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A Journey Into the Unknown

Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?

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By Michael Chahley

The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment. 

Anchored in an isolated atoll in Wakatobi, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown. 

Water Baby

For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst. 

Going for an afternoon swim in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Emma Goudout.

Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed. 

I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.

One-Way Ticket To Ride

Exploring a shipwrecked fishing vessel in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Trying out the local mode of transportation in Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Chelsea Richards
.

When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.

Visiting a village in Papua New Guinea.
Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.

Explore The Unknown

Day trip with some friends on Ailuk Atoll.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.

I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’ 

My backyard swimming pool in Micronesia.
Photo by Michael Chahley
.

During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown. 


Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email mchahley@nothingunknown.com.

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Finding Peace in Macros

Feast your eyes on the little stuff that keeps British finance leader turned underwater photographer Mark Coles up at night.

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By Mark Coles
Header Photo by Mark Coles
. Location – Koala, Anilao, Batangas, Philippines
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 105mm, ISO160, F14, 1/250, no strobe, snoot lighting
Subject – Thecacera Picta, Painted thecacera doridina suborder of nudibranch.
 Generaly spongivores but some can be cannibalistic.  Used a snoot (narrow focussed
beam of light) with no strobes to light the nudibranch, leading to a dramatic effect
.

Forty-year-old Mark Coles is a Finance Leader focused on asset management for the UK Electricity Transmission Network and is based near Warwick, England. His passion? Underwater photography. “It’s a way to escape the pressure of day to day work life,” he explained.

Central Province, Solomon Islands
Photo Details: Nikon D7200, 9mm, ISO160, F8, 1/250

Coles’ first exposure to diving was on a Discover Scuba experience in 1998 during a Caribbean cruise ship vacation with his family. He was hooked. He got open-water certified in Grand Cayman that same year and continued with his training while making dive trips around the world. He is currently a PADI Master Scuba Diver. InDepth caught up with Coles during a recent liveaboard trip to Papua New Guinea.

Coles began making underwater photos in Hawaii with his iPhone eight years ago. Then in 2016 in between dive trips from Raja Ampat to Cairns, AUS, he made an “impulse” buy and sprang for a Nikon D7200 SLR and Nauticam housing. He’s been slowly building his system ever since and found himself focusing on macro-photography. According to Coles, “When I have my camera underwater and find a subject to focus on, everything else in my mind fades away; all that exists is the subject and my camera. I find it peaceful,” he said.

Below you can see a selection of Coles’ macros. You can find more of his photos here.

Location – Coconut, Anilao, Batangas, Philippines
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 105mm, +10 diopter, ISO160, F25, 1/250
Subject – Sufflogobius Bibarbatus, yellow bearded or pelagic goby.  A very cute fish who pair up in monogamous relationships and live symbiotically with the coral.  A very timid fish who is very skitty, it is a challenging job to get a photo and it took around an hour to get this picture, focussing is hugely challenging when the goby will not stay still.
Location – Retak Becho, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 60mm, ISO200, F13, 1/125
Subject –  Neopetrolisthes Maculatus, spotted porcelain anemone crab, female carrying on average around 600 eggs in her brooding flap in the abdomen, the eggs will hatch as free swimming larvae which will feed on plankton.

Location – Kirby’s Rock, Anilao, Batangas, Philippines
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 105mm, ISO160, F16, 1/50
Subject – Stomatopoda, mantis shrimp, a fascinating creature with beautiful colours, they have clubs as arms which can move at 23 metres per second, around 50 times faster than you can blink with the force of a .22 caliber bullet.  They also have 16 colour receptors in their eyes vs our 3.
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 105mm, ISO160, F20, 1/160
Subject – Amphioctopus Marginatus, coconut octopus. Found on sandy bottoms often buried in the sand, also often use coconut husks or clam shells as weapons or for concealment against pray. Fascinating to interact with and it took some time for the octopus to trust that I was not a threat, so slowly the shell opened and he was on display.
Location – Serena Pata, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 60mm, ISO400, F16, 1/160
Subject – Nudibranchia Aeolidina, aeolids suborder of nudibranch is covered in cerata
which contain the digestive gland, the brown colour is unexploded nematocysts which
are the stinging cells of cridarians which the nudibranch uses for defence against prey.
Location – Aer Prang I, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Photo Details – Nikon D7200, 60mm, ISO200, F16, 1/125
Subject – Neopetrolisthes Maculatus, spotted porcelain anemone crab, feeding time with its filters extended, it takes plankton out of the water and mucus from the anemone.
Strip down, cleaning and packing begin…… Nikon D7200, Nauticam housing, Nauticam 230mm dome port, Sea & Sea Y2-D2 strobes, Snoot and regular lights, Weefine smart housing for phone, floats, diopters, all packed in a pelican case at 31Kg.

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