IN THE FALL OF 2013, ADVENTURER SETH WARREN EMBARKED ON A SUP/KITE VOYAGE DOWN A REMOTE AND LITTLE KNOWN STRING OF ISLANDS CALLED THE QUIRIMBAS ARCHIPELAGO ALONG MOZAMBIQUE’S NORTHEASTERN COASTLINE.
The concept was to use the Kuzi trade winds to push north and while it was a great idea on paper, in practice the first attempt at a wind-assisted paddling voyage from island to island presented a series of novel problems: Large distances between waypoints, warnings of hostile fishing camps, private islands with armed guards and ultimately a staff infection in Seth’s knee worthy of life flight, if only that option had existed. The silver lining in Seth’s expeditious failure was the serendipitous rescue by the vessel Inshallah, a traditional East African style dhow boat owned by a remote luxury resort.
In the months following the first Kuzi mission, Seth created a series of webisodes and magazine articles as his wound healed, effectively spinning failure into gold. As months passed and seasons changed, Seth never lost the nagging unrest that comes with defeat, nor was he able to ignore the siren’s song of the exotic East African coastline. With the captain of the Inshallah on speed dial, Seth planned a Kuzi redemption project, an 11-day voyage exploring the full length of the Quirimbas Archipelago with longtime friends Jake Kinney and Russell Reed, a camerawomen named Katy, and the added diva star power of Jalou Langeree and Hope Levin.
The problem with sequels is that what you think you know, can be just as dangerous as what you don’t know. The team converged in Johannesburg, South Africa, to pile onto the same flight to Mozambique. The previous year, Seth secured visas in-country, so he booked a flight with a brief stopover in the capital city of Maputo for the team’s obligatory rubber stamps before re-boarding the flight to Pemba and then finally puddle-jumping to the resort of Ibo Island where their boat awaited.
As the group stood in line to check almost 20 bags of equipment they overheard the saga of a fellow traveler en route to her nonprofit in Mozambique. The rumor was that Maputo had changed the visa rules a week before and the safest option was to spend six days navigating Mozambique’s visa bureaucracy from the relative comfort of Johannesburg. More than just a mere inconvenience, the team did not have this kind of time; the Inshallah was waiting for them on Ibo Island and although Seth knew enough to pad the itinerary for travel delays, he had not anticipated a monkey wrench as long as a week.
The team had no other option than taking their chances and boarding the plane to Maputo. When the group landed their worst fears were realized. Immigration detained everyone except Jalou; a fastidious traveler, she had obtained her visa back home in the Netherlands. After several hours of getting nowhere, Seth tested the flexibility of the Maputo visa process with a $600 wad of Benjamins, but gained little more than one royally pissed- off immigration official. Nine hours after their arrival, Seth, cinematographer Katy, Hope, Jake and Russell were deported, placed on the last flight to Johannesburg with a giant pile of kiteboarding equipment in tow.
Lugging bulky kite and filming gear through crowded cities is no easy feat, but once back in Johannesburg they settled into a low-cost hostel, which Seth lovingly refers to as “seedy.” With five bodies and inordinate amounts of gear piled into a single hostel room, Seth contacted the Ibo Island Lodge. In addition to owning and operating the Inshallah, the lodge is also the most influential tourism company in central Mozambique.
While Russell and Jake were thriving in the chaos, Hope had not only lost her Dutch travel companion but this otherwise methodically organized, bubbly school-president type personality was bewildered in the frenzy of travel failures. Feeling no small burden for the lapse in morale and logistics, Seth quickly engineered a sightseeing mission to a lion park while the more efficient cogs of backchannel bureaucracy were in motion. The group explored Johannesburg, and while Jake and Russell wrestled with baby lions, the staff at Ibo Island Lodge flexed their muscle to line up a flight into Pemba with an insider’s guarantee that the team would be issued visas.
The next day the deportees landed in Pemba and were expedited through immigration. Before they could take a single photo, they were whisked out to two puddle jumpers for their final flight to Ibo Island. Flying wing to wing, Hope snapped pictures of Russell across the way while Seth was glued to the window, scrutinizing the route he had paddled the year before. Jalou met them at Ibo Island’s dirt airstrip, but in typical Jalou fashion, she had run two miles solo through the jungle and had no intention of accepting a ride back to the lodge.
That night the team reunited around the dinner table at the Ibo Island Lodge, half laughing at their misfortune, half stunned to be surrounded by the luxury of a 5-star plantation style resort. As they drank Mozambique’s beer of choice, 2M, they recalled the day’s giant leap of faith when they boarded their flight into Mozambique, once again without visas. Deportation had made their eventual arrival that much sweeter, and the group toasted the staff of Ibo Island for getting the expedition back on track. That night the group retired to their luxurious suites with the promise of wind in the forecast.
The next morning the team woke up in the comfort of plush king- sized beds framed by expansive views of the serene mangrove- lined channels of the Indian Ocean. This massive environmental shift made the previous day’s travel shenanigans begin to feel like a bad hallucination.
With little time to spare, the team spent the morning preparing for their expedition into the northern waters. The wind began blowing early, so they decided to take the Inshallah for a short test drive to the sandbars a few miles north for the day. Russell and Jake launched from the island while Seth, Jalou, Hope and Katy took a tender to the Inshallah’s mooring. As the boys kited by the boat, the crew raised the tattered lateen sail, and the dhow’s teak frame creaked and moaned under the pull of the southerly Kuzi winds. Jalou and Hope explored the upper and lower decks, examining the custom craftsmanship of each nook and cranny.
The harder the voyage, the sweeter the rewards and when the group reunited on the sandbar, the day’s session delivered in spades. Jake skimboarded through the shallow channels between sandbars, Jalou laughed her way through a rudimentary kite launching tutorial for the boat’s crew and Hope discovered a treasure of seashells in the wind blown strip of unnamed sand. Everyone was quickly absorbed into the distractions of kiting warm water and relaxing in the collective bliss of reaching the point at which their adventure should have begun.
The Inshallah offered the perfect blend of authentic old world simplicity updated with the bare bones of modern navigation – a GPS and sonar depth finder, both fed from a solar panel grid. The Inshallah was a mix of painstakingly crafted teak construction augmented with natural driftwood used in both structural and ornamental capacities. While solid underfoot, each part of the dhow produces its own sound in response to the constant movement in the marine environment. At one point a beam support consisting of naturally shaped tree trunks bound tightly together began emitting a persistent creak, placing the entire team on edge during the quieter hours. The captain, in a final act of desperation, poured oil into the chafing wood to bring its pitch and frequency within bearable limits. It was obvious to all, the Inshallah required constant maintenance, but its design was functionally perfect for island life and by far the most luxurious of options in Kuzi waters. The sleeping arrangements on the open-air top-deck were unbeatable for viewing stars and the mid deck was shaded from the elements by canvas and served as communal space for relaxing and eating meals. The various compartments of the Inshallah never really separates its passengers from the environment, but life in the Mozambique waters was temperate and there was little need for more.
The Quirimbas Archipelago of Mozambique is a seafaring highway, a mix of traveling fisherman sailing on small dugout canoes outfitted with outriggers and sails sewn from plastic laminated sacks. Traveling with very little other than a tightly wound ball of handline, the fishermen would often paddle over to get a closer look and watch as the kiters explored the reef and sandbars of the islands. Occasionally a fisherman would approach to sell some fish but for the most part they were on their own adventure, heading to popular fisheries or returning to their village to feed their families.
When Seth began looking for a team to return to Mozambique, Russell was the first to sign up. Much like Seth, Russell had the time and resources to commit to an extended adventure as well as the skills and disposition to thrive in the realm of the unexpected. Russell attended maritime college straight out of high school and now works a couple months a year as an engineer moving container freight across the world’s largest oceans while earning enough screw-off money to disappear for a while. Russell had met Seth two years prior in the dusty kite town of Los Barriles in Southern Baja and their friendship was quickly cemented by their shared affinity for kiteboarding and remote adventure.
Russell is a jack of all trades and like most male kiters in their 20’s, he’s talented and aggressive on the water but has neither the fame nor the sponsors of a Jalou or a Hope. Russell’s shining contribution to the team resided in solving all kinds of problems, particularly the technical kind. As the Inshallah sailed north under the relentless push of the southern Kuzi winds, the boat’s GPS and sonar devices crapped out. Timing couldn’t be worse as the captain was leaving familiar waters to venture into unknown northern waters where fluctuations in tide and current could unexpectedly run the Inshallah aground. When word of the electronic failures trickled down to the team, Russell paired his handheld GPS unit with an iPhone to assist navigation and route planning, and then started working collectively with the crew to troubleshoot the malfunctioning systems. Russell and the captain were eventually able to fix the GPS but the damaged wiring on the sonar meant it would function intermittently for the remainder of the trip.
On the third day, the group had planned a five-mile downwinder from the island of Rolas to the private island of Mogundula. The plan was for Russell, Jake, Jalou and Hope to kite with the wind, following clear and explicit instructions to land on the next island to the north. With a solid headstart the kites quickly became mere specs on the horizon and from the deck of the Inshallah, Seth could see no one was adhering to the plan. Three of the four kites had missed their mark and had blown past their destination while the fourth had gone completely missing.
Since the distance that now separated the kiters from their boat could have serious consequences, the captain cranked up the Inshallah’s diesel inboard for the first time to catch up. The diesel engine chugged downwind at an impressive rate, following the kites well past Mogundula, and halfway to the next island of Macaloe. In the midst of the frenzy to close the gap and locate the missing kiter, Seth looked behind them to spot the fourth kite launching from Mogundula. Through binoculars, Seth could see something wasn’t right; a mile upwind the kite was rotating between chaotic states of collapse and extreme jellyfishing. The crew turned the Inshallah into the wind and quickly dropped the sail with the large wooden boom bouncing out of its cradle, nearly missing Seth’s seasick camera operator, Katy. Meanwhile, the idling vessel was thrashed about in the decent sized wind swell as they waited for the distressed kiter to catch up.
The missing kiter turned out to be Russell. As he climbed up onto the rear swim deck, he self landed his half inflated kite and begun relating his story. According to Russell, he had landed on Mogundula first, expecting the others to follow. The island’s caretaker invited him in for tea and he packed up his kite and headed to the private camp to wait for the others. After some time no one else arrived, so Russell walked out to the beach just in time to spot the Inshallah passing in the distance, chasing the remainder of the kites on the horizon. Russell struggled to manually inflate his kite by mouth, but was unable to get enough pressure from just the power of his lungs so he devised a routine of dipping the kite in water which condensed the air as he inflated, and then pulled it out into the sun for the air to expand. When he thought he had enough pressure, Russell self launched and limped off the island to catch up.
Back onboard the Inshallah, Seth handed Russell a beer and they headed to Macaloe to collect the others. Seth quickly dismissed the disappointment of passing up Mogundula because he was relieved to have the day’s adventure end with everybody back on the boat, sitting around the galley sharing a meal and laughing about Jake and the girls going to the wrong island and Russell taking a tea break on Mogundula. Simple lapses in communication and basic mistakes in visual navigation had 30 quickly turned a downwinder into an excitable afternoon, giving credence to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s famous words, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”
Life in the Quirimbas is always under the influence of the relentless Kuzi trade winds. By day the Inshallah’s course was dictated by the potential of kiteable spots, but by night the crew labored to find shelter from wind swell behind islands with a suitable leeward side deep enough for the Inshallah’s draft. On one occasion the captain bribed the guards of a small private island to let the crew drop anchor off the beach, with the caveat that the Inshallah had to stay on one side, obscured from the view of the owner living across the channel. That night they built a campfire and the following days were spent kiting and enjoying beach life with the ocean as an infinite tropical bathtub. In the waters off Mozambique the team couldn’t be farther away from the intrusions of western life. When Seth planned the orginal Kuzi expedition via paddleboards, the biggest hurdle was the island of Quero Niuni. Geographically it was a necessary waypoint, but the locals Seth had met in Pemba called it “Bandit Island” and warned him that landing on the island with just a paddleboard was dangerous. They believed he would be overrun by a mob and likely have every piece of gear ripped off of him. This never happened because Seth was bitten by a spider and evacuated before landing on Quero Niuni would become a necessity.
This time around, Seth was armed with the Inshallah as well as its Mozambican crew and he was ready to discover the truth about the people of Quero Niuni. The island itself has an interesting geography; the main part of the island is shaped as an oval center flanked by two long sandbars extending to the east and west. The center is forested with palm trees and low-lying shrub grass with the southwest shore hosting a shanty town of about 100 makeshift structures loosely following a rectilinear grid.
As the Inshallah pulled up to Quero Niuni, the wind was light but by the evening the team was able to hit the water with their bigger kites. A few of the locals came out to watch the spectacle as Jalou and Jake put on a freestyle show. The stoke level among the team was at an all-time high, and the team retired to their floating fortress for pasta and scallops with Seth laughing at the urban legend of hostile locals.
The following morning the wind was howling over Quero Niuni and the team prepared for a big air session in the flat water north of the village. Jalou, Jake, Hope and Russell pumped up their smallest kites while Seth and Katy walked across the sandbar to photograph the action. As the kiters began boosting big airs, the villagers flocked to the water’s edge to marvel at the new activity.
With the Kuzi in full effect, the island’s fishermen did not go out to sea and the population of Quero Niuni had significantly increased from the night before. The crowd grew thicker and the energy of Jalou, Hope, Russell and Jake climbed as each boosted higher for the raging crowd. Caught up in the moment, Seth didn’t notice the group of locals that surrounded Katy and her tripod. Villagers danced in front of Katy’s camera, touching her equipment while swarming her wherever she went. After an hour of crowd pleasing antics the kiters dropped their kites at the edge of the water and the sea of locals swallowed each member of the team. Individually, they worked their way through the mob, struggling to get back to the skiff. One man shoved his hand in Katy’s mouth in an aggressive manner and the other girls felt increasingly uncomfortable in the mob of hands.
Safely back on the Inshallah, the team traded stories. Both Jake and Seth had stepped in piles of feces on the beach and Jake pointed out with good humor that he hadn’t seen any dogs on that island. They all recounted the shift in mood; one moment trading high fives with excited locals to the overwhelming vibe of navigating the chaos and mixed excitement of the mob to get back to the tender.
Later that evening, Seth wanted to kite the other side of the island, but the rest of the team was hesitant to confront another crowd. Seth devised a ruse to distract the locals and one by one the entire team enlisted. They loaded the skiff and motored towards the western side of the island. The villagers began running to that side of the island, but just then the captain switched course and headed to the east side of the island. They bought themselves enough time for the entire team to launch before the crowd arrived and the Inshallah’s crew was able to protect Katy from the smaller group of spectators. The team traded tacks under the setting sun and downwinded back to the Inshallah for derigging.
That night the team sat around eating fresh pan-seared shrimp with Pedi Pedi, a local hot sauce, and ice cold 2M beers while reminiscing over the cultural immersion of Quero Niuni. Seth shared his excitement for pushing north into a remote zone just short of the Tanzanian border, where he anticipated the trip’s most spectacular reef and sandbar formations. At the same time, this stretch of the Mozambique coast is on the verge of a giant oil and natural gas boom. Since the government was preparing to lease large areas to multinational oil corporations, Seth wanted to document the people and places of this remote territory before the effects of oil extraction change the face of these islands forever.
Early that next morning the captain woke Seth with bad news. The long range forecast for the following three days included gale force winds from the south. If Seth insisted on pushing deeper into the northern islands the Inshallah would have to face the Kuzi winds dead on upon its return to Ibo Island. Seth could read the safety concerns on the captain’s face, but he was also taunted by the disappointment of abandoning the deepest part of the expedition.
As Seth contemplated dragging the team through two extra days of violent weather, it was clear the right choice was to turn back. The Inshallah came about and powered south under the rising sun. Later that morning when the team awoke, they all agreed the early return was the best decision. They motored south into familiar water and stopped off in Pangane to buy fresh supplies. Jalou insisted on purchasing bananas despite Russell’s serious protests that bringing bananas on a boat was bad luck.
They spent two days moored off Mogundula, the island only Russell had managed to visit. The team kited behind the westernmost sandspit, busting freestyle in enormous sections of buttery flat water and relaxed on the island’s private camp as they reminisced over their grand adventures of the previous week. For the foreseeable future the northernmost islands would remain beyond Seth’s reach, but he reveled in the notion that wide-open adventure such as this still exists.
As it turns out, the trip was far from over. Upon their return to Ibo Island Lodge, Seth and Russell had planned to say goodbye to everyone and embark on an entirely separate trip to Madagascar. By the time the Inshallah left Mogundula, Jalou, Jake and Hope had signed up for the bonus itinerary and as the boat chugged south towards their next adventure, Jalou blissfully peeled the skin off one of her bad luck bananas. To be continued in Madagascar . . .
Words by: Brendan Richards // Photos by: Seth Warren
The crew ventures to Madagascar in the next part of their journey. Read Bad Luck Bananas in Tkb’s SPRING 2014 Issue here.