It’s a beautiful weekend here in Santander, Spain, and my son and I can see the Hanoi and the Barbet Arrow, two giant container ships, moored in the harbor. The Finland-registered Misana, which I saw sail in from my office window, is moored out of sight in the dock beyond. The Cape Cee, a 118-meter-long Spanish vessel, left Santander a few days ago and is sailing towards the Strait of Gibraltar at 10.1 knots.
We know all this because of my kid’s latest online obsession. Marinetraffic.com combines Google Maps with an online database of ships from around the world, updating their position in real time. Zooming in on spots like the Strait of Gibraltar or the Bay of Biscay, you realize just how many ships are out there, linking far-flung economies. There are profiles of the ships with details of their registry and dimensions, and ports have their own profiles too.
Marinetraffic.com relies on voluntary registration, so some spots like the Red Sea are almost blank. With pirates hiding out in Puntland ready to swoop down on container ships, you can understand why captains on that route would be hesitant to join the website.
While incomplete, it’s a fun site that show kids an aspect of our world that we mostly take for granted. You can also use Google Maps as an educational tool. Used correctly, they can siphon some of your child’s obsession with your computer into something educational. Just don’t expect them to replace that persistent question, “Can I play video games?”
How would you feel about sailing 10,000 nautical miles from Auckland, New Zealand, to Easter Island and back on a double-hulled canoe with no GPS or navigational equipment? In August, after reading a story my colleague wrote on the Waku Tapu Voyage to Rapanui Expedition, I resolved to check back on these intrepid explorers to see if they made it to Rapanui (Easter Island) in one piece.
I’m happy to report that 22 male and female New Zealanders did indeed complete the first half of their epic journey, arriving in Rapanui safe and sound on December 5. Traveling on two traditional waka (double-hulled sailing canoes) they retraced a historic route across the Pacific Ocean using only the stars, sun, moon, ocean currents, birds and other marine life to guide them, just as their Maori ancestors did. They are now en route back to New Zealand and are due to arrive home in late March. The goal of the journey was to “close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii in the North, New Zealand in the South and Rapanui in the East.”
I caught up with Karl Johnstone, Director of the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, which organized the expedition, to find out more about this remarkable journey.
Tell us a little about this historic voyage?
It landed on the 5th of December in Rapanui (Easter Island) and they left Auckland on the 17th of August. There were two stopovers, one in Tubuai, one of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia, and then one in Mangareva, to the east of French Polynesia. We had about 22 people on board at any one time, 11 per waka (canoe). These are traditional double-hulled sailing canoes.
The two traditional elements of the voyage are the waka themselves, which are made of indigenous trees from New Zealand and have traditional composition modern rigging and traditional, non-instrument navigation, using environmental tools, habits of the sun, moon and stars and so on.
So there was no GPS or other type of navigational equipment used?
That’s right. This hasn’t been done in modern day times. There are GPS locators on board, and they had a satellite phone, which emits a GPS signal every half an hour back to our waka tracker, so we knew where they were at all times. And we looked at where they were all the time versus their sail plan and the navigators were never really more than 50 nautical miles off the course line they had set. They did really, really well.
You say this hasn’t been done. Has anyone tried it?
It’s never been tried in modern times.
What were some of the hardships the crew faced along the way?
The weather, number one. We had significant storms on our way out to Tubuai, four of them in fact. A lot of the crew, 50% at least were new to open-ocean voyaging, so they had to develop a trust in their vessel. Sickness as well. We had two cases of hypothermia – that’s to be expected when you’re out at the tail end of winter here. Some got boils as well, which is also common. They have to be treated seriously. A few guys had toothaches, infections.
A couple guys had to be taken off because of coral cuts because we couldn’t risk them getting infections out on the open ocean. Another one got burnt – most of the injuries happened on land, not out on the ocean. But we had a well-stocked medicine cabinet, so everyone was treated quite quickly.
Did everyone who started finish?
One had to come off as a result of an injury in Mangareva, but we took him to be there when the waka arrived in Rapanui because he’d made it through the hardest part of the voyage and we couldn’t bear for him not to be there at the end.
Tell me about the crewmembers. Did they all take time off from careers to do this?
We had teachers, people with Ph.D.’s, engineers, people who work for their tribes. It was a broad range of professions, in most cases, they had to walk away from their employment to do this voyage. Some were very senior; one in particular was a very senior official in the Ministry of Education here in New Zealand. A lot of these people walked away from everything you’d consider mandatory in the modern day world to undertake this voyage with no guarantee of success.
And the voyage was unpaid. They got some support along the way but we didn’t pay them or help with their mortgages or anything else, so they had to have a real commitment to this project.
How were they selected for this voyage?
It was through a training program, and they had to volunteer. We had a nine-month training program. There was some natural attrition, we had about 50 who volunteered, and the cream rose to the top.
