Two Trips of a lifetime in only two months
I am addicted to the ocean; every minute on the water is like meditation.
The Endlessness of the ocean is freedom. Feeling the wind in your face. Nature is cleaning your soul. Kiteing from dusk to dawn under the moonlight is pure magic. I was ready to be out there again, finding my limits.
After the 12h I had spend on the water circumnavigating Bahrain, I knew I wasn’t done; I wanted a new project to support ‘Wings for life’ and a new idea already formed in my head.
Thanks to the trust of my main sponsor Gulf electronic Technology – GET, the GET Kite Mission and with it a continuation of my project ‘Kitesurf Arabia’, was born, a trip I have been planning for one year.
From Bahrain to Abu Dhabi
I chose Bahrain as starting point again as I know the island, the region and the weather well. In addition this route created special challenges as we would cross multiple borders and this had not been done with a kite before.
The winds in the region come in sets of 2-4 windy days called the shamal and occur mainly with temperature and season changes, in spring and summer.
As the summer is unbearably hot in the Gulf Region, spring was the best time to plan such an attempt of crossing the Persian Gulf. I picked March, as this is normally the month with constant winds and still cooler temperatures.
Finding the right days as waiting period in March however was a bit more challenging as I had to put a lot into consideration.
To be able to bring a team together and had them on ‘stand by’ throughout the required time window was the first thing that had to be achieved. Everything stands and falls with the right team. But it was a lot to ask for, as everyone had to take time of work.
Second major point to consider was the moon phase.
Crossing the ocean during new moon would mean that I would have to be out there on the ocean at night in absolute darkness. On one of our test and training trips, leading up to the challenge, I was able to experiencing the darkness on the ocean during a new moon phase first hand. It was pitch black out there. Sitting in front of the boat and riding into the night with no possibility to make out the horizon made you feel like you are riding into a black hole.
Thinking about it, that I could be in the same position when crossing the Persian Gulf kite surfing, made me wonder, as it would be extremely difficult. It could happen that you could loos any sense of orientation. Also making out waves would hardly be possible. This combined with the physical strain and the rising fatigue could quite easily throw you of your game. The only way to go about it was therefore to choose the two weeks around the full moon phase and I had to hope for no clouds and strong wind
Next up was the discussion about the best starting time.
Many meetings past with the crew and the captain to determine weather an early start in the day or rather a late afternoon start would be more favourable.
It could mean covering as much distance as fast as possibly early in the day while still being fresh or getting the night behind us first. On the other hand we had to estimate our speed and try to find the best route to assure that we do not have to cross borders over night, as this would make things easier for communication with the coastguards.
With smoking heads the team decided: A waiting period from 14th – 30th March with a possible starting time of 4pm.
First start ahead.
The wind was building, I felt prepared. However I also knew despite best possible preparation being physically in top form, taking expert advice from previous attempted mission, every trip is different and so this trip could also be full of unknowns. Only the trip will teach us what we couldn’t prepare for and everything we faced we had to learn fast. This however is for me, is the beauty of Mother Nature and the challenge in itself!
Pressure rose as the waiting period came closer and even before we started we faced our first challenges. Our support boat: Missing navigation systems that did not arrive on time and broken engines made us change the boat only 5 day before the waiting period.
The only boat available was, for me, a rather less ideal boat for this trip.
It would mean more comfort for the crew however, it would not be able to handle VERY strong winds.
Due to shortage of time we decided it was a risk worth taking, as winds hardly reach over 30knts along the route in this region.
3 days leading up to the waiting period it look like the perfect wind was coming.
Every morning we would be woken up by the latest weather report to determine the likelihood of leaving. Something was brewing out there, a nice front was moving in. We had to keep a close eye the weather.
48h to go
On the 15th of March we made the call and officially announced the 17th as start date. The wind moved in, the 17th looked perfect. Final testing started and all the previous preparation seemed to pay off, every one was on their marks. Also the wind seem to look good, maybe a bit too good..
Than the phone rang, another set back, our Videographer was sick and was with food poison in hospital. To arrange visas now for a replacement was a challenge for itself, finding someone who would handle the ruff conditions on board of the support boat was even harder. We tried hard to find a replacement but had no luck.
24h to go:
24h before the start, things become even more hairy.
