Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Goto Islands

goto copy, originally uploaded by vibromama.

This year during our Spring holidays we are going to Goto Islands with our sea kayaks. We have made a very detailed digital map of the area for our GPS units, and are fully prepared with 10 days worth of food and snacks. Since the Goto Islands are in the middle of the sea the weather can be quite severe. Our actual plans will be depending on the weather.
These islands are famous for their rich Christian history. When Christianity was forbidden in Japan, a lot of Christians fled to these islands where they were safe. Still today there are over 50 churches on these islands!
During our trip we hope to visit some of these churches, meet local people, learn about the history of these islands, catch some fish, explore new territory, hike some mountains, enjoy time together and sea kayak.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Total distance 121 km
Total time kayaking 23 hours, 15 minutes
Average Speed 5.2km/h

What is starting to seem like an annual ritual, we once again decided to circumnavigate the lower island of Amakusa (Shimo Shima). The story of last year’s circumnavigation can be found on Thursday March 3rd, 2005 at
This year we decided to do the trip in only 2 days. This was made possible by a careful yearlong observation of the tide currents around the island, months of training, careful study of weather forecasts and LUCK.
We started at Tomioka Beach near Cape Shikizaki, the northwest extremity of the island at sunrise on Sunday and soon rounded the cape. Here we met with an unexpected annoying current, which set us out on a slow pace.
A couple hours later we entered the fast moving Hayasaki Strait and we were finally cruising at more than 10km/h. This being the end of spring tide we were able to ride the current all the way past Kame island in Oniike. Around here we stayed well away from shore to avoid the back current that swirls around this island. Right in the current convergence zone we often see garbage floating around in circles. Today we found a very unusual site floating around in the water. Upon inspection we found it to be not a pig, but a severely bloated dog.
Turning south toward Hondo we met yet another unexpected back current and a wind, which created waves hampering our forward progress. We finally made it to the Hondo Strait an hour or so behind schedule. As we slid under the Seto Bridge we caught a passing glance at our newly amalgamated Amakusa City, a merging of 2 cities and 7? towns. Along with the merging come elections, and throughout our trip our solitude was interrupted by loud speaker equipped cars repeatedly shouting slogans “My name is Ootsuka Motoo; vote for me!” We felt a little bit of a relief as we passed out of the most densely populated areas of the island; from now on things would also be more scenic.
Once past the Hondo we paddled into the Yatsushiro Sea and for a while cruised at a steady pace. Unfortunately, the current started to weaken as we continued and instead of camping at the southern tip of Amakusa, we opted to camp early on Ubu Shima, a beautiful uninhabited island with camping facilities and even hot showers (that were left open for free use!) We felt lucky as we stripped off our heavily salted wetsuits and showered our tired bodies.

We ate a giant dinner of pasta with delicious smoked fish (a souvenir from Yakushima). Although it was delicious, neither of us had a big appetite. In the end it felt like force feeding. We were both so tired and only wanted to sleep, but knowing that tomorrow was going to be a big day we shoved down the grub.

The next day at 3am we started off toward Ushibuka. The sea was calm and we were completely alone paddling down the streaming Nagashima Strait. The moon was bright in the sky casting a slightly blue tinge on the surrounding landscape. For the next 2 hours we made good progress until we approached To Island. Here the tide reversed; this happened a little sooner than anticipated and forced us toward the shore to catch whatever back currents there were. Passing under the Ushibuka Bridge as the sun was rising we focused on moving forward and staying out of the way of fishing boats on their way out to sea. Around Mogushi beach we saw people decked out in full head to toe wetsuits diving for sea urchins.
By the time we made it to Cape Oniki, the rocks of the west coast were already dotted with sport fishermen. Sport fishing in Amakusa is big business. These predominately middle-aged males, dressed in the latest hi-tech clothing with fishing gear worth a mint are all transported by boat to these isolated rocks in hopes of catching a prize fish. Along the west coast we also pulled out our fishing rods and begin trawling.
The conditions were ideal; only long slow waves came in from the outside sea causing a comfortable rocking motion. Yet these same waves exploded with great force on the rocky shore making landing on the shore difficult if not impossible. Although there was a slight current against us along the west coast, we proceeded at a good pace.
Finally we stopped to make some noodles at the Camellia Park near the Ogase rocks—the symbol of Amakusa’s west coast. Here we refreshed ourselves and psyched up for the final push.
The coastline was beautiful, with twisted rocks, caves, waterfalls fed by recent spring rainfall. Once we passed Shimoda we were even aided by a weak current. Soon we were in Reihoku town giving wide berth to the Reihoku Power Plant. This area of the Shimo Island decided not to amalgamate into Amakusa City because they are independently wealthy due to the ever-expanding power plant. Finally we arrive back at our original departure site, tired but still in good condition. Overall the trip was a success, and we toasted our adventure with a long soak at the local hot spring.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

leanne at mogushi

leanne at mogushi, originally uploaded by vibromama.

"Does this look like fun? I don't recommend it.", were Leanne's thoughts after this afternoon outing on Amakusa's west coast in windy, marginal conditions. We snuck up on the wind and waves from behind a promontory, then paddled into it for about 20 minutes to see how far we could get (about 300 meters), then turned tail and ran on the waves 5km back to our starting point. But in the following wind we had a bit of trouble keeping formation and staying together. Our planned landing point was rocky and by now the waves had built to a dangerous level; we had to go with plan B and land on the sandy Mogushi strip. Even here we had to take care going around rocks on the approach and in this wind, there was only one chance. Leanne made a couple of small errors, blew a little close to a rock but then landed well. Clearly, we need more practice boat handling in the wind.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


cherry, originally uploaded by vibromama.

It's that time of year again. The cherry blossom season, beautiful yet ephemeral like life itself.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grant Sheppard

Way to go Grant!
Our co-worker Grant, a fellow Canadian, is finding success in his real passion: writing. Grant is a birdlover, and appropriately these two articles share a similar theme: birds, and their vulnerabilities. "The Perils of Flocking Together" is an article about the delicate predicament that cranes are faced with, primarily the problems involved by their mass overwintering area in southern Kyushu. "Wild Claims about Avian Flu". This article dispells the unsupported myths about the spread of Avian Flu.
Both are interesting and recommended reading!


Route name: Powerful Tamashi
Route grade: 5.12a/b
Location: Nodake, Nagasaki Prefecture

Saturday, April 01, 2006


mapview copy, originally uploaded by vibromama.

Trip Statistics according to GPS records:
4.0 km walking on the road
7.9 km hiking on the railroad
22.3 km hiking on trail
16.7 km bus ride (one-way)

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