1800 nautical miles. 3 weeks. A 50′ sailboat. 2 cinematographers. 1 paramedic. An equator crossing. Several bottles of rum. We were ready for adventure.
A few months ago I had an interesting opportunity arise involving sailing a boat from the Marshall Islands to Fiji… and not just any sailboat, but rather a National Geographic sailboat featured in the TV show ‘Over The Horizon’ (or ‘My Pacific Quest’ depending on your region). My friend and colleague Andre Dupuis (from ‘Departures’ fame; OLN, Netflix) shot the show two years ago. The highly aspirational series features traveller Ellis Emmett as he navigates the Pacific and its many remote and exotic islands. The show embodies the essence of sailing: adventure and freedom… two themes heavily present in our own trip as well.
Upon conclusion of Over The Horizon, the boat was left in the remote atoll of Majuro, in the Marshall Islands. This is where our journey begins.
You may recognize the name of this place. The Marshall Islands are a series of small islands and atolls that include the notorious ‘Bikini Atoll’. This is where the US tested the first atomic bomb. To this day Bikini is still uninhabited due to dangerous radiation levels. To be clear, we were on Majuro, another safe island nearby.
Our goal was to get Rory Mhor to Fiji. We estimated the trip would take around 2 weeks, but due to the nature of sailing and unpredictability of wind we budgeted 3 just to be safe. If it all worked out, we’d sail her to Fiji and get a few days to relax on the beach. There, Rory would sit until Ellis continued her journey to New Zealand which would be her ultimate home, far from the Pacific islands and fast approaching hurricane season.
Why are you doing this?
This was a very important trip to me personally. Not only was this my first ever blue water sail (offshore), but it was a chance to connect and learn from Andre who has always been a big inspiration and influence to me throughout my film career. His show Departures is in my opinion the best travel television series out there and it played a large role in the development and vision of Amber Pacific Studios, as well as my journey as a filmmaker. Few shows capture the magic of travel, adventure and camaraderie on the level that Departures did. Even fewer with jaw dropping cinematography. He’s now working for Nat Geo, and I would be stuck on a boat for two weeks with him to pick his brain and learn from the best.
Our third companion was Curtis: Kiwi, master sailor, paramedic, haka enthusiast, jet ski hater, and all round great guy. Curtis spent much of his life crewing in the luxury sailing yacht world and is a treasure trove of experience and knowledge.
Departures is airing on Netflix as I write this and, despite being older now, if you haven’t seen it I would highly recommend it.
So ultimately this trip was a bit of a triple whammy for me – a chance to meet a personal cinematographer hero of mine, a chance to learn from a master sailor, and the incredible opportunity to do a massive and challenging sail that would allow me to visit one of the most beautiful corners of the world. Nice.
Below are a series of photos I took on the trip, each with an anecdote about one particular memorable moment of the trip. Combined, I hope they paint a good picture of our sailing adventure and maybe even make you feel inspired to one day try sailing for yourself.
Though sailing does have its challenges and hardships, when everything works there are countless times when you have to just pinch yourself – it truly is as magical and romantic as it seems. This is a trip for me that I will remember for the rest of my life.
The Photo Journey – Majuro to Fiji
Above: A beautiful sunrise taken in ‘the doldrums’, somewhere near the equator. This is actually a stitched panorama photo made from dozens of individual ones.
Above: The area around the equator is often called the doldrums as there is absolutely zero wind. The ocean is like glass here, like the surface of a lake at times. Historically the sailing ships of old would get stuck here for weeks, luckily we had a engine.
Above: It’s a strange feeling looking out at the endless blue, knowing you are thousands of kilometres from land. You would think out here the ocean would be rough or violent- and at times it probably is – but on our trip it was largely peaceful and serene.
Above: We hit the equator! This was a very fun and exciting day as we literally watched the GPS count down to 00.00.000 ! Ancient maritime tradition demands a sacred ritual to honour King Neptune when making a first ever crossing (it was my first time), and the boys were quick to ‘initiate’ me. I officially earned the title of ‘Shellback’ after a series of embarrassing trials… I won’t go into details, but they involved speeches, drinking beer out of footwear, Kraken rum, pancake mix, and diving off the rigging. I can neither confirm nor deny that there is video evidence… somewhere.
Above: Sails up! Finally we get some wind after almost a week with barely a wisp.
Above: We went for a swim in the middle of nowhere. It’s a weird feeling jumping off a boat a thousand kilometres from land. You’re both exhilarated and yet completely petrified knowing it’s your only lifeline.
On this swim I inquired about the depth and Curtis checked the depth sounder. It was so deep it wouldn’t register… We checked our charts instead and they said 4000m. That’s 13,000ft of water below you. Our swim was beautiful, serene, and utterly terrifying.
Above: Day to day life. Time doesn’t mean anything this far out. All the days tend to melt together, and that’s ok. It’s freeing and liberating being away from the insanity and bustle of everyday life back home.
Above: After weeks of trying and 3 getaways, Andre finally catches a yellow finned tuna. We had quite possibly the freshest sashimi on earth right on the back of the boat, before taking the remainder to our galley for a lovely seared tuna dinner. Compliments to Andre, our amazing chef!
Above: Taken at sunset just before the magic begins… What magic is that? The most incredible stargazing I’ve ever encountered. This far out from land there is no light pollution, so the entire night sky is vividly illuminated with stars. While we were in the doldrums, the water was like glass at night. Picture this: Bright vivid stars covering the night sky, reflected off the glassy water below you creating a 360 degree starscape. On top of that, the boats wake disrupts the bioluminescence in the water creating a glowing trail. Pure. Magic. Words can’t do it justice, and, unfortunately neither can photo. It’s impossible to take night photography out there with the low light and constant movement of the boat. Some memories remain elusive even to photographers.
Above: We passed countless beautiful spits of land like these ones, most of them untouched, uncharted and uninhabited.
Above: After a week of no wind causing us to motor sail, we had to make an unscheduled stop in Tarawa for fuel. Tarawa is an atoll and the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, a collection of little known remote islands in the middle of Pacific. It was fascinating pulling up to this island – the entire harbour was littered with dozens of old wrecks. The island was home to a former WWII battle between the Americans and Japanese. The Americans tried to capture it with an amphibious assault, but idiotically/mistakenly chose to attack on the lowest tide of the entire year. The landing craft and tanks were stuck in the bay and couldn’t get to shore- it was a massacre and defeat. The island is littered with destroyed tanks, bunkers, destroyed ships, anti aircraft guns etc. It was very interesting to see. The Americans eventually did liberate the island, but you tend to only hear about the victory.
Above: On the way sailing out of Tarawa a pod of 12 dolphins joined our boat! It was so beautiful and magical. They all came right up to the bow and swam with us for probably 15 minutes, splashing and playing and turning sideways to look up at us. I found they would react to my shouts and waves, zipping around and even leaping out of the water when they felt like they were being watched. It was fascinating and so lovely. The one thing I vividly remember is hearing their little squeaks and clicks from the bow as they put on their show.
Above: Some wicked sunsets painting colourful tapestries into the sky. Taken somewhere in the middle of the Pacific.
Above: A distant squall (an isolated sea storm). This was just a baby one. We would be seeing many more of these.
Above: It was only a matter of time before we hit some rough weather. At night squalls frequently crop up- it’s a bit of a game of cat and mouse. You can see the image on the radar of us inside of one. It’s important to make sure you when entering a squall you don’t have too much sail up as you can quickly over power the boat and lose control or worse, break something. If there is 10 knots of wind, when you enter a squall it will jump to 20 or 25 within 3-4 minutes, usually accompanied by biting rain and wind. The squalls will last for a few minutes and then pass, and you’ll be on deck in the sun again wondering what happened! They were shockingly common at night.
Above: After two weeks at sea we finally spot land! Fiji!!! It felt glorious. We had a golden sunrise to welcome our arrival.
Above: Docked in Vuda Marina, Fiji. We were welcomed ashore by happy, smiling locals who gathered on the dock and sang to us as we disembarked.
Above: We rented a car. In Fiji, they drive on the left side of the road AND the steering wheel (and thus shifter) is on the right. It poses a real challenge for North Americans. Meet ‘Clutchê’ our Toyota two wheel drive compact. We definitely pushed the limit to what little Clutchê was capable of… he got his name because when we finished the clutch was almost completely burnt out.
Above: We decided to explore the interior of Fiji for something different. Clutchê was put to the ultimate test- mountainous jungle offroad treks.
Above: You can’t even make this stuff up. As we were driving through the jungle we met a man on horseback who we asked for directions. As we get to talking he randomly invites us to come to his family dam that supplies all of the water to the nearby city of Nadi. He opened up a locked gate, tied off his horse, hopped into our vehicle and guided our car to the top of the dam for a free tour. Oh the adventures you’ll have…
Above: As we drove back we happened across a local Fijian village. Andre insisted we go visit, so we parked our car and just wandered in.
Above: Upon entering the village we are almost immediately approached by some friendly locals who are making ‘kava’. This is a local Fijian root that they grind into a dust, soak with water and drink. It is a mild sedative and extremely popular in Fiji. They use it socially, similar to us cracking open a beer after work.
Above: We were very quickly invited into one of their homes to try kava ourselves. The friendliness and hospitality of Fijians is absolutely world class. We couldn’t say no. We entered a small house where several other village members had gathered, and they proceeded to brew the kava right before our eyes. It looks (and tastes) much like mild, muddy water and immediately makes your lips and tongue go numb. Honestly, it wasn’t all that bad, but it certainly wasn’t good either.
The entire experience was very authentic and unexpected. We stayed with them for some time as they were very interested in our journey and who we were; I think it’s rare for outsiders to randomly walk through their village and take interest in their day to day activities. They all unanimously thought we were crazy for sailing such a distance.
Above: Some local children from the village soon discovered us and gave us the grand tour of their village.
Above: We say our goodbyes after a day of off-road exploring and mingling with the locals.
Above: We enjoy some much needed rest on Beachcomber Island in Fiji. This is was the payoff I was waiting for from 2 weeks at sea!
Above: The final sunsets of our stay in Fiji. This place is magical.
I hope you enjoyed coming along for our photo journey from Majuro to Fiji. What a trip. Fiji is a garden and is an absolute must visit. It’s remote enough that it’s still pristine and hasn’t succumbed to the tendrils of over-tourism. I found it clean, safe, and the people were some of the warmest and I have ever encountered in all my travels. They are genuinely happy and enjoy their beautiful island to its fullest.
The trip, despite all the rosy photos was very hard at times; living on a boat is sort of like fancy camping, only everything is constantly wet, moving, and at a 45 degree angle. There were days that were extremely challenging and I yearned for land. I got seasick at the beginning of the trip which was hell. Squalls can quickly soak you and make your life miserable. You find bruises everywhere on your body and have no idea where they came from. Simple tasks like cooking or going to the washroom are challenges and messy feats of endurance and patience. I had a net keeping me from being flung out of my bed at night.
Despite all of this however, the golden moments always shine through. I highlighted many of them above.
Sailing to me is the ultimate freedom. When you’re in the middle of the ocean thousands of kilometres from land you truly are the master of your own existence. Your decisions are life and death. It’s extremely empowering and liberating.
Ultimately the trip was a massive success and I have gained some friends for life. Curtis and Andre were both wonderful to sail with, and I walked away with a treasure trove of new-found experience and memories. I got to complete my first blue water sail, hang out with one of my cinematographer heroes, and collect some beautiful travel moments along the way. I’ve fallen in love with sailing, and I genuinely can’t wait to see where this path takes me.