We where called into an emergency meeting by captain Nabeel from Biss Marine. The wind was perfect but was actually building up more than usually and already showed a likelihood of reaching 35knot+ from the West on our second day, if we would set of as planned on the 17th March.
However, the wind look still great and it seem to be the best time in the coming 2 weeks.
12h to go the wind looked perfect for me, slightly less but strong, 30+ knots and constant. The wind was already blowing for the past 12h, exactly what we wanted so it could travel ahead along the Persian Gulf. However, because of the boat, I knew we had to make some comprises. I wanted to go but the boat would not be able to withstand winds of more than 32knts and the big waves that built up from the west.
The night before we decided; The only way to go about it was to leave a little earlier as planned and to set our self’s target to be able to stay ahead of what was building out there. Yep by now it’s was a Storm brewing out there.
Let the journey begin:
With a 15m Boost we set sail on the 17th March at 4pm from Amwaj Island, the live tracker was on and the journey began. On a overcast day with solid 15knots on departure, we left the beach of Art Rotana.
The first sectors of our journey went very well with great progress. We had a clean cross wind that let us travel with an average of 35km/h. I was hoping I could hold this speed as log as possible as this would make it very possible that we would reach our set waypoints. Everybody was exited while the sun slowly disappeared at the horizon.
After 3 hours we had pasted the first waypoint easy in time. I had done my first tack onto the down winder and I could finally switch legs. We were on route to our next waypoint.
Since the start I was on a food schedule that seem to work perfect. Every 45min I had one portion of food, which was in my little belly pack and the same time I had to drink at least 0,4l water. This was the result of 3 month testing and trying.
Just after darkness clouds broke and the moon came out. He gave me a perfect spotlight to kite with. Things seem to work perfectly.
The first big challenge
We decided to take this opportunity to exchange food and camel bag for the first time, 4 4,5h into our trip, as planned. Mohanna went out with the rubber dingy so I was able to maintain a good distance to the boat. I approach him as trained BUT missed.. The first time it didn’t work and our stress levels rose a bit. It was the middle of the night and the tide was a lot stronger so we all had to work harder. We tried again, this time, I jumped in the water and body dragged past the dingy to be sure we would not miss each other again as this up and down was quite tiring. I reach Mohanna. As we where preparing to exchange the bags I suddenly felt a short pull forward on my harness I was stuck in the rope of the dingy and my quick release opened..
The kite was blowing right onto the boat only attached to the safety line.
In slow motion I saw the kite about to land on the boat right onto the navigation system.. I started to paddle backwards, the boat accelerated. The kite landed in the water, JUST behind the boat.
But this was only a short relief, one man was missing. Mohanna was not on the dingy anymore. With the acceleration and the tide the boat was moving forward very fast and it had now pulled Mohanna right under the kite. With his life jacket on he could not free himself by diving under the kite and got pulled off the dingy. He was stuck under the kite in the dark and we couldn’t see him.
As soon as he managed to swim around the kite without loosing it, I spotted him and I paddled to him with the board. Now we where save together. If Mohanna wouldn’t have been able to hold on to the kite, he could have ended up alone on the ocean without a locator and only a tiny light. In the middle of the night you don’t have much time to find someone. 25min of more excitement than we had asked for had past. Mohanna was back on the boat safely and I had my food but I also had a kite and some lines to sort out.
I was sitting on my board surrounded by darkness in front of my kite with my lines everywhere. The lines were around my feet, legs and fins. ‘I sat in front of quite a task here I thought with not much time at hand..’. I had to sort this out otherwise the team would have to get a new kite ready which would possibly take too much time. I started to pull the safety line trough my bar an attached my chicken loop. The kite slowly inflated and the lines tightened. But then I felt a sudden pull around my hips. Immediately I quick released again as this felt wrong. I must have gotten a line around my entire boy I though. With all my gear on, backpack, InReach locator, belly bag and harness, it would be a mission to get myself out of it.
I started to grope my way along the lines and found that the line was stuck in my zipper of my belly back. Not too bad I thought but for some strange reason, I couldn’t get it out. (Pic of bag and Zipper) I was hesitant to pull to hard, as I didn’t want to weaken the lines. There still had to last another 15-20h. I was puzzled for a moment, how did it get stuck there? Then it dawned on me that the lines where a lot thinner towards the end then what they are around the bar. I pulled the line a bit and bingo, I was free! Hocked back in and the kite filled up again. But this time it started to do death-loops. I land the kite and pulled it into wind without having to release myself again, the tide helped by pushing me as well. No idea how but I quickly spotted a big loop knotted in the lines..
