Author Archives: defi2014

What can I tell you ? -

Today, my blood froze more than once.
This morning Serge is better, what a relief! He was able to eat but his heading is not good enough to enable him to pass north of Grand Comore this evening and I’m expecting to hear that everything has to stop tomorrow…..
The Southerly winds are from the SE on the simulations but Serge tells me that « on the spot » they are Easterly and that he rowed all day to try to keep to a heading of 300°, but in vain… His arms are fed up he says!
A drift to the west is planned for tonight and if the winds are not in the direction planned or hoped for, I don’t know what will become of Serge and Middleton tomorrow noon. I don’t know how to say it differently, since I have been scared stiff for the past three days over this difficult passage. To add to the situation, Serge is suffering from more lows than highs. It makes my blood freeze!
This morning David and Bertrand were stopped by the Zimbabwe police at the border point at Mutare; supposedly one of the papers for the cars was missing (it was not missing when they entered Zimbabwe!). We know that the border police in that country can cause trouble where there is none. It’s a way to obtain something if you see what I mean. The visa costs US$100 in one of the poorest countries in the world! My blood froze but 2 hours later they were in Mozambique. Phew! My blood is circulating.
In Pemba: Building the support, which we will call « the cradle » on which to put Middleton, has begun. It took 2 hours of searching the city for the proper materials, then 2 return trips to Balloré to sign a letter for the maritime department. Then we had to find a rental vehicle for 2 days until the guys arrive. We found it only to learn that we had to leave our passport!!!! I had never been asked to do that before. My blood froze! In another rental agency they debit your credit card 64,000 Meticals (1800€) and credit you the difference later. It goes without saying that between the exchange charges and bank commissions of our dear bank in Le Have, which will be exorbitant for such a sum, we will end up paying twice the rental rate, which is 90€ per day!
And finally, the price for one day at sea in a motor boat is US$3,000. I was sitting down when I asked twice that they repeat the price. My blood froze! We have to find another way, especially because we know that the approach to the coast of Mozambique will not be easy and it is absolutely necessary for someone to go out to meet Serge.
I don’t know where we are headed but we are going cheerfully and I am tempted this evening to abandon such a plan. Up to now I have never said or even thought that the different challenges of the past years were crazy but this evening I tell myself that this one is taking a crazy turn. The challenge is exceptional and I knew it before starting. I also was pretty sure that the uncertainty of the places and the timing would prevent a structured organization and would mean constant adjustment, which would be very costly. Serge minimized that aspect of the challenge. Without thinking about the financial aspect (in 2004 we borrowed money upon our return to pay the deficit of the Dakar-Cairo crossing and it did not kill us), I tell myself that the worst would be for Serge to run aground at Grand Comore and then the adventure would end quickly!

I am in Mozambique but my mind is wallowing in mire which is suffocating me. My blood freezes and yet I am hemorrhaging because of negative vibes that are taking over tonight. And as usual, the earth continues to turn, with thousands dead in Nepal and the birth of Princess Charlotte…. So exciting!

Sunday Gloom -

It’s the end of this long weekend, before the next one in France, for in Mozambique May 8 is not a holiday. It’s better for preparing the arrival because the heat here tends to slow things down, i.e. slow in the morning and not too fast in the afternoon, as our saying goes. But of course you should not generalize. Yesterday noon the four bungalows of the Bush Camp were previously booked so we took to our tents and it was of course the first night we have had a storm and heavy rain since our arrival April 25. Our baggage was well packed in the pick-up, under a tarp; however we didn’t realize the tarp leaked so this noon when were able to have our bungalow it was to dry out our wet baggage. All this took considerable time.
After a good day yesterday, this morning Serge told me that he hardly slept. There was a non-identified boat (it was not the first and there seem to be a lot in the area) in Middleton’s path. Serge could not go around it and there was no contact since all the lights were out and the electronics must have been turned off. Serge decided to use a white flare to signal his presence. In the minutes that followed, the boat cleared off. This Mozambique Channel is reassuring… Serge can’t sleep soundly and we can understand the nervous tension that has been omnipresent for the past 12 days.
Then this morning there was heavy rain and strong wind. Serge was frozen by the rain and wind, unfortunately SSE so it pushed him too far west. He needs to head north before he will catch the favorable current. There is nothing alarming because Serge is far enough from the Grande Comore; but he is not reassured, I can hear it in his voice, which is full of doubt and fatigue. This morning he could not row because of the rain and wind. He could not be outside on a level with the water. Tomorrow the winds are supposed to be from the south, which will put Serge on a better heading. We will talk about the Ideal Heading, this famous “Ideal” so difficult to hold in this turbulent channel.
This evening Serge is sea sick. He endured the day in order to use the term. The sky was overcast all day, the rain stopped but the wind never let up. “It’s rocky” he said. After one minute on the phone he said he would stop because he did not feel well. He changed his patch of Scopoderm and put an acpunture needle in his chin as Guillaumette showed him.
I’m going to bed and will pray that God Eole will be favorable tomorrow, i.e. from the south and that the sea will not be so rough so he will feel less nauseous and can row again. I can’t think of anything else and René and I have not taken any photos today.
Yesterday evening David and Bertrand were already in Zimbabwe. They are at Mutare, near Mozambique. What anxiety! How can we relax? I have no idea but this feeling of helplessness is rather unpleasant.

Happy Birthday Monika -

Yesterday we were lucky to have a message from the boys on route. On the first stage they drove 100 km to Maum in Botswana. Since we are communicating by text, I don’t know anything about the border crossing between Namibia and Botswana other than all goes well. They should soon reach the border of Zimbabwe.
Serge went through 36 difficult hours, with a blow to his morale the likes of which he has never had before. Today he seems to be in a better mood. He said to me: “I was depressed Thursday evening and when I found a box of Madeleine’s I ate them all. Tonight, Friday, I took a shower in the rain and I did a bit of laundry”. I know Serge well enough to understand that he totally decompensated following his efforts in the turbulence, where he had no respite, physical or moral, then suddenly he covered 100 nautical miles in 2 days, at which point he cracked up. “I have no desire to go on like this, do you realize how much time the rest will take… it will all be extended by the time I have just spent. I can see rocks in the distance so I will be on watch tonight and I have an easterly wind and I can’t hold the correct heading (this was yesterday morning). The routers told me that the wind and current would carry me; it’s not possible….and then, and then….”
So many complaints! I know that Serge is suffering the effects of this unexpected extension; he had planned to pass between Mayotte and the Comoros but after studying the route, the winds and ocean currents, Sat Ocean and Sea Route decided to have him go to the north of the Comoros, which means going farther. Serge has a problem accepting this. I think he has digested it now, for deep down he knows that if it is the suggested route it is because it is less dangerous than the previous route, even if it is still complicated. All one has to do is look at the map on the Sat Ocean link to realize it. I also know that alone on board he has the time to ponder. Several times recently he told me that in any case he is alone on board, that there is nothing that can be done from a distance, that he alone goes through it and he is at the mercy of winds, currents and waves. Indeed, one must feel very small and humble but we can’t forget that it is his choice and I’m not going to feel sorry for him.
This morning Serge has a good voice. He is expecting the French boat, Adroit to bring his water. He told me he that for several days he has seen Mayotte and he has the impression he is not moving forward. I can only cross my fingers that everything will go well for him. I don’t know if he realizes to what point we are behind, or rather with him, even if it is difficult to imagine what he is going through. I think about his family, his mother in particular, who is following Serge on her tablet. Feeding and human contact for 20 minutes, between 13H00 and 13H20, his voice is harmonious as he tells me about the interview. You will hear it tomorrow on his Audio message. I can tell you that he received 62 liters of water, which will take him to Mozambique. The watermaker will be serviced in Namibia before he starts his Atlantic crossing, which is another story. Thanks go to CROSS of Reunion Island and Cédric in particular as well as the sailors who called on him. A fine story!
For us, it was dead calm, or almost, at Pemba during the long weekend. Because my morale depends on Serge’s, I must say I feel better today, even if I will be uneasy until he picks up the current to the north of the Comoros which will allow him to head due west. There are emotions I could do without and it would be so easy to be at home in front of the TV with my cat on my knees. But that is not the choice we have made and I’m not going to complain.
See you tomorrow.

Hiatus -

Today we will do nothing, or almost nothing. Today Laure is not the editor but at 6H30 she is already outside with her best enemy, her laptop, for different consultations and updating.
There have been no meetings, everything is on « slow » and it is a non-working day. For most of the population of Pemba it is a 3-day holiday. We will out only to see if there is a secure car park near our lodge. It’s hot. We will do some laundry because it’s good to smell nice. We have had news from Serge, who is making headway but who does not seem to be satisfied. He finds the time long because of the modification to his course. He’s tired physically and mentally. He should receive his water from French navy’s boat, Adroit. At mid day he was to the north of Mayotte, which should take him around the Comoros islands before traveling down along the east coast of Mozambique to join us. He is suffering from the heat. We are thinking about David and Bertrand who by now must have crossed the border between Namibia and Botswana, along the Kalahari Desert. It must be hot there too. The day is coming to an end and I will say goodnight. René

In the southern hemisphere: 3 different stories -

Story 1: Serge is now east of Mayotte Island
As you can see on the website, Serge is moving ahead. This afternoon the planned heading has evolved and you can see it on the link with Sat Ocean. I feel that he is eager to arrive but he will have to arm himself with patience. He does not dwell on the progress he has made in the last two days; he only sees what remains to be accomplished. He does not feel like being optimistic this evening and when I give him news it does not cheer him up. This evening, he seems depressed, no doubt the after-effect of his struggle the first six days… Just as a misfortune never happens alone, Serge has a problem with the watermaker and he may run out of water before he arrives. Remember, every problem has a solution. After an unsuccessful try yesterday by a boat from Madagascar to take him 7 packs of water (everything organized by Guilaumette): this morning we had to find another solution. Mayotte is a French territory and I contacted Cédric De La Brosse, du CROSS in Reunion Island. He currently has 3 French ships in the area and one of them will take Serge his precious water. Delivery should take place this weekend, knowing that our rower has a supply that will hold him for 8 days!
Finally, Serge chases away the birds that come to light on his solar panel. He tells me that his boat is not a latrine. I don’t dare ask him if he is taking photos but deep down I hope he is. He would surely reply that he has other things to do, that is not easy to move around in the boat and that I’m not there in his place.
Story 2: David and Bertrand in Namibia
Our two friends arrived at dawn today at Windhoek, some 4000 km from Pemba (I say some because I have stopped counting since yesterday evening – my sign of revolt). They had a busy day because they took delivery of the vehicles, then went to buy what will be needed for our camping and for themselves on the road for the next six days. Once again, it takes two lines to write it but I know how much time it took. They will leave tomorrow morning to cross Botswana, Zimbabwe and finally Mozambique. It will enable them to reconnoiter the road both ways, since there was no possibility of a “one way rental” for the vehicles. If we had hired an agency in Mozambique I think that the World Tour would have ended before it reached Namibia due to lack of funds! (…no, I said that I would stop). Even if this way of handling the situation seems enormous, even out of all proportion, it was chosen after much research and compromise.
Story 3: There is a lot to do before a long weekend
May 1st is a holiday here, with trade union parades. You are right, it makes you think of France but we are in Mozambique, formerly a Portuguese colony. On this eve of a long weekend we have a lot to do.
Visit number 1: to Franck and William, 2 Dutchmen of the Sub Tech company with whom we discuss 2 points: finding a boat which will go to meet Serge and finding a trailer. After 30 minutes we have 2 names.
Visit number 2: return to Balloré where Niven accompanies us to Immigration and to different maritime departments. We must write a letter to the latter and in both cases we have to pay…no, no I’ll stop: We did not spend a penny on Reunion Island or in Madagascar for all that and it’s really the limit at Immigration; in addition to a visa for Serge (normal) there is also need for a visa for the boat, also an immigrant it seems.Finally, a contact is made and things are in the pipeline as they say.
Visit number 3: We leave Balloré with another contact to find a trailer; Kevin, a South African. It is 11H30 when we get to his place and he is not there so we wait a bit. We show him plans and photos of what was done in Madagascar, with the modification made to Olivier’s trailer. We have a date to buy the material Monday morning. The arches will be made starting Tuesday, with Rene’s help since he knows the music well.
We leave for the center of town and the ATM’s are all occupied (At Nacala I waited 20 minutes and I thought it would be an hour here) so we decide to come back. We went to have a look at the only supermarket in town because before we leave we will stock up here. And lastly, a visit to the shop to charge up the 3G key enabled me to go on-line and work on the website. The shop is very busy.
Everything that is supposed to work does not always work; you have to be sensitive to nuance. When the boys were doing their shopping in Namibia they decided that the generators were not up to our standard. So René and I are going to look at generators in Pemba. This is the final word for our afternoon, which finished next to a plate of French fries.
Back at our QG, which is a sort of bush camp with bungalows, tents and dorms After 6 hours of tramping around we sit down, satisfied with the headway we have made today in Pemba, glad to have David and Bertrand safely arrived and last but not least delighted with Serge’s good progress. The weekend may seem long because everything will be closed and paralyzed for 3 days. Resting is not in my nature, nor is it in the World Tour’s vocabulary so the weekend is going to be very long.

Northbound -

What is there to say other than we believe it and that’s already something!

The progress René and I made is smoother than Serge’s and even if we were not sure we would reach Pemba this evening, the adventure continues. The magic word is adaptability !

Serge is northbound and so are we; in the hope that Serge will make arrive there safely, otherwise it will be Tanzania and that will be a different matter. If you look at the map you will see that we are in the very north of Mozambique and Pemba is the last port where Serge can dock in this country. It is a country full of contrasts, with more than half of the population living under the poverty line. The prices are exorbitant: between 100€ and 150€ per night for a hotel room, 300€ to rent a vehicle with 100km/day, plus the cost of gasoline. It is unbelievable when you consider that most of the population has no running water so drinking water comes from rivers and infants are still dying from dysentery! This upsets me no end but it does not change the problems.

Here, business is king. The Chinese and other multi-nationals that exploit the country keep it alive in a certain sense (concessions, taxes at 17%) but, frankly, Scrooge McDuck with dollar signs in his eyes is close by and it makes me sick. It is without doubt one of the things that is holding back tourism. And yet, there is potential here with 2000 km of coastline and what little we have seen is really beautiful.

With Serge arriving at Pemba, it will mean 1,600 km of foot race in Mozambique alone and the wheel of fortune goes round and round. I have cancelled my job in July and now I fear that there may be a problem for August; we can’t live on the World Tour and ice water. Another problem is that of the high season in Namibia and Mozambique, which means it may be difficult to rent vehicles if they are not available. This is the reality of such an experience and far from being resigned, we will not give up.

I have just listened to a message Serge left me and have put it on line. Honestly, how can one give up? We have been working on this project for two years and now we have begun, so chin up! And it is also because we meet great people, like Shirley and Mike yesterday in Kwalala Lodge and today Sébastien Urbain at Balloré Africa Logistics, who is cool headed and welcomed us with such kindness. What a fantastic experience to meet such people! I’m not even talking about all the people we met in Madagascar because I would need a full chapter to list them all. I thought there might be some respite but I realize that there will be no peace as long as Serge is on the water. Even if Serge is back on track this evening, I know that this passage via the north will not be a simple formality. I also know that Serge is in a state of watchfulness and I am reassured. Too much confidence is not a good thing and navigating around Mayotte Island and the Comoros will be under tight surveillance.

Serge forgot to tell you a story. This morning he told me that he had the fright of his life. “I opened my cabin and there was a huge bird on the back solar panel. He must have spent the night there because I had to clean off an enormous pile of bird droppings before drinking my coffee”. I smiled with relief. Serge cleaned his solar panels yesterday and it made me think of the person who cleans his windows before it rains. Serge was happy to have news of his son, Sébastien: a rare commodity is precious. This afternoon at 17H00 his voice was good and it’s interesting how much information a voice can convey!

A new heading -

After studying ways of getting out of the spin cycle on the washing machine, Sat Ocean has just proposed a route to Serge. He has already set his heading to pass to the north of Mayotte and the Comoros before turning west to reach Pemba (see attached photo)
It is a new start and a much needed second wind for Serge. For us here, everything is OK. Serge has time to think and worry about us. It was a lucky day in Nacala, which began at 10H00 with a meeting at Bolloré Africa Logistics; followed by a one-hour conversation with Emilio and Jako (I’m not sure of the spelling). We were delighted. They will take care of Middleton and they had a solution to each of our questions. The meeting was more than encouraging and it lifted our spirits to deal with such enthusiastic people that nothing seems to stop. They put us in touch with Mike and his wife Shirley, who have lived here for 15 years and who run a lodge on the beautiful bay of Ferao Veloso. Kwalala Lodge is a piece of paradise nestled in a palm grove on the coast. Even if we don’t have time to relax here we are filled with the tranquility of the place which invites relaxation. For additional information just click on this link. Nacala « is the place to be » as our English friends say. Mike, with considerable energy, took on the matter of the trailer. He will lend us a trailer and to finish preparations, he went into town with us to look for the wheels he needed. This evening the trailer is ready to go! What amazing efficiency. And what if Serge were to arrive at Nacala?
Tomorrow we will be on the road again and if Serge changes heading then we will change our destination. Rather than going to Angoche, we will be heading for Pemba, a 5-hour drive from Nacala. Tonight in this enchanted place I will be dreaming that Serge will fly quickly to join me!

Plan B -

What is there to say other than there should have been a solution so we will not see Serge still going around in circles next Christmas, in the Mozambique Channel opposite Madagascar.
At 5H00 this morning I got up telling myself the time had come to act and take decisions after studying the different possibilities of getting Serge out of this turbulence he is stuck in and which wears him out more every day.
At 5H30 I woke Michel and Maxime…. I’m sorry but my heart stood still when I saw last night’s beacon trail. Yesterday morning we decided to wait but now it is not the time to wait. By the way, Maxime said that we should have taken action 3 days ago, rather than wait and hope conditions would become favorable. It seems evident that they will never be favorable at the intersection of two contrary currents with a ++++wind like there is this morning, which Serge said is at 10 to 15 knots, which allows him to just barely hold a course of 270°, when he should hold to a course of 210° to get out of there…
If there are transverse waves and wind Serge risks capsizing… he has to get away from that spot. The recommendation is to turn into the current and wind, with the waves perpendicular, even if it means minimal progression in proportion to the physical effort, which is enormous. It is worth trying and Serge has understood, so he hangs on.
There are 25 kilometers between him and the ideal spot to the south which will allow him to begin his crossing. It will no doubt mean 2 to 3 days of hard rowing but it’s the only way. It is so difficult to be at a distance and completely helpless but even a homeopathic dose of our presence, mine and the routers’, is decisive.
Serge is watched over like a pot on the fire and that’s why the points on the beacon have been set at 15 minute intervals, not at hourly intervals, which is the norm. I would like to thank in particular the constant presence today of Maxime from Sat Ocean, with whom I conversed a lot by phone and e-mail.
Even if Serge is alone on the water, presence on land is of the utmost importance because it is the only link Serge has to the rest of the world
This evening on the telephone, I felt a stronger link than usual. Our heartbeats were synchronized. The pressure lessened for a moment and we had to think about tomorrow and after tomorrow with optimism. More than ever one has to move forward with confidence, and even if these past days have been demoralizing doubt must not take over. Deep down, I admire greatly what Serge is capable of doing. After more than 17 years, he surprises and impresses me and I feel I must be on a par with it in order to prepare what comes next, even if for the space of a moment I gave in to discouragement and felt so alone and almost paralyzed, being so far from him.

We have arrived in Mozambique -

Yesterday afternoon, René and I arrived in Nampula, Mozambique with our 100 kg. of baggage (the excess baggage cost us 400 Euros for the 80 kg. that went in the hold). It took us 45 minutes to get our 30-day visa, at a cost of U.S. $85 per person.
At 16H00 we arrived at our hotel in the center of Nampula, a city of 500,000 inhabitants. It is the third largest city of Mozambique. We are now on the same time as France.
Bertrand and David are enjoying their last weekend before joining us on Wednesday for the beginning of a long trip. They will land at Windhoek in Namibia on April 30. They will take delivery of 2 rental 4-wheel drives equipped with roof tents and camping equipment. They will reconnoiter the trip between Windhoek and Angoche (some 3,500 km). They should arrive May 5 or 6. As you can see, the logistics are rather complicated. And all the while Serge is fighting like a demon to get out of his current dire straits.
Being Sunday, it is status quo in a 50% Roman Catholic country. Nampula, the capital of the North, has a mixed population with many Indians and Muslims and a great many Chinese, who are here for business and seem to be well established. At the airport and in the street Chinese and Indian businesses thrive.
When we landed we were immediately surprised by the scenery. We are on a plain but there are isolated hills or mountains rising abruptly from ground, in the shape of domes or sugar loaves.
This Sunday it was time for the routers, Michel, Xavier and Maxime, to take a decision concerning Serge’s heading, which is getting bogged down in spite of all his effort. Maxime mentioned Serge’s extraordinary ability to make headway in spite of a contrary current of 3.6 km. Serge is a fighter but he will not be able to go on forever if he sees that there is no improvement and conditions don’t improve. The distance is only about 100 km, but at oar’s length it is much further.
Serge tells me he is eating less than on his first crossing, he is nauseous but not sick. He is drinking more. The sea becomes calm for about 5 hours and he takes advantage of it by rowing to move forward. He is rowing about 12 hours per day and he wakes several times at night to check his heading.

In spite of the head wind and a contrary current, about which there is little to be done, the Mozambique Channel is not easy due to the changing currents and winds which create heavy seas at the end of the day. Serge has just been told to head further south, if he can. He tells me the reality of the situation is often different and it changes from hour to hour.

We are crossing our fingers. Tomorrow we head for Nacala to begin prospecting for the arrival of Middleton and Serge in the district of Nampula.

A word from the router -

Below are a few words from Michel Meulnet of Sea Rout which explain the struggle that Serge has had for the past two days:
“Difficult conditions:
For the past 48 hours Serge has been struggling with conditions that are not favorable to progression; they are causing him to go backwards. There is a headwind as well as a contrary courant which is driving Middleton backwards. This area has to be crossed to reach favorable currents that will allow him to reach his destination. Today a good portion of the area has been crossed and from tomorrow Serge should experience a favorable progression.”