In February we continued the series of guest blogs from Robert Munns. Robert is involved with the Oceans of Hope Challenge, which is an adventure like no other for people affected by multiple sclerosis. In this series, Robert is taking us on a journey right from his own diagnosis of MS, through to now, when he is sailing and supporting others. So, time for the next installment…
So, in my last blog I had arrived at the Galápagos and met the lovely boat called ‘Oceans of Hope’. She’s an old round the world racing boat that originally took part in the first British Steel Challenge way back in the 90’s.
She’s bigger than most things that I’ve sailed on, but she is robust and solid. You could feel that as soon as you got on board.
Crossing the Pacific in her would be safe at least.
By the look of the bed arrangement, it might not be the most comfortable though.
I got to meet everyone fairly quickly. Captain Kristian, Bertram, sailing Captain Peter, the Doctor and then the rest of the crew. Fred, Sandy, Egon and Berndt.
Some really courageous people taking a leap into the unknown with this stupid, STUPID disease.
Other people’s compromises are worse than mine and they seem stronger. Maybe because they’ve had more time / or more support to get used to it. But they seemed less angry with themselves or scared of what might happen…
I don’t know, but I wanted to listen to their experiences and get their advice and wisdom.
I instantly gelled with Fred, an adorable Dane approx. 36/37. We spent a few days at anchor as the Dr was ill and it was unwise for us to leave. So Fred, Egon and I set about getting a beer or two. It became really apparent to me that I would be in safe hands with these two. We instantly liked to have a giggle and they were a great therapy for the urge to get moving.
As the Dr improved, we commenced getting the boat ready for our big crossing. Galápagos to Tahiti.
Kristian and Bertram are the full time crew and are both superstars and heroes of mine. To be honest, so many reasons that this blog would be all about them. Needless to say, they are both fine, upstanding Hansom guys who held the boat together and made a huge difference to my life. For this alone, they’re always close to my heart.
So we get the shopping done. Lots of fresh fruit and veg and as much as we can carry for the estimated 2-3 weeks crossing to the Marquesas.
And we pick up the anchor the following morning and motor out into the big wide and scary Pacific Ocean.
A sense of anticipation was across the boat. Nerves and excitement all in one.
So as soon as we leave sight of the islands, we get into our watch system. We work in pairs on a pattern of four hours on and six hours off. This commences immediately and its really difficult not to leave the cockpit as the sight of nothingness was truly mesmerising. Trying to imagine where the next land is, trying to remember where over the horizon to our rear the Galápagos were. I remember looking at the chart plotter and seeing the Galápagos leave us to the east and then zooming out on the chart to get the distance to the Marquesas. There’s lots of blue… Then a few little dots almost due west that are our destination… 3000 miles away.
So here we are in the middle of the Pacific.
We are averaging just over ten knots which is about 250 miles a day, which is indeed very good sailing considering Oceans of Hope is a big old heavy girl. So we are chugging along very well, making use of the exceptional trade winds from the east.
Our passage is a little below west from Galápagos to the Marquesas and then south west to the Tomotu islands.
Our trip has been a long and hot one with temperatures on average above 25 degrees at night and above 30 during the day.
I’m learning. A lot about MS and a lot about my relationship with it too. On one occasion, it was an early morning when we had to put the spinnaker up and I was on watch. This is the normally brightly coloured sail or kite at the front of the boat that helps with extra speed with a following wind. The kite on Oceans of Hope is over 250 square metres and requires a lot of manpower export to heave it up and then a whole lot more to bring it down at the end of the day. However, this particular morning was a lot of work with one thing or another going with setting the sail. This took an awful lot out of me… A little too much. I only write this afterwards as I don’t really remember a lot after that. Not that I passed out, but the fact that I was soooo tired.
It only took some helpful humour from Bertram the Bosun to get me out of this state. I’d never been there before. I’d never sat, in an almost state of pause without realising it.
Afterwards, Bertram had told me that he’d never seen me like that before. I’m usually the one who’s doing all the talking.
Our first stop was an island Called Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands . Please look it up on google earth or a map as it is in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! The Marquesas are 3000 miles from the Galápagos and 800 miles to our next destination. This was the place that I really wanted to get to and experience.
After 14 days at sea, we first see a small neighbouring island some 30 miles south of Nuku Hiva and then as the evening approached we caught site of our destination. A jagged hump in the middle of the blue. We arrive in the middle of the night, with a full moon guiding us into a stunning natural harbour that would be our bolt hole for a couple of days.
When we anchored in the bay, the moon was just over the top of the surrounding mountains. This gave it a daunting and prehistoric feel that I had to experience. So I decided to put the hammock up and sleep on deck. Fred joined me and we both excitedly chatted in anticipation of the dawn.
I woke up a while after dawn and the rest of the crew were on the bow and pointing out with enthusiastic whoops at giant skate that were circling the boat. I expect they were curious about their new visitor.
As soon as I opened my eyes, I was dumbstruck at the shear epicness of what I saw. The photo does not do it justice, however, here it is.
The atmosphere was unnerving at the start, almost prehistoric…Jurassic park springs to mind. I was expecting a terra dactyl to swoop down and pick me off the deck. It was so raw and alone in the ocean. It felt so far from anywhere. It felt protected because of its isolation. And after two weeks, we had to get off and explore, simply had to.
Chores done and breakfast cleared away, we got the tender ready and made ashore to the main town.
Fred, Egon, Sandy and Berndt wanted to explore the island, so we borrowed an old Toyota Hi Lux 4×4 from the guys on the pier and headed out to explore Jurassic park.
It started off well with surprisingly well made roads leading up into the hills, then the tarmac disappeared and was replaced with cobbles, then replaced by tracks. Egon was the driver and it took all his skills to get us up and over the pass to a small village on the north side of the island. It took us ages as on every turn, yet another jaw dropping vista hit us smack between the eyes. I’m not sure how many times we said “oh my god” or “quick, look at this” as if it were going to disappear in a dream like trance.
This place was stunning. It redefined the word for me.
So we are scooting along after leaving the heavenly island of Nuku Hiva after topping up with energy, fresh food and a little rest. We seem to empty the only local shop of all of its stock and proceed south west to a tiny little atoll called Fakarava in the Tomoutu islands.
We arrived to this area of surf that was visible from some distance off. The atoll is surrounded by a reef and all you can see is the spray from the surf crashing onto it. Then you can see the tops of the palm trees and then as you get closer, you start to see maybe one or two small dwellings.
Nature has a way of protecting the most beautiful places with the most dangerous obstacles; this reef protected my version of heaven from the rest of the world.
We spent an hour or so picking our way through the southern entrance with breaking surf maybe 200 metres each side of us. No wonder so many ships had been lost in these waters. The power and height of the surf was higher than the decks of the boat. With a skillful skipper at the helm, we squeezed through and into the lagoon that lay hiding from the world.
My goodness, what a difference! From the large swell in the Pacific, then though the narrow channel into the peaceful and heavenly lagoon.
After what seemed a very long journey so far, I’d not only achieved a lot geographically, but emotionally too. In my perception of MS in my life. With the help of others, it seems that it was a little more in perspective. It felt a little reassuring and I felt I could once again laugh.