Now I did feel overwhelmed. I had gotten knots out of lines before but mostly with the help of hot water and some plies.. Out here I had plenty of salt water my teeth and myself, my only hope was that it was not too tight yet. I pulled myself together and got to work. I could hardly see all I had was red flashlights. Then I remembered a little torch my flatmate Aljo at that time had slipped into my backpack on departure ‘just in case’ he said. It fair to say it had saved the situation. I got to work. I passed the torch between my mouth and my hand so I could chew and fiddle the knot out. The support boat was also around the entire time trying to help with a spotlight but with wind, tide and waves it was hard for them to keep position an blinded me more most of the time. I was able to release the knot. I was so unbelievably happy! I guess by now its arguable if new lines or going trough this challenge would have been faster but I guess it doesn’t matter.
The journey went on and we where back on track!
The little incident seemed to be quickly forgotten as we had new tide and wind conditions to deal with which made progress very slow until I had to come to a stop. There was nothing I could do the kite fell out of the sky and I sat on my board waiting to see if the support boat had stopped as well and had turned around. The boat turned and moved, with spotlights on, towards me. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘they had seen me, time to put my head down for a few minutes until the wind picks up again.’ So I laid down on the board after 9h one the water and closed my eyes for the first time.
10min later the boat reached me and everyone was on deck with torches and search lights.. What on earth was going on? We turned on the coms system and they told me they had lost me for the first 7min. That was bad. If they would have not seen me after 10min it was agreed to call mayday. Why did they loose me I wondered? Answer is simple. The kite with the bight strobe lights that would always be the first point of reference was in the water. The second point of reference was my helmet, but I decided to put my head down. The last point of reference, a red strobe light on my board, I was lying on. Dam.. All I could do is apologise to the captain and learn for the rest of the night. It was a long stop and I got quite cold. Amy doctor started to worry and started to ask question to see if I would be suffering of hyperthermia. With an additional jacket however and staying as much as possible out of the water I felt ok. The bigger thing to deal with was to continue after such a long break and a strained body. Gently I got back into the moves once the wind picked up again.
This and another stop because of no wind attracted the attention of the Qatari coast guard who where worried that a woman should not be in the water alone at night. It was funny and serious at the same time as we tried to convince them of our project and showed them permissions to assure they would not end our trip because they are worried. Eventually they let us pass and where in the end so impress that they promised to send out the message to the coming shifts again to be sure we would arrive safely. A few ours later we got stopped again from a doggy vessel, that ended up being an under cover coast guards boat. They had heard of us over the radio and just came to check if everything was in order. We gave them quick thumps up and we where on our way again. Qatar loved us already! J
The night pasted
The moon disappeared and the first sense of dawn was showing on the horizon. The night was over. My first full night on the ocean came to an end. Despite all the hassle we went trough I can say for sure that this was possibly the most amazing thing I have done so far. It is a feeling I struggle to put into words and no camera in the world can take a picture of what you see. You are alone, in the middle of the ocean the sky and the ocean are one on the horizon only the stars and the moon can help you make out the very fine line you move towards. When you look up you see your kite up in the dark blue sky surrounded by stars. This is all you have now and this is all that moves you forward.
You are surrounded by complete darkness and the moon shines on you like a spotlight.
You are truly one with nature, completely free.
When the moon disappeared and the sun rose, it was a hazy morning. The boat was in front of me in a light pinkish blue, surrounded by birds. It was a beautiful picture and knowing I just went from dusk till dawn fulfilled me with a warm tingly feeling. Tears of joy filed my eyes thinking of and thanking my dad, an old sea salt, who must have gifted me the love for the ocean. I was filled with joy and appreciation that I could be here. Also physically I still felt great, the sun was slowly worming me up again and the wind picked up. I started playing with the waves.
