Sailing through a ‘broken ocean’

VETERAN racing yachtsmen Ivan Macfadyen pilots his boat, Funnel Web, out of Hawaii. Inset: Byron Bay ocean man Dave Challis.
VETERAN racing yachtsmen Ivan Macfadyen pilots his boat, Funnel Web, out of Hawaii. Inset: Byron Bay ocean man Dave Challis. Contributed

A YACHTSMAN'S story of navigating a "broken ocean" filled with vast stretches of garbage and an absence of sea life has grabbed the world's attention.

Byron Bay ocean man Dave Challis witnessed part of the now famous voyage of veteran racing yachtsman, Ivan Macfadyen, across the Pacific and back, on his racing yacht Funnel Web.

The story stunned the world this week when Mr Macfadyen recounted his horror at sailing through seas between Japan and Hawaii littered with debris, sometimes "as big as double-decker buses."

Mr Challis joined the Funnel Web's expedition on its way back home from Hawaii to Vanuatu.

He took part in an ocean debris surveying program providing vital information for scientists about levels of ocean rubbish.

"We were out there for 21 days and sailed 3400 nautical miles - which is about 6000km," Mr Challis said.

They dragged a fishing line all the way and caught less than a handful of fish.

"We only saw 40-50 birds, one pod of whales, two pods of dolphins, and caught three fish."

But if the leg from Hawaii to Vanuatu was a bit strange, it was the outgoing trip from Osaka to Hawaii which was the biggest shock for the skipper Macfadyen, a veteran of 120,000 sea miles.

"There's whole telegraph poles floating around out there covered in barnacles... there's things as big as cars; they probably are cars. A lot of it's unidentifiable; it's just jagged pieces of things."

The junk has been captured by the North Pacific Gyre, a huge circular current from Japan to California.

The crew saw so much large rubbish they worried they might hit something, and were forced to station a permanent lookout.

"Funnel Web's a quick boat, and if I hit something like that it would tear the bottom out," Mr Macfadyen said.

"But what really struck me was the lack of animal life."

Macfadyen had made the voyage 10 years ago and was able to rely on freshly caught fish for food. Not this time.

"There was nothing there - which is so unusual," he said.

"Maybe the birds all flew away because they're smart enough to know the ocean is contaminated.

"If we don't do something about it there's going to be nothing left."

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