The paradox of being at sea for a long time is that you do not get more comfortable as time passes, but more scared. You get more competent, and that helps with controlling fear, but competence can only carry you so far. With each passing year out here I feel smaller and more at the whim of the ocean; more humbled, more afraid. People who come on board who have not spent time at sea often tell me they want to see a storm, they want to experience what it’s like. I know immediately that I am dealing with a novice if these words leave a person’s mouth. Storms at sea are not the same as on land. Land lubbers cannot possibly comprehend what it’s like to know the dread and physical stress that an approaching deep low pressure system causes; they cannot comprehend what it’s like to battle 70 mile an hour winds; to be in seas several times larger than your boat; to be completely at the mercy of the weather, your ability, and the frailty of your vessel.
I feel like I’ve been chewing on cotton. My lips are cracked and my hips are sore and I look again to the east, hoping again for the grayness of dawn to arrive. We have no food and our only jug of water has been contaminated with ocean and sand. I am huddled down with 7 other people in a bed made of two nylon paragliders. The fabric becomes an alarm clock every time we are blasted by wind or when one of us struggles to find a new spot on their body to relieve from the hard sand. If I had a watch I’d check it for the thousandth time. The blanket of night refuses to lift. I try not to think about water and cuss silently to myself for orchestrating this mess. My body begs for sleep but my mind stammers off again, reconstructing how ended up here.
For once it wasn’t me who almost died. But I’m already getting ahead of myself.
We had a week in Bazaruto without guests to play on the dunes before heading back across the Mozambique channel to Madagascar. In this time we flew as much as possible; spent way too much time in Vilanculos trying to repair one of our refrigerators (unsuccessfully); and got about $12,000 dollars worth of camera and paragliding equipment stolen from right under our noses on the beach. In less than 12 hours we had it all back in perfect nick after spreading the word that we’d pay a handsome reward no questions asked for the return of the items. We also had our secondary anchor stolen by some fishermen from right off the bottom one night, but this seemed a small price to pay for all that Bazaruto had provided.
At the crack of dawn after a very rough night sail from Tofo 140 miles up the Mozambique coast to Bazaruto Tim wakes me up urgently. The problem is Humpbacks. The wind is blowing over 30 knots, the seas are an ugly black mess. And whales are literally everywhere. We’re ripping along well over 10 knots. If we hit one of these giants the giant wins. Our thin fiberglass hull is no match for 40 tonnes of dense flesh and blubber. We’d be destroyed, all would be lost. He and I stand at the helm in awe- everywhere we look massive black torpedos are defying gravity and breaching completely out of the water. I count over 50 individuals in 2 hours. Twice we have to shut off the autopilot and wrench the helm hard over to barely miss a jumping whale right in front of us. It was terrifying and yet of course awesome.
After nearly 2 months in Madagascar it was regrettably time to move on, though we will be returning in September for the final trips of the season. The rough plan was to spend a few days in Madagascar, then sail across the Mozambique channel some 550 miles with a stop in Europa, a French island outpost of which we’d heard tantalizing rumours of sharks, turtles, and a phenomenal left hand wave.
I’m not used to this. Sitting down at the computer writing about a trip where everything went right..or at least mostly right. Ok, a few people got sick but in Madagascar that’s pretty much par for the course. But no one got hurt. The wind and waves paid us a number of visits. Knock on wood, but maybe our luck has finally returned?
In the 2 1/2 days between 14 day back to back trips I found myself deflated and exhausted. A common theme of these logs I know. Less than 60 hours to clean, provision, complete necessary maintenance, handle all the administrative tasks, take on fuel, propane- all the things that happen behind the scenes that are so necessary to keep Discovery on the move. Yet I hear again and again, from just about everyone who boards that I must have the best job in the world. Hmmm. My house has guests visiting 200+ days every year. It is small (as houses go), always on the move, in constant need of repair; and my office, bed, bathroom and only place to be “alone”, is the size of a large closet and shared with my partner Jody.
After our 30 day Cargados trip I was looking forward to 8 badly needed days of rest in Reunion with no clients and no guests. I’d researched all the surf waves and paragliding sites over a year ago and couldn’t wait to taste the goods. I should have known better. Maintenace alone took the better part of a week. Continued engine worries, a number of canvas and sail projects, burned out battery charger- the list kept growing. And then 48 hours before our planned departure things went from bad to awful. We’d flown our wonder chef Bobby back to Jakarta for the week so he could meet his new daughter, who was born in February. I’d received a number of emails all week about how good everything was going with his family and how excited he was to return. I drove to the airport to pick him up, but he didn’t show. I assumed he’d just missed a connection, but learned shortly thereafter from his first wife (Bobby has two wives) that he been very badly injured in a car crash en route to the airport in Jakarta on his way back to Discovery. We were told he had a broken back, badly damaged face, hands and one knee; and of course would not be returning to the boat.
In many ways the last trip started over 10 years ago. I was sitting in a pub on the SW corner of Vancouver Island near the Juan De Fuca Straits with a guy who’d just completed a circumnavigation. It was the spring of 1999 and other than commercial fishing in the Bearing Sea I’d never been offshore and had no idea how it all worked. This guy’s stories of adventure kept me rapt for hours and I furiously scribbled notes about all the places he reckoned were “must sees”. One in particular seemed more enticing and yet elusive than any other. Chagos. I’d never heard of it and remember pulling out a map later that night just to make sure it was real.
Knowing the trade winds would be long gone by April we planned this 10 day adventure around surf. The southern atolls in the Maldives are exposed to reliable swell from the south Indian Ocean, which culminate in some of the worlds best reef breaks. Our plan was to leave Male and cover the distance to arrive well before the clients’ flight into Huvadhoo atoll, one of the largest atolls in the world and only 20 miles north of the equator. But on the day of our planned departure I learned 8 time world SUP champion Jamie Mitchell’s signature Surftech board had not arrived. As SUP boards aren’t the easiest things to travel with we’d made plans weeks in advance to have it shipped to Male so we could carry it south with us on Discovery. Instead of departing I spent a full night with our agent Abdullah at the airport trying to clear the board from customs. This would not be the last problem on the trip.