Call the Korean Coast Guard…Check
Call the Japanese Coast Guard…Check
Clear weather forecast for about 9-10 hours…Check
Its finally time. We pull our kayak off the beach into the water, lift our feet into the cockpit and push off. Our first path of travel is northwest into the very strong ocean current between Tsushima and Japan. Doing this will hopefully allow us to compensate for the current and make it an easier ride for the second half of the journey, which will be with the current, once we cross into Korean waters.
As we leave Sago port I am still tense with the understanding that if the ocean currents are not favorable we will have to turn back. As waves break over the front of our kayak I begin to grow uneasy with the realization that if we are not making 7 kilometers per hour we will have to turn around. Sure that we are not making the minimum speed, as I see the nose of the kayak dip into the water, I pull and push the paddle with all my strength, refusing to let this be a failure. After 1 hour passes, Koji says “2 hours okay,” meaning that we will forgo our normal hourly break. Without a second thought I immediately respond with “yes, I’m feeling great,” hoping that my response will give Koji confidence in our ability to maintain the 7 kilometers per hour.
As we pass our second break, Koji tells me that he is changing direction and we are heading towards Korea. This was the moment I had been waiting for, its the moment of no return. From here, we will only be paddling towards our goal.
While entering Korean water and approaching Busan Port, one thing becomes evident due the sheer amount of ship traffic, we really need to pay attention. There are ships in all directions, many of which you cannot see or hear due to wind/fog. With the ship traffic increasing as we are getting closer to Busan, we hear this loud fog horn directly behind us and immediately turn to see a huge Korean Coast Guard ship. Realizing they are there to escort us, we take some pics and paddle on as they stay behind us.
The first thing we see as Korea comes into view is the outline of the mountains in the distance and a lighthouse a few kilometers away. We continue in the direction of Busan Port, now very close to the once distant lighthouse. Just then, we see a boat that is still some distance away, heading straight for us. Koji remarks how stupid what they are doing is because their wake can flip us. As they get only a few hundred meters away, they turn and come to our left side and out emerges a camera crew waving at us from the bow of the ship. “This is unbelievable” I say to Koji. It was only 2 days ago we had no chance of getting into Korea and now the Korean media is coming to make a story about us. Life is amazing.
It started at 3:00am with the loud hiss of the camping stove waking me from my morning stupor as Koji was making his lunch, rice. I’m a ramen kind of guy so I started boiling the hard noodles next to Koji in our cramped makeshift kitchen. It was dark and very quiet except for the occasional gust of south wind blowing through the trees. There was still hesitation in Koji’s eyes. He didn’t like how the weather was turning out, he didn’t like that there were still gusts of wind when the forecast predicted a morning free of wind. As our food finished boiling we ate in silence, listening to the wind howl. As I slurp my ramen, my mind runs around the idea that this is our last chance to get to Korea, to justify the past year of training and losing my job, to realize my dreams. This is our last shot.
As the time approaches 5:00am I phone the Korean Coast Guard and tell them we are going to wait a little longer for the wind to subside. I begin to pace back and forth, uneasy about what the future holds. I become fixated on the small orange flag, attached to the back of our kayak, flapping in the wind. It reminds me of the challenges we faced to get here and the obstacles that were a part of every step of this journey . I walk over and indignantly grab the flag, pulling it down to the position it would be if there were no wind, saying “this is where you should be.”
Its now 5:30am and I walk over to Koji, he’s looking around; at the clouds, water, and trees blowing in the wind. Every minute or so I see him take out his phone to refresh the Tsushima/Busan weather forecast. He breaks his concentration, looks at me and says “Okay, lets go.”
Because our attempt to go to Korea was postponed from Sunday the 13th of July due to the aftermath of the Typhoon, which was now subsided, we set a second attempt at departure for the 15th. With the only good weather of the week set for the morning/afternoon of the 15th, this will most likely be our first and only attempt at Korea considering we have been at this for almost a month and both the money reserves and Koji’s ability to stay away from work were coming to an end.
We decided to check in with our Korean friend again to ask if any progress had been made. To our surprise, we were told that progress had been made and that maybe he can help us enter Korea as a Kayak. We would need to fax him the Japanese Customs documents, with the official Customs Stamp on them. After a few trips to the Immigration and Customs office in Tsushima, we were able to get the necessary documents stamped and faxed to him. Sometime after 4pm that day Koji was told that we have in fact received official confirmation from Customs and Immigration that we will be able to make the first-ever unsupported kayak expedition to Korea by Kayak. Its go time!!!
We’ve already packed and dried all of our gear yesterday, topped up on our food supplies and are ready to try the paddle to Korea. We woke up at 3:00am and were waiting for the gusts of north (headwinds) to die down as predicted in the forecast. As we make breakfast, there is no sign of the wind letting up and it was decided that if the winds persists we will have to postpone the paddle due to the potential danger of being caught in a headwind while crossing the Tsushima Strait. As 5:00am approaches, Koji is still very apprehensive because the wind is showing no signs of changing and at 5:30am we decide that we will delay our departure for another day.
We were contacted by the person we had met on the beach a few days ago, The Lion Hearted, and he had told us that he talked to some people and we will be able enter Korea. As you can imagine I was insanely excited and literally could not believe our luck. After almost three weeks of waiting and months of emails, it was this man who was able to get us into Korea. As the day progresses and nightfall approaches Koji receives a call from the man and I was given the phone. I was informed that he was unaware that we were trying to enter via kayak and “a kayak is currently not able to enter Korea.” Those words echo in my head, stealing and hope I had of getting into Korea and making permanent the reality of our struggles to enter this country only 50kilometers away. As we continued the conversation, he said that maybe able to talk to his friends again but we would have to wait a few days. I tell him that we are going to try to cross the Tsushima strait on Sunday (in two days) because the weather looks good and we may not have another chance to try this crossing before we go home. We end the conversation and I go back to eating my ramen, which has now grown cold and less flavorful…