Land in sight
As we continued, I started to see buildings coming up on the horizon. I wasn’t sure where we are. I knew we had lost a lot of time along the way and I also knew that we had agreed on a point where we had to make the call weather or not the boat could continue. We past them, but new Buildings started to appear on the hazy horizon. For a moment I was wondering if I was hallucinating. What was going on.
The boat went in front and ordered me to follow again. Throughout the night we had changed so they would not loose me again. I followed and the Building on the horizon became clearer. No hallucination. But where were we?
It was just before Doha, when the team broke the news to me. We had to stop. 17h in and just under 300km later it was over, for the boat! Despite the fact that we had hardly any wind twice during the night, the wind was constantly building along the rout towards Abu Dhabi. By now, the wind forecast was 32knots and more.
This was too much for the boat to handle, as we would face crosswinds all along the way. The perfect winds for me, impossible for the boat. Sadly I had no way of continuing by myself. If there had been one option to do so, I would have gone alone. Yes we managed to break the old record and I had managed to go through the night but I also still felt physically great and knew I could go further, I was not done yet but I had to stop.
Back in Bahrain
Back in Bahrain, I was hoping and trying everything possible to be able to go within the same time window again while everyone was still on stand by. However, there wasn’t the right wind and weather conditions for the rest of the period.
The weeks to follow many team meetings took place to see what other options would be available to try again. We were now under great budget and time pressure. But I was certain I wanted to try everything possible to be able to go again.
Along the talks, Biss Marine owner Nabeel, introduced me to captain Rob, the captain of Vigilant a medium size sea rescue boat, managed by Kvichak Marine. This was exactly the boat we needed and it was able to follow me pretty much anywhere. The perfect vessel was found and Kvichak Marine agreed to support us. I was stoked!
I was able to set a new waiting period, again based on the moon, from 15th April- 30th April.
From confirmation of the boat to actually coming close to our new waiting period however proved to be once again not easy. There wasn’t only the boat but there was a new team to train, getting my food gear sorted out again and getting myself back into shape.
After resting for one week to give body some time to recover, I had to get straight back into a strict training regime. The same time I had to find and train with a new team as none of the previous members where able to take time off again. Many sleepless nights past and I guess I would have not managed to stay as collected as it seemed with out my amazing family and friends in Bahrain and overseas who where constantly there to motivate me day and night.
We came close to the new waiting period and as we were very lucky to have good wind forecasted for a possible start on the 17th April. I was relieved, as April is certainly not the best time for winds anymore. But the wind gods were with us and sent me the right conditions. Only one day before I could confirm the entire team, when the last person got the go ahead for a last minute 3 days of leave.
With a new team; we were ready for our 24h trip. I was ready to face the challenge again and ready to find my limit.
To the limit right at the start
Just before 3pm local time the 15m Boost was up in the air again and away we went.
This time however, only 2h after the start we ran into a very unpredicted problem. The kite got washed down by a wave and crashed. Not too unusual but during the impact one of the safety lights got caught in the bridals, very unexpected, as we had not changed the set up at all to last time and last time the kite went down more than once as well.
With winds up to 25knots and a 15m it did not want to come undone by itself. I was puzzled but knew, the only way for me was to pull myself towards the kite to loosen the light. I didn’t want to quick release this time as wind and waves where heavy and thinking of the mess of lines around me form last time, I wanted avoid this by all means.
I made my way forward to the kite by pulling in the safety line first to release tension and winded the lines around my bar. It was very hard and tiring. After a 10min of struggle, Yousif decided to jump in the water to see how he could help. He was at the kite and got the light out but what happened in the meantime I did not see coming. As the line tension released and the light came undone the kite got pushed towards me and the wind pushed me to the kite. Within seconds we had the perfect line mess all around the bridals and pullies of the kite. Yousif wanted to detach the lines but luckily I could stop him. I knew if we would undo one line, chances are we would not be able to untangle lines at all and possibly mess it up even more. It tangled this way so there must be a way out again. I had done this plenty of times before, I helped everyone on the beach with lines. I must be able to do this!
All up it took more than 2,5h to get things sorted out as new problem, knots and line tangles emerged as we went on and one thing lead to another. I went trough moments where I though this trip would be over before we even started.
Finally thing seem to work out and I slowly untwined the lines form the bar again. Suddenly just before the end, the kite was hit by a wave and the lines jumped out of my right hand and slipped down around my left had that was still holding on to the bar.
