Kim Miller first joined with Jesse Martin to write up Jesse's experience of sailing with his brother and father on a 14 foot catamaran for 1,000 kilometres up the coast of Northern Queensland, Australia. That journey appeared in On The Wire in mid 1998. You can read about Jesse’s earlier adventures on Kim’s website at http://www.wts.com.au/~stalbans/jessemartin
It was while preparing that article that Jesse told Kim of his further plans for a solo circumnavigation of the world, to be completed on his 18th birthday. Kim has continued in contact with Jesse through this journey and has encouraged Jesse to set out his thoughts for an OTW update. These notes from Jesse show his thinking as he approaches the half-way mark of his extraordinary journey.
Since writing this article Jesse has passed the half-way point, the Azores Islands off Portugal where his family buzzed around him on an inflatable boat for 40 minutes, and is heading south towards the Cape of Good Hope. You can keep track of Jesse's progress on his website, http://www.venturebeyond.com.au
What makes a 17 year old boy leave his family, his mates, and that all-important female contact for 9 months at sea on his own? I honestly can't give a simple answer and I suspect it probably has many contributing factors. On December 7th last year I said good-bye to friends and family and was finally on my way after 5 months of feverish preparation. The ocean swells met me as I passed through Port Philip Heads with my Dad buzzing around me in his small Seawind catamaran. Soon enough I was clear of the starting line as the sunset appeared between the great walls of water and then it was time for Dad to head back. It is hard to describe but all of a sudden everything was quiet. My only companion, the sun, was about to desert me and that was the loneliest moment I have experienced so far. I was entering an ocean much more powerful than the bay, headed for experiences larger than life on a task which was beyond my comprehension - it suddenly hit me how much this trip was bigger than me.
The Seed of an Idea
I first had the idea of sailing around the world solo after completing a two month voyage up the Queensland coast with my brother and father. We were on a small 14' day-sailor catamaran and the prospect of a larger boat was very attractive. On returning home I read a book about an American girl who at the age of 18 sailed around the world on her own, stopping off at exotic locations, seeing native dances and meeting the types of people that pirate stories are made of. I was captured by her
experiences and dreamed of bringing my own boat through storms to tropical islands and beautiful women. Of course, to other people, I was just a kid with these strange ideas... I don't think I've changed much since then. My voice is deeper and I can pass for being old enough at a bottle shop but I'm still the same dreamer. Mum always encouraged me though and it was through her support that I could continue to dream to myself.
My first attempt to get sponsorship was shortly after returning from the Queensland trip at about the age of 14. I had to laugh when the replies came back addressed to "Ms. Martin" but my enthusiasm at going to the letterbox matched the diminishing amount of replies each week. I still consider it a vital part to my later success because the whole procedure was preparing me in terms of organisational skills.
Kayaking in New Guinea
The monotony of school made me withdraw myself as I yearned for something a bit more adventurous than cross country running or dodging a tennis ball. My dreams were the most precious thing I had and I needed something to keep them alive. This was when I started to plan a 5 week kayak trip among the islands of New Guinea with my brother.
It was perfect. No parents, no school, just blue sky, flying fish and locals living a traditional way of life. The 8 months of organisation when I should have been doing school work taught me more than I reckon I would have learnt had I done what the teachers asked. Even though I was still a kid, I was learning how to interact with adults which no doubt gave me an advantage when the time came for my ultimate goal. My brother and I came back tanned and with more experiences to fuel our imagination but for me, unfortunately year 11 was waiting in the new year.
Sailing To Tahiti
Getting back to school was like tasting freedom and then being sentenced to solitary confinement. And then it happened. I received a reply inviting me to crew on a yacht from the Caribbean into the Pacific. I was overjoyed as this would take me to the islands of my dreams as well as give me the practical experience in sailing a proper yacht that I needed. I made the decision to bring my school books along and for three and a half months I joined Dave Smith and his crew for the time of my life. The islands were everything I expected and the encounters with Galapagos Iguanas, reef sharks and Polynesian beer only enforced my decision to live the life of my dreams. I learnt that life at sea didn't always go the way you expect, especially when the beautiful lady you've just been dancing with in Tahiti turns out not to be a lady at all.
It was when we got to Tahiti mid way though the year that I knew a decision had to be made if I was to fulfil my dream. I knew that for this trip to happen I had to get sponsored because Mum & Dad certainly didn't have the money. Therefore I needed to something to justify a large company sponsoring me. I came to the decision that a solo, non-stop and unassisted voyage around the world it would be and I would try to become the youngest person to do it. The existing record was set a couple of years before by West Australian David Dicks who got back at the age of 18yrs 41days old. I would need to leave by December that year to allow enough time for me to beat the record by a close margin of a month. Things were getting very exciting! It was from the Post Office in Tahiti that I placed a collect call to Melbourne telling Mum that I wanted to come home and get straight into organising everything that needed to be done. I left all my new friends and boarded the plane back home.
