak across the rocks to the water as the bear began hurrying toward me. I tumbled in the cockpit, my pfd and spray skirt on my lap, and started to push back. In a few steps the bear reached the waters edge, extended its head forward and fixed its stare on me, but Kristin and I were already a few yards from shore, paddling vigorously away.Free from the narrow confines of the narrow slot where we had landed, we were now had to exit the channel between the islets to reach the open water beyond. I paddled close to Kristin. The bear ambled over the rock, matching our pace with ease. Even steep cliff-like rock faces didn’t slow it down. It was elegeant and graceful and seemed to gather momentum like a ball rolling down a hill.

When we paddled clear of the island and reached open water, the bear paused and stood watching us. It walked a few more yards, lifted its head to sniff the air, then walked headfirst into the water and submerged. The white shape of the bears head appeared, pushing across the surface toward us then vanished again. Polar bears can stay under water for as long as two minutes and swim at a steady six knots, so if this bear wanted to catch up with us, it was certainly capable of doing so. We hurried away and didn’t relax out paddling pace for a couple of hours.


In their 2004 expedition they had 16 encounters with polar bears!

EDIT: In case you ever plan to meet a polar bear (I don’t) you might like to read up on what to do here. In summary, bear spray, rubber bullets then a big gun. Some good tips on keep all of these options working in -40C.


The canoe boys

May 30, 2007

canoe boys 2007 edition

Simon Willis quotes Alastair Dunnett from the new edition of the Canoe Boys (about paddling up the west coast of Scotland in 1934) writing about his job as a bank clerk:

“Tomorrow my feet will walk a city’s pavements. Tomorrow I shall know again the full horror of respectability. Tomorrow, pilloried in collars, surmounted by unyeilding headgear, I shall prepare to shoulder again my infinitesimal burden of responsibility in the financial transactions of a wearied world.”

Willis is paddling with Cailean Macleod sections of the journey originally made by Alastair Dunnett and Seumas Adam. He is making programs for Radio Scotland and blogging about it here. He says (not sure if its a quote) “Alastair Dunnett described a wall of water, darting at and striking them; hands in the water trying the seize and wrestle the paddles from their grasp; a moving group of whirlpools with a noise like hissing thunder; the sea gathering below their canvas and slatted hulls like a horse bunching for the gallop.”

So all in sounds like a great read.

book review on sea paddler dot net of the 1995 edition the Canoe Boys

amazon for the 2007 edition 

Laurie Ford on Andrew McAuley

May 29, 2007

Laurie Ford in Tasmania in this post about Andrew McAuley said

“What went wrong? This is the best guess made by the people on the spot – but is conjecture, as told to me by Paul [Hewiston the kayaker builder].

He was getting tired (he went through emotional highs and lows – this from the video), but was finally in good weather, and in sight of land (the peaks of the mountains anyway). A small front came through that he possibly didn’t bother putting his dry suit on for, maybe because it was a very hot day. He was probably exuberant at being close to land and may have paddled more than he was fit to do, and was extra tired. The cold front capsized him and put him in the water. He could not get back in. He got in under the kayak and unscrewed the rear hatch to get his drysuit out, and the VHF radio. If he was tethered he would have to untether to get into the dry suit. Somehow he got separated from the kayak and it blew away from him faster than he could swim – especially in a dry suit, or half in one.

The rest you know.

I repeat, the above is conjecture from the people on the spot – but a reasonable explanation that would cover all the facts.

Why didn’t he go for the EPIRB. I know Andrew thinks the same as I do on this subject. It is a last resort. It is far better (if possible) to make contact by phone or radio and let people know the exact situation – rather than the huge panic and search that an EPIRB generates. Having said that, I’m quite sure that he would have intended to set it off (as I would) once he was in the dry suit. It was the separation from the kayak that brought him undone.

What lessons can be learnt from this tragedy? First of all, it is possible to paddle a kayak from Tasmania to New Zealand. Never forget that. Andrew planned this expedition in meticulous detail, and he was right – it can be done.

Had he had a small strobe light in an inside pocket of his paddling jacket he may well have attracted the attention of the two helicopters that went out searching on the friday night. And in hindsight the EPIRB should always be attached to the person, not the kayak.”

