In October 2018 two Swiss geologists, Jérôme Chablais and François Martin embarked on an unprecedented SUP adventure, exploring the fjords on the Musandam Peninsula, Oman. The trip was supported by Fool Moon, which connected and supported the two adventurers, providing head to toe equipment, as well as their 12.0 X-Moon touring SUP board. The Swiss duo talks to Fool Moon about their expedition in the hostile desert environment.
Hello Jérôme and François, Can you introduce yourselves to our readers?
Jérôme Chablais (JC) & François Martin (FM): We are a duo of explorers who enjoy seeking and discovering unusual places, especially the places isolated from the bustle of big cities and everyday life. François and I are geologists by training. We both studied at the same university in Geneva, where our studies allowed us to explore the world, often alone and totally wild. Our jobs (as geologists) means that both of us have travelled a lot. François has visited Guyana and Montana, USA. Whereas I have explored the Middle East, especially the Sultanate of Oman. We share passions for the ocean, seas and rivers, domains where we love to explore. Before we got into SUP we had done a lot sea kayaking expeditions and journeys, in the Bahamas for my part, and Francois has kayaked throughout Croatia, Sardinia (5x) and Corsica. This trip was the first time we had travelled together.
Where did the idea to SUP in fjords of Oman start?
In 2008, I spent part of my doctoral thesis in the mountains on the Musandam Peninsula, during this period I really got to know the region, especially the fjords of Oman facing the Strait of Hormuz. In this peninsular you are totally immersed in nature, with the yellow-red-orange ochre stained mountains that fall steeply into turquoise blue. The water there is glassy smooth. It was during this period that the idea was born to do a wild kayak trip, however life caught up with me and I never got around to the plan. But the idea of returning to these mountains was always in the back of my mind. Then I started paddling SUP and from this passion the idea emerged to paddle the fjords of Oman, I told myself they were the perfect place do an SUP exploration. I had planned to do the trip in 2017 but it was in November 2018 that I finally got to do the trip with François.
How did you become involved in Fool Moon?
JC: I met the boss of Fool Moon, Pierre-Yves Hocké, whilst paddling the Aar river in Switzerland. From there, everything went very fast. Pierre-Yves really supported us in this project. All 3 of us shared a common interest for the discovery of unusual places and the exploration side of SUP. Pierre-Yves immediately offered us his help for this expedition.
Can you describe the expedition?
JC & FM: We left Zurich on the 7th November, bound for Muscat there we spent a night with friends. The next morning we had an early departure to Khasab, this main city of the Musandam Peninsula. The goal was to leave from a fjord south-east of Khasab, which we had to connect to by 4 x 4. We wanted to SUP a good part of this fjord, then cross a pass to reach the main fjord Musandam, which would allow us to paddle directly back to the port to Khasab port. A plan that we were able to do. All in including the round trip we did a little less than 100 km in 9 days with 8 nights under the stars. Including crossing from one bank to another to discover isolated creeks.
Our departure point was Khor Najd Bay, here we were treated to panoramic views of the first fjord. The first day we paddled about 10 KM to reach a sheltered bay, here we spent our first night bivouacking. We paddled for a further 3 days in this fjord with multiple mini explorations into all the bays / creeks. We paddled an average 10-15 KM per day. Each night setting up camp and catching fish to eat (thank you François!). We had the basic supplies with us (rice, semolina, some fruits and vegetables, etc.). We had previously identified via Google earth the pass that joined the second fjord. This is where we camped for 2 nights. From there we went to discover the rest of the fjord in daylight. We paddled right to the end, there we climbed a hill that gave a splendid view of the second fjord.
Can you describe Oman?
JC & FM: The Musandam Peninsula is scatted with small fisherman villages scattered here and there. We landed at Khasab which is the main fishing village on the Peninsula. The Omanis are incredibly hospitable and respectful. They take the time to be interested in your journey and your lives. Tourism industry is quite small scale here. Our welcome in Khasab was magnificent. We were helped by the hotel receptionist, where we planned to have our last night, and they helped us find a lift at the beginning of the trip to the bay of Khor Najd. We also received several phone numbers from local fishermen to help us in an emergency.