Today’s photo comes to us from Flickr user Angie622, who captured this eye-catching image of the rigging of a traditional sailing ship shrouded in silhouette. The Instagram-like colors and dark shadows transform the ship’s vast web of ropes and timber into an intriguing abstract pattern in the shadows of the sun.
Taken any great shots of your own during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.
The term “once in a lifetime adventure” is tossed around a bit too lightly in the travel industry these days and seldom is it used accurately. But when Intrepid Travel uses the term to describe their latest offering, it just might be an understatement. Their recently announced Shackleton Epic truly is a journey like no other, following in the footsteps of one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century to some of most remote places on the planet.
Back in 1914, as the world stood poised on the edge of war, Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 set out aboard the HMS Endurance for Antarctica. They planned to attempt the first traverse of the continent on foot but before they could even take their first step, the ship became trapped in the pack ice off the Antarctic coast. It remained there for eight long, cold months before the ship’s hull cracked under the pressure, sending the Endurance to the bottom of the ocean.
After another two months adrift on ice flows, Shackleton and his crew managed to use the remaining lifeboats to reach the desolate and inhospitable Elephant Island. It was their first steps on solid ground in 497 days, but they were far from safe. Desperate and running out of supplies, the explorer decided to attempt an open water crossing of more than 800 miles to reach South Georgia Island. It took him, and a few hand picked men, 15 days to complete the harrowing crossing, but upon arriving on South Georgia, Shackleton and his men had to spend the following 36 hours crossing 32 miles of mountainous territory just to reach help. After nearly 16 months, the crew of the Endurance was rescued in May of 1916 without the loss of a single life. Shackleton and the tale of his crew is considered by many to be the greatest story of survival in human history.Intrepid Travel’s Shackleton Epic will trace the route of the crew of the Endurance without all of the suffering. The 56-day expedition gets underway on January 3, 2013, from Punta Arenas, Chile. Aboard the TS Pelican, the crew will sail across the Southern Ocean making stops at Deception Island, King George Island and of course both Elephant and South Georgia Islands as well. Those taking part on the journey will recreate Shackleton’s desperate ocean crossing, aboard a replica boat no less, and they’ll have the opportunity to trek the explorer’s route across South Georgia as well. The entire journey will then wrap up with a return sail to South America that finishes in Rio de Janeiro sometime in late February.
This truly is adventure travel that squarely puts the emphasis on the adventure. It will be an experience unlike any other and certainly not for the faint of heart. It is also not for the empty of wallet. There are just ten berths available aboard the Pelican and they cost $30,000 each. That makes this an exclusive adventure to say the least. But for the deep-pocketed adventurer, this will be one of the greatest travel experiences he or she could ever hope to take part in – truly the very definition of a once in a lifetime adventure.
Nearly two years after being released by Somali pirates who stormed their sailboat and held them hostage for 13 months, Paul and Rachel Chandler are finally ready to get back on their boat, the Lynn Rival. This time they won’t be going anywhere near Somalia, but they refuse to rule out a return visit if the situation there improves.
The Chandlers have spent much of the last two years writing a book, “Hostage, A Year At Gunpoint with Somali Pirates,” and getting their boat, which was salvaged by the British Navy, ready to sail again. In a wide-ranging interview, we spoke to the Chandlers about their ordeal, how they feel about their captors, what they learned from the experience and why they want to continue living on their boat.
Where do you live now?
PAUL: We live on the Lynn Rival, our boat; we’re home at last. We don’t have a home on land in Britain at the moment. We have a flat in Kent, but we have tenants, and maybe when we finish voyaging, we’ll settle down there.
And what were you doing before you were taken hostage?
PAUL: I’m a consulting engineer; I’m now 62. Rachel is an economist; she’s 57. I had an engineering practice that I sold and Rachel was working for the government as an economist and that enabled us in 2005 to sail for half the year and work half the year.
How did you pull that off?
PAUL: If you’re good enough, they don’t want to lose you. Rachel’s superiors gave her six months off, so we traveled half the year in ’05 and ’06, and then we decided we wanted to sail year round and live on the boat.
In 2007, we set off around the Red Sea, across the Arabian Sea to India, cruised the coast of India and we enjoyed it enough to make it worth doing permanently, so we rented our flat out and planned on sailing full time. We wanted to see the western part of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and Madagascar. Somalia wasn’t on our list.
We planned to sail from the Seychelles to Tanzania, and if it hadn’t been for that fateful evening we would have gone down to Madagascar, but that’s where it all went a bit awry.
It sounds like you found a way to escape the rat race before it all went south?
PAUL: Absolutely we did. When I turned 45, we decided that we’d go sailing when I turned 55 because we knew a lot of people who left it until they got too old and I didn’t want that to happen to us. So we worked very hard for those ten years to make this happen.