Surfing the river kayak

May 26, 2007

not today but same place

This picture is from last year – no camera today.

3 hours of fooling around in the surf today in my borrowed river kayak. It was a beautiful day, 24degrees and sunny and the beach was relatively disserted. (But it still bugs me how Japansese people seem to think its okay to drive on the beach, all these guys with their motors parked right next to where they are fishing or having a bbq – it doesn’t just bug my environmental happiness but also my sense of aesthetics…)
skirt and helmet

No photos except this one of my new spray skirt and helmet. The helmet was great, super comfortable – I forgot I was wearing it, the spray skirt was okay. It fit but not really tight enough. It’s fine for rolling and most waves but when I mistimed a run and got pounded by a big breaking wave part of the skirt popped, a crack but enough to let enough water in that I had to beach and bale. But for 5,000yen what can I expect?

The surf was pretty big, from the road it looked nice and I parked about half way along the beach thinking I could get out no problem but when I got to the shore I realsied I needed to walk a bit… The great thing about this beach is the shape, it curls round and hence has a range of waves from big to flat so you choose your height.

the curved beach gives wave variety

I, being a wimp, chose the middleish; 1-2 feet waves which allowed me only about 30m of surfing. The nice big waves (my guess today was 4-5feet) were breaking pretty far from shore and running for at least 100m. I hate myself for not being more machO!

At first I was nervous about this new-to-me kayak but after some rolling and bracing practice (as you’d expect easy to roll) and getting a feel for turning around easily I got a bit more confident. I started bongo sliding a few waves in and then surfed. It was easy to get on the waves – the kayaks big fat bum meant it got picked up quickly – and the round end stopped the nose diving. It was also easy to turn around and get off the waves. Breaking through waves was tougher than with the sea kayak. I was also not happy with the lack of flotation in the river kayak – no bulkheads and no back up bags… Need to think about this.

I wiped out twice and failed both times to roll up in the surf (disappointed) and hauling the waterlogged kayak to shore is hard work (lost my shades in one of the wet exits).

Water temperature was 16degrees and after a while got a bit cold. But I really enjoyed myself: fun, easy and great to be on the water. Also realised that I can probably sell my sea kayak earlier than I thought and go surfing for the last month…

A rainy day.

May 19, 2007


I had arranged a tour with Noriyuki Hoshi – my tour guide of Miyagi and my ski buddy, Jonathan. But due to some poor communication that got blown out, so I went with Nori and his “club mate” Abe-san. They are planning to cross Sendai bay (about 70km) in September. Good luck! がんばってね

All of these photographs were taken by Abe-san. Who very generously sent me them.


We set out from my usual put-in at Oku-Mastsushima. Nori lent me his North Shore, Shoreline kayak (which was awesome!) Abe-san was paddling the same but without a skeg and Nori was in an waterfield kayak (Japanese brand). The forecast was for rain to stop around 9am and slowly turn to sun around noon but as you can see in the photos it rained steadily all morning.

rafted up rearranging my foredeck

We did a very simple circuit of one of the islands. There was no wind and only small swell and it was a pleasure to paddle. We ducked in and out of the caves that I know quite well by now.
caves 1

Paddling with the swell was great as the Shoreline kayak accelaerated quickly and so surfed easily.

Low tide was at 11am and at a few points there were some breaking waves, Nori and Abe-san didn’t seem to interested in these though so I just followed their lead. We were making good progress and I was surprised how easy it was to keep up. This pace in my own kayak would have been tiring.


We came to one spot that where the waves were breaking (I actually remember trying to get on these waves once before without much success) and I decided I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to mess around (with some back up in case things go wrong). As I was practicing some bracing I hit the limit of secondary stability and capsized but rolled up first time, this gave me confidence that there wouldn’t be a problem with the small surf.

The waves were about 50cm and running for about 100m. They were breaking due to a huge bed of seaweed and so were irregular, breaking at different places and running at different angles and fun! Sometimes a larger wave would form and it was possible to get triangular waves as the waves interferred with one another.


