Plastic in the Pacific Crusade – Part 1 – How it came about

Welcome to the first in the series of Blogs relating to the Plastic in the Pacific Crusade.  Over the coming year we will be writing regularly of our adventures and what we are seeing.  This first article is all about how the crusade formed.  Stay tuned for more. 

Ocean Crusaders Thommo
Thommo talks to a school in Darwin, one of 16,328 to take part in our lesson program in 2014

Since 2010 when I set the Around Australia solo world record, Ocean Crusaders has focused its efforts on educating children aged 5-13 around the world through our online education program.  The growth of the program has been beyond my wildest dreams with 2014 having over 16,000 schools take part in the program.

I had been putting all my spare time into this campaign and then fell in love with another sailor, Annika Fredriksson, in 2012.  This changed my life a little as I had to juggle my spare time between her and the campaign.  Lucky enough for me, she too was passionate about the campaign and quickly we started working together on it, rather than working alone.  We decided we needed an injection of funds so we moved away from the Whitsundays in central Queensland and our sailing and diving charters to work in the workboat industry in Darwin, Northern Territory.  It was a change that proved perfect with high paid dollars, however, it came at a cost.  The living expenses were very expensive and the sailing scene in Darwin is quite small.  We purchased a Thompson 7 sports yacht, quick enough to beat the currents that come with 7m tides and small enough that we could trailer it in the wet season and also take it back to Airlie Beach for Race Week.  But our competition dwindled to the point that in the final 6 months we were in Darwin, we raced ourselves.

Our Thompson 7 in Darwin. Aptly called Ocean Crusaders

My tugboat job vanished in June 2014 as the work dried up.  I ended up taking a radio tower job with Darwin Port Authority.  This took me off the water but I had to keep the money coming in as Annika loved working with the Pilot Boat Crew.  The first month in the office was O.K as it was new to me and I was learning.  Then a big life changing moment occurred in November.  I had worked night shift and had come home and gone to bed.  Annika had got up to go for a run.  As I lay in bed I felt a headache coming on.  It got worse and worse.  I got up and took some tablets but the pain got worse and worse.  All of a sudden it felt like I had someone drilling into my head.  The pain was intense.  I made it out to the living room where I ended up lying on my back on the floor.  I rang the Ambulance as I had no idea what was going on.  Arms and legs started to tingle and the pain in my head was unbelievable. In my pain, I realised that I actually rang 911 and not 000 like you are meant to in Australia.  Lucky it goes through.  After ringing the ambulance I rang Annika and simply said to her to come home quickly and meet Ambulance at the gate and let them in.

The panic this must’ve caused in Annika, 5km from home on a morning run.  She was close to a friends place so dropped in there and got a lift back.  She found me on the floor in all sorts of pain.  The ambulance arrived shortly after and they too had no idea of what was going on.  I’m sure they thought I had a headache and was over-reacting.  To cut a long story short, it was a micro-bleed to the brain.  They found traces of blood in my spinal fluid to confirm this.  The pain didn’t go away with two shots of Morphine and one of Endone.  It took all day to subside naturally.  After the event, I recalled a friend Lucy who I used to windsurf against in Melbourne.  She was a gorgeous lady and very fit and lived a healthy lifestyle.  She was in Jamaica with her boyfriend ‘Hendo’ watching a parade through the streets from a tree, when she had an aneurism and died before she hit the ground.  I had a similar thing happen to me but the micro bleed allowed me to survive, with everything intact and still functioning.  So I feel like I dodged a bullet and the decision was made shortly after that we only live once and we should use our health whilst we have it.

2008 12 26 100
Rudy Weber’s Lloyd’s Brokers Too Impetuous in the 2008 Sydney to Hobart…..we won our division.

Both Annika and I have a dream to sail the world and go diving off the boat.  I have wanted to update the lessons we have for quite some time using our own photos and videos so a chance to go sailing was what we wanted.  Another trigger was that in the 2008 Sydney to Hobart yacht race we set free a ‘message in a bottle’ in Bass Strait from Too Impetuous.  Easter 2 years later, whilst sailing in the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race, the bottle was found on Lady Elliott Island, on the racing course funny enough.  At first you think it is quite a coincidence, however when you think more into it and with a bit of knowledge of ocean currents, it is quite remarkable this even happened.  The current on the East Coast of Australia heads north to south.  There is no way the bottle could of travelled up the east coast of Australia.  It had to have done a lap through the Pacific.

The world is hearing more and more about the North Pacific Garbage Patch.  Some see it as a plastic soup, some think it is a floating island.  Fact is it is a lot of micro plastics mixed with macro plastics.  Most of it you can’t see as it is so small, the size of plankton.  The real fact is there are 5 of these so called gyres.  One lives in the South Pacific.  The currents run down the east coast of Australia, along the Southern Ocean and then up the coast of South America before heading back to Australia through the South Pacific Islands. So the fact our bottle had probably done a lap of the islands gave me the idea of checking out the islands and see what is happening there.  Is Australia’s and South Americas rubbish ending up in the islands?  Along with this comes the thought of first world countries providing these islands with products in plastic.  With no recycling systems to speak of, where is the rubbish going.  In the old days they would drink out of a coconut.  When they were finished they would throw it over their shoulder.  Do they do the same with their plastic water bottles and soft drink cans?

The 5 major ocean current streams

The thought of cruising through the South Pacific Islands and diving and sailing really appealed to both of us.  It would give us an opportunity to dive and sail and see the issue for ourselves, update the lessons and of course there would be an opportunity to visit villages and schools and educate them.  Most of these places wouldn’t have the resources to download our lessons so taking the lessons to them in person would be perfect.

So it all fitted in perfectly but there was an issue, we had bought a house whilst in Darwin and had no spare cash for a yacht.  We madly went into money saving mode and put the house on the market early in the year, hoping it would sell in time to give us the funds to buy the yacht we wanted.  We also planned to sell our Thompson 7.  The grand plan would be to sell up, buy a van and put everything we wanted to keep into the van and take it to my mum’s house in Melbourne where it could be stored.

So the hunt was on for a boat but we had to have a few things go our way before we could actually buy it.  And to add to all of this, we also had a wedding in July in Sweden to plan for.  It would prove a trying time and things certainly didn’t go according to plan.

In the next edition, we will take you through finding our dream boat.

Ocean Crusaders are out to change the way people treat our oceans.  Our online education program is free to download at www.OceanCrusaders.org/education where children can learn of the issues our oceans are facing and how they can make a difference.  The Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is about educating the South Pacific Islands, finding out what is happening in these islands and updating our programs.  You can join us in the Pacific and see for yourself what we do.

Ocean Crusaders Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is proudly supported by: Cressi Dive Gear, Gill Marine, Keen Footwear Australia, Barz Optics Sunglasses, Maxsea Navigation Software, Digital Diver Cairns, LED Dive Lights Australia, Boat Names Australia & Predictwind Weather Forecasting