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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tsugaru Channel – Where Distances Can Be Deceiving

There are dozens of swimmers from Japan, the United Kingdom, Guatamala, Spain, and the United States who will attempt the Tsugaru Channel during the summer season 2013. Following the successful 2012 season when there were 16 attempts and 7 successful crossings (including Darren Miller (15:55), Stephen Redmond (12:45), Michelle Macy (8:55), Forrest Nelson (9:26), Craig Lenning (10:44), Pat Gallant-Charette (19:36), Anna Carin Nordin (19:11)), 2013 may prove the most crowded season to date.

Based on the various crossings to date, there are various choices of courses to take. While the pilots of the Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association prefer to start on the western peninsula, the pilots of the Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association prefer to start on the eastern peninsula. When a swimmer considers the contour of the coastline of both Honshu (the southern island where Tokyo is located) and Hokkaido (the northern island where Sapporo is located), it is no wonder that the times of the channel swimmers vary greatly.

The closest two points of land across the Tsugaru Channel are Tappi Misaki on the Honshu side and Shirakami Misaki (Cape) on the Hokkaido side. Approximately 19 km apart depending on the exact starting and finishing locations, it is a short channel crossing relative to the other channels of the Oceans Seven challenge (English Channel, North Channel, Catalina Channel, Molokai Channel, Strait of Gibraltar, Cook Strait and Tsugaru Channel). But as open water swimmer knows well, distances can be deceiving.

Because the current flow from west to east between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean is so strong and so many eddies are created especially closer to each shore, it is very difficult to swim straight between the two closest points between Honshu and Hokkaido. While Steven Munatones (1990), Pat Gallant-Charette (2012) and Anna Carin Nordin (2012) have taken the risk to start at Tappi Misaki, most swimmers mitigate their risks and start at the starting point pioneered by David Yudovin (1990).

Yudovin started at Kodomari Benten Cape - about 30 km away from Hokkaido, but located where he could utilize the prevailing Tsugaru Current. He swam due northwest against the Tsugaru Current which eventually pushed him to Hokkaido in a course roughly shaped as a boomerang. Stephen Redmond and Darren Miller also used this starting point in 2012 and both bulldozed their way to Hokkaido in a zigzag fashion.

As a traditional fishing ground for the sizable local fishing community, there is plenty of marine life in the Tsugaru Channel from squid to sharks. But neither squids nor sharks present any significant hazards to channel swimmers in the area.

While many people believe radioactivity leaks are still affecting the population from Tokyo to Sendai, the water in the Tsugaru Channel flows from the unaffected Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean, completing bypassing the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima. A previous article on the radioactivity in the Tsugaru Channel is posted here (Is Radioactivity Impacting The Oceans Seven?).

The water temperature can vary widely from 12°C in the early season in May to a high of 26°C in September. July tends to be in the 16-18°C range as the water temperature rapidly warms up in August (over 20°C) building to its maximum in September.

Captain Mizushima is the most successful and experienced pilot of the local piloting community as he has escorted numerous relays (both wetsuit and non-wetsuit) and individuals (both wetsuit and non-wetsuit) across the Tsugaru Channel, but other pilots are also available as the season is getting more and more crowded year after year.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Source

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