HOMEWARD BOUND
Yachting World|January 2022
WITH ALL PORTS ACROSS THE PACIFIC CLOSED, CARLOS CUADRADO FACED A 3,400-MILE NON-STOP SOLO PASSAGE TO MAKE IT HOME TO AUSTRALIA
The tireless whirring of my coffee machine brought me back to my senses as I stood, lost in thought, in the cockpit of Mirniy Okean, my 40ft Boden South Sea steel ketch. I watched the sun rise over Bora Bora knowing that today was checkout day: I was about to begin a solo passage to Australia in full Covid lockdown.

All the islands between Bora Bora and home were closed, except for Fiji, which I’d decided to skip due to the high entry fees to get in. That means sailing 3,400 miles non stop, and I’m not ready for this.

Maybe it’s the more than 30,000 miles I’ve sailed since I embarked on this journey, or the knowledge that after this passage my dream of circumnavigating is over, but something inside me has changed. Going back to ‘normal life’ is not going to be easy. I’ve been living life to the fullest for five years.

I set off from Australia in 2017, having made the decision to sail around the world after competing as a professional tennis player, and then working for the Australian National Tennis Academy. One day, with no previous experience, I sold everything I had, bought a boat and set off. Over three years I crossed the Indian Ocean, rounded the notorious Cape of Good Hope, and transited the Panama Canal before arriving in French Polynesia. Now it was time to complete the circle.

I motor my dinghy to shore and start walking to the gendarmerie, but I can’t go in. I’m struggling to come to terms with my journey coming to an end, and I fail to hold back tears. My heart is telling me to stay but my mind is pushing me to go. Somehow I find peace halfway, promising myself that one day I’ll be back and I just have to get the immigration process done. With my passport stamped there’s no turning back.

PACIFIC IMMERSION

Sailing is the excuse I use to experience the challenge of crossing oceans, but my deeper drive is to integrate myself into the native cultures of the isolated places I sailed into. Researching the history, geography, and culture of the places I have visited became one of my main activities as I planned my circumnavigation.

In March 2021 I was lucky enough to be able to explore three of the eight beautiful islands of the Marquesas: Nuku Hiva, Tauata and Fatu-Hiva. The Marquesas left a lasting impression on me. I relished learning about their powerful cultural dances, skilful artisans, the complex history of their tattoos, and the love and generosity of the people. It will always be a very special place to me.

After spending four months in the Marquesas it was time to start moving westwards, and a weather window of easterlies gave me a perfect wind angle for the fourday passage to Fakarava, part of the Tuamotus Islands. Ten days in Fakarava passed in the blink of an eye. I experienced an exhilarating dive of the famous South Pass with more than 300 sharks, and spent my days diving and learning to spearfish with other sailors.

Next was Tahiti, 280 miles to the south-west. Tahiti was a different experience to the rest of Polynesia: even if it is easy to get away to find unspoilt nature, the centre feels like any other busy and noisy city. The positive of this is there are plenty of shops to restock and buy or fix parts. I also spent six weeks working with the Tahitian Tennis Federation helping athletes and coaches with their high performance programme. I’ve been very lucky in my tennis career to be exposed to great mentors and I loved passing on my experience in Tahiti.

From Tahiti I sailed to Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a and, in what would be my last stop before the big crossing, Bora Bora. Bora Bora had no tourists because of the pandemic, becoming instead one giant playground for sailors. I was going to miss this life.

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