This coastal paddle had been on our radar for a while as a relatively accessible thrown-in-the-deep-end overnighter shakedown in our new kayaks. On a previous weekend, however, the weather forecast was less than ideal. 30km/h gusts at times, with rain showers, suggesting some squally conditions. Hardly the ideal weather for getting our heads around packing our kayaks with overnighting gear.
Fast forward to this weekend. The plan was to paddle 17km or so from Irika southeast towards Bikuni, and wild camp in a perfect-looking inlet, not far from our ultimate goal of Bikuni-gyoko Park. The forecast again wasn’t perfect, but neither was it giving us too much cause for concern. A stiff breeze from the north from midday on the Saturday, gaining in strength for Sunday, but by then we’d be only a short 3km paddle to Bikuni.
Despite leaving Sapporo at 5am on Saturday, all the shuttling, packing, and general faffing about meant we weren’t on the water till 9:30am. As anticipated, the bouldery beach was not an ideal put-in, but neither was is untenable, even with boats loaded with overnight gear.
This was Ben’s first time in the silver kayak – a beautifully lightweight carbon-kevlar Vogue Kayaks Evo Expedition boat. Narrower than the P&H Scorpio he’d paddled previously, he squeezed into it and we got on our way.
As we rounded the cape and Shakotan-misaki, we found a slightly heavier swell, as forecast, from the northwest. Everything was going swimmingly until Ben capsized. I laughed at him, emptied his boat for him with a T-rescue, and we were on our way again fairly quick.
Shortly after, Ben said “I can’t feel my legs.”
I’d never sat in the silver boat before either, and it turns out that apparently it’s a relatively tight fitting cockpit with relatively less leg and foot room than most 179cm-ish paddlers would like.
To Ben’s slight protestation, we pushed on to the beach at the sheltered cove at Shimamui-kaigan. At the beach, Ben promptly tried to step out of his kayak, only to find his legs completely incapacitated.
It took him a few minutes of massaging to get them to work again, much to the amusement of the cotton-shirted, jeans-wearing tourists hanging out on the beach.
We promptly set about doing what we should have done before we set off – fitting the silver boat to Ben’s body. Unfortunately the footpegs were already at their forward limit. The seat appeared to have another 1cm or so of aft movement though, so we set about trying to loosen the screws holding it in place. This was to no avail. At least two of the screws on this new-to-me boat appeared well seized (at home later, I could only get them to move with the not-so-gentle coercion of an electric impact driver).
Ben tried sitting in the boat again without his shoes on, but still found it too tight. He would have to endure the trip without the aid of footpegs.
We still had a long way to paddle, so we pressed on.
The whole northern coast in its entirety was hopelessly beautiful. And then we found a cave. A great massive rocky behemoth of a cave. Just inside the mouth of the cave, we could hear the sound of waves crashing somewhere deep inside the cavernous depths. Deeper exploration would have to wait for a day with more time.
Timbah, in his narrow, long, sleek sit-on-top boat, looked completely in his element. This would be his first sea kayaking trip since arriving in Hokkaido. Having led and participated in many sea kayaking expeditions in the US, we couldn’t help but feel proud when he gushed that “this is the most beautiful coast I’ve ever paddled!”
And it was beautiful. Such incredible variety in rock types, cliffs stretching beyond what the eye could see, and water a gorgeous emerald-like blue.
It didn’t take long to arrive at the first major point of the trip – Makka-misaki cape. As can be expected from a prominent cape, this one is known somewhat as a ‘border’ between heavy and light seas. For us, it’s southern side promised lighter seas in the lee of the northwester swell.
Out front, Timbah radioed in that it looked like we could squeeze through a small passageway between the massive seaward rock and the cape proper. The wind howled through the gap, but it was a straightforward and satisfying thread of the needle.
As anticipated, the southern side of the cape, in the lee of both the wind and the swell, was beautifully calm.
We convened and carried on a little further to the northern end of Hamafumi beach 浜婦美海岸. To our surprise, there was another party of kayakers on the beach too, set up nicely with a tarp. I wandered over and chatted with a seasoned-looking kayaker. He was a guide with two clients. We made some small-talk, and I returned to our group.
