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  • Jenevora Swann

So What Were Our Best (& Worst) Bits?

Updated: Nov 2

Eight years ago, we stepped off the treadmill and into a life of adventure and challenges. At first, we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but we soon got the travel bug when our passion for sailing took us on a 30,000-mile journey as we slowly sailed from the Mediterranean to Australia.

Each day was unique, and we made many memories as we explored different countries, anchorages and seas, always learning about the people, places, foods and culture. During our journey we experienced so many amazing highs and also endured some stupendous lows.

We are often asked what our best and worst experiences were, so here they are, warts and all, as we reminisce with you what made us smile or shake with fear!

Best Ocean Crossing Experience

Nev – Sailing over 4,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to French Polynesia was the proudest moment of our adventure, as I achieved something I never thought I would have the guts to do.

It was just the two of us sharing shifts on the boat for 27 days at sea. Before we set off, I had no idea how much of a physical and mental challenge I had taken on. At times - especially during bad weather - it felt like running a marathon. I met my fears head-on and pushed myself way past my comfort zone. Even writing this now, my spine tingles at the thought and I still can’t believe I actually did it!

The enjoyment was not just in taking on such a challenge, but in the serenity, I found from this huge ocean. Sailing under starry skies, with fantastic sun rises and sunsets; being cut off not just from social media, but also from the hum drum of the rest of the world. It was a surreal, peaceful and simply magical experience. Can we do it again Skipper?

The sun rises over the ocean

Skipper – The Pacific Ocean was certainly very special. But what stands out for me, it was the sheer thrill and experience of taking Two Drifters through the infamous Panama Canal.

As ocean experiences goes, this is where we left the Atlantic behind and entered into the Pacific. I was so excited by the prospect of the great adventures that lay ahead for us in the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

What I didn’t realise at the time was the pressure that was on me to helm, not just our boat into and out of the locks, but also the two boats that were rafted either side of us which, believe me, it was no mean feat as the currents and winds were not helpful at all!

Entering the locks in the Panama Canal
Rafting boats together to transit the Panama Canal
The Pacific Ocean is just there!

Worst Ocean Crossing Experience

Nev – We had a long build up to leaving French Polynesia for Fiji, and I was thrilled to be sailing off to explore another South Pacific Island. But, 26 hours into our journey, our boat suffered a minor rigging failure, which meant we had to turn around and head back to Tahiti for repairs.

I was gutted, especially when realisation kicked in that we would be delayed by another month while refitting the whole rigging. Still, that’s boats for you!

Rigging failure

Skipper – A rather nasty and unexpected ‘norther’ storm in the Caribbean is etched on my memory. We were sailing from Puerto Rico to the Turks & Caicos and within minutes we went from a bright, sunny day to howling, cold north winds, which brought with them hail and a sleety snow – who’s ever heard of snow in the Caribbean?

It quickly turned the sea into a mass of huge waves, making it way too rough to make any headway north, so I had to make soul-destroying decision to double back 70 miles to the nearest safe haven in Samara, Dominican Republic.

Stormy seas

Most Memorable Anchorage

Nev – Without doubt, it was being the only boat in Bora Bora’s iconic blue lagoon at Taurere Bay. It was straight after covid lockdowns were lifted and, while French Polynesia’s borders were still closed, we were allowed to sail between the islands and just happened to be one of only four boats in total in Bora Bora.

It was like stepping back in time as the island was completely free of tourists and was just being enjoyed by its residents. The water was gin clear and the sea colours just pinch-me-beautiful, ranging from the hint of blue diamond to stunning Bombay Sapphire. It was paradise found.

Two Drifters alone in Bora Bora

Skipper – Vanua Balavu in Fiji's Bay of Islands is one of the most stunning anchorages we’ve ever been to.

The breathtaking lush scenery was uniquely beautiful. The vista was dotted with quirky limestone mounds and cliffs, that have been deeply eroded and undercut, making them look like mushrooms. As well as being a protected anchorage, it offered the most extraordinary versatile and colourful snorkelling I’ve ever seen.

Snorkelling in Fiji
Vanua Balavu, Fiji

Scariest Moment of the last eight years

Nev – There really are so many scary moments, where do I start? Sailing across an ocean is no mean feat. Leaving from Tenerife to sail across the Atlantic was absolutely terrifying. But it gets pipped to the post by being at sea at the beginning of the covid epidemic and realising that we were a lone boat in the Pacific Ocean with no safe haven guaranteed.

We were one week into a four-week sail across the Pacific, when we heard that countries were shutting their borders down due to covid – including French Polynesia where we were heading.

While we waited to hear if French Polynesia would allow us in, we rationed our food as we weren’t sure just how far we might have to sail to find a country with open borders. We looked at doubling or tripling our sailing time if we had to sail onwards to Fiji, Australia or even Indonesia if needs be. It was a truly frightening prospect to be out at sea with nowhere willing to let us in.

Finally, French Polynesia gave us permission to land for six days to rest, re-provision and re-fuel – and subsequently they very kindly granted us an extended stay.

Skipper – Stormy weather comes into play again here. I’ve lost count of the number of storms we’ve sailed through or been anchored in. No matter how experienced a skipper you are, lightning is always a scary prospect as it’s so unpredictable and there’s no way of knowing where it’s going to hit.

A direct hit can wipe out the electronics, GPS and navigation equipment and even dismast a boat or worse. While we do our best to dodge around storms, inevitably some always catch us and can be very scary indeed.

On the final day of our last ocean crossing from Fiji to Australia, the photo below was the storm we had to sail through to reach Brisbane. The sky was heavy with lightning, and we had twisters touching down behind us. I was very relieved to get through it unscathed.

Best Land Experience

Nev – Well, we’re both agreed on this one, which was a day exploring the rugged interior of Colombia from Santa Marta with a group of cruising friends.

Colombia has had a tempestuous history with drug cartels and its 50-year-long civil war. It’s only in the last decade that it has opened its doors to tourism. Our tour company were using two armoured-plated, bullet-proof 4WD vehicles to transport us around. We started at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - the highest coastal mountain in the world – and explored the mountainous terrain in an exhilarating ride that involved navigating around mud runs, steep assents, enormous pot holes and gravity-defying drops.

Our guide took us on great lengths to meet some of Colombia’s indigenous residents as we swam across the raging Don Diego River in a current that was so strong, it sent us 50 metres down-stream. But it was all worth it as we met some local tribespeople and heard about their cultures, many of which haven’t changed much since the pre-Hispanic times.

For entertainment, history, privilege and for seeing the interior of such a beautiful and undiscovered country, this is a memory we will treasure forever.

Exploring Colombia
Indigenous people of Colombia

*****

Next time…We’ll spill the beans on our favourite and not-so-favourite destinations; what we learnt about ourselves on this mammoth journey, and how it has changed how we feel about sailing and travelling. And do let us know if you have any questions you would like us to specifically answer.

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