We began last Christmas, 2009 in Myanmar (Burma) after a short hop up from Thailand and Malaysia after hauling Discovery out of the water for a new paint job, standing rigging and new teak decks. We ran two trips in Myanmar, the most expensive trips we’ve ever operated due to the incredibly restrictive and expensive permits to visit the Mergui archipelago. We didn’t find much wind, but wow- they sure had some incredible jellyfish! These guys were monsters.
From Burma we sailed 400 miles west to the Andaman Islands. This wicked little nook of the world sports not only some remarkable sights but very big sea crocs and elephants. Jody spent over a week on Havelock Island with Rajan, the last salt-water swimming elephant on earth. Her photos of this remarkable interaction made it onto National Geographic as well as a radio show on the BBC. Listen to the interview– it is precious. The Andamans treated us well. Also light on wind we were still able to score some quality days kiting, guest Captain Stu and owner Cory got to do some flying, and Rogier and I had one of the best sunset/full moon kites I’ve yet had. It is a magical land full of Indian colors, sounds and laughter.
From the Andamans we sailed 1200 miles to the Maldives. We spent nearly 3 months in the Maldives and no doubt this time will be remembered as one of the most incredible of the expedition. Not for kiting as there is almost no wind in the Maldives, but for the flying (paragliding), surfing, and insane numbers of Dolphins, Manta Rays and Whalesharks. This was another archipelago where we were the first in the world to fly above her treasures. Mike Belbas came down from Switzerland for 5 weeks to help me take our guests skybound and the results were simply mind-blowing. The atolls are dotted with multi-million dollar resorts but with Discovery we could easily get to places where all the tourists couldn’t. Our time in the Maldives ended with a visit from Jamie Mitchell, recently nominated for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. He timed his tour perfectly with a bomber swell that lasted an entire week. Wicked wicked wicked surf and another great shot at flying 3,000 feet over the reefs.
For months I’d worked diligently to get permits to visit Chagos, a lone archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But for whatever reason the British Government denied our repeated heartfelt requests so we opted to explore the even more remote shoals of Cargados, some 300 miles north of Mauritius. It took us 6 days to sail there and then for 2 weeks we kited, and kited, and kited some more. The wind never stopped and other than heading out with a speargun with my good friend Jim between sessions I think kiting was about all we did. Well, I did lose a number of chess matches to Bruce, but luckily after a long bout of antibiotics due to repeated staph infections my head cleared and I was able to make a last-minute comeback as we sailed into Reunion at the end of the 30 day trip, our longest and quite possibly most special thus far.
Reunion was a blast- no guests, no owners, only Tim and I and a beautiful island to explore. I got to paraglide off an actual mountain for the first time since India last fall and got to surf the gnarly point break at St Leu on the same day. But our week of bliss ended tragically when we learned our precious chef Bobby was cracked up badly in a car accident in Jakarta on his vacation and would be a few months recuperating before he could return. Tim and I sailed off for Fort Dauphin, Madagascar on our own with a very uncertain future ahead. We lost our port engine in the first days of June in Madagascar and didn’t get the donkey running again until November. Give that task to any captain who then has to negotiate over 3,000 miles of ocean, near reefs, down the wild coast, with cranking winds and you get a product that I became- fragile.
We explored Madagascar for two months. Ben Wilson, Sky Solbach, Kristin Boese, and Reo Stevens all came out at various times to ride with our lucky group of owners. The surf was consistent throughout and this very poor African country bewitched us all. We sailed the entire south coast. Among other things, I nearly lost my job as Captain to a very large shark and later broke my ribs; Jody nearly died in Hospital, and suffered through several nasty Staph infections – and we somehow still had a blast.
Check out a short movie of Madagascar
In late July we sailed across to Mozambique for a month and made one of the wildest discoveries of the expedition in Bazaruto. We were the first to fly two dunes there that bested any coastal soaring we’ve found in ten years of sailing. To be the first to fly this spot was incredible and rather emotional. To think that there are still so many places on this planet that humans haven’t touched, and more incredibly- that there are so many people willing to dwell in cities working the proverbial mouse wheel to death in an effort to keep up with their neighbor so they can show off their new Ipad. In Bazaruto I found myself thankful again and again that this is so. More empty places for us to play!
In a rather strange circumstance powered by unusual forces (ie pirates in Somalia) we then returned to southern Madagascar for a month. One of our owners strangely disappeared without a trace and didn’t show up for her private trip, which allowed Jody and I time to explore the interior. We found Ringtail lemurs and other strange creatures, but the mission was paragliding. And we scored in spades in the little village of Fianarantsoa. Imagine Yosemite-sized vertical granite walls in the desert and you’ve got it. Ripping scary thermals, big BIG air, and big BIG exposure. Yazza!Then with our great friends from Verbier Summits we cranked back across the Mozambique channel after a few nice SUP sessions and finished off the season with the flying coup of the entire expedition. On Bazaruto island the big dune had yet to be flown. This time we nailed it, but the cost was exorbitant. I guess about $12,000 USD all up, for one radical day of flying. The dinghy ended up on the beach after busting through an 8 foot shorebreak, which forced an un-planned camping expedition in between two tandem gliders. Blew up the motor, made all of us very thirsty. But it was worth it! Some of the scariest sailing I’ve ever done off the Wild Coast brought Discovery, Tim, Ezra (our guest chef on the last trip) and I down to Durban where I disembarked as quickly as I could to join our friends from the last trip in Namibia. We hoped to do some quality flying but mostly got shut-out, but I did get to do a spiral dive into the much-photographed Dead-Vlay petrified forest in the dunes. Namibia provided the open space and open agenda that was critical for Jody and I to just breath and relax and take it all in. 2010 was absolutely the hardest year of the Best Odyssey thus far. But in many ways, it was also one of the richest.