The weather forecast was showing extremely settled weather on the Saturday morning, from about 4am till 1pm. Beyond 1pm, it looked like the southwesterly would be growing stronger.
“Let’s shoot for 5am on the water,” I messaged to Timbah and Ben.
To facilitate the early start (including shuttling cars to the take-out at the Otaru end), we all decided we’d try to get to Ranshima Beach on Friday night after work. The plan was to camp on the beach.
We all converged upon the beach at dusk, at around 7;30am. Unfortunately, the public toilets we’d hoped to use were still closed. Furthermore, everything was roped off. Carparks, camping areas…everything. There was a distinct pre-season ‘keep out’ vibe. This dampened resolve to set up tents. We drove around the area a little, to see if there was somewhere a little more suitable for bedding down for the night. This turned up a blank, so we ended up back at the eastern end of Ranshima Beach. It was almost dark now.
Timbah and Ben had their own cars, set up for sleeping in them. Haidee and I only had our tent. So under the veil of darkness, we set up the tent, resolved to the likelihood we’d not be able to leave it set up for the weekend as we’d hoped.
It was windy that night. Haidee and I slept fitfully. The 3:30am alarm was jarring. But it was already light outside. It was time for action.
In the quiet of the morning, we unloaded the kayaks from the cars, and then all drove to the take out. We left two cars there, and drove back to the put in at Ranshima Beach. The sun had broken over the Oshoro Peninsula. It was hot. It was going to be a scorcher of a day. I had intended to wear my drysuit, since the water was still quite cold. But I knew I wasn’t going to last very long in that heat, wrapped in a sweat-suit.
Heck, Timbah was half-naked, going for a swim.
By the time we got on the water, it was about 5:30am. The sun had already been up for two hours. The reality of Hokkaido summers.
Immediately, we were taken aback at the gorgeous coast on the Oshoro Peninsula. Magnificent rocky cliffs, beautiful inlets, majestic views west along the Shakotan Peninsula.
Rounding Ryuga-saki point, the cliffs only got higher and more impressive. We were dwarfed.
From Ryuga-misaki we made a beeline for Shioya Bay, via Momo-iwa, another towering outcrop of a rock. The sea was clam, so we were able to sneak through the low-tide zones, threading through and over what would later that day become rock pools.
As we approached Shioya Bay, Timbah and Ben pushed on across the bay to the small beach just before Tate-iwa, while Haidee and I dropped in on Kato-san at Blue Holic, the legendary sea kayak tour operation at Shioya Beach. It was great to see Kato-san again, and to our surprise we also met Zak, the American trainee outdoor guide who we’d met on the last day of our 8-day Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse hike last year.
We didn’t stay for long, as we knew Timah and Ben were ahead of us. We said our greetings and went on our way. We found Timbah and Ben a few minutes later, already paddling around the shallows with dive goggles on, amazed at all the sea life.
“Sea urchins everywhere!” beamed Timbah.
Early on in this scorcher of a sea kayaking day, I realized I’d forgotten to pack my sunhat. I wore my Palm buff for a while, but with no sunshade, I was suffering. So, with judicious use of an inflatable Palm paddle float we were carrying, plus the buff, I fashioned myself the most styling hat of anyone on the trip. Pure class.
We were now at the highlight section of this 20km of coast – the epic Otamoi coastline. Arches, caves, cliffs. It was all a bit mind-boggling. First, the arches. We had hit things right at high tide, so we were able to paddle through both of them. All incredible in their own right.
And then the caves. We had to wait our turn to paddle into the most famous one – the Blue Cave 青の洞窟. A mid-sized tour boat, to our surprise, drove right into the cave, and then came out facing forward again. It’s a huge, beautiful cave. My GoPro didn’t like the darkness in the cave, so you’ll just have to go there and experience it for yourself.
Next up was the more exciting Sekiryu Cave 赤龍の洞窟. This one is deep. Narrower at first, but then getting wider the deeper you get. I was happy I had my head torch on hand.
By the time we’d pottered about the caves and cliffs, time was getting on. Curiously, despite the forecast for a southerly, we were experiencing a strengthening northwesterly.
“Perhaps the wind is wrapping around the peninsula,” proffered Timbah.
We now had a strong following wind, so we put our heads down and started to make miles.
Earlier in the day, however, I’d been chatting with Tomo from GoneSki. He lives a few minutes walk from the Otamoi Coast in Otaru, so I mentioned to him that we’d be in the area.
“I’ll see if I can meet up with you guys at some point with my SUP,” he replied.
Sure enough, as we rounded the last point on the cliff-bound section of Otamoi Coast, and made our way to the small stony beach under the old ruins, there he was bobbing on the ocean on his SUP.
We pulled up on the beach and spent the next 20 minutes or so chatting and catching up. The last time I’d hung out with Tomo was on a mid-winter mission to ski a gully from Akaiwa-yama to the ocean, on this very coast (yet to be written up).
By the time we got on our way again, the northwester had stiffened even more. Tomo only had a few hundred meters to go on his SUP, whereas we still had about 6km to go. It was a lively down-wind paddle for the remainder of the Akai-iwa portion of the route.
Still dwarfed by the coastal bluffs and cliffs, we were now in the scorched earth section of the coast.
We made good progress westwards with the wind at our back. The Hiyori-yama Lighthouse was a sight for sore eyes, as we knew this marked only a few hundred meters to go to our destination.
Confirming just how curious the following wind was, as soon as we rounded Takashima-misaki cape, we were greeted with a very strong southerly. A very stiff westerly in the lee of a southerly is what we were experiencing on this Otamoi coast. Curious indeed.
At the take out, there were hordes of tourists, clambering around the shoreline, enjoying the sun. We took out, strapped the kayaks to our cars, and made a quick beeline to the onsen for a soak and food.
Post-soak, we had a leisurely dinner at the 2nd-floor restaurant (and nap), and then considered our options for the following day. After some deliberation, we decided to head to a popular surf zone just west of Ranshima.
“There’s also a little bit of beach where people camp,” Tomo had said earlier in the day.
The forecast was for some waves early in the morning, so at Timbah’s prompting, we decided we’d try to get out early. While Timbah has a lot of experience in sea kayaks, including in the surf, Ben, Haidee and I are relative beginners, so it would be a good opportunity to learn some more skills.
And it was indeed worth it. We set alarms for 3:30am on the Sunday. Sure enough, tides and swells aligned for some mellow surf action.