Navigating the Urato Islands sea route on MCT (Michinoku Coastal Trail)

I can’t say enough how glad we are that we went northbound on the Michinoku Coastal Trail.

I know, I know every post of my blogs from Day 1 started with a similar line.
But that is really what we kept saying at the end of each day’s hike.
So, I want to write about one of the reasons why I really try to promote going northbound rather than southbound which the majority of the MCT hikers seem to choose.

6 islands on the MCT are reachable only by ship

The MCT is not all about walking along the coastal line of the Pacific Ocean side of the Tohoku region.
Yes, In the total over 1000km of Michinoku Coastal Trail, there are six islands you can reach only by ferry/boat.

Some other islands on the MCT route are so big and close that bridges connect them to the mainland and you may not even notice they are actually islands while you are walking there.

3 days for average hikers to walk the 6 islands’ parts

No matter how fast you can or want to walk, it takes at least a total of three days to pass through these islands, because ferry/boat schedules have big control over your travel.

3 sea routes cover the 6 islands

Three islands in one area together, two islands together, and one (and hardest to get to) island. So, there are three sea routes hikers have to overcome to complete the MCT thru-hike. And each of the three sea routes gives us a different type of challenge.

Some hikers, especially those who love camping, may say the attraction of long-distance hiking is the freedom of walking speed. They are not controlled by check-in time of accommodations and stuff.
But even those comping hikers need to do thorough advance planning and preparation to tackle the MCT sea route sections.

Checking ferry timetables and fares of course. Walking time estimation inside each island is very important for getting to the next port to catch the next ferry.

Here is the reason why we thought taking northbound on MCT was the best.

For NOBO hikers, all 3 sea routes fall in the first 10 days.

We were able to start preparing for them before we actually left home, deal with these challenges, and get done with the complicated parts of MCT at an early stage of our hike.
After that, we can just relax and enjoy walking on the Tohoku mainland for the rest of the 40 days.

Urato Islands guide map for visitors. MUST download the item as it has the all necessary information for ferries and boat
backsides of the guide map. A good source for things to see on the islands

On Day 7, we were to hike the first sea route.

Three islands, from west to east,
(1) Katsurashima 桂島
(2) Nonoshima 野々島
(3) Sabusawajima 寒風沢島
As an island chain, they are called the Urato Islands 浦戸諸島.

Shiogama port (mainland) No.1, KatsurashimaShiogama municipal ferry 520 yen
No.1, KatsurashimaNo.2, NonoshimaPublic motor boat Free/on demand
No.2, NonoshimaNo.3, SabusawajimaPublic motor boat Free/on demand
No.3, SabusawajimaMiyatojima IslandMCT supporter’s boat3000 yen

4 ship rides for hiking on the MCT route through the Urato Islands

Two of the three islands are very close to each other like some meters close. So, if you are a very good swimmer you could probably swim to get to the next island. Otherwise, hikers will still need a boat ride to cross there.

The one we needed special preparation for was the last boat, from Sabusawajima Island to Miyatojima Island 宮戸島 which is connected to the mainland area with a bridge.

Shiogama City municipal ferry
Free boat between islands
MCT supporters’ fishing boat service
for Sabusawajima/Miyatojima

Shiogama City municipal ferry 塩竈市営汽船 departs from the Shiogama port and stops at all three islands, but after that, it returns to Shiogama City port again. It doesn’t go to Miyatojima island because this last and biggest island is not a part of Shiogama city but of Higashi-Matsushima city 東松島市.

Between the three islands, hikers can take the same ferry if the ferry schedule meets your walk speed.
But, the better option is the Shiogama city-run motor boat, which is free and you can call them by phone anytime at the port during its operational hours.

Finally, the most difficult part, the last part (for southbound hikers, the very first part), is between Sabusawajima and Miyatojima.
The only way we can directly make it to Miyatojima from Sabusawajima without going back to Shiogama port and taking public land transportation to get to Miyatojima is by using the on-demand fisherman boat operated by MCT supporters.

The most important thing is,

Booking the boat 5+ days in advance, via Natori MCT trail center.

Again, to really emphasize it, the request for the special boat has to be made FIVE DAYS IN ADVANCE.

Oh, and we were actually so lucky that our Urado Islands hiking day happened to be on April 1st.

Apr 1-Oct 30: the boat service for Sabusawajima –Miyatojima islands

If we had started a bit earlier, we could not have used this boat and had to go back to Shiogama port to make a huge detour to get to Miyatojima’s side.

As soon as we started planning our MCT thru-hike, we had to estimate which date we would be coming to hike the Urado Islands part.
After making sure of the date and that it was going to be after April 1, I called Natori MCT Trail Center to book this fisherman’s boat for us.

Apparently, they have a stock of supportive local fishermen who can provide hikers with a ride on their boat.
A few days later, a staff of Natori Trail Center called me to let me know the name of a fisherman who was going to operate the boat and his phone number.

We were also instructed that we have to call him one day before our Urado Islands hike to ask him if the weather is fine enough for us to be on the boat safely. If not, he may have to cancel.

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021

Urato Islands sea route
MCT References


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