Punching out through the waves was fun too. I did some bongo sliding and managed to catch, surf three waves. The first one was great and I got a decent run. The second was ok. The third was one of the bigger waves and I enjoyed the speed. At the end of the run, I broached round to bongo slide the last bit, high bracing into the wave


It was all going great until just about as this picture was taken. The wave disappeared and I capsized. I then couldn’t roll using my usual, short roll because the seaweed was preventing me getting the paddle round. I tried for the back-up roll that Shibata-san had taught me but failed, twice, and had to wet exit. (Thanks to Nori for the timely reminder about where the spray skirt pull cord was – at the side rather than front) .

As I came up, just outside the surf zone I let go my paddle which was dissapointing – I want to keep hold of that. Anyway after a short discussion about how best to rescue I went for a rentry and eskimo roll (maybe I should have rolled up with my paddle as practice?)

pumping out

We then pumped out (that’s Nori pumping at the back using the built-in pump on the Shoreline’s deck) rafted for stability (and closing my eyes to look good). The water was the same temperature as the rain and the air (about 15 degrees C) one of those days when the junctions are all blurred. We then paddled in to shore and did some rolling practice in the rain

rolling up

(this roll one wasn’t so good – note the sinking paddle blade)

I tried again the failed back-up roll and couldn’t do it. The Shoreline doesn’t have good knee braces and it was hard to get a good hip flick – this was Nori’s conclusion… Hmm I need more practice. After a few minutes rolling though I got really cold – Abe-san pointing out my purple lips so we set out for home through the lake-like part of Matsushima bay.

going home

I practiced refining my stroke and cadence and finally decided on a 15 degree feather (have been experimenting with zero, 15 and 30 recently). I really, really enjoyed the Shoreline kayak. It is the best kayak I have paddled so far (beating my own of course, the North Shore Mistral and Calypso and two waterfield kayaks I have paddled with tour guides). Fast – easy to get up to speed, manouverable, good secondary stability, nice tight cokpit – fit me well – and surfs well. The only complaint was knee braces.

Thanks again Nori (and sorry for the cancellation) and to Abe-san for the photographs.

route map

Helmet and sprayskirt

May 17, 2007

I’ve ordered a new neoprene sprayskirt for my on loan, river kayak. The keyhole cockpit is small (old fashioned) just 75x48cm so finding one that fit wasn’t easy and I’ve had to compromise on an adjustable skirt (with bungee at the back). Will post a picture when it arrives.

I’m also looking for a kayak helmet but the ones I’ve tried so far don’t fill me with love.

Montbell‘s selection that I have tried includes these two:


At around 4,000yen. No front bills…

There is also a list of 5 manufacturers with comments here.

J3helmets | Gratefulheads | PredatorHelmets | ShredReady | SweetProtection

Sweet protection make this one reviewed here which costs 200US! eek.

Crystal Shipman

And a good safety note from Shred Ready whose slogan is “Because rocks hurt“:

“All helmets loose their impact resistance over time. We reccomend that paddling helmets be replaced after every serious impact, and even if you never experience an impact, your lid needs to be replaced every third paddling season.”

The one I want is of course not possible here. It’s expensive and made in Norway…

from sweet protection

Andrew McAuley answers

May 16, 2007

I’ve been keeping a look out for more information on what happened to McAuley. I read somewhere that the filmaker, Jan Peedom, whose cameras McAuley had with him was planning a documentary on his likely fate. (Contradicting an earlier report that said “It is unlikely camera footage found onboard the kayak of a missing Australian adventurer will provide any answers as to what’s happened to him.” source)

But I am worried that documentary will be an antipodean film and the rest of us will never know…

Here is the entry on McAuley on Wikipedia which could do with some work.

Gale Force Kayaking

May 15, 2007

An extract from an interesting article and exciting read about Steve Sinclair at Force 10 Kayaking in Elk, Northern California


“Timing his entry precisely, Sinclair raises the Odyssea Ski above his head and charges the surf. The next wave breaks at his feet and explodes into foam. Sinclair throws his craft upon the wave’s broken back and vaults aboard. With long strokes, driving from his legs, he paddles into the belly of the following wave. He sweeps up the face and breaks through the wave’s roof as it closes above him.

Sinclair breaks seven lines of 15 to 20-foot surf in the space of a quarter mile. As he passes Gunderson Rock, a 120 foot pyramid of battered sandstone off shore, 25-foot breakers trip on the relative shallows of the cove and crash as if upon the beach.

