Bali to Australia by catamaran

View from catamaran
Though it was slow, choppy, wet and tiring, Ewan looks back on his wind-powered crossing to Australia as an experience worth every minute

Two months after one of the most widespread environmental demonstrations ever, the COP15 conference at Copenhagen seems to be ending with a whimper. It feels like the green movement is heading against the wind. Perhaps it's a good time for me to reflect on another moment of heading against the wind, on board a sailing catamaran, 300 miles north of the Australian coast.

Part of what made it so special was that on board were four others who were also travel without flying. Our captain was sailing the cat from its previous home in Turkey to his home in Perth, with help from a rotating pool of crew and passengers. One of these, Mark, was planning a circumnavigation and had been on the road almost two years. His circuitous route had taken him through many of the 'stans as well as along the 4,600 metre high Karakoram highway between Pakistan and Xinjiang, China. His travel snaps involved Kalishnikovs and burqas.

Two other Brits, by contrast, had independently raced each other from Britain to Bali in a matter of weeks, taking the same tried and tested route of Trans-Siberian-China-Southeast Asia. Did they feel like they were rushing? Not entirely: 'You don't get to see as much of each country, but more of how the landscape and the culture gradually change,' one of them told me.

Each of us had chosen to travel this way for our own personal combinations of the adventure and challenge and the reduced environmental impact. And all of us had managed to reach Bali in time for an internet-aided rendezvous with probably one of the last sailing yachts to head to Australia before the cyclone season began. We were now a little frustrated, travelling at the breakneck speed of two miles an hour towards our destination - the wind was strong, but had shifted to directly south.
Tacking felt tedious and slow, and bashing through the choppy seas was uncomfortable and wet. But we boarded this boat knowing it would take time, also knowing we would probably get seasick, wouldn't get the greatest sleep, and might sometimes wonder if we would ever make it to Australia.

Of course we did, eventually, and at Dampier, on the baking north-west corner of a huge island country, I said a sad goodbye - to the other overlanders, the waves, the dolphins and the night-watches.

Since then I've hitched rides from remote Aussie roadhouses, taken a train across the wide expanse of semi-desert between Perth and Adelaide, and traced the Murray river on a 'Greyhound' bus. I still look back most fondly to those times on the catamaran.

What inspires me now was that all of us were willing to make a voyage that required more of an investment – be it time, money or energy - than the quick and dirty alternative. In our case it was one that let us come much closer to our own hopes and fears, the wilderness and each other. I believe persevering when the going is tough is something we were all born to do.

Mode Journey Emissions calcs Total emissions
Yacht Denpasar – Dampier 1345 km x 19g CO2 per passenger kilometre 26 kg CO2
Shared van Dampier – Exmouth 557 km x 90g CO2/pkm 50 kg CO2
Coach Exmouth - Perth 1267 km x 29g CO2/pkm 36 kg CO2
Diesel train Perth - Adelaide 2707 km x 75g CO2/pkm 203 kg CO2
Coach Adelaide - Canberra 1160 km x 29g CO2/pkm 34 kg CO2
  TOTAL 5995 km 339 kg CO2

Equivalent emissions if I had flown direct 4543 km + 9% routing addition  x 98g ppkm (short haul) x 2.5?(RFI) =  1,213 kg
Note on the data: While it was usually wind power we were harnessing on the ocean voyage, modern-day sailors use their engines often, whether to enter or exit ports, motor through the doldrums or avoid a storm, recharge batteries or even desalinate water. Using ours burnt around 5 litres of diesel an hour, a hefty carbon cost for just five people. Luckily we didn't need them much. For the conventional travel, Defra's Emission Factors are proving pretty reliable when I crosscheck them with the figures of the coach drivers, so I'll continue to use them for trains and planes too.

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