So here we are, 180 countries down and just 20 to go – it’s mad to think that I only left Shanghai just over two weeks ago, and in that time I’ve managed to visit Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and with any luck I’ll be in Brunei (181) before close of play tomorrow and the Philippines (182) by the end of this week (typhoons permitting). But if you think I’m “nearly there”, think again. Every single remaining state is an island nation and none of them have anything approaching an international ferry service. This could take a looooooooong time.
A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.
Here’s a draft of a sketch of a inkling of The Plan from here to the end of The Odyssey Expedition. But as always, everything is open to change.
183: East Timor
There is a Pelni (Indonesia’s national ferry service) ship that goes from Denpaser in Bali to Kupang in (West) Timur. I’ll be crossing the border, then sitting in Dili for a few days while I apply for (yet) another Indonesian visa.
After returning to Kupang, I will take a Pelni ship to West Papua. From there I hope to persuade a swashbuckling yachtie to take me to the South-West Islands of Palau: only a few hundred kilometres north (as opposed to the capital Koror which is a thousand kilometres away). I’ll then be coming straight back to West Papua.
185. Papua New Guinea
Just a case of crossing the border from West Papua.
186. Solomon Islands
If I island-hop through PNG and make it to Bougainville, I should be able to take a canoe over the short hop to the Shortland Islands and tick the Solomons off the list. From there I should be able to island-hop via Gizo to Guadalcanal, the main island.
And here’s when it becomes REALLY tricky…
Have a gander at this map of the Pacific Island states I knocked out on the back of a napkin…
Take a note of the scale!!! From the Marshall Islands down to Fiji I’m going to have a cover a distance approximately the same as from Darwin to Melbourne via Sydney. This is no Caribbean Island hop, these are gargantuan chucks of bitchin’ ocean I have to cover.
The only options open to me are hitching a ride on cargo ships and cruise ships. Cyclone season starts at the end of this month (and continues to May) so yachts are right out. Even if someone was mad enough to take me, it would just be too dangerous – I mean, have you SEEN A Perfect Storm? Ygads!
So here’s the sketch of how I’m going to do this…
The isolated (and isolationalist) island of Nauru is really hitting hard times these days. The rich phosphate deposits that secured the island’s finances are now completely depleted (as of this year), leaving an impoverished island in the middle of nowhere that is going to be a real bitch to get to – it’s the only Pacific Island where you need a visa and an invitation to ruck up. Seriously guys? Seriously?
My hope is that I can hop a supply/cargo ship from The Solomons north to The Marshall Islands, one that stops at Nauru along the way. But these things may only come once every few months.
Micronesia (like jungle) is massive, stretching across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean. The bit I’m interested in is an island called Kosrae in the far east of the nation, which I could use as a stepping stone to…
189. The Marshall Islands
I lie awake at night fretting about ever reaching The Marshall Islands. So far from just about anywhere they cajole and torment me in my dreams. But if this semi-mythical cargo ship can take me there, I’d be one happy Odyssey bunny.
If a cargo ship has got me this far, maybe it can take me a little further: to the western half of Kiribati. From there at least I know I can take a Kiribati Shipping Services ship (which comes once every couple of months) down to…
Here I’ll have to make the decision whether to stay on the Kiribati Shipping Services ship to Fiji or swing a left to:
Again, this place is a little off the beaten track, but it’s position between the US Samoan islands and Fiji means that if I’m lucky, I might be able to find something that can float me to:
If I get here, the hump should be over: I’ll be on the cruise ship circuit. Hopefully in return for entertaining the troops with tales of my adventures (and possibly the odd song and dance routine), I’ll be allowed to hitch a ride on a cruise to:
Fiji seems to have the best international transport links with the region, and I may regret not coming here first, but if all works out, I should be able to stay on the same cruise ship through the Fijian islands and on to:
And then onto:
196. New Zealand
My original final destination, things have changed a little since I failed to reach Sri Lanka, Maldives and The Seychelles. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something to ship me to:
Arriving in Sydney (because I owe Alex Zelenjak a pint in The Three Monkeys), I’ll be headed down to Melbourne and kidnapping my long-suffering girlfriend Mandy for the trip across the Nullabor all the way to Perth. If I can find a cruise that is going to Europe or South Africa, there’s a good chance it will stop at: 198. Sri Lanka, 199. Maldives and 200. The Seychelles.
CAN YOU HELP?
If you have any contacts in the South Pacific who are involved in shipping or cruises, please pass them on via the CONTACTS page. In return for helping me finish The Odyssey in one piece I’m willing to give plenty of publicity to any company or individual that would like to get involved.
THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION
Hi, my name is Graham Hughes. I’m a British adventurer, TV presenter and a Guinness World Record holder. You can read more about me on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes
I’m currently in the midst of a rather epic challenge – one that I hope you might be interested in joining me in: I’m trying to step foot in every country in the world, and attempting to do so without flying. I’m doing this to raise funds and awareness for the international charity WaterAid.
I work with Lonely Planet, National Geographic and BBC Worldwide. The first series of my self-filmed TV show, Graham’s World, is currently showing on the Nat Geo Adventure channel (Foxtel) and I was the star guest on Channel Nine’s Today Show last Saturday. You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaR_RW7Zu4
Over the last two years, I’ve managed to visit an incredible 184 countries around the world, from Uruguay to Iceland, South Africa to Turkmenistan; on my own, on a shoestring and without flying. With only 17 more countries to visit, I’m now setting my sights on the Pacific Ocean nations of Oceania.
BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS
I’m looking for somebody – it could be you, a friend, a colleague or your mum – who owns their own sailing ship and is looking for an epic adventure on the high seas. While I’m happy to pay for food, drink and fuel, but this would not be a commercial enterprise – I’m seeking somebody who wants to do this for fun, a bit of fame, to raise money for the charity WaterAid… and claim their very own Guinness World Record: THE FASTEST SEA JOURNEY TO EVERY COUNTRY IN OCEANIA.
From Australia, one amazing journey will take us to Papua New Guinea, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand… and back to Australia.
FORTUNE AND GLORY
Of course, this would be no small undertaking. We are talking here of a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles. It won’t be easy, but then Guinness World Records never are!
I travel solo, I don’t have a film crew or any bulky equipment. I have extensive sailing experience on the open sea, having been first mate on international voyages in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. I’m aware that for many boat owners, their vessel is their home and I’m more than happy to meet any prospective skippers in person before they reach a decision.
I’m not looking for anything fancy, fast, luxurious or even particularly comfortable, the only requirements I’ve got are that the ship be sea-worthy, insured and fitted with an international distress beacon in case of emergency.
I’m also open to the possibility of doing a smaller leg of the journey, sayAustraliato PNG to Palau and back. (Although they’d be no world record for you in that!)
I’m ready to leave as soon as possible from anywhere in Australia. Would YOU be interested in stepping up to the mantle? Prove to your family and friends that your boat is more than an expensive toy: show them that it’s an expression of freedom and adventure, feel the call of the ocean, leave all you troubles behind and join me on the voyage of a lifetime… fortune and glory await!
I anxiously await your call.
10 Aug 2011
Thu 01.03.12 – Tue 06.03.12:
We arrived in Honiara a at 8pm, a little later than expected, and thanks to our proximity to the equator, it was already dark. I headed over to the King Solomon hotel to try and contact my CouchSurf chum Thomas from last time I was here, but my email had no reply and his phone was off or disconnected. There’s a good chance that he’s left The Solomons for green pastures. I had a quick chat with Mandy – she’s trying her best to organise my passage on the Cap Serrat – a Hamburg Sud cargo ship which leaves Brisbane on March 25 bound for Taiwan… arriving just in time for me to (possibly) jump on the Mariana Express Ship that leaves April 8 bound for nations 196 and 197: Micronesia and Palau.
This year, if I manage to get to one nation a month I’m doing well.
Afterwards I settled down at the bar with a glass of SolBrew and my laptop, catching up with one of a zillion things I had planned to finish while on the Scarlett Lucy.
Rusi, the ship’s welder, came to meet me for a swift half. The bar was quiet, it being Thursday, and the big night out I was hoping for seemed unlikely. A shame as the ship wasn’t leaving until 1500 tomorrow – plenty of time to shake off a hangover. We headed back to the ship before midnight (the start of Russi’s shift) and I ended up in the mess watching videos until the wee small hours.
The next day I hurriedly threw a couple of blog entries up online and then headed over to the yacht club to see what (if anything) was going down. There I met a lady from Formby (Scousers! Everywhere!), a guy from Sydney and a couple who had motorbiked all the way from Australia to the UK, only to get their motorbike stolen in Wales. Oops!
On the other side of the wharf, the Scarlett Lucy blew her horn to say ALL ABOARD! I had to down my last glass of beer and race off, once again, from Honiara, a place that wish I could have spent a great deal more time in – really exploring the island of Guadalcanal would be a real treat.
And so within the hour the gangway was pulled up and once again we were at the mercy of the constant swaying and vibration that constantly reminds you that you’re sea. For the next four days we plotted a course North East to Tawara and I lost myself in a world of books and writing, confident that the outside world would not interfere.
As I write this we’re scheduled to arrive in the capital of Kiribati at 1500 tomorrow. If I had known now what I didn’t know then (I didn’t know that the Scarlett Lucy even called in on The Solomons or Kiribati), I could have jumped ship from the Papuan Chief last time I was in Honiara, clambered on board the Scarlett Lucy, knocked Nauru off the list back in October and be well on my way from Taiwan to Palau and Micronesia by now.
Then again, if I knew back at the beginning what I know now I would have:
1. Not tried to get into Libya and Algeria without a visa
2. Not taken a leaky wooden boat to Cape Verde (I should have waited for a yacht)
3. Not got ratty with the police at the checkpoint in Brazzaville
4. At least tried to get to The Seychelles from Nosy Be in Madagascar
5. Visited South Sudan while I was in the area
6. Got my Saudi Visa sorted before I got to Kuwait
7. Got my Indian Visa sorted before I got to Dubai
8. Tried harder to get to Sri Lanka from India
9. Visited Palau and Micronesia the first time I was in Taiwan
10. Definitely not wasted nine months in Melbourne waiting for a magical yacht that probably didn’t ever exist to take me around the Pacific.
But hey, thems the breaks, kid. If I thought this was going to be easy, I would have had a mental breakdown years ago.
Here we go: the final seven, the magnificent seven, the seven samurai, lucky number seven, the seven nation army… the end of this rather epic quest starts with nation 195, Nauru – the smallest UN member state in the world. With any luck, I’ll be there before the week is out… and then there’ll be SIX!
Fri 16.03.12 – Mon 19.03.12
We left Nauru at around 7pm, and I was disappointed that customs didn’t come back on board before we set sail. I would have liked a Nauru stamp in my passport, but hey-ho. There’s a number of countries that I haven’t got entry or exit stamps for, including every country in the EU, so it’s not something that keeps me awake at night.
As we drew our course west towards the setting sun I looked back over Nauru. There can be no doubt that this country, like so many others in the world, would have been better off if there were no natural resources for The West to plunder. 100 years of high-grade phosphate mining and nothing, NOTHING to show for it… except a ruined interior, periods of man-made drought and tons of scrap metal littering the countryside. This is the sad fate that awaits most other resource-rich cash-poor countries in the world – a paradise lost and what did the local people get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville.
Then again, somebody probably would have had the great idea to use the island to test nuclear weapons as happened in The Marshalls and French Polynesia. Oh look – paradise! Let’s destroy it! You know the old joke/truism that if Jesus came back we’d kill him again? To compliment that, if heaven did exist, there’d be a never-ending queue of people attempting to f— it up. I guess, like the fable of the frog and the scorpion, it’s our nature.
The three day voyage back to Noro was uneventful. I drank a lot of kava with the boys, sitting cross-legged on the floor while they played the guitar and sang Fijian songs. You sleep well after a few bowls of grog, although it is definitely an acquired taste.
We arrived back in Noro in the Solomon Islands on Sunday evening. We had got news a couple of days before that Captain Sireli would be getting off in Noro and the Scarlett Lucy would be getting a new Master, Captain Bob – who I’m reliably informed is a fellow scouser. To fix the faulty crane in Nauru, Peni and Lecky had purloined the control circuit board from the second crane. As we required both cranes to get the job done in Noro, Captain Bob would be bringing a brand new board for number two crane.
The only snag was that he wouldn’t be arriving until Monday afternoon. This meant we would probably leave Noro on Wednesday. It takes four days to get to Brisbane from here and a quick bit of mental arithmetic told me that if we left on Wednesday, I’d miss the Cap Serrat sailing to Taiwan on Sunday. I might miss it by a few hours or even a day – but one thing was for sure, I’d miss my connection.
Given the numerous delays we’ve had on board already, I decided not to risk it. I called up Mandy on Sunday evening and asked her to tell Hamburg Sud that I wouldn’t be able to make it. She told me that they were planning to bring it up at a board meeting tomorrow morning and that they were very confident that I’ll be allowed onboard. That nagging doubt crept into my mind – but what if I do get there in time?
No, I don’t want to give these guys the run around. Mandy sent an email explaining that I had been delayed and that was that.
That night we had a bit of a leaving do for Captain Sireli. As the sun went down we sat on the deck drinking grog and peeling casaba. Rusi, Douglas, Labe and Cookie left with me to visit the Flying Angel, one of the only two bars in town, just to the left of the port. We sat on the step outside, putting the world to rights as Venus and Jupiter continued their dance that begun over a week ago when we were in Kiribati.
The next morning I was woken at 7.30am by Rusi barging into my room. “Graham – get up! Drill drill! We’re testing the drop boat!!”
I knew this was happening this morning, but I thought it was at 10.30. If I had known it was going to be at 7.30, I would have drank a lot less last night.
I threw my trousers and shoes on and headed to the muster station, rubbing my eyes in the piercing morning light. The Scarlett Lucy is the eleventh major cargo ship that I’ve been on to have a drop boat, but this would be my first time to actually ride in one. If you haven’t seen one of these things before, they’re a solid fibreglass lifeboat that is completely sealed top and bottom. They have about 20 seats in them and they’re positioned at a 45 degree angle high up off the back of most modern container ships. This one was on the third floor up from the poop deck, and there’s a good few metres down from the poop deck to the waterline.
Hee hee! Poop deck! Every time I see the sign I giggle.
It was all very exciting. You sit backwards to the front of the craft so you don’t jolt forward when you hit the water. I took my seat and waited. After a few minutes I realised my second biggest mistake after drinking too much last night was not bringing any water on board with me this morning. Designed for all weather conditions, in the blazing morning sunshine of The Solomon Islands, the drop boat was excruciatingly hot.
I sweated magnificently (I recently found out that humans actually sweat substantially more than pigs, so let’s put that misapprehension to bed. And while we’re at it, being hung like a gorilla is not something that you’d really want to advertise – their willies are tiny.) and thought this must be like what’s it’s like waiting for the space shuttle to take off. After what seemed like an age, the drop boat slid off the back of the ship and into the sea.
It was all very gentle. A bit perplexed, I got out of my seat and climbed out of the aft access hatch to find out why. Then I saw: we were still hooked to the ship. The davit extends all the way down into the water, as you can see in this video:
This wasn’t the theme-park rollercoaster ride I was expecting! I wanted an express elevator to hell! What happened to the free-fall?
Ah, oh well, at least I got to ride in a drop boat. Unfortunately for me, we then had to test the engine and steering were working correctly. This meant scooting around the bay a few times, not the best idea when you’re hungover and swelteringly hot. All I could do was grit my teeth and bear it.
We then hooked the drop boat back onto the davit and jumped on a local’s canoe to the shore. When I got back to the Lucy, I headed straight for the mess and drank my own body-weight in orange cordial. I then took myself back off to bed. I was in the land of nod before I knew it.
DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNG! DRINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG!
Seven short blasts and a long one. It was another drill! I put my shoes back on and headed to the muster station to see what was happening this time. It was now 10.30. Rusi was beaming. “Graham! Get in the drop boat! We’re doing the free-fall this time!”
I wouldn’t have missed this one for the world. Once again, I clambered on board, the last to get in (somewhat heroically, I’m sure). Not everyone needed to be in the boat for the drop test, so everyone but myself, Chief Mate Tarawa, Third Mate Bessey and Engineering Cadet Peter scarpered after the seating drill had been completed.
We were unhooked from the davit and Chief Mate Tarawa had to physically pump the hydraulic release from inside the vessel. It felt a lot like waiting for a rollercoaster to start. Only with a much greater risk of something going horribly wrong. There’s no countdown timer for this – no way of knowing when the hydraulic release is going to give way. One second you’re halfway up a big container ship, the next CHUGACHUGACHUGA you’re speeding backwards down a ramp, then SPLOSH! you hit the water. In less than three seconds, it’s all over.
With a couple of triumphant whoops and woo-hoos, we opened the back of the craft and I climbed out. This time, the trip around the bay felt like a lap of honour.
That night Rusi, Meli, Bessey, Douglas and I headed over to the Noro lodge to down some SolBrews. I think we deserved it.
The Pacific, south of the equator line, is now complete. Yes, there were a handful of territories – Niue, Tokelau, French Polynesia, Pitcairn & Easter Island – that I skipped, but if the purpose of this adventure is to have great stories to tell the grandkids, I need to finish this quest so I can work on spawning future generations of argumentative scouse dingbats to tell the aforementioned great stories to in the first place. Happily, I did get to visit the French territories of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (both of them!) and the US territory of American Samoa, bringing my ‘territory tally’ up to 9.
Here’s a rough map I knocked together of the route I took, including ships and dates. Clicky for biggie.
MASSIVE THANKS must go to the cargo kings of the Pacific Ocean – Swire, Neptune, PDL, PIL, Reef and the cruise queens – Carnival, Princess and P&O. Alex Pattison (Swire), Rowan Moss (PDL), Captain Hebden (Neptune) and David Jones (Carnival) in particular went that extra mile to help this raggedy stranger take a giant leap forwards in achieving his dream.
Finally, hats off to Captain Bernie Santos of the Papuan Chief, Captain Don McGill of the Southern Pearl, Captain Andrey Verkhovsky of the Southern Lily 2 and Captains Sireli Raloka and Bob Williams of the Scarlett Lucy. It was a real honour to sail with these guys.
All in all, a pretty successful five months! I only wish I had known (at the time) that the Scarlett Lucy came into Honiara on the way to Nauru. Had I know that, and had Neptune been happy to let me on board last October, I could have jumped off the Papuan Chief and jumped on the Lucy, cutting out the massive backtrack to Australia from New Zealand – saving myself at least a month’s worth of travel.
But then I wouldn’t have scored a free ride as a VIP on a cruise ship, so I’m really not complaining!!
As I keep saying, there’s no manual for this type of thing – it just goes to show that good information is priceless. Now, with Nauru out of the way, I must turn my attention north to Palau and Micronesia.
The Cap Serrat left in the wee small hours of the morning, and the only other ship that will get me to Taiwan (in time to make April’s one and only ship to Palau and Micronesia) leaves from Townsville, 1,300km north of here in just three days time, and I still haven’t got permission off the owner to board the vessel. This is cutting it tight and making a huge gamble – if I don’t get on the Mell Seringat on Thursday I’ll have lost another month.
After saying my goodbyes to Captain Bob, Rusi, Peni, Cookie, Douglas, Bese, Labe, Ricky, Meli, Patrick, Peter, Hendra, Daniel, Asi, Manasa, Martin and Chief Tarawa – I reluctantly disembarked the Scarlett Lucy, my home for the past 34 days. I set course for the Mission to Seafarers in order to take advantage of the courtesy bus that takes salty seadogs like meselfs to the nearest town, Wynnum. A train ride to Brisbane city’s south bank, a rather unfortunate looking set of nuclear bunkers that substitute for a cultural quarter. A good place to run to when the North Koreans attack, and also there’s free internet.
After trudging through my back-log of emails and correspondence, it became clear that I was no closer to being allowed on this ship than I was 24 hours ago when I was in the middle of the sea. Tomorrow I’d have to make the decision whether to head up to Townsville anyway, but today I could (kinda) relax. I met up with Crystal, a mate off the Pacific Pearl, and we settled in for an evening of pizza and beer before I crashed on the coach. The Pacific Ocean is magnificent, but dry land does have its bonuses.