The swells beyond Gunderson are mountainous. Manes of spray trail from their crests. The wind makes the sound of sheet metal being torn into strips. It lifts so much water into the air that the division between sea and atmosphere is lost. To breathe, Sinclair must purse his lips and filter the air from the vaporous froth. Near and in the distance loom massive logs, some disgorged from the Greenwood Creek behind him, others drifting with the storm from estuaries to the north. Some of the logs are sixty feet long, some complete with roots and branches and trunks the girth of an armspan. This flotsam rolls through the waves, some water-logged and bobbing vertically like telephone poles, others like set pikes from breaking faces. In the range of elements Sinclair faces in a winter storm, it is this driftwood he fears most…”

Some of the things that Sinclair does, according to the author Andrew Todhunter, I found interesting, for example:

“Sinclair prefers a wash-deck kayak, a boat you sit strapped to the top of rather than inside. In no danger of flooding, such a vessel – unlike a kayak with a cockpit – is as easy to right and remount as a surf board.”

This makes a lot of sense to me and is one of the things I find funny about kayak surfing, as a body boarder, somehow being inside a boat makes waves look much bigger and much scarier. There is something much more intimate about surfing compared to kayaking. And you need much less “stuff”, the board is your pfd.

“While navigating an open coast, as Sinclair demonstrates, always work to maximize your “down time.” This is the time it would require, from any point along your course, to drift from the site of an accident, like a capsize or dropped paddle, into a potential hazard, like a wash rock or wave-battered cliff.”

Good advice I guess…

A bit more of the exhillirating part of the story goes like this:

“From the top of the swell smaller, attendant waves of 6 to 8 feet break off and roar down the face in all directions. Some run over others and lend force. Others curl and break face to face, jetting a haystack of spray into the wind. As he climbs the main face Sinclair carves left and right to attack these breakers with his bow. He toils to the top of the swell, paddles through its apex and disappears beyond it in a depthless sea of foam. The foam trails like a veil from the shoulders of the crumbling swell. Sinclair is completely submerged, out of the shrieking wind. Beneath the surface of the foam is the sound, as he describes it, of a hundred freight trains.

Paddle held high above his head for balance, Sinclair emerges from the veil of foam and surfs down the back of the broken swell into the following trough. The next wave is gathering, pulling him in. The sky vanishes. The attendant waves break off and swoop from the heights to intercept him. He streaks up the swell, gathering speed. With a last, long stroke, his torso slamming backward flat against the hull, the craft breaks through the ragged hem of the wave and launches high into the air.

Held upon the wind, Sinclair drifts from his seat until he stands in his footwells like a Nordic skier. He sweeps his paddle in line with the ski’s hull to prevent the blades from catching the wind and flipping him over. He leans forward, drives with his weight against the lift. The wave frequency passes beneath him as he falls. The ski finally lands, stern first, in the bottom of the following trough. Sinclair has lost time in the air and knows that the top of the next wave will break upon him before he can attain its peak. He buckles his seat belt.

Sinclair paddles futilely for the summit. He has scarcely left the trough when the top third of the wave breaks off like a cornice and drops with the sound and speed of an avalanche down the rising face, erasing the breakers in its path. Upon impact man and boat together are buried and blown backward. End over end in the explosion, spiraling through the mass of broken sea, Sinclair holds his breath, lies flat against his back and clings to his vessel. He surfaces for an instant, takes a tight-lipped breath and vanishes again into the thundering foam. The grip of the avalanche gradually diminishes, the violence ebbs and finally the broken wave releases the boat and passes on. Sinclair, still belted to his ski, bobs to the surface, back into the freezing rain.

He regains lost ground, passes Mile Rock to starboard and continues north-west into the storm.

It takes him three hours to reach his farthest mark – an area some three miles from shore. After resting briefly, his head upon his knees, Sinclair turns around and begins the run to Greenwood Cove. Catching three rides, it takes him twelve minutes to get back.”

copyright Andrew Todhunter: full article titled Gale Force Kayaking appeared in the August 1995 Atlantic Monthly (Confusingly because he kayaks the Pacific).

Sand Marks paddled with Gale Force Kayaking.

A little puddle

May 12, 2007


Harbour just south of Onagawa.

A beautiful spring day in Northern Japan. The weather was warm, 18 degrees with a strongish though abating westerly (15knots) and cold water (I estimate 10-12degrees, at least 3 degrees colder than in Matsushima). Today was a half day, putin at 10.30 out by 3pm.

I left from a beautiful and totally silent little harbour, with birds twittering in the trees and a feeling of complete tranquility. It was really unusual.


panorama made with the excellent autostitch


In the wind shadow and in the protection of the inlet the water was undisturbed, not flat calm but just a bit wobbly… It was also super clean and clear with visibility of about 5m. I tried to take an image of this clarity and it didn’t come out but I got another effect that I quite like.


The coast is fyord like with a combination of cliffy headlands and small beaches and unusually for Japan (where planted cedar dominates) a mixed, decidous forrest whose colours my poor quality camera is barely capable of capturing.


The lack of swell (and the protected areas under the cliffs) allowed me into the rock gradens to play around and explore without fear of being dashed against the cliffs like last week. It was fun playing in some white water and interesting how little support well aerated water gives you… I mean I know that but still when you experience it it’s still a surprise.


I then paddled across one of the bays past what I can only describe as a sea of bhoys, each mooring a line of shellfish. Though I’m not sure that I would eat these seeing as the nucleur power station is just round the next headland – you can just about see the pylons marching across the landscape in the background.


There was also a series of salmon farms with the salmon leaping high out of the water.

I stopped for lunch at a small beach (took some more “for sale” pictures)

ate my onigiri (rice ball) lunch


and even did some surfing: about 100m off to left there was a small break, over foot deep rocks below, which ran for about 50mbefore dashing on the cliff. There was an easy out and it was easy top get on these waves and fun, though somewhat limited. Made me sure I want to get a spray skirt for my borrowed kayak and get into surfing…


I paddled out, with the wind at my back, around the headland. The wind was strong but not too serious, I was more worried about the energyI would expend fighting back into the wind than the conditions. Further out was a coatguard vessel lay anchored at the bay entrance. I wonder why? I know the sea conditions were quite bad this weekend, 20km offshore the waves were 5m+.


I paddled about a km downwind round the headland, enjoying the bouncy ride and more agressive ocean – gave me the feeling of the North Pacific proper – keeping far from the rocks to avoid the reflected waves and to “maximise my down time”.

Heading, slogging, back I paddled straight across the bay, surfing the swell running in and keeping my head down into the wind. What is nice about paddling upwind is that weather cocking means all your efforts are expended in forward motion rather than corrective strokes.


about half way back the wind started to die down


and I could just enjoy the swell.


I took this series of images from the middle of the bay: a 360 degree panoramic. It doesn’t show much except the sea state sadly my camera is so bad, the landscape doesn’t come out…
Back inshore I was fooling around in the rock gardens taking some more pictures when disaster struck. I was always worried about dropping my non waterproof camera in the sea but instead I dropped it – in order to brace into an unexpected wave – onto my skirt only to find that there lay a puddle of water.

This is the last image my camera ever took:

wet phone

Ah well. I’m philiosophical: it was rubbish anyway, the colour was always off, no zoom, impossible to see the viewfinder in bright sunlight, poor image compression etc etc. I’ll just have to shell out on a proper digital camera.

Lastly here is my route and this link showing where I was at a larger scale.


Which way is up?

May 11, 2007

copyright Mark Sanders

copyright Mark Sanders

Mark Sanders, solo paddling, surfing and making some great images and videos around California. His site is one of my favourites (I only wish he posted more); I admire his sense of humour and photography.
This is the latest genius image – a still from video. Which way is up?


May 10, 2007


This is the information preseneted for NE Japan this week at surfari. While I like the graphics I’m not sure this will be that much use for me, firstly the drop down menus don’t worth with Firefox (I mean who is still using Explorer?), secondly it seems way too large scale and lastly it seems to only provide a forecast Sunday to Sunday; today is Thursday already but I don’t know what this Sundays forecast is…

I have worked out that I have 12 Thursdays left before I leave Japan. If I take 2hrs off every Thursday to go surfing till leaving day that will only be 3 days of nenkyu. As they say in Japan, Yatta!

