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May 5, 1999

Hawaii to Tarawa Voyage, Update from Kenny

by Kenny Brown - expedition photographer

Kenny in water (photo)

My first sign that I was back in the throws of Expedition 360 was the sight of Steve pushing a broken down, borrowed car into Kona airport 40 minutes late. I’ve been taking photographs and filming the expedition since we left London almost 5 years ago, traveling with Steve and Jason down to Portugal then catching up with them every 6 months or so wherever they may be. For the last 3 months I’ve been shooting news stories in Kosovo and Macedonia, so Hawaii was both a welcome break and a return to the fold.

The run-up to any departure is a frantic affair of boat packing, wrestling with computer software, a thousand phone calls and endless runs to hardware stores for ‘screws about this long and something waterproof to stick this back together’. Hawaii was no exception. The extended pedal family was in full effect, working and playing together to get Moksha in the water as close to the proposed departure time as could be mustered.

This departure was a very different one though. Steve - Jason’s expedition partner for 7 years wasn’t going to sea this time. He’s off to New Zealand to start a new venture, setting up a centre for sustainable living; continuing the philosophy of the expedition, but eschewing travel in favour of building a place for others to come to. The other difference was that I would be clambering aboard Moksha for the first three days on the ocean, helping Jason get out of the danger of being pushed back to Hawaii as he slept.

Monday morning found us at the dockside in Kona, only a few hours late ñ a new Expedition 360 record. The frantic boat packing filtered into frantic dockside goodbyes and finally Moksha and Jason parted from land.

Bow wave (photo)

I joined them a few miles out, leaping over from an escort boat to join Jason, tired and exhausted and Moksha stuffed to the gunwales with late additions of fresh fruit and vegetables. My first pedaling shift on this mobile market stall was an enlightenment, not of the religious or clarity of vision sort more of the 'what a ridiculous way to cross an ocean' sort. Moksha is 26 feet long and travels about 2.5 miles an hour. The Pacific Ocean is over 8,000 miles wide.

This aside, Moksha is ideally suited for such a venture. Designed in true British utilitarian fashion, there isn’t an extra inch on board or any apportionment for comfort. But put her in the water fully laden and point her at the next dot of land, chances are she will get you there. Pedaling is fairly easy and the way she cuts through the water and rides the waves is ethereal.

Jason was knackered, months of preparation, little sleep and the stress of leaving meant getting aboard Moksha the closest thing he was going to get to a break. Muttering something about 240 degrees he crawled into the rat hole (sleeping compartment) and fell into something near unconsciousness. After an hour my knees were aching, after 2 hours my back hurt, after 3 hours I had figured out how to keep Moksha's compass pointing at 240 degrees and after 4 I was seriously considering going all the way to Tarawa. But, pedaling is the highlight of the Moksha experience.

Jason and pedal unit (photo)

When Jason awoke and took over on the pedals I optimistically offered to cook dinner, but my love affair with life on the boat was short lived. Trying to prepare food on board is akin to cooking on a roller coaster, it’s a disaster area of spilled food, burnt fingers and salt water with everything. It’s an impossible task. Looking down in the dark, slicing your fingers off in an attempt to cut onions, getting slammed from side to side, oh, oh seasickness. Jason won his $10 bet on who would throw up first. This isn’t your average, Friday night, 17 pints of lager and a vindaloo type of vomiting. This feels like your body expelling some of its major organs in an attempt to rid the devil himself from your insides. Oh God, this must be the enlightenment Jason and Steve talk about on ocean journeys.

Into the rat hole. Sleep comes easy and deep. The rocking of the waves and the confines of the sleeping compartment, cosset you into a slumber of the highest quality mending ills and restoring some sort of life to my bones. All too soon Jason was beckoning me back to the pedals. We did that tango dance of swapping the rat-hole for a sweaty pedal seat - 2 groggy eyed individuals crossing paths in the fuzzy light of the hatchway, muttering nonsense at the ocean and each other.

With Jason ensconced in sleep I strapped on the Walkman, blasted up the volume and got to work. Back on the pedals my mood rose again. Night pedaling is the fantastic. Loud music and an ocean thrashing away below you, the hours slip by, you don’t feel your legs and the banality of crossing an ocean at this snails pace seems like a treat. When Jason is on his own, these midnight hours will be more perilous. His biggest fear is waking up with the throb of engines in his ears and Moksha rising on the bow wave of some huge tanker. But for now Steve hadn’t quite left the expedition. He was on a nearby yacht, the Goodewind, keeping an eye on our progress and a radar screen, on the look out for any shipping ploughing towards us en route to Hawaii.

Jason on Guitar (photo)

The stars slowly gave way to another piercing day of sunshine. We let the pedals relax, had some porridge and dived in for a swim. There is something deeply disconcerting about diving off a perfectly good boat into an ocean when you’re 50 miles from land. But it’s worth it. Your own ocean sized swimming pool on your doorstep, perfect temperature with a cracking wave machine built in. I experimented with taking a few photos with the waterproof camera and convinced myself I could manage with my own (distinctly un-waterproof) gear. On the next day’s swimming session I found myself 50 yards away from the boat trying to stay afloat with a Therma-rest strapped around my stomach, keep my camera dry and attempting to compose a decent shot, whilst wondering if Jason would come back and get me.

Moksha on ocean (photo)

Back on board we resumed the pedal, sleep, and eat routine with me running around filming Jason doing his thing on the boat. The excuse of 'I'd better film you cooking for the documentary you know' worked a treat and we had a decent meal without me blowing any chunks or filling the pans with errant seawater. It seems that the body can get used to almost anything, Jason looked perfectly happy messing around in the confines of the boat, looking forward to having her to himself and having some time on his hands - lots of time.

Jason cooking (photo)

Getting off Moksha was less elegant than my arrival. It involved me splashing around 120 miles out on the Pacific with the Therma-rest mattress bungeed to my chest, pushing all the equipment I own in the world along on a boogie board. I splashed over to Steve on the escort yacht for my easy ride back to Terra Firma.

Jason and Moksha eventually disappeared over the horizon. I’ve seen Jason and Steve off many times, but there was Steve beside me on the Goodewind staring into the hole they had left on the horizon. I asked him if he was sad to see Moksha go and if there was any pang of jealousy to be on her. ‘No, not jealously. Just the sadness of saying goodbye. Not to Moksha, she’s just a boat - but to Jason, a friend’.

Jason with prop unit (photo)

Steve’s borrowed car got us where we were going, and the pedal boat will get Jason where he’s going. Of all the things I’m taking away from my time on Moksha, it is the enormity of the task and of what has been achieved so far that will stick with me. Like owners starting to look like their pets, the expedition has gathered an unstoppable momentum of people and places around this tiny boat.

Kenny Brown
May 1999

Posted on May 5, 1999 2:05 PM