Outside Magazine Q&A

It’s not often the media allows you to scratch below the surface of an expedition. Normally they just want the facts, best and worst moments, quarrels between team members – the usual tabloid drama. This time I got to delve a little deeper, revealing, amongst other things, regret for not valuing time with my late father. He tried introducing me to the wilderness, but as an immature teenager with authority issues I didn’t care.

My loss. My Perfect Adventure >>

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The Expedition Book 2 – The Tao of Porridge

april_tiny_breakfast

August 5. Wind: SE 15-20 knots. Heading: 170M. Position: 13°09’44”S
 151°32’82”E

“What’ve you eaten in the last twenty-four hours, Ms A?”

Eyes sunken and glazed, besieged by dark rings, April nurses a handful of raw oats. She sorts with thumb and forefinger, picking out a few loose grains and placing them in her mouth. The bones in her face protrude as she chews.

“A Cliff Bar,” she replies softly. “A GU energy sachet, and a tangerine.”

I shake my head. “Abso-lutely-useless. That’s not enough to sustain a fly.”

“It sustained me during my last shift,” she says defiantly, snatching at a steering toggle to correct Moksha’s heading.

“Maybe, but you’re losing too much weight, April. Soon we’ll be measuring your pedal rotations in RPC, not RPM.”

My partner stares at me nonplussed.

“Revolutions per century?”

It’s an underhand comment, especially in light of her unremitting seasickness, but it’s one of the few ways I can get her to eat. Becoming a burden to the voyage is still her biggest fear. Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – A Dodgem Ride in the Twilight Zone

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August 2. Wind: SSE 30 knots. Heading: 210M. Position: 12°48’68”S
 152°35’42”E

The morning of the fifteenth day breaks cold and dreary with relentless rain, the ocean windswept. An eerie blue light penetrates the cabin, revealing a silhouetted form that sways in the half-light. Eyes closed, fist propping up her chin, April dozes as she pedals. A green lava-lava tied across the stern window is ready to catch her head when it falls.

The wind has veered to south-southeast in the night, and freshened to thirty knots with forty-knot gusts. The best we can now manage is 210 degrees magnetic, taking us diagonally over the backs of the sweeping rollers, some of which shape-shift into spitting balls of liquid rage and target the cockpit with laser-like precision. We’re back to being constantly wet and longing for the sun. This voyage is becoming a dodgem ride in the Twilight Zone, I scribble in my journal, with complimentary buckets of water dumped over our heads… Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – Reefs and Cabbages

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July 28. Wind: SSE 25 knots. Heading: 180M. Position: 11°30’13”S
 155°06’78”E

I stare in disbelief at the two-tone screen of the GPS. In the past 24 hours we’ve lost forty-two miles west, and gained only a handful south. Disaster looms once more. To avoid running aground on the reef east of Tagula, we need to make fifteen miles south over the next fifteen hours. The likelihood of this happening is slim given the recent trend.

All we can do different is try to increase our RPMs. April ups hers from forty to forty-five. I aim for fifty-two. We also shorten the daytime shifts from three to two hours, and the night-time ones from four to three to optimize performance. Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – Seasickness Takes Hold

July 25. Wind: ESE 10 knots. Heading: 180M. Position: 10°39’26”S
 156°51’46”E

Hoorah! A lull in the trades has allowed us to claw twenty-five miles south, enough to scrape past Pocklington Reef. If we can next avoid Rossel and Tagula Islands, we’ll have a straight shot to Australia.

I film April as I pedal. She’s sitting wedged across the inside of the cabin, writing her first email.

“Success?” I ask.

“Success.” She sighs heavily, closes the laptop lid, and removes her purple-rimmed glasses. “But now I’m going to have to lie down for just a quick minute.”

“Queasy?”

She nods as she pries off a sodden white sock. “Looking down seems to be my Achilles heel.” The soles of her feet are beginning to rot, the skin white and flaking like spoiled cheddar cheese. Painful lesions mark the straps of her ill-fitting sandals—the reason for the socks. Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – One Wild, Wild Night

July 20. Wind: SE 15-20 knots. Heading: 210M. Position: 09°21’66”S
 158°28’28”E

Torrential rain all morning. The inside of the central compartment resembles a Chinese laundry with sodden bras, knickers, and towels swinging from the emergency oars. In the last twenty-four hours we’ve managed eleven miles south to thirty-three west, a ratio of one to three. This isn’t good enough. Our course over ground marked on the chart now has us on a collision course with the easternmost reef of the Louisiades Archipelago, Pocklington Reef. Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – The Wrath of the Coral Sea

July 19. Wind: SE 25 knots. Heading: 210M. Position: 09°18’33”S
 159°14’50”E

Skirting the westernmost point of Guadalcanal, Coral Sea Corner as we later call it, the wind accelerates to thirty knots and all hell breaks loose. No longer protected by land, we are now exposed to the full force of the southeast trades sweeping unchallenged across the Pacific from South America. The seas around us become steep and confused, upshot of the confluence of winds, tides, and currents ricocheting between the islands. For every mile we pedal south, we’re losing six west.

Then it starts to rain. Heavily.

I awake at first light on the second day to a hollow clanking sound, like a cowbell. Our camp kettle is floating in six inches of water, bouncing between the plywood storage bins. A half-eaten bowl of waterlogged porridge is on the move along with my sandals. Outside, the wind shrieks. I look up. April has been pedalling since 3:00 am, steering in total darkness, wrestling the toggles back and forth to keep Moksha from broaching and capsizing. Sceptics denounced the idea of having a woman aboard without nautical experience as irresponsible and reckless. Yet here she is, powering away. Fortunately, she’s taken the trouble to get fit before coming out, an expedition first! Continue reading

The Expedition Book 2 – A Woman’s Best Friend

July 18, 2000. Wind: ESE 5 knots. Heading: 265M. Position: 09°11’78”S
 159°40’14”E

We steer a course for the northern tip of Savo Island, its trademark splodge of cloud hovering overhead. “Don’t go south of it,” the police chief on Tulagi had warned. “Militias use Savo to run weapons and food to Guadalcanal.” Making a detour this early on in the voyage is somewhat inconvenient, especially with the trades gathering strength, but with Cairns over eleven hundred miles away, an extra ten won’t make much of a difference.

The wind is light. A gentle swell rolls in astern. The conditions are near perfect for April to start acclimatizing to life on the briny. For now, she looks happy and relaxed—perhaps a little too relaxed.

“It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be,” she laughs, pedalling with her hands behind her head. “If I had a pillow back here I could just drift off!”

Continue reading