Kinkasan trip

May 9, 2007

curved sculpture

I made another trip to the island of Kinkasan at the weekend, the previous time being August 6th 2006. But I decided to spend the time with my children who have been a bit neglected by me recently, so went by big boat.


The sea was pretty big with 2-3m swells rolling in from the SE and through the 1km wide channel that separates Kinkasan from the Oshika peninsula. This is the wave direction for big surf. The guys on the ferry were being a bit melodramatic though, asking us to sit at the back as the waves were big, and some of the old ladies on board let out little squeeks of excitement as we rolled up and down. My younger daughter didn’t like the ride at all, she’s got her mothers sea legs.

The surf was pretty dramatic though and you could hear the noise from miles away. The rolling waves were breaking pretty far from shore. In the image below taken from the top(ish) of Kinksan you can (just about) see the soup but also the break line about 200m further out.


That lee shore is very dangerous in these conditions but even on the windward side of the channel the waves were kind of pounding in


So I suppose it’s good I didn’t paddle.

Kinkasan was beautiful of course and we had a great day and overnight.

spring weather

and enjoyed feeding the deer, who were a lot less pushy and agressive than I thought they’d be.

Skellig Michael [sceilg mhicil]

May 8, 2007


image from sacred sites

Marcus Demuth is Kayaking around Ireland this summer and has some interesting information on his website. The thing that jumped out one me was some pictures of a place called Skellig Michael, one of the ‘skelligs’, 12km off the coast of SW Ireland. It’s a world heritage site, at least 1400 years old and well preserved early christian monastry that reminds me very much of the Japanese monastic tradition:

“The second and highest of the two peaks on Skellig Michael, 714 feet above sea level. There’s a prehistoric ‘standing stone’ on top, with incised Celtic Cross. Medieval pilgrims, after visiting the monastery, would climb to the top and kiss the rock, thus proving their piety” source


“An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.”
George Bernard Shaw

location map:

map from unseco site

All of the following quoted by Marcus Demuth:

“The Skelligs are thought to be, from certain perspectives, the single most committing paddle in Ireland.” David Walsh: Oileain – A guide to the Irish Islands

The following is from Brian Wilson’s book “Dances with Waves”:

” … It was not until I was within a mile of its cliffs that Little Skellig at last stood out as a distinct mass from Skellig Michael. Towering above the white-capped waves, a bright guano-limewash highlighted the saw-ridged form of the high-rise sea bird colony. At first sight what looked like a plume of volcanic smoke hung over the island’s four hundred foot peak; but greater proximity brought better definition: thousands of gannets were swarming in a flight-cloud so dense as to reduce the daylight. The skyway filled to saturation with white, whirring adult birds. The whole island too was alive with creamy-headed gannets; every available ledge on the serrated cliffs and pinnacles had been claimed.

l emerged from the gannet cloud thoroughly caked in a rapidly hardening whitewash, looking, I supposed, like a scale replica of the island itself, and unable, for the moment to do anything about it. Beyond the slight shelter of Little Skellig, the sea took on an extra dimension. A large swell had built up and was breaking heavily in places, sometimes from a height of five feet – well above eye level when you’re sitting in a kayak and quite daunting when eight miles from land. The sudden need to perform decisive bracing strokes – sweeping the paddle across the water’s surface to gain the extra support necessary to right the kayak using a hip movement – gave the situation an extra edge of tension. Skellig Michael now lay across a final mile of heavy water, its dramatic shape and massive berg-like presence tempting me ever onward. But the bright, bouncy morning was gone; cloud had closed in and the wind had increased to force five, and I began to doubt whether it would be possible to land on the rock.

Beneath the towering rocks of Skellig Michael I surged and stalled, rising and falling on reflected waves. A twelve foot swell was pounding against the landing platform, fully exposed to the sea’s assault. One moment I was level with the waves worrying the concrete step; the next I would be plunging downward until the platform was several yards above my head. To have tried to land there would have risked serious damage to the boat – and probably also to me. Skirting the rock gingerly, I found a second landing site, away from the sea’s main force, at a place named Blind Man’s Cove, where a flight of steps from the lighthouse ended in a submerged concrete block. But even here the swell was flushing in with great force, before sucking suddenly back to reveal a great void above the ubiquitous tearing rock. Alone there was no way to land without damage to the kayak; and as the kayak was my only ticket back to St Finan’s Bay, I couldn’t take that risk. With a sinking heart I began to realise not only that I’d be unable to explore the Skellig, but that, after almost three hours in the kayak, I wouldn’t even be able to stretch my legs and have a pee. The long low line of the mainland, from Dursey Head to the Blasket islands, was just a distant smudge on the eastern horizon.