My school work was taken from the back-burner and placed in the freezer. This was necessary as I only had 5 months to find a boat, set it up with all the gear, get enough practice on it and, most importantly, make myself look better than I really was to possible sponsors. After all, the only offshore experience I had was three months sailing in perfect tropical conditions. My solo route would take me through the most treacherous oceans on earth.
Where is the money coming from?
Mum mortgaged her house to buy the boat and we hoped this would show companies how serious we were. But there was still all the extras that we needed to put into the boat to pay for. Dad took me to Adelaide and Sydney looking for suitable S&S 34's until we found one in excellent condition only 2 hours away from home moored at Geelong. The Sandringham Yacht Club agreed to host all the preparation and so a week after we bought Lionheart, she was on the slips for three months of non-stop work. Dad just about lived on the boat the whole time. He had to buy a mobile phone to keep up with ordering equipment and finding out why things hadn't arrive while I concentrated most of my efforts into finding a sponsor. We still needed most of the money for labour and equipment and then I met Matthew Gerard, manager of Mistral at the yacht club. It was only 5 days later that I was waiting for an appointment in his office. The meeting only lasted about 10 minutes as Matthew was very busy and I left the building not really believing how Mistral were actually going to help me. It was agreed that everything on my equipment list would be paid for as if he were donating a few cans of soup to make sure I didn't starve. Within that 10 minutes he had single-handedly not only become a sponsor but he had become THE sponsor and taken all my immediate problems away even before I could imagine the possibility of anything like this happening.
I said ‘Bye’ and headed for the door trying to control myself as if I received this type of sponsorship every day. I was so excited that I could have just leaped through the glass door and kept going. I managed to restrain my energy and walk normally, still getting away as quick as I could before he changed his mind.
The Rush to December
Now that we had financial support the flurry of ordering began. I was wasting half my time on public transport between the yacht club and home which took 2 hours each way. On Mum's day off, she drove me around picking up equipment to deliver to the guys to install on the yacht. Dad was managing everyone at the boat while the electrician, shipwright, welders, mechanic and riggers asked each other to pass their tools in the cramped area. A nutritionist worked out a monthly rotating menu for me and then proceeded in helping Mum and me bulk buy the food and laboriously pack them into daily bags with help from my brother and Mum's partner Andrew. Everyone was effected by my trip and everyone helped in every aspect they could. My Mum and Dad had been separated since I was about 4 years old and it was great to see family and friends all working together to get me away on time now that the date had been set.
It wasn't always a very enjoyable time with stress running high and a total mix up of our normally ordered life. Mum would be picking things up in Bayswater and then driving 50 minutes to Sandringham late at night after work. We were all relieved when the day came for me to head off and with the small jobs left undone the last person stepped off and I was in control of this little gem and on my way to the starting line at Port Philip Heads - finally!
Thoughts from Half a World Away
It still seems pretty amazing that something which seemed so far off at one stage, is now a reality. It has been my only reality for the last 5 months. I can't think of anything else in my life which has had such an effect as this trip has and continues to do. I believe that fulfilling my dream was something I had to do. For years I had relied on it when times were hard - a lot of the time I believe it replaced an often missing father figure and made me determined to materialise this missing aspect. While others may turn to alcohol or drugs, I retreat to the recesses of my mind in order to preserve my inner being and keep the hope alive. In completing this trip I am not only breaking a record but am also drawing the curtain closed, signalling the end of an era in my life.
When I get home I will no longer be a pimple faced admirer watching the world pass by from the protection of a heated home. I will be returning a young adult who has proved to the world he is worth taken seriously and will have to fend for myself in a cut-throat society. It is this challenge awaiting me that makes me so indescribably excited about the future and the possibilities that this world has to offer and sometimes I whoop for joy.
To turn a dream into reality takes something special and something which I can't lay claim to. It is more like a gift which is handed out rather than achieved by any amount of determination. There are so many events which seem to have just worked out by themselves that no hard work can lay claim to. It takes all your effort and as Pete Goss says, every decision you make, however small it may be, has to be considered and questioned if it is helping in the overall picture. But still there are things that are out of your control. The only thing I can lay claim to is of having had faith and this alone I believe has been the driving force behind the success of getting away. Therefore I can't feel proud or take any credit but rather I am fortunate to have believed and in so doing, opened up a world of possibilities that was already there, but hidden.
