A taste of what lies in store for all our oceans?

One of my first memories is snorkeling as a child, I must have been perhaps six or seven years old. At ten I had done my first SCUBA dive and by thirteen I was a qualified openwater diver. This lead to summer jobs in dive centres where I would mop floors, clean gear and greet clients in return for free dives. By the time I was eighteen I was a divemaster and working full time in the dive industry. I am grateful to have had the chance to dive the island of Tenerife’s amazing dive sites, logging over 2000 dives since then, for almost two decades. Travel and sailing have also enabled me to dive the Red Sea where I was overwhelmed by a chance night encounter with a majestic Manta Ray, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef where on my first dive I was greeted by a White Tip Reef shark and the Caribbean. All of these places have been different, each area harbours a unique and different ecosystem, each a product of local currents, weather patterns and the effects of man,s mostly unwelcome, intervention.

The yacht I am working on is currently anchored in the South of France at Golfe Juan which sits slightly East of Cannes on the Cote d’Azur. On a rare day off the chance to dive came  up which I snapped up in an instant. I haven’t dived for a while for various reasons but was reassured by the familiar smell of neoprene and the hissing of high pressure air tanks venting. Setting up was second nature and before I knew it I was in the dive centres fast RIB speeding toward the La Formigue light (actually an isolated danger mark which indicates a large rock in the centre of Golfe Juan) where our dive would take place.

The La Formigue isolated danger mark in Golfe Juan.

The La Formigue isolated danger mark in Golfe Juan.

This was to be my first dive in the Mediterranean Sea and I was  little aprehensive about what to expect, mainly because I was aware of the sea’s reputation for overfishing and pollution. The Meditteranean’s 2.500.000 square km is bordered by around 132 million people and 3 continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). The area has been the crucible of civilization in the west since records began which also means that it is the most fished area historically in the world, ever since the Phoenecians started exploring many thousands of years ago. Today many costal areas still depend on ever dwindling fish stocks as a source of income, an income that is far from sustainable. The Meditteranean’s curse does not end there   as many rivers such as the Rhone meander through Europes industrial and agricultural heartland, ending their journey in the sea. They bring endless tonnes of agricultural waste sush as fertilizers and contaminated waters from the factories and populouses that hug their banks into ”The Med” each year. This problem is further aggravated by the fact that climate change is affecting the sea in an alarming rate due to it’s fairly shallow nature and the bottle neck at the Straits of Gibraltar, just 8 nautical miles wide, mean that it takes over 100 years for the sea’s waters to fully recycle. Scientists are using the Medittaranean as a prediction model for the planet’s other seas and oceans, with some alarming conclusions.      One of which is appearance of ‘dead zones’ where fertilizers have optimized conditions for algae and bacteria which sufficiently starve the surrounding water to a degree where fish and other marine life cannot survive. Complex food chains which range from the large apex predators such as sharks and the nearly wiped out tuna population to plankton are becoming increasingly stressed and are giving way to a state of ‘Brittlness’ which favours simpler food chains made up of jellyfish (hence the areas ever increasing jellyfish blooms to which I have been witness), invertabrates and algae. This sadly is what all our oceans face if drastic action is not taken to avoid it. Sadly, the effects in the Medittaranean may be too far gone.

The dive was at best an excercise in futility as the Medittaranean’s barren nature was painfully apparent. In a 45 minute dive ranging from 10 to 26m in depth I saw no fish over a few centimetres and no larger predators such as octopus, barracuda, groupers or similar fish. Small wrasse and damsel fish where all that where to be seen in what seemed to me a very stark and folorn seascape. This was made even worse when we came across a huge monofilament fishing net that had caught on rocks and been abandoned by it’s owners. Far too large for us to remove and potentially dangerous also as it could ensnare a careless diver all I could do was document it’s presence by camera as it lay there. How long would  it pray on unsuspecting fish and turtles?

How long will thius net stay here on a never ending cycle of death?

I left the water with mixed feelings. I am always stoked to get in the water wheather it be surfing, diving, sailing, swimming but I had the bitter sweet taste to having witnessed first had the calamity that faces our oceans in the not too distant future, a painfull realization that has left a numbness in my mind.

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My first dive in a while....

My first dive in a while….

