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Home BLOGS Guest Blog The Clipperton Project Sets Sail

The Clipperton Project Sets Sail

Written by Trippe   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 10:08

Bay Area artist and waterman, Martin Machado, was invited to sail with a group of artists and scientists to a far off uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Eastern Pacific. Exotic animals and beautiful tranquil scenes.


Words by Martin Machado, Photos by Naim Rahal, Martin Machado, David Biller, Julie Morel, and Clark Beek

Well this is a bit late but I'm just getting back in the swing of things after another brutal but great fishing season up in Alaska. Keep a heads up for Corey Arnold's show this October in Portland, which will be all about our fishing community up there at Graveyard Point.

Anyways, you may remember a somewhat random post I did back in the winter about an art residency I did in Tequisquiapan Mexico. Well I got back down there in the spring to finish up that residency then headed over to La Paz to help prep boats for the big excursion to Clipperton Atoll.

In Tequisquiapan, the Clipperton Project folks strongly encouraged myself and the local artist Alan Pheiffer to do something outside the normal gallery-patron dynamic. So we decided to focus on mask making, a very Mexican tradition that obviously has roots in other areas as well. With the help of some kind arty pals in SF, I brought down a bag full of masks that we made out of paper mache.

Alan did the same in Mexico City and when we met up in Tequis, we held a few mask making workshops in a public square and at a local school.

Honestly I was really hesitant to do this sort of thing, especially in a place I had no business just posting up in public, but it was a pretty rewarding experience. After folks realized we weren't charging for anything or preaching religion or something, they seemed pretty stoked on it.

This may not be cutting edge art, it was mostly kids that were into it, but it was a lot of fun and hopefully we inspired some future artists.

The next day I hopped a bus to Mexico City and flew out to La Paz to help gear up the boats.

(photo: Julie Morel)

Just to briefly explain- this trip has been years in the making and is the brainchild of Jon Bonfiglio, who is either a genius or a complete mad-man. Either way he put together an amazing expedition, inviting 20 artists, writers, and scientists from 8 countries to sail out to a remote uninhabited island. There were all sorts of reasons for the trip, ranging from environmental and ecological to historical interests. But at its core was the desire for an adventure, which in my opinion is a great focus to organize something around. In doing so we had folks from all over the globe doing their best to communicate while working together, standing watches, cooking for each-other, etc. We became a little family as we sailed south from La Paz, 1000 miles to Clipperton Island and then all the way back. We took three boats for the voyage, two sailboats and one powerboat which held the majority of the supplies and dive gear.

(photo: Clark Beek) Jon above speaking with Pablo Rafael, a historical fiction writer and Clipperton specialist who lives in Barcelona

(photo: Julie Morel) I had to show a La Paz sunset, this place is a sailors dream, cheap boats, great people, great food, nice anchorage.

(photo: Clark Beek)

For the first leg of the trip I was on the smallest of the three boats, "Island Seeker" (pictured above), a 36 ft. sailboat , so we headed out early to get some miles under us.

(photo: Machado)

On board we had Jean (French Geomorphologist), Naim ( Mexican Photographer), Tom (French Sailor), Frank (American ex-pat boat-owner), Santiago (Uruguayan Photographer), and myself.

(photo: Machado) Naim soaking up some Sea of Cortez

(photo: Machado) Santiago and Tom. Tom is a pirate. He bought a 53ft. boat for $1 and fixed it up and now basically runs a floating hostel as he sails literally all around the globe. If you'd like to get some bluewater sailing under your belt, check his boat's site. Its a shared expense deal, but he keeps cost low to get cool but hardworking young people. A real pirate stole his accordion off of Columbia and he wants it back.

After about 24 hours of sailing we anchored up at Cabo Pulmo to drop off Santiago for some GreenPeace event which the other boats were going to attend, something about a new development scheduled to be put in what is now a national marine park. None of my bee's-wax since I'm not a citizen, but it is a damn nice place in the rural condition its in.

(photo: Machado) It was a really nice swim spot, but being the slow boat, we continued on, knowing the others would pass us en route to Clipperton.

(photo: Naim Rahal) For another five days and nights we sailed basically due south, putting us far offshore as the Mexican coastline juts eastward.

(photo: Naim Rahal)

(photo:Naim Rahal)

(photo: Naim Rahal)

(photo:Naim Rahal)

We split up into watches, steering by hand all the time because there was no auto-pilot, or radar, or any of the other technologies I'm used to from bigger ships. There were some amazing nights though, a full moon, dolphins along side, perfect down-wind sailing

(photo:Naim) The wind kicked off at some point and the other sailboat Pisces happened to catch up

(photo: Machado)

Pretty weird meeting pals way out in the middle of nowhere. They had about 9 other participants on a 50-something ft cutter rigged sailboat owned by Gwen, another radical French sailor with more crazy stories. This was not a group to get into a knot tying competition with.

(photo:Naim Rahal)

(photo: Machado) Hey what the heck?

(photo: Machado) Ha, oh geez.

(photo: Naim Rahal)

(photo: Machado) Finally after about 6 days of sailing some tiny palm tress started to pop out of the ocean.

(photo: Machado)

(photo: Naim)

(photo: Naim) Clipperton is currently owned by the French and they occasionally send people there to check things out. We had to get a special permit to land

(photo: Clark Beek) The dive boat, Lucia Celeste, had made it a day earlier and had anchored up on the least exposed side of the island, SE, which was hardly an anchorage.

(photo: David Biller)

This is Otto (Mexican Dive-Master/Space Attorney) and Clark (American Sailor/Journalist). Clark is from the Bay-Area too and has been a bit of a hero of mine for years. He spent around 11 years solo-circumnavigating his sailboat, no big deal. Behind them is one of the five mega-fishing boats that were also out there.

(photo: Biller)

The fishermen that worked on those huge ships were super nice and had even brought our other boats lobster the night before we arrived. Each of the big ships had a half dozen of these smaller power boats they drop with a crane to tug their Purse Seine nets around and send swimmers in to escort dolphins and sharks out of the nets. They were kind enough to ask us aboard their ship to check it out.

(photo: Biller) These guys stay out for 2-3 months following schools of tuna far out to sea. They store them whole in these refrigerated tanks

(photo: Biller)

(photo: Biller) Manon, one of our marine scientists on the crew from Spain.

(photo: Biller) A big ol bluefin

(photo: Biller) The ship was really professional, the bridge reminded me a lot of a containership's.

(photo: Biller) Most of the ships had their own helicopters to help locate the schools of fish

(photo: Biller) Really cool guys, they even let us stay for dinner.

Then the crew encouraged one of us to punch the chef in the stomach.

David Biller here getting punched back

(photo: Biller) I don't think they had seen a woman in months, so needless to say Manon took some harassment. Here one guy gave her the gift of a shirt but said she had to switch it with hers. That's about when we asked to be taken back to our boats.

(photo: Biller) During our first couple of days at the island I got to go on some dives with the science folks. Clipperton is an atoll, a sunken volcano, and the reef drops off to incredible depths very quickly.

(photo: Biller)

(photo: Biller)

(photo: Biller)

(photo: Biller)

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