Wow! 3 weeks ago, Callum strolled into the Beach Split Hostel with his girlfriend, Claire, and I had no idea what an amazing story he had to share. He is a quick witted, humble and hilarious lad that downplays his awesomeness. I found out that they had met doing a ski season on the French Alps and were now travelling by car throughout Europe. I was intrigued to find out more about him and was blown away by his story.
Callum Hunter is a 25 year old Chippy (carpenter) from the UK. He spent 2 years exploring Australia on his hand made Melanesian-style outrigger canoe inspired by James Wharram. Here’s how he transformed a dream into some fantastic adventures.
The Adventures of Pamplemousse: Exploring Australia on a Handmade Canoe
Why do you travel?
For adventure, to meet new people, to see new places and experience new cultures.
What’s the deal with Pamplemousse?
Pamplemousse is the French word for Grapefruit and I thought it was a funny word. Rather than it being my adventure, it was the adventure of the canoe that I had built.
What’s your story?
I spent my childhood bouncing back and forth between Hull with my mom and Dorset with my dad. Hull was a place where it was the norm to fight for your survival. In Dorset this was highly frowned upon. At 17 I applied to university and was accepted to my first choice in London to study history. I didn’t last long.
After 6 weeks, I stopped going and bounced around different jobs while trying to figure things out. Eventually, I decided to move to Australia. It was honestly, the best thing that could have happened to me.
I met a Swiss man in a backpacker’s hostel. He was a sailor and had left his boat in East Timor. His idea was to come to Darwin and sell his artisan jewellery. Rather than bring his own boat to Darwin he got a lift from East Timor to Darwin. He told me about an Australian man who was building a boat in the desert. I wondered “who the F#^* builds a boat in the desert?” We travelled from Darwin to Katherine to see the boat project and I was just blown away by the whole thing.
I booked a flight to East Timor to sail with this Swiss guy to Cape Town and eventually fly back to Australia to finish my road trip. 10 days before my flight, the man had told me that he had met a woman online and had flown back to Switzerland to be with her.
I was gutted.
The trip from East Timor to Cape Town was put on hold indefinitely. I had already booked my flight to East Timor so I went ahead to check it out. After that I went back to Katherine to see the boat builder again.
Where did you get the knowledge to build a canoe?
You can plan all you want but sometimes plans change. I was going to make the most of it. Originally, I had planned to build a canoe to paddle around the beautiful Catherine Gorge. Instead, I decided to build the sail version of the canoe and go on my own sailing trip because obviously the other one had been cancelled.
I met up with the boat builder and I said I’d happily come give him a hand in exchange to learn new skills. He said “I can do you one better than that. I have the plans and materials to build your own canoe. For every hour you spend on my boat, you can spend one hour working on your canoe.”
How long did it take to build the craft?
3 months— I was working 2 other jobs at the same time.
I`d wake up at 5 am go pick watermelon and finish at midday, then spend 2-3 hrs on my boat, then jump into the natural hot springs to get rid the saw dust! In the day it was cool and refreshing and at night it was warm when temperatures were low.
I would then go work in a restaurant in the evening and come home to work some more on my boat. I spent half the hours working on the other man`s 46 ft racing catamaran. I exchanged my labour for supplies and skills to build my own canoe.
What were the challenges in building something like this from scratch?
Finding the time to do it was the biggest challenge. I was provided most of the materials for the canoe but I had to gather the rest from nature. Things like bamboo, timber for the outrigger and the tuki (traditional polynesian name) bits to join canoe and outrigger. He really did me a solid and provided most of the material and knowledge to build the canoe.
What was your inspiration for this quest? Do you have anyone that you look up to?
At that time in my life my ethos was “could you survive in the wild?” All I would do when I went out on the boat was take a bit of rice and go fishing and climb coconut trees. I would just try to live in the wild.
I would say James Wharram was someone I looked up to! He was an anarchist that envisioned a population of people just sailing around with catamarans that they built and traded with each other. These people belonged to no one.
What did you bring with you? Did you bring any water?
Good question! Water was the biggest restriction on how long I could stay. Most of the small islands didn’t have any fresh creeks. Sometimes I would go with someone else and sometimes alone. I would take a tent, camp stove, and basic food (bag of rice). I would take little portable speakers, mp3, waterproof container to start a fire and a big Machete (that was the fun part). You can’t go as long with someone else due to limited space/resources. The free board (distance between the water line and the top of the canoe) was only a couple inches when there 2 people in the canoe. Any big wave would put us in danger.
The canoe was designed for the locals to scoot around sheltered lagoons, not across open water. It could take on big rolling waves but as soon as there was any chop then the water would go straight in. I had this thing called “sustainable sinking.” As long as the water wasn’t coming in faster than you could scoop it out with the Bailer then you’re golden. There were a few harrowing times where I went beyond that point.
Since it was a wooden boat, it wouldn’t sink but it would be fully submerged except for the sails. I would then have to find a way to bring it onto land. One time this happened while I was with a friend. We lost a lot of food and for a bit we thought we lost the steering paddle. Without the paddle, the boat was useless. That was my biggest F*** up by a long shot. Fortunately, we found it drifting along the shoreline.
How did it feel to finally go on these adventures with your canoe?
When I first got on this little lake to test it out, I was sceptical to how it would work. But just after I got in it, there was a little gust of wind. I just flew across this section of this lake and it was one of the best feelings in my life! “Shit this actually worked!”
Afterwards I felt ready test it out on the open water. I drove it and took it up the Katherine Gorge and drove over 2000km to Townsville.
What were the lessons that you learnt from this experience?
Be prepared and take calculated risks. When I first started, I used to set off and hope for the best. I started realising that it was not that simple. You had currents, tides and angles you could sail into the wind at. They can either fight against you or work with you. I had to learn how to sail from scratch. Once I learnt these skills I started to plan my trips better.
I had a rule that I was never more than 10 km from land. With a life jacket I could swim back to shore to survive. I like taking risks, but ones that are managed not just blindly taking them.
The tides played a big factor in helping or fighting your movement (4-6 knots). Eventually, I was able to read the weather a lot better. From my experience, it was usually best to start off early since the wind picks up throughout the day. I feel like I got a lot more in sync with nature. When you are out there in nature, you tend to wake up when the sun is out and sleep when it is dark. Once the sun started setting I would cook dinner, put on some sweet tunes and chill before bed.
What was your most memorable moment while travelling?
There was an archipelago called The Whit Sunday Islands. I had been so excited to get there. When I finally arrived, I went to Shoot Harbour. It was the most perfect sailing conditions. The water was completely flat and there was a steady breeze. I started to sail out and it was just perfect. When you have a nice steady breeze, the outrigger lifts out of the water and