Life on Board
Since that week in early December I have nearly come to the other side of the earth and the half way point of my journey. Life out here is certainly different, sometimes boring and sometimes filled with an energetic buzz. Overall the slower way of life has brought me to appreciate and notice the smaller details of life. I doubt if I will ever watch another sunset without marvelling at the expression and beauty to be seen. The only thing governing my actions are my feelings. No longer am I directed by time or teachers. Every moment is taken and either enjoyed or disliked for what it is. There is no such thing as breakfast or bed time - I eat when I'm hungry and take a siesta when I like to. I think the reason for this is that there are hardly any highs and lows as you would experience in normal society. No weekends or school bells to look forward to just the next meal and laying down to sleep exhausted and content. The days don't seem to be defined by day and night, just one long blurred routine of keeping on the same course, cat napping and flipping the pages of a book. This has the effect of making me feel like I have been out here for all my life and television and office workers are just things I visit in dreams.
The first few weeks aboard were mainly sorting the boat and myself out. It was hard to come to terms with the slower pace of life. I was so wound up from the previous few months organising that relaxing was a daunting experience. It was a culture shock which took my feelings of loneliness to their climax. There was still so many unknowns which were weighing me down and the unusually calm weather added to the dread of my first experience with the inevitable gales.
Rounding Cape Horn
As I slowly made my way to Cape Horn and passed safely through each trial, I began to come to terms with my situation and the dread gave way to the feeling of triumph as I could see myself gaining on the sailor’s enemy they call the Horn. I really wallowed in my building glory even though conditions were uncomfortable with the wet and cold. The day came when I first spotted land and I was on the biggest high I had been on so far. It took me all day to reach the Cape and I rounded in the late afternoon. This was when I had the let down that is often experienced after achieving something that is so important to an individual. It was only hours after I had rounded the Cape that I experienced what psychologists call the Limbo zone. A major goal had been achieved, but what was next? I wasn’t ready for this emotional let-down response to such a significant accomplishment. I felt like I was grasping desperately for some new direction, the next goal to aim for which would justify me with a purpose. Luckily that goal wasn't too far away and the next morning after the 1st proper sleep in 3 days, I focused on the next part of the trip and looked forward to some warm weather.
Travelling North at Last
Things started to seem easier from here. I was soon sunbaking on deck and catching fish with the knowledge that this was the last time I would be so far south. After rounding South Africa I could stick to 40 degrees south and not have to worry about the mean spirited low pressure systems of the deeper Southern Oceans. I didn't take into account though the challenge of the doldrums and I still had to safely make my way north.
Off the Falkland Islands I had my second big knock down and battled several gales with winds from the direction I wanted to go. When the weather started turning good it was for a very brief time only before it became too light and I wasn't moving as fast as I would have liked. When we reached the Doldrums I was already sick of it. We were making very little progress with maximum effort. It was drizzly with lots of thunder and huge squalls that reached 30 knots in a matter of minutes only to die after half an hour back to nothing. I would be caught out with full canvas trying to catch every breathe of wind when the squalls hit forcing me to keep the boat under control while the torrential rain poured down. It was very muggy but at least the fresh water washed the salt out of everything including my hair which was in a sorry state.
Standing still like this had the affect of plunging my morale back a few steps. I vented my anger through verbal abuse directed at the wind - or lack of - who didn't seem to give two hoots about me and what I was feeling. The sails took a beating and a few items, including my Dolphin torch, were damaged when they got in my way and inevitably landed at the other end of the boat with a loud cracking sound followed by the muttering of a few four lettered words. I could see so many things I wanted to do when I got home and the next trip was already being planned in my head. But I was so frustrated at being held back that I thoroughly disliked the part of the trip I was experiencing. But like everything, I passed through it with time and when the trade winds first hinted their presence I hoisted every bit of sail to get out of there as fast as I could before I broke something I really needed.
Approaching the Half-Way Point.
I am now about 10 days away from the Azores - my half way point - and about to stare at my family face to face for the first time since leaving. A lot of things have changed already. My hair is now shoulder length and itches my face. My skin is a healthy brown. But more than anything physical, we will be looking at each other in a different light. There will be a shared knowledge of experience that will bring each of us closer - something intangible which will link us in a common respect.
I will lock eyes on Mum and be able to relate as someone who is, at last, experienced at life’s basics such as washing clothes. Mothers know the foundations upon which their children build their accomplishments. My view will shift to Andrew and I'll smile. My time alone has extended his encouragement into a better understanding of the guitar. Who would have guessed it? Then I'll notice my little brother and we will acknowledge each other’s presence and care, which is so hard for brothers to do, and it will all be because this trip has changed ME. I know how to handle a 34 foot pointed egg shell while careering down a wave half as high as the mast. I know how to be responsible for my own safety in the challenges this Earth contains and I know that I can achieve anything I put my mind to in faith. But when I look into my Grandma's eyes a week and a half from now, I'll be humbled by her aged stare, her experienced face, and the shared knowledge that there is so much more to learn - after all, I've still got so much of life's voyage ahead of me.
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