Some Internet sleuthing later on suggested he was no other than Nishimura-san from Shakotan Kayaks fame – arguably the most knowledgable kayker when it comes to knowing the Shakotan Peninsula coast.
During our break on the beach, Timbah tied up his fishing line to facilitate some opportune trolling and jigging as we made our way down the coast.
It didn’t take long for Timbah to start trying his luck. We’d asked some fishermen before we set off what we should be aiming for, and what sort of lure we should be using.
“Flounder is the fish of the day these days,” they enthusiastically told us. “Use that big lure there,” one of them said, prodding an 8cm pink lure in Timbah’s tackle box.
The majestic coastline didn’t let up. Mile upon mile of precipice straight into the sea. And hardly a spot to escape it should the weather turn.
Already we had a strong following wind, with a very gradually building following sea. Each small point gave us a nice respite from the wind and building waves, but these respites were usually short-lived – the wind was slowly arcing to the north, and was now on our port sides, more of a quartering sea than following.
We’d had Takara-jima Island in our sights for a long time now. It was looming in the distance, large, but only getting imperceptibly closer. On my mind was the cove that I was sure was going to be out of the wind – the perfect sheltered spot for a rough but secluded overnight camp.
When we arrived at the cove though, it was far from sheltered. It was basically a wind tunnel for the northerly as it whipped off the sea, directly up the beach, and up and over the sasa bamboo-grass covered slope above.
I was in two minds about staying the night. Perhaps we could find a sheltered spot on the rather stony beach.
As the experienced sea paddler in our midst, however, Timbah had the words of wisdom that we all needed. “My preference would be to just get to Bikuni today,” he mused. “The forecast is for building seas, and already it’s not entirely ideal conditions.”
So it was then. After all, we also knew that we had a nice grassy campsite, toilets, running water, and an onsen hotspring not far away, should we carry on to Bikuni. It was hardly a difficult decision.
After setting off and rounding the corner into the lively sea and wind, Ben capsized for the second time. This time, he was a bit closer to the rocky shore, and conditions were certainly more lively than the first time he capsized earlier in the trip.
After one failed attempt at Ben clambering back into a kayak with a swamped cockpit, I came up aside his kayak and started to steady it for him. We were being blown towards waves crashing onto the rocky shore, however, so it was becoming clear we wouldn’t have time to risk another failed attempt at getting him back into the kayak. Even then, he’d be sitting in a swamped cockpit, at real risk of capsizing again.
So we switched strategies. I clipped my contact towline to the bow of his boat, and paddled hard, towing it away from the rocks. Timbah came in to tow Ben, still in the water.
Once we were all a suitable distance from the rocks, and, more importantly, in a position with a clear sea downwind of us, I pulled Ben’s kayak up onto mine for a t-rescue, finally getting it emptied of water. Ben swam over and executed a nice heel-hook-esque re-entry as I steadied his kayak.
Once again, a fine group rescue executed…next time we’ll have Ben’s boat a little more well outfitted (and maybe have Ben a little better prepared with some better bracing skills!).
It was sweet relief to arrive at the calm and poise of the Bikuni beach. Sheltered by a huge breakwater, it was like the calm after the storm.
We quickly set up our tents, got our gear organized, and promptly headed to the Misaki-no-yu onsen, back at Shakotan-misaki cape.
THE NEXT DAY
It felt like complete luxury to have a long sleep in the next day. With all the time in the world now, we treated ourselves to a long, relaxed breakfast.
Breakfast was followed by a paddle around Takara-jima island – the short circumnavigation we forwent the day before. In the lee of the island, the sea was beautifully calm.
On the northwestern side of the island, however, the seas were lively. Not heaving, but enough to get the heart racing as we paddled broadside to the deep troughs and tall peaks. The swell reflected off the side of the island back at us, further complicating the conditions.
We were in lighter boats now, not laden down with overnight gear. So it was an interesting, short-lived brush with much livelier conditions than we’d experienced thus far. This is only our (Haidee, Ben and I) first season of sea kayaking, so everything is feeling rather new.