Well, the wind strengthened and the sea grew yet bolder, and the long journey landward became one of my roughest and most protracted ever …”

It looks so, South Pacific. Pictures here

kodomo no hi (aka boys day)

May 5, 2007

5th May is boys day – officially childrens day but seeing as March 3rd is girls day (hinamatsuri) it’s also known as boys day. Families with boys fly carp kites (koinobori) on large poles

from wikipedia

My son, Kazuma (一真 meaning one truth) was celebrating his first boys day with his “Matsushima grandparents” the Miura-sans. So I went kayaking.

The weather was warm and sunny, one of the first such days this year up here in chilly Tohoku. Air temp 22c, water temperature 14c, 5m/s southerly wind with 1.5-2m swells from the south/southeast.

I set out at low tide (11am) with lots of fishermen on the beach and fishermen’s wives climbing on the rocks collecting whatever it is they collect at low tide around here.


I’ve paddled my planned route before, out to the caves around the headland, find a lunch spot then back. I had about 5 hours of paddling planned. There were lots of sport fishermen out too in small boats and I even saw one of them catch a fish, looked a decent size but the fishermen didn’t look so friendly so I didn’t get any closer than this to take the picture


It was great to be kayaking again after a long layoff. The S/SE swell direction is the best (biggest) direction for waves into Ishinomaki and Matsushima and they can roll in unimpeded. The light wind meant few wind blown waves and it was a pleasure kayaking in the bigish swell. I set myself the challenge of actually trying to capture a swell in a picture: hard to do

try 1

version 2

version 3

It is much easier when the swell hits some rocks! Or even when it breaks and at low tide the swell was breaking in lots of places, it’s actually quite a tricky spot; when I joined the boat club and was hiring motor boats I was advised not to go out around here as there are numerous reefs and boomers…

surf on a reef

Today was one of those days though that I wished I had someone with me, then we could have surfed some of these breaks. One in particular was great the waves were spilling and running for at least 100m. But alone and a km from a rocky shore in coldish water I erred on the side of caution. Again.

breaking waves

breaking 2

plungng swell

The caves were great and also a bit scary as the sound of the waves pounding in the dark is enough to spook anyone especially as you need to keep the paddle in the water to stay in place…


classic profile


Of course where there are caves there are sea stacks and around here there are numerous. Almost as many sightseeing boats as come to see them


stack 4

famous stack

Beyond the headland the sea was rougher, I didn’t take many pictures as I was being bounced around and my biggest fear is always that my non waterproof camera phone gets wet…

I found a lunch spot mostly protected from the surf

lunch beach

And even remembered to take some kayak pictures – I need to sell this kayak in a few months prior to going back to Scotland.


90,000yen or 450pounds if anyone is interested.


I realised a few things today, first that I am a warm weather kayaker – it’s just so much more enjoyable when its warm, second I’m just not that into long distance kayaking I like the idea but the reality is different. I remember that was my feeling when I went kayaking for the first time – you have to paddle everywhere you want to go! River kayaking you just fall downhill… Lastly I realised that I will miss kayaking in Japan a lot, I paddle in a very beautiful area with warm water, caves, cliffs, surf beaches…

masculine landscape

I got back to the put-in at 4pm and despite being exhausted decided I should do some rolling practice – best time to practice is when you are tired and also in relatively cold water. I did a few rolls – no problems – and some sculling and bracing. Great fun and 14c is warmer than I thought – actually perfect for my climaprene top.

I realised yet another thing – this is the kind of kayaking I am into (greenland style?) where you don’t really go anywhere much you just muck around on the water, do some surfing maybe, rolling and sculling, get wet.

I’m going to try and go kayaking at least once a week for the next three months (a challenge in itself!) and now that the days are getting longer hope to be able to nip off after work for some evening surfing.