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 Swiss brand Fool Moon, which connected and supported the two adventurers, providing head to toe equipment, as well as their 12ft X-moon touring SUP board. The brand, which is synonymous with adventure SUP travel has been involved in a wide range of expeditions including the paddle on the canal in Madagascar. The Swiss duo two talk to TotalSUP 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. Francis 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. 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.
JC & FM: Before the start of the expedition, we were able to test Fool Moon’s X-Moon inflatable board on lakes and rivers, the shape and stability just blew us away. Despite the board having a large width (12′ x 34″ x 6″), the board glides easily and fast. After testing there was no doubt about the choice of the board. The width combined with the speed and board manoeuvrability, as well as its weight made it an incredible choice to paddle around the world!
For our expedition we were equipped with an X-Moon board, Dark Side Carbon Race paddle (3 parts) and Dark Side Carbon Wave paddle (3 parts), Balian waterproof bag 60L, Balian waterproof bag 30L, Banana Bag Balian 3L, as well as the Bora-Bora buoyancy aid. A set that Fool-Moon had been testing under the hardest conditions, at sea and on land. The Balian 3L bag was perfect for the small stuff you always have to have on hand, like cameras and maps. The 30 L waterproof bag accompanied us in all our trips. The Balian 60L bag fitted perfectly at the back of the board and attached to the existing cargo loops. We did hesitate in taking two paddles with us, but we actually benefited from taking both a wave and race paddle. The paddle Carbon Dark Side race proved ideal for long distances without tiring our shoulders. The Fool-Moon vest with its flashy orange colour gave us have high visibility, ideal when you find yourself in front of a ferry!
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 too 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.
We started the crossing towards the second fjord at the end of day 4, we did this once the sun was down (it was between 33 and 36 ° the first few days, with no wind). It took us 3 round trips to carry all the material through the pass. The choice of X-Moon paid off here because at 10 KG it was easy to carry. We spent our 4th nights at this pass without very little sleep due to the powerful wind from the Persian Gulf (Iran). We were literally dancing in our hammocks.
The next day, we decided to head towards Khasab by paddling between the banks to try to shelter from the wind entering the fjord. This ascent was damn physical. It was at times impossible to advance our boards! So we went into the knee position in an attempt to resist the wind and move forward somehow. We spent two days in these conditions until the wind turned and to finally push us towards Khasab. It was on this return that we experienced the phosphorescent plankton. Our arrival into Khasab was excellent, the calm after the storm. We entered the harbor aside fishing boat, tourist boat and huge ferry . A canal led directly to our hotel of arrival! We landed 150 M from the hotel entrance, and a small cart appeared to pick up our stuff . Arriving at the reception after 10 days in the wilds, the receptionist greeted us with a “you are safe!”. This ended our superb Oman Sup Trip in this peninsula. A true experience!
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 we 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 to land their fish. The next morning they returned and there we met an old Omani gentlemen who was delighted that we slept under the stars. His smile was worth more than 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 load our boards in the middle of nowhere in this desert landscape and that “go!”, the green “lush” logo Fool-Moon 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!
Interested in the X-Moon? Follow this link!