10-Jun-2007 -- The confluence point 31°N/130°E lies in the East China Sea off the southwest extremity of Japan’s Kyushu Island. The nearest land, 17.5km distant, is the northernmost point of Kuroshima, an island about 5km in diameter, to the SSW of the confluence. The nearest human habitation is the hamlet of Oosato (pop. appx. 100) on Kuroshima, whose port is about 18.5 km distant from the confluence. From Kuroshima clockwise, these other points of land are also (theoretically) visible from a kayak (eye level 1m above the sea):
The Uji group of uninhabited islands (54km WNW), some of the higher hills of Shimo-Koshiki Island (78km NW), the Kyushu coast from Cape Noma to Cape Sata (closest point is Cape Bou, 34km NE), Take-shima (44km ESE) a small inhabited island, and Iou-jima (34km SE , inhabited, with an active volcano), Yaku-shima (76km SE, a World Heritage Site with ancient cedar trees), and Kuchinoerabu-shima (60km SSE, an inhabited, volcanic island). These various lands occupy a total of 112°, or 31% of the horizon, but not all are seen easily: on our outing we were not able to see points beyond 45km due to a very slight haze.
Last year we had visited (also by kayak) 32°N/130°E to the north, another confluence point lying in the ocean. It’s interesting to compare the character of these two points, separated only by 1° of latitude. Both points lie in rich fishing grounds, with significant land but no large cities nearby. Squid is fished in the north, while the predominant harvest in the south is bonito, and the small city of Makurazaki (41km NE, pop. 14,000 and dropping) is home to many fish processing factories. Both confluence points lie on busy shipping routes that circumnavigate Kyushu, but here in the south there is considerably more traffic plying the waters between Japan’s main ports on its south coast and points west and north. A transition in the quality of the seawater is also obvious: the sea around the southern confluence point is cleaner, bluer, warmer, and wilder. This is largely due to the influence of the Kuro-shio, or Black Current, a major warm flow that begins east of the Philippines, grazes the south edge of Japan, and dissipates into the open Pacific to the northeast of Tokyo. Indeed, during our traverse, northeast setting currents of up to 2km/h were expected and experienced.
Visiting this point by kayak requires experience, commitment and a lot of paddling. Depending on the weather conditions (themselves highly changeable), getting there can be much harder than returning, or vice versa. This is doubly true because of the fickle combination of tidal and ocean currents that prevail here. There is also exposure to open seas from all directions but the northeast, and the sea may get rough in a short time with steep waves meeting from several directions, possibly magnified by the effects of the current. Thus it was with careful consideration we chose to venture here. However, because good visibility was a priority this time, we would not be able to paddle here in ideal weather. We chose a weekend with a fresh north wind on the first day, which would clear the air of haze while giving us a boost from behind. The second day, a south-east wind was expected heralding a coming storm. This gave us some cause for worry, but we decided we had enough strength and experience to deal with the conditions even if they get worse than forecast.
The plan was to drive to the vicinity of Cape Bou, launch from there, hit the confluence, then continue to the nearest land at Kuroshima. We would rest there, then make the traverse back the next day. Our paddle began at midnight, Sunday, June 10th, under a starry sky. About 2 hours into the traverse we were approached by a pod of curious dolphins which swam with us for about 10 minutes, leaving trails of phosphorescence while diving playfully under our boats. Later we had to make some maneuvers to avoid an enormous freight ship. We arrived at the confluence several hours after sunrise, under windy and fairly rough conditions. It took some time getting the necessary photos, especially the one of the GPS readout, what with the waves, wind, current drift, and bright sunshine reflecting off the screen. Then we let the wind and waves blow us along toward Kuro-shima where we arrived at 10am to the cheers of a welcome delegation of surprised locals who became our instant friends.
Located near the action during WW2, this sleepy islet experienced some dramatic moments at that time. As one story goes, the locals rescued a downed kamikaze pilot from the nearby sea, and feeling they must do what they can to contribute to the war effort, delivered him back to the mainland via a sculling boat, an ordeal that reportedly took 32 hours. The pilot died later during another kamikaze mission, but not before he flew over the island dropping off some much needed medicine. As our new friends recounted this story, they added that now they see, for the first time, that such a feat of rowing can actually be done. Our brief stay on Kuroshima was thus spent enjoying the local hospitality. We were amply fed and offered a futon to rest, only to be up again at 1AM to begin our trip back.
The weather turned out to be calmer than the forecast had us believe and the way back was uneventful though the calm sea and our sleep deprivation resulted in bouts of intense lethargy along the way. Leanne’s boat was trailed by a shark for several hours but we did not worry much about this, as the shark was not large enough to cause any serious harm. This has happened before during long paddles on open water; perhaps the sharks are used to following behind expecting to eat any innards or junk fish thrown overboard from fishing vessels.
We arrived at the Kyushu coast at midday on Monday; the sun was beaming down and we were exhausted and slightly overheated. Driving to the top of a nearby hill, we enjoyed a splendid view of the sea with Kuroshima and Iou-jima hanging on the distant horizon. We had enjoyed another excellent weekend of exploration.