If you say, ‘I’ll just work another year and save another $5,000,’ you’ll never get around to doing it. You’ve got to go. We figured out that if we could do without all mod cons, we could sail and live for less than we’d spend on land. We’ve had friends who have died young of cancer, so we thought we had to take the chance while we could.
Take us back to the night you were taken hostage. Where were you?
PAUL: We were halfway between this ring of islands on the outer edge of the Seychelles and the main islands, perhaps 60 miles from the main islands of the Seychelles, not far from where Prince William and Kate went for their honeymoon. We were almost 900 miles from Somalia when we were taken hostage.
Were you aware of the danger of being even that close to Somalia?
PAUL: Of course we were. We’d sailed through the Gulf of Aden two years before. We did our research pretty well. We knew we were right on the fringes. There have been attacks as far as 1,500 miles away from Somalia. Official warning distance was about 200-300 miles off the coast of Somalia.
We thought it was an acceptable risk. There are worse risks you take at sea every day. It’s absolute nonsense when people say we were warned and we shouldn’t have been there. That’s with the benefit of hindsight. We went to four authorities in our checkout procedure and they all said, ‘Have a good voyage.’
And the pirates stormed the boat in the middle of the night?
PAUL: It was 2:30 in the morning, so I was asleep until I heard the gunshots. Rachel was standing watch.
RACHEL: I heard an engine in the distance and then I saw a boat with no lights approaching us very fast. I knew that it didn’t look good, so I shined a light on them and they responded with two gunshots.
I was in disbelief – my mind was racing. I knew we couldn’t outrun them. Our little auxiliary engine can only get to about six knots and they were coming at us at about 20 knots. They slammed into the side of the boat and I could see four men with guns, they were grabbing our handrails and shouting as they climbed onto the boat. Then another boat approached from the port side and another four men clambered on board. I was in a state of absolute shock.
They were sort of struggling to get on the boat and pointing a gun at me all the while. Paul had to struggle to put in his contact lenses and come up to find out what was going on. Eventually a bigger, open boat came with two more men on it. One of them was called Buggaf; he was their leader. He was a very nasty piece of work – very threatening.
Did you know immediately that you were being taken hostage?
RACHEL: We knew we’d be robbed, but we thought they’d go away in search of a bigger ship. We never envisioned that we’d be taken hostage, especially so far from Somalia. They could see that we had a small boat and probably weren’t likely to be able to pay a big ransom but they didn’t see it like that. Buggaf told us to set a course and steer towards Somalia.
And your boat was abandoned off the coast of Somalia?
RACHEL: Yes, we were towing their boats and our engine couldn’t cope. At that point they realized that the value was in us two and not our boat, so it was abandoned.
How long did it take to reach Somalia?
RACHEL: It was six full days at sea on our boat, then another 36 hours on their boat.
Were you more or less fearful when you reached land?
RACHEL: I was more fearful because they were taking us into a lawless country and I felt there was no hope of getting out of there. Some of the gang was saying we’d fetch $4 million, no problem. I wanted them to realize they’d got a pair of lemons who were a waste of their time. That kind of kept me going.
How were your living conditions in Somalia?
RACHEL: They bought us a thin mattress and a blanket and fed us. We were taken to a one-room mud village hut with a tin roof. They were always threatening us that other Islamist militias or al-Shabab would take us from them. They gave us water from a reservoir to wash with and bought us bottled water and fed us bread and rice and we started to get used to eating goat stew for breakfast.
When you live on board a sailboat, you’re used to living very basic, so I think that helped us deal with life in the bush. They knew they had to keep us alive if they were to make any money out of us.
And I understand they separated you. After that, how did you pass the time?
PAUL: During all my time in Somalia, I only slept badly a few times. So that was half the day. You wash up, and then read. We had five books and we divided them between us when we were split up. I took to reading them aloud because it takes more time. You get more out of books if you read them several times. We listened to the BBC and the VOA.
Rachel had cards; I spent time compiling crosswords. We were split up the first time and were kept apart for ten days, that’s when they put pressure on me to come up with money, so I was commanded to start making begging phone calls to my friends and relatives.
Later they separated us again and Rachel was beaten and whipped and we were kept apart for three months. They dragged us apart kicking and screaming. I had a choice, I said, ‘I can either sink into a well of despair or I can survive.’
The gang leader was a criminal and the rest of them were all along looking for a free lunch. None of them had seen white people or been out of Somalia. The eight gangsters guarding me eventually became relaxed and to some extent there was a bit of, sort of, friendship. They couldn’t understand why I was so depressed to be separated from Rachel – they had no idea how close we were. We’ve been married 31 years now.
And finally, after being in captivity for more than a year, a Somali man living in London secured your release?
PAUL: That’s Dahir. A wonderful man and a honorary member of our family. One morning, we had a long drive across the country and we hoped we were going to be released. Our hopes had been dashed before though, so we didn’t want to get our hopes up too high. We had to sleep overnight in the car out in the bush and we woke up the next morning and a man walked towards us holding what looked like a British passport.
He said, “I’m Dahir, I come from East London. I’ve come to take you home.” It was quite amazing – brings tears to my eyes even now. We found out that eight months before, his 12-year-old son came home and told his father ‘I’m ashamed to be Somali, can’t you do something to help?’ (to help the people who were taken hostage.)
He’s from the area we were being held in. He had the contacts to help us and he moved to Mogadishu and got to work using his contacts to help us. It took him eight months to arrange our release and our families knew nothing about it until a few days before he arrived to get us.
How much was paid for your release?
PAUL: Our family raised $440,000, which they dropped to the gang by plane in June 2010. And then we weren’t released.
They just kept the money?
PAUL: They decided to keep us and the money and we heard nothing for months, meanwhile, this chap Dahir was working for our release in the background and we had no clue.
How did your family raise the money?
PAUL: They wouldn’t tell us the source of the money. They were so supportive; they just wanted us to get our lives back. They said, ‘Don’t worry about the money.’ But we have paid back all the expenses they incurred. Their expenses in paying the $440,000 ransom were about $150,000 as well.
And did Dahir or someone else pay additional money to secure your release?
PAUL: We don’t know. He told us he didn’t raise any money. Whether that’s true, we don’t know. We’ve met him several times since and I don’t see why he’d lie to us, but he must have had considerable expenses in securing our release. There have been suggestions that the Somali government paid some money, but we don’t know. I think it would be very unlikely if no more money changed hands.
What have you been doing since you were released?
PAUL: Settling back in, coping with my father’s death – he died at 99 while we were in Somalia. The Royal Navy salvaged our boat and we had it taken to Dartmouth, so we could work on her. Now she’s in ship shape again. Our families said ‘You ought to be write a book,’ so we did. We’ve been working hard on the boat and last week we finally moved back on board.
What are your plans now?
PAUL: We’re going to head south and resume traveling to exciting places, meeting different people. We’re going down the coast of Western Europe, taking in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the North African coast, Cape Verde, and then head down to Brazil. We’ll keep going as long as we’re fit. Who knows where we’ll end up?
Will you ever go anywhere near Somalia again?
PAUL: I wouldn’t go north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. I’d want to be at least 2,000 miles away. But who knows, maybe by the time we get around to that part of the world again, the situation in Somalia will have changed. Maybe it will be safe to go there again.
Has it taken a long time to build up the courage to get back on your boat?
PAUL: No, not at all. I lost upper body strength and you need that in sailing. But mentally we have no problems at all.
What lessons did you learn from this ordeal?
PAUL: It strengthened our relationship, which was already strong. It reinforced the values we both hold. It made us far more appreciative to have been born in the small faction of the world that is safe and secure.
Do you feel hatred, forgiveness or some other emotion toward your captors?
RACHEL: I never felt hatred toward them. I felt sad that they are in the position they’re in, that they’ve stooped so low. A lot of people are very poor but don’t stoop to kidnapping. But I can see how they were drawn into it. People like Buggaf who make a living from piracy and direct others to do it, I despise them. They haven’t asked for forgiveness, so I don’t think I need to forgive them. I just hope that the law might catch up with them someday.
Do you think that the same pirates who took you hostage are still out attacking boats right now?
RACEHL: I’m sure they’re trying to do the same thing right now. But it’s become more difficult because ships are really increasing their security. Seven of the gang members who attacked us left after five days at sea to attack a French fishing trawler. They were apprehended and have been in jail in Mombasa for the last three years. They were just found guilty and were sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Did you have a hard time adapting to life at home after being released?
RACHEL: It was very strange. There was a lot of media attention. Our muscles had degenerated. Mentally, it was a process of getting used to normality. When you live with so little for so long, it’s a shock coming back to our complex world. Some people were wary of us because they assumed we must have been really scarred.
Did you get tired of people asking you why you strayed too close to Somalia?
RACHEL: People in the sailing community knew the situation. Lots of people stood up for us. Those who criticize don’t know anything about sailing or the situation at the time. On the Internet, people hide behind their computers and say nasty things.
Does the British Foreign Office now recommend against sailing in the area you were in?
RACHEL: Now they recommend boats don’t stray more than six miles off the main islands in the Seychelles but they still don’t tell people not to go there or charter yachts. If we’d left an hour earlier or an hour later, they would have missed us – it was very bad luck. You’re taking a chance sailing anywhere in the Seychelles.
Has your experience diminished your love of sailing?
RACHEL: Not at all. Cruisers tend to be very resilient people. If you’re adventurous, that doesn’t change. We don’t want to wrap ourselves up and stay home. We want to get back to the life we imagined, so it’s important for us to get back on our boat.