Reflections……

The creaking of the bridge mingles with the sound of our window wipers as they smear away the spitting rain that has punctuated the pre-dawn darkness along with electric bursts of iridescent forked lightening. I had watched the thundery squall approach on our radar screen, the yellow mass which signified it’s presence had progressed towards us since the start of my watch at 4am, it’s intensity acutley notable on the screen. On our port side lies Cannes, famous for it’s Film Festival, the 66th edition of which is taking place as we sit at anchor. To our starboard side lies Isle Sainte-Marguarite, it’s ancient fort still watches over the city of Cannes across the water. The storm of the last few days has brought some swell, a small left hand point is breaking on the NW tip of the island, their form teasing me as I glance at them while helping guests from the yacht into our 30ft Chase tender.
The greying dawn reveals a small boat crossing our bow, towards the island. 5 small figures hunch over in the cold dawn. They must be half a mile away but something catches my attention, surfers. I can’t explain how I new it, I caouldn’t see a any boards and at half a mile away they are mere specks. Sure enough however they stop a little out from the break, boards appear and they paddle into the lineup. I am intensley jelous as I watch them with our binoculars, all riding longboards which are perfect for the small surf.
Since joining the yacht at the end of January I haven’t been able to surf, exept one day on the Paddle board when there was a small swell running in Mallorca. I have been wakeboarding a lot, even bought a board and am now landing wake to wake grabs, 180s etc. Somehow, however, it’s not the same. It is fun, adrenaline packed and full of laughs with friends but somehow the soul of waveriding eludes this spin off sport.

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As much as I miss surfing I am very grateful to be at sea again, to have the chance to see Big Blue every time I look outside. Since leaving Mallorca in mid May we have clocked around 1500 nauticak miles between the Balearics, Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and now France’s Cote d’ Azur. True to her nature Big Blue as shown all here faces, from calms so still that it seems an impossibility to force 10 full gales whilst on passage. That gale was one to remember as 8 to 10m seas hurled themselves against our bows, sending spray skywards as green water cascaded over the foredeck. I also had the privelage of seeing one of the best dolphin sightings I have ever had asd two bottlenosed dolphins corkscrewd endlessly under our bow for an eternity. Off Cadiz we saw whales breaching repetedly in the distance and a flock of flourescent pink flamingos passed us yesterday as we sat at anchor in Sainte Tropez. I find comfort in my enjoyment of such simple pleasures, as I would hate to be polluted by the vanity, wealth and idiosincracies that seem to go hand in hand with the superyacht industry, especially on an 80m Motor Yacht like this. Again, it seems sadly bereft of the purity of sailing much like wakeboarding and surfing.
I know that it is a means to an end, part of my long term plan to buy my own sail boat. I am gaining new skills on a daily basis and making good friends and seeing new places in the process. Life is very strange, how things work out. I certainly would not have thought that I would be sat at anchor in Sainte Tropez 12 months ago…..and I am not complaining!

Take 2 on superyacht life

The month of probation onboard is over, favorably I might add. I now have a well paying and interesting job I love until at least September. We are still in pre-season with no guests aboard and just a skeleton crew. The job list shrinks and grows like a living being but slowly we are getting through it. The last few weeks have seen me sanding and re-paiting our Tigé wakeboarding boats engine. At 1.85m I am not the smallest ”deckie” out there and getting into the boats engine bay involved some rather interesting contortions of the human body. Sanding and fairing on our other tenders is on the list at the moment too. The weather has started to smile at last, despite a dark hail storm that rolled in from the North one afternoon, leaving the deck festooned with pea sized hail. The next day the decks at morning briefing were still frozen in places yet just days later the temperature soared upwards into the early twenties as the sweat rolled down and the shorts came out.

I still really miss surfing and wave riding but here I am gaining new skills and a career I love so all is far from lost. Many will tell you that the Mediterranean is wavless, a watery desert for the wave riding inclined. This is not so. Granted it is not full of glassy point breaks, in fact here in Mallorca it is just full of jellyfish, but there are waves. You just have to adapt, being a true waterman and having the skills to enjoy the ocean whatever the conditions. This week after work I spotted what looked like a rideable wave breaking across the bay from us. It looked sketchy at best but after a month and a half here it was worth a shot. As soon as we finished out working day I felt my excitement climb as I almost sprinted down the crew corridor to my cabin to grab my wetsuit (3mm shortie and a long sleeved rashvest). It’s amazing but the feeling was the same as any pre surf session, butterflys and a knot in my stomach, as I grabbed the 6’6” thruster that I found on board and my new GoPro Hero3 camera and sprinted across the dock to jump in and take my first strokes toward the waves. It was cold, very cold, numbingly cold  . Not only that, I could see dozens of jellyfish in the water around me. Such was my surf lust, my need to be in the water, that I just paddled on. The result after an hour was a half dozen stings on my lower legs which were, at least temporarily, offset by my numb feet. It tried to paddle into the small, closeout sets but it just wasn’t happening. The wave broke in ankle deep water over a jagged, boulder strewn rock bottom. Even so I spent an hour paddling up and down, trying to find a sweet spot that would alow me just one wave. I think surfers are unique like that, even when we KNOW that the are no or un-surfable waves we still try it on. Just to be in the water, to feel the power of the sea breaking over me, the stoke rose inside me and it wasn’t until I got out after running the jellyfish gauntlet again that I realised how numb my feet were.

Saturday is SUP day for us, fun paddling with friends, laughing and spalshing for a couple of hours. Check the video below:

Off season superyacht life

Well, it’s been almost a month now aboard my new job and home. Slowly things are starting to click, the feeling of being hopelessly lost that comes with the first few weeks on a new boat and job are now fading. There is still a hell of a lot to learn, which is probably the best part of being aboard. Being on board a superyacht for the first time I am finding it very different to being on the smaller sail boats that I have worked and lived on, especially as this is an MY or ‘Motor Yacht’. There is an element of grace that seems lacking on a MY, although many, this one in particular are beautiful pieces of marine architecture. There is so much to be said about the power of the wind, billowing clouds of canvas above you and the heel of a graceful sail vessel. But like I say, I am here to learn, trying to soak up as much as I can from the already expert crew whether it be painting, tender driving, safety checks, fairing, getting our sailing dinghy or hobie cat ready or splicing etc. Every skill is valued and on an 80m vessel there is a lot to learn or perfect.

From the sky-deck. Another timeless sunset, dipping into the Meditteranean with out sat and comms domes silhouetted.

From the sky-deck. Another timeless sunset, dipping into the Mediterranean with out sat and comms domes silhouetted.

The boat is being prepared for the Mediterranean season at present, the season running from May until September more or less. During that time we anywhere in the Med is on the cards, places such as South of France, Sicily, Greece, Turkey or Croatia. We run a Monday to Friday schedule right now, during weekends there are always people on watch but as we live aboard there are usually several of us around. An average work day for me now goes something like this:

-06.00h: wake up, strong coffee and 30 mins of cardio in the onboard gym.

-07:30: Breakfast

-07:50h: Morning briefing with officers and deck crew. From then on we knuckle down to our assigned tasks which are varied. Some are a weekly occurence such as rescue boat checks, battery checks etc, others monthly and then there are the day to day tasks as dictated such as repairs, cleaning, maintenance etc. Work is pretty physical and messy at times, nothing like a 3 day wash down to burn some calories!! Yes, it takes 3 days to fully clean our hull and 4 decks…..

-10:00h: Coffee break

-12:00h: Lunch. We are lucky to have two very good chefs cooking for us, providing plenty of healthy food. Tonnes of fruit and snacks on hand too.

-15:00h: Coffee break

-17:00h: Finish

After work I usually either run around to the SUP school at the Mar Balear Dive Centre opposite us in the El Toro (Mallorca) marina for a paddle or hit the gym again for some circuit training. SUP here feels a bit strange as the water is still really cold, although this week I braved it in boardies and a 0.5mm rashie…. I think it was a bit foolhardy as I can’t feel my toes still! There was a tiny wave breaking of the end of a little breakwater and it felt sooooo good to feel the board take of and accelerate on the small waves! It made me miss home quite a bit, warm water and waves!! 😉

SUP carnage....Nigel (left)hanging around while I (far right) drink a beer on the SUP jeje

SUP carnage….Nigel (left)hanging around while I (far right) drink a beer on the SUP jeje

The crew are getting into paddle boarding which has been fun, lots of laughs and splashes, and always great to spread the ocean passion. Paddling back to the beach as a cold sun set behind us reminded me of sunset surfs at home.

Evenings are for getting some food, watching a film and resting because tomorrow…. back to the bilges! jejeje
Sanding down the engine on our wakeboard boat in the tender garage, ready for painting.

Sanding down the engine on our wakeboard boat in the tender garage, ready for painting.

Sadness…..

I know I have been away for a couple of weeks….still finding my feet at my new job aboard the 80m superyacht. Lots to learn and take in, every day is a learning curve which is great. On a good note we went on a SUP session this saturday, no waves but a calm sea with crystal clear water was on hand for some fun….just happy to be in the ocean…well, actually this is the Med so maybe ‘sea’ is the correct term.

Sadly, our seas and oceans are not well. In fact, the Mediterranean is very polluted due to the large populations that border her and the limited tides due to the narrow straits of Gibraltar mean that pollution stagnates and grows. All our Oceans are sick, even on beaches hundreds of miles from major land masses are suffering…. as the video below will show…..