The first fjord overlooking the Indian Ocean was incredibly calm. Your only companions are your board and the thousands of fish that spin underneath, including many sharks with black tips and rays. At the start of the trip, a whole bunch of Emirati pals coming from the Dubai area to camp and fish in Khor Najd Bay had a good laugh with us when they saw all the equipment that was going to be on our boards. Their first reaction was to say “what you want to do … it’s not possible”, “where is your boat …? “… they did not think we could move forward with all that stuff and we could not walk from one fjord to another.
Towards the end of the trip we spent a night on a beautiful white sand beach. At the end of the day, young fishermen came to repair nets that they had left behind. We were able to exchange a few words with them. Leaving at the end of the day, they promised to come back the next morning. They returned with an old Omani gentlemen who was delighted that we had slept under the stars. His smile was worth a thousand words.
What were the main difficulties during your journey?
JC & FM: To paddle for 9 days in the wild means that you have to pack light. You have to chose between what is important, and what is not. The X-Moon SUP is a board gave us plenty of room to take carry our load, and give us good stability, but at the same time retaining its speed. We customize our X-Moon before the start by adding Loop Cargo type fasteners everywhere to increase the straps in front and behind. Once there, we were confronted with the reality of exactly how much load we needed to take, especially with all the necessary water and food stocks (JC: this is despite lots of tests in Switzerland with my board loaded max plus with 3 of children on top … FM: Ditto for me with my dog and more). The first difficulty is to be able to place all the freight on the board, including all webbing bags and water tanks (3 x MSR or Ortlieb 10L) without anything slipping.
The second difficulty was the wind. It can be quite painful especially with all the load on the board. At times we had to paddle always on the same side non-stop for several kilometres. Drinking water can be tricky if you lose or pierce a tank, but we took a manual desalination kit (4.5L in 1 hour). It’s big and heavy, but can seriously help you out. It is a device that is intended to be used in survival, so it takes relatively little manual energy to turn this filter but it must be against patient. The lack of trees was also a hindrance two or three times, we couldn’t find a place to hang our hammock correctly, luckily with the help of some jammers and hooks we were quickly able to hang our hammocks on the cliff walls!
What are the best memories from this unique SUP trip!
JC & FM: There are plenty of memories from the trip. The feeling of departure when we inflated and loaded our boards in the middle of nowhere in this desert landscape and that we said: “go!”. The green “lush” Fool-Moon logo contrasted well in this mineral environment. It was sight to behold! Paddling on these incredible water with all the fish around was amazing. The reflections of the surrounding cliffs was breathtaking. The nights in bivouacs in your hammock hitched somehow between a shrub and a rock. Paddling at night amongst the phosphorescent plankton! Each stroke stirred the plankton which omitted a greenish-white light. The boards left a trail of light as it moved forward. Difficult to describe so it’s magic. Francois had experience it in Croatia, but not as epic.
Any advice for would-be SUP explorers?
JC & FM: Go! SUP expeditions are epic! Having experienced kayaking trips I can say that SUP expeditions are different because it offers you a different perspective! You literally get caught up in the landscapes that you discover. However, it is so important to thoroughly test your equipment before departure. It is important to test how you will load your board with all the material, so you can get the balance just right (weight in front or behind).
If you go into the wilds, and alone invest in a desalination kit, a good fishing rod or net! As well as a satellite phone (depending on where you go!). Repair equipment is essential (paddle, pump and tube) and enough patches for repairs. Our boards had been tested in all conditions, with potential board hazards all around, especially oysters, shells that are stuck on rocks . These razor sharp objects can potentially pierce the boards. But nothing was pierced. A great testament to the quality of the X-Moon.The X-moon is constructed with sturdy, effective material and also at the same time great to look at! The Fool-Moon waterproof bags were perfect too. All in all a winning combination! The Fool-Moon spirit carried us through the trip. Next project Bahamas 2019!