My OCEANS 8 project – sea kayaking around the world, one continent at a time – had its beginnings in 1998 and ended a decade later. The first of eight expeditions in 1999 took my team to the heart of the Aleutian Islands; the last, in 2008, to below the Antarctic Circle. In between there were big adventures in Vietnam, French Polynesia, South America’s Altiplano, Croatia, Gabon and Tasmania. Though the backdrops were wildly different, each had one thing in common: Bringing back stories of the relationship between man and the ocean.
My challenge each year, aided by consecutive grants from the then-brand new Expeditions Council of the National Geographic Society, was to find an emblematic piece of coastline on each continent that would provide both adventure and stories. Unlike some of my fellow ocean explorers, my main interest was meeting people who live and depend on the sea and bringing back their stories, whether the historical accounts of the Aleuts who invented travel by kayak or the modern-day tuna fish farmers who work the Adriatic sea between Croatia and Italy.
Because of the National Geographic funding, along with the support of some of the great outdoor companies including Mountain Hardwear, Necky Kayaks, Perception, Patagonia and many more, each of the expeditions was shared via magazine stories, books, films, Internet dispatches, educational missives, lectures and more. It was an incredible ten-year run. Our teams included a total of twenty-five, with many repeaters (particularly photographer Pete McBride and videographer Alex Nicks). Skill sets required were the being able to roll with spontaneous action with an eye always focused on capturing what we were seeing, hearing and feeling. I’m a storyteller first and foremost, long before crawling into my first, so our adventures were driven primarily by story rather than “firsts” (as in circumnavigations, or longest paddles).
Though hard to believe in this day when we are literally drowning in Internet info, during many of our travels (1999-2008) web dispatches took an effort. During that first trip to the Aleutians, my only contact with the Internet was a satellite phone. I would call in my dispatches and leave a message on an editor’s desktop answering machine at Nat Geo; they would have to transcribe it and post it to the web. There were no options for sending text, nor photos or video. The filming camera I used, borrowed from a locker of used gear at the Geographi, recorded on Mini-DV tapes. At the end of each day I would get out a pen and notebook and record the days events. Sounds quaint, right? But we loved it, especially the isolation.
Over the coming months I’m going to revisit those expeditions, share the stories, photos and videos from each, as a way to contrast and compare and to remind myself, and you, just how great and fun and important in their own small ways each of those kayaking expeditions was.