The Far Eastern Question

For over a year now I have been pondering a question. A very complex, challenging and scratch-your-head sort of question. My team have pondered too, and now it is time to find the answer.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Far Eastern Question.

One of the crucial phases in planning my L2L planetary loop was the North Pacific row from Asia to the Americas. We looked at China and rowing out of Shanghai and quickly moved on:  too much traffic,  dodgy currents, islands in the way and extra miles. Japan was the favourite for starting the row East, but how to get from mainland Asia? Hmmm. An interesting question. One we dubbed The Far Eastern Queston or the FEQ.

In a particular naive moment of tracing lines on maps with fingers I drew the simplest line through Korea with a hop across to Japan before realizing what I was doing. A leap from South Korea to Japan would be easy(ish) but since North Korea is out of bounds that would require a much bigger crossing from China to South Korea. And so our attention fell to Sakhalin, a remote island off the East coast of Russia. The archipelago of Kamchatka lies to the North and Japan sits just thirty miles or so to the South. On paper it looks like a quick nip, hopscotching by kayak from mainland Russia to Sakhalin and then down to Hokkaido and onto Honshyu, cycling the green bits along the way.

Map showing the islands of Sakhalin, Hokkaido and Honshu

In reality, this leg is the most complex of the entire expedition. Logistically it has been a nightmare and, therefore, very expensive. It is remote, has little or no infrastructure in places, tracks rather than decent roads and some pretty extreme weather. Physically it will be grueling; essentially a four (or maybe six) week biathlon with little time for transitioning. Long hours paddling, negotiating strong currents and tides for which we have little information; one of our Sakhalin charts, a 1940’s  number, says “Not to be used for navigation”.

Not to be used for navigation

Not to be used for navigation

I am already pretty tired after five months on the road and I haven’t paddled since the Channel crossing in April, so I am hoping all my muscles behave. (I had a rib crunched back into place by a masseur yesterday so I hope it plays nicely too). Another factor is the weather – we need to get to Japan before it all freezes over.

Because of the complexity and the difficulty of this leg I have been joined by two of my team from the UK – Tim is in charge of the logistics and Justine will be kayaking with me and filming.

I left Khabarovsk this morning for the final pedal North to the coast and Tim and Justine will follow on in a couple of days. Once at the coast, we paddle across and turn right for Japan, hoping to arrive on Japan’s largest island Honshyu four to six weeks later. It is going to be an intense ride, this I promise.

Simple on paper, huge in reality. I am nervous and I am excited. I know that it will be tough, but I know that it will be brilliant and beautiful too and that the toughest moments will be the richest afterwards. I also know that once I get to Honshyu, we can all relax and I can hibernate for a while.

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19 Responses to The Far Eastern Question

  1. Helen Outen says:

    Hi there,
    Good to be able to keep track of you again!!!!!. Am now in Dublin!!!!!…after a very windy trip from Cardiff aboard Tenacious!!!. Sadly we were’mt able to be under sail quite as much as hoped for due to some stormy weather and also “a mixture of redtape and lateness by fuel supplier”…..that meant we were later leaving Cardiff then planned . Still it was a fabulous trip and more new friends met and made!!!….saw lots of DOLPHINS too!!!!!
    BIg HUGS …xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  2. Ann Gales says:

    I was wondering how you were going to tackle this bit. Justine and Tim will be a big help I am sure

  3. John W says:

    All the best with your crossing Sarah.

    Hopefully there will still be updates because I need my L2L fix!

  4. If anyone can do it Sarah it’s you! Good luck. Atleast you will some company again for a while too.

  5. Ahhh…. Strong memories indeed….
    Sakhalin. Wow. Hokkaido. Wow. Talk about culture shock.
    And to paddle in between? Well, dammit, then you trump me!

  6. charlie gardiner says:

    You may not remember me but I was on the exp med course in the Lakes with you. Am SOOOOOO impressed with how you are doing- keep it up!!

    Good luck getting to Japan and the rest of the world- you can do it! see you at Tower Bridge!

    safe paddling/riding!
    charlie x

  7. Peter Booth says:

    Sounds a punishing part of your journey coming up but having 2 friends with you will really help. Do not know that part of the globe. The nearest I got was Hong Kong and Singapore. Hope your ribs are in order now. I guess you could do with a good break shortly. Anyway I’ll say good luck and God bless again. Peter Nottingham.

  8. jan Sims says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Keep going, you can do it.Best bit is to come.Think of that.
    PS I was still sea sick…..but for less time.

  9. Roger Hayward says:

    OK Sarah, on been Wikipedia, Sakhalin – no worries. Put it to go girl.

  10. Googled the island and the photographs I saw and history I read, is amazing…what a fabulous find. I believe the waters are home to Western pacific Grey Whales so should be some spectacular whale watching ops 🙂

  11. Ray Girard says:

    I followed you on your Indian Ocean route, now I am thoroughly enjoying your trek around Gaia. Your observations are fresh and valuable. Your effort is valiant. Stay close to yourself and you’ll make it. After its finished you will have the skills and knowledge to become a British ambassador to some important country. Don’t worry too much about the future and the past, it’ll all work out. Pay attention to NOW. -Love from Canada.

  12. Christine & Kathleen says:

    Hi Sarah

    Just to say hello and no matter what comes your way you will be fine, we are all with you in thought as you undertake this next part which will be very challenging but the rewards will be there too.

    Much love and keep safe

    C & K

  13. pascale says:

    I am with you all the way, always thinking about your trip, and giving you all the encouragement i can in my mind. Don’t let it face you, one day at a time, and if that gets difficult one hour at a time. This next part will be awesome!

  14. Pamela Stocker says:

    So good to hear ‘the workings’ and some of the decision-making process. Of course, a route isn’t obvious! Why would it be? After your wonderful Chinese friend, it’s good to think of three heads solving some of the dilemmas and sharing the excitement and the slog for a while. You are often in my thoughts. This is an amazing enterprise. I sat in North Sweden on the High Coast this week, looking at a man-made stage and a man-made amphitheatre. Behind it rose a mighty, bare, still-slowly rising mountain. Human scale and eternal scale … so good to be put in my place and in perspective. Reminded of ‘One man in his time plays many parts…’ Hi to Helen. Good to hear your news. Pam

  15. Sarah Brown says:

    Still behind you 100% Sarah, we know you can do it! Carry on!!!!



  16. Sarah, good luck! I hope, you’ll like Sahalin and wild bears will be polite with you! 🙂 We waiting impatiently for news from you.

  17. Louise says:

    Sounds like a huge challenge Sarah but you wouldn’t be doing this if it was easy. We will be following your progress with great interest and wish you all the luck in the world (and lots of energy too).

    Ray and Louise

  18. Robert Douglas says:

    Hi Sarah, I have another question for you: will you be able to watch the 2012 Olympics? You’re crossing the Pacific and USA around then. I thought it a terrible shame if you miss it.

  19. Toby Skinner says:


    Well done from everyone at NBH School (London) When are you planning to sail across north pacific ocean? Hope you well and good luck

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