My left hand was stuck in the lines. Immediately I knew, that this was real bad. The safety line started to pull through more and more and the kite was powering up. I try to release the tension with my right hand grabbing the lines but it did nothing. The kite kept squeezing my hand, pulling it away from me. I was in panic, wondering if my hand would break or if my arm would be dislocated first. I was screaming link never before. I realised had to cut myself free but then the 15m would be gone which could make the trip impossible. As I reach out for the knife as I had no choice, for a split second, a picture of the lines warped around my hand appeared in front of me “If I would do a back roll now, I could be free…left or right, it was 50:50” I thought..
With everything I had left I rolled around over my left shoulder…
I was free..
I could not believe my luck. I was now screaming of Joy.
This was certainly a moment where I reached a limit like never before.
I was lucky that I was wearing gloves. I could move my hand but I was too scared to look under the glove to see if there was any damage, I continued to sort out the lines and let my hand be in a slightly cramped up and weird position. I was free however the lines again where not quite the way I wanted them.
The sun was setting. The last 2,5h cost a lot of fuel of the boat and a lot of my energy. The captain came over and suggested to go back to Amwaj, refuel and start again as soon as dawn breaks around 4am I the kite was still not in the air. I knew I could not let this happen. I wasn’t sure if I even would have the energy. I beg him to let me try for another 10 min to get the Kite back up, I knew I could still do it.
Just after sunset the kite was finally up in the air again and my hand came right with only a little scratch. The steering lines however where crossed once trough the middle lines. I knew I could fix it but at this point there was no way I would take a chance sorting it out especially as it was now dark. This is how I continued the remaining 27h, with crossed lines.
The night was clear and magical again but a lot brighter and the moon was fuller.
The wind decreased a bit as expected but we had wind all night long.
The nigh went uneventful and my body slowly recovered form the shock around sunset.
I was 3h without food and water during the odyssey. I could feel it. The muscles kept cramping up from time to time and my concentration was weakened. But the night helped me recover even though we went non-stop.
Another beautiful night completely different than the first as wind was stronger and waves where bigger and our new course took us far out into the ocean.
I felt free and light.
Dawn broke and it was a clear morning. The horizon was changing colours from a dark blue slowly to a beautiful clear orange pink colour. Then the sun rose, a big dark orange ball was slowly rising, the boat in front of it. This was an absolute breath taking view. I stopped to have some food and to take some pictures.
Just like last time the morning brought me stronger wind. The waves where still big and I was playing for hours in the waves. I had so much fun for quite some time until
lost concentration for a second that lead to a hard crash. My foot got stuck in the strap and got slightly twisted. So the morning continued with a big cramp in my food for 1.5h and I struggled to put any weight on it at all. This made it hard to keep up the faster paste since the morning. Because of my sudden decrease of my speed, I lost the boat for a good 20min. I needed food and water and the boat was nowhere to be seen. It made me wonder how to continue if we had truly lost each other. I was looking around and decided to take another tack back towards the boat where I last had seen it and then follow our previous course based on my Garmin watch. I set my timer; I was quietly praying I would find them quickly as we had a greed on a worse case scenario of 30min without visuals’ during the day would lead to a mayday call. Luckily it never came to it J, the boat pop up where I had seen it last. They had stopped an assured me they had me always in sight with the binoculars.
Getting closer to Abu Dhabi
During the day we passed an island that looked like a cut out of the latest Star Wars movies. I counted at least 5 sea snakes and two turtle around me.
As soon as we came close to inhabited islands I had to notice that suddenly stuff like shoes, palettes and plastic was swimming around. It is a shame really that we are responsible for that. Otherwise there was nothing just beautiful, peaceful endlessness and I still enjoyed it to the fullest.
This continued until we came closer to Abu Dhabi when boats and oilfields stated to pop up. Time flew past and but as soon as I realised that the sun was going down again I started to wonder: ‘How much further we had to go…?’ We reached 24h on the water.
I decided not to worry about it too much as this can seriously mess up your mind.
Just before sunset one of my footsteps ripped causing further delays as we pulled out the back up board while the team fixed the old one. They had too as I was so used to the old board by now that I truly struggled to ride the smaller back up.
This is when I learned that it could still take up to 10h until we could reach Abu Dhabi. This meant that over the intercom we had to come up with new food strategies and had to figure out how the boat was able to reach without a fuel stop.
We planned for 24h with 6h back up but by that time we where already 26h into the trip. Shortly after the batteries on the intercom died and we only had a walky-talky left, which put additional strain on the communication as we kited into the second night.
There was a lot more traffic around us and with it more lights. I had to pay extra attention so I would not lose the support boat or mistakenly follow another boat. I also had to keeping an eye out for other moving ships. They are long and black and only have lights in the front and the back. With high levels of fatigue by now I almost ran into a massive tanker, which suddenly appeared right in front of me.
We where already in Abu Dhabi waters and made good progress. I was excited as I though if we continue like this we would reach our port of call the Emirates Place just before midnight and could do so with only one more food stop.
We exchanged food for the last time and of I went again into the night.
Unfortunately not for long. The wind just stopped and the kite fell out of the sky. It felt like someone turned the switch and that was it, there was just no wind anymore at all.
The boat had to turn around for me and found me 20min later, floating in the water with the kite down. This time I kept my head up high so they could fins me!
The team checked the wind and there was nothing forecasted for the coming night as well as for the day ahead. Even though at the moment we where still moving forward with the tide but this would change and without wind would eventually push me back again. Sitting in Abu Dhabi waters and almost at the Emirates Place, we decided it would be safest to end the successful mission. After 491km, 30.33h on the water and more than 2500USD raised, with bleeding hands I rolled up the lines and deflated my kite.
It was a shame I would not be able to have my glories arrival at the emirates palace where many of my friends where waiting but we had accomplished what we dreamed of. From Bahrain to Abu Dhabi.
Slowly as we where on fuel saving mode, we continued our tour into Abu Dhabi costumes. And the story wouldn’t be perfect if Abu Dhabi would have not hold another surprise for us: Costumes was closed and no one would be able to help us until the next morning. So instead of a soft bed in the Beach Rotana Hotel Abu Dhabi, it meant another night on the boat. The night staff was super friendly and provided us with us matrasses and blankets on the boat. The team and I spend another night together under the stars until we where rewarded with a hot shower, a soft bed and a Guinness World Record Certificate the next day!
I cannot explain how much I have enjoyed these two trips. I have learned so much about my body, Mother Nature and myself in the past year and during those two trips.
We made it! I was amazed, happy, tired and filled with gratitude!
I want to say thank you to all the amazing people who where pushing and supporting me all the way, I could have not done it without you!
Thank you to my family, Bassim, Majid, Romy, Roberta, Hiba, Hendrik, Charlie, Aljo, Nabeel, Mohhana, Richard, Amy, Farah, Nadja, Robert, Ryan, Yousif, Dale, Nika, Simon, Wyche, Josef, Bahrain Kitesurf Community, Gulf Electronic Technology, Amwaj Islands, Meritas, Red Bull, Rotana, Emirates Palace & Marine, Biss Marine, Flysurfer Kiteboarding, NP Surf, Lip, Black Roll, Garmin, TomTomBandit, InReach, BB Talkin, Holmes Place and Elements Production, everyone who donated and many more in the background.
SUCCESSFUL finishing of Stage 1
FROM BAHRAIN TO DOHA IN 17H
On March 17th we set sail for the first time into the Persian Gulf to Kite a distance that has never been attempted before and to raise money for Wings for Life.
It was a trip full of unknowns and despite best possible preparation by being physically in top form, taking expert advice from previous attempted mission, every trip is different and not everything can be planned.
This for me, is the beauty of mother nature and the challenge in itself!
We managed to safely navigate throughout the night, kited along a route that has never been attempted, withstood strong currents and wind-shifts and we did manage to set a new record being 17h at sea.
We saw the wind being great but with a strong front moving in.
These fronts were very unpredictable lately and for safety reasons, we decided to set ourselves targets to stay ahead of this front.
The first sectors of our journey went very well with great progress, followed however by calm periods that cost us more than 2h of stagnation.
In addition, with the front moving in faster than predicted, the call had to be made to keep the boat and crew save. We decided to have an early arrival into Doha to successfully finish part 1 of the journey with a new world record under our belt!
Therefore we are looking at a new waiting period from 14th April - 30th April to go again and hit the target: