Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ISOLATION IN PARADISE - A journey to the Marshall Islands

I wrote this story on a journey back to reality over a year ago. I never shared it and it seemed a waste, so thought it apt to post here. More importantly Simon is one of the most talented artists I know, his photos are incredible and this is a small sample of his work. You can see more of his work at:
www.simoncrowther.com
www.facebook.com/sicsurf
Twitter @Si_Crowther
Instagram Si_Crowther



The Journey Begins
I am jolted awake, startled, as I get thrown onto the wooden side of my bunk. I’m confused, sweating, but mostly petrified. The violent rocking and presence of the bunk bed reminds me I’m on a boat, the engines are loud but I can still hear my breath over them.
“Tanya, are you ok?” I hear Alex call from the bunk above, as I question what the hell is going on and what’s wrong with the boat? He reassures me that this is completely normal, we’ve gone through the pass now and are in open water.

Deep down I’m freaking out because the motion of the boat is so violent I conclude it can’t be safe, but I man up and put on a brave face. For the next 3 hours I am restless, drifting in and out of sleep and partially drugged by the dramamine (motion sickness tablets) I took a few hours earlier. Repetitive jolting and jarring as the boat pitches and yaws makes real sleep impossible, but over time the fear begins to subside and I start to relax.
I get up clutching onto everything around me for stability; I open the cabin door as a wave washes over the side practically drenching me. I gaze horrified outside as the realisation sinks in to where we actually are. There is darkness everywhere, and a rolling swell that pitches well above the side of the boat, if you go overboard now you have little hope of being found alive. We are smack bang in the middle of the Ocean, just west of the date line and north of the equator. Hawai’i is the nearest civilization (that was a 5.5 hour flight when we left Majuro) and for the next 15 hours we continue into the Pacific without coming across any land.


By the time we arrived at the chosen Atoll of the Marshall Islands, we had been travelling for just over 2 days, but as I walked out of the galley I instantly knew that every second had been worth it. I am overwhelmed by the shear beauty of the islands we are passing, uninhabited, and completely untouched. I finally understood the meaning of crystal clear water as I looked over the side of the boat and could see the definition of the coral and fish down below as though there were no water between us. The reefs around each island we were passing generated waves everywhere, and the sand glistened pink in the midday sun. We were completely isolated in paradise.


I had wanted to go on a boat trip for a few years now, but everywhere I researched they were primarily surfing orientated and never any mention of windsurfers. And then in August 2011 whilst sat in Baja, Keith and Alex start talking about this boat trip to a mystery location I had never heard of before. Not surprising really, since the Marshall Islands is the 8th smallest country in the world with a population of 60,000 made up of hundreds of islands, most of which are uninhabited. They didn’t need to say much more, I had instantly made up my mind that this would be the next big adventure.


Home for 2 weeks
We were living on a 1970’s cargo boat called the Indies Trader 1 which has been owned by Martin Daly and used as one of his surf charters for some years. It has done the Quicksilver Crossing expeditions, the Search, and Young Guns trips, and recently been relocated to the Marshalls from the Mentawi’s. Martin has taken this boat round the world many times, she has so much character, so much history, and I grew to love her.
Martin himself is full of jaw dropping stories having spent so much of his life on the Ocean and exploring. Thanks Martin for sharing hours of your mesmerising tales that had me captivated!


We’d wake up in the morning and wonder into the galley. Chef Andy would serve breakfast and before you’ve had time to get a 2nd coffee Martin is on deck directing us to get ready. On the odd day where conditions were best very early then we’d get woken up at day break. Whilst few people have been here, Martin has spent enough time in this remote part of the Pacific to know which breaks to go to depending on swell direction, tide state, and so on. For the first few days I was mesmerized with how many different waves we would get taken to, and they all had the same things in common: They are perfect and there is no one else there! You might think that after 2 weeks the repetitiveness of activity with only the same few friends might get boring, but it doesn’t. You are just left wanting more and more.


Windsurfing
You can wavesail, and cruise around freeriding across the endless flat water in the lagoons surrounded by idilic scenery and super warm water (IF there’s wind).
In terms of wavesailing, I have never caught a more perfect right hand wave, fast, perfectly peeling, and powerful. It was a little daunting at the beginning, and surfing the wave first to learn how to read them definitely helped. But the sets come in like clockwork, and with no one else around, 1 session here is like 2 months worth back home. The wind is cross off making for perfect down the line conditions, but given the shallow sharp coral you want to remain on the ball to make sure you don’t get stuck on the inside. The favourite windsurfing spot has been named Maybe’s: Maybe you’ll make it, Maybe you won’t, so it’s all about picking the right wave for the longest ride, and certainly not hanging around else you won’t make the next section.
After you physically can’t hold onto the boom any longer you can flail back downwind to the boat, tie your kit off the back to save you having to re-rig if you get a 2nd wind. Once you clamber back on board you can just collapse in a heap after grabbing a bevvie from the cool box and reflect on yet another incredible session. One shared with friends, and one which will be etched in your memory forever.
This is not a location with guaranteed consistent wind. You might end up with 14 days back to back of 30 knots, or you might only get 2 days of 15 knots. We were aware of this upfront and decided that being in paradise with a few other toys couldn’t be so bad, even with the absence of wind.


Surfing
The surfing can cater to all levels but this depends on the size of the swell you get: If you are a beginner surfer and a decent size swell comes through then you probably won’t want to surf. The reason the waves are so incredible is because they all break on relatively shallow reefs, generating hollow, fast waves. When it’s small then this is completely manageable by beginners since there is always a shoulder to sit on. Over time you get used to the coral gazing up at you as you paddle in - it looks much shallower than it actually is because the water is so clear. And once you get dialed in this will be the best surfing you’ve ever had in your life. If you are more experienced then this is the place to learn how to get barreled; in fact across some sections, it’s the only way to make it. Even when there isn’t any ground swell you are still almost guaranteed to get something fun and shoulder high to play on. We surfed 2-3 times a day and were still left wanting more and more. Luckily for me, not being a great surfer, we had smaller more manageable swell.


Fishing
Whilst cruising to and from the various reefs, you fish; we caught endless Yellow Fin, Mahi, and Ono (Wahoo) which were our main source of food for the trip. I had never fished before but absolutely loved it and even learnt how to fillet my first catch. This type of fishing certainly isn’t for the fainthearted because these fish are big(!) so you feel like you are killing something quite significant compared to a little mackerel. If you don’t like eating fish then you will struggle surviving in the middle of the Pacific. Si didn’t really like fish before we went but amazingly he grew to really enjoy it! (Having said that, a big fat steak was the first thing he attacked after we stepped off the plane in Honolulu)


As if they above wasn’t enough we managed to find time to swim up to uninhabited islands, pick shells in the sand, BBQ on the beach and generally relax.

For 2 weeks we surfed, laughed, windsurfed, clambered up random islands, explored, fished and generally had the time of our lives. Completely disconnected from the rest of the planet with no phone signal or internet was a breath of fresh air, just each other for company, and a natural playground.

This is a trip for ocean lovers, but if you are looking for a pure windsurfing holiday, then this isn’t it. If you want to go on a journey to what feels like the end of the Earth, and share some amazing experiences with a select number of friends (did I mention perfect waves?) then consider Micronesia. Before I left the UK everyone was telling me that this sounded like the trip of a life time, and it was, but hopefully it is one which I will do more than once in my lifetime! If Martin will have me back that is.



Thank you to Martin, Mango, Andy, Andy and the rest of the crew.
Keith, Alex, Bernd, Si and Lena, I can never put into words just how much fun I had. Thanks :)

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