WHEN GAVIN MCCLURG EMAILS YOU, IT’S IMPORTANT TO PAY ATTENTION.
As the owner of the S/V Discovery, aka the Cabrinha Quest, Gavin has sailed around the world multiple times; so when he invites you to go on what he describes as “the most epic wind and wave adventure in the world,” I recommend that you drop everything, rearrange your schedule and do anything possible to make it happen.
BRING EVERYTHING — When heading to a place as remote as the one Gavin described, it’s important to be prepared to make the most of every moment and all situations. Traveling with a crew of true watermen including Reo Stevens, Kohl Christensen, Hank Gaskill, Fletcher Choinard and Jason McCaffrey, our aim was to surf, kitesurf, dive, fish, sail and explore, without exploitation, the beautiful unspoiled waters of a secluded group of Pacific islands.
Packing for trips like this is an art; it’s an intricate game of Tetris familiar to all traveling watermen. In the warm, equatorial waters of the Pacific, there is little need in the way of bulky clothes, so minimal space is taken up by a few pairs of boardshorts, t-shirts and sun protection garments. However, the main objective remains: how to fit a laundry list of surfboards, kitesurf boards, twin tips, spear guns, masks, snorkles, weight belts, bars, harnesses and hydrofoils into baggage that the airlines will accept without charging you the monetary equivalent of your firstborn child (or an arm and a leg… for those of you who are possibly offended by putting a dollar value on your eldest).
HURRY UP AND WAIT — Working our way through the terminals of international aviation, it became clear that we would be arriving on the tail end of a forecasted swell. On most trips, when you know that the best of the swell is happening as you touch down, you land with one purpose — expedite the baggage collection process and head straight to the surf. This trip proved to be no different. It wasn’t until we gathered our luggage, loaded the trucks, drove to the dock, transferred the baggage onto the dinghy and secured the baggage to the bow of the boat, all without delay and with incredible efficiency all in the name of the race to the wave, that we learned the surf was a mere 21-hour sail away; an epiphany that forced us to slow our roll.
In relative terms, there is nothing fast about sailboat travel. Sure you can unfurl all the sails and put up a spinnaker, but fast sailing is still slow in terms of our usual fast-paced lifestyles. The transition from 65mph cars, 500mph jet planes and all the other instant everythings in our lives are a trip in comparison. I absolutely cherish these remote adventures because they force you to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with yourself, allowing you to kick back for uninterrupted quality time with friends and enjoy the immediate surroundings of your floating domain.
Once we shoved off, Captain Tom briefed us on our trip and we started to settle into sailing’s slower pace. On any long, overnight crossing, everyone onboard takes turns at watch with the aim of looking out for other boats and avoiding collision courses. As Jason McCaffrey and I settled in for our midnight shift, we sailed our course as the only two lights from the other boats slowly faded upon the dark horizon. Short of the small homemade sailing crafts used by the locals for fishing, we did not see another boat for the next 10 days.
UP FOR ANYTHING — I get made fun of by my friends a lot when we travel because I cannot, for the life of me, travel light. My bags are always overweight and I always bring the most toys. One thing that I’ve learned from my travels is the simple fact that if you don’t bring it, you can’t use it. But on this adventure, we planned on using everything, so we brought all of it.
After 21 hours at sea, we arrived at the Island of Everything and got a glimpse of the surf we had been hoping for. It was super clean and firing and the wind was blowing enough to make it kiteable. As Reo, Fletch, McCaffrey and I got our kiting gear set up, Hank and Kohl were already off the boat getting shacked. Hank scored more barrels by the time I was able to get a kite in the air than your above average surfer might get in an entire year. His ear to ear grin was visible all the way from the boat and remained plastered on his face for the entire trip.
Reo, Jason, Fletch and I quickly joined him and traded off waves: drop in, stall deep, kick out, laugh hard and loud, then repeat. This went on for hours until we were sunbaked, dehydrated and in dire need of food and a good night’s sleep.
Over the next few days we spent our time surfing when the waves were good, kiting once the wind came up, fishing while underway and diving and spearfishing from the boat while at anchor. When you come prepared and you’re up for anything, it’s hard not to have a good time!
PUNCHING FISH — Growing up in Pennsylvania and living on the East Coast of the US for most of my life, I am not a very experienced spear fisherman. However, I love the challenge and have the utmost respect for those that have honed their skills as blue water hunters. Much more involved than above water casting, you have to dive into the fish world and relax while also trying to put the fish around you at ease.
We spend so much time on or just at the ocean’s surface that spending some time getting to know the world below can give you a much greater respect for a vastly different realm.
Learning from Hank, Kohl and Fletch, all who have a knack for being comfortable in the majestic underwaters, is nothing short of a valuable experience. We were all shooting fish that would provide sustenance for meals to come when Hank set his sights on an ono, the Hawaiian term for wahoo, and took a shot. He hit it but didn’t quite make the kill on the first go around, so teamwork kicked in and Kohl came in for the backup shot. In these heavily fish populated waters, within seconds of shooting a fish, the sharks begin to approach you, a situation we quickly became accustomed to. While wrestling the ono towards the dinghy, one of the circling sharks moved in for the attack, attempting to rob Hank of his kill. Hank, who is a very calm, cool and collected guy, quickly turned into Rocky Balboa, repeatedly punching the shark in the head until it let go, denying the shark of its meal. Let’s just say his vengeance sure made the sashimi and subsequent meals from that particular catch all the more sweet.
SAILING FAST WHILE LIVING SLOW — As we spent our final evening and night doing our last overnight crossing, I sat in silence staring at the stars and adjusting the boat’s course to avoid squalls. During this time, I relished in the experiences of our storybook waterman adventure, knowing that we all had just etched new memories into our brains that will last a lifetime. But it is more than just the memories or the increased bonds between friends that make these trips so valuable. It really has nothing to do with the waves that were ridden or the tricks that were thrown down, but more importantly, the slight shift in our thought processes that allows for smarter life decisions and helps us to prioritize what is truly important in our lives and for the future of our planet.
— Don’t let sailing fast get in your way of living slow. —
Words by Jason Slezak | Photos by Jody MacDonald