Our planned departure date of May 1 came and went. Every day we postponed for lack of sponsorship was one less day to bike to Vladivostok in easternmost Russia, and launch Moksha before the Northern Hemisphere winter set in. Not thrilled about the prospect of freezing to death in Siberia, we decided to fix a cut-off date. If a title sponsor hadn’t stepped up to the plate by June 1, we would either postpone until the following spring, or abandon the effort entirely. While the latter seemed almost unthinkable after the thousands of man-hours already invested, the former posed an equally dismal prospect: another soul-destroying year surviving on social security handouts and living in derelict housing.
They were desperate times, and desperate times can lead to reckless measures. Moksha still needed to be furnished with hundreds of bits of incidental gear – cups, plates, cutlery, saucepans, a kettle, food storage containers, batteries, a bucket for inclement weather, sponges for bailing, a handheld foghorn, fishing line, hooks – all of which cost money we didn’t have. Taking matters into my own hands, I tried legging it from an East London marine supplier clutching a rubber bucket, two sponges, and a scrubbing brush. I got about twenty yards before being rugby tackled by a security guard outside Woolworths, bucket and sponges bouncing into the road, and a pair of old biddies looking on in disgust.
I was arrested and hauled off to Plaistow Police Station to be formally charged. I’d hit rock bottom, and braced myself for the worst. But after a stint in a holding cell, the booking officer became so intrigued by how a two pound fifty bucket was integral to the success of a human-powered circumnavigation of the planet, he let me go with a caution. My real punishment was yet to come, being read the riot act by Steve, justifiably livid at the integrity of the project so nearly compromised.
Sensing the whole thing was about to die on its feet, our families, and Steve’s girlfriend, Maria, came to the rescue. The loan, repayable when sponsorship eventually materialized, was enough to pay off Hugo, finish Moksha’s construction, and at least get us on our way. In many ways they had every reason not to. At the London Boat Show in January, when Moksha was brought in as a special feature by the show’s organizer, numerous whiskery old sailing buffs had walked away shaking their heads after examining Moksha. One even declared the circumnavigation attempt to be one of the most sure-fire ways of committing suicide he’d ever seen.
Even then, we still didn’t have near enough money for the entire trip. Faced with running out of funds in Eastern Europe, we changed the circumnavigation to a west-about route: biking south through France, Spain, and Portugal, before launching Moksha off the Algarve Coast and crossing the Atlantic to North America. Being a relatively young nation where the pioneering spirit was still celebrated, the US would hopefully offer a broader bite at the sponsorship apple. Properly financed, we could then pedal across the Pacific to Australia, aiming for a sister point to one already reached on the Atlantic. By hitting at least one pair of antipodes, defined as two points diametrically opposite each other on the Earth’s surface, the expedition would meet the criteria for true circumnavigation laid out in 1971 by Norris McWhirter, founding editor of Guinness Book of Records: crossing all lines of longitude, the equator at least twice, and covering a minimum distance of 21,600 nautical miles, a distance equivalent to the circumference of the equator, thereby coming as close as possible to the geographic ideal of a great circle.
The route change produced another casualty, however. Still broke, having to sell his power tools to buy food, and dossing on the floor of an old water tower in Putney, Chris’s continuing incentive to work on Moksha hinged around his promised role as support team driver. The revised route meant smooth roads as far as San Francisco. A full-on support team was no longer needed.
Another acrimonious falling-out ensued. Feeling he’d been used, Chris blew his top and stormed off the project. Steve took the news badly, angry that Chris should “abandon ship” before Moksha was fully finished. Although completed to design specifications, myriad small tasks still needed doing: painting, drilling holes for radio antennas, installing solar panels, sewing canvas compartment covers, fabricating a bed for the sleeping compartment, and so on.
I felt caught in the middle. In the overall interests of the expedition, my loyalty to Steve remained firm. Privately, however, as with Hugo, I didn’t always agree with his methods, especially when it came to handling people whose goodwill and continued patronage we so relied upon, broke as we were. Those who fell by the wayside, claiming they’d been burnt, left a distinctly bad taste in the mouth.
Then again, Steve’s single-mindedness and determinationwere what got the whole thing off the ground in the first place.
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All Rights Reserved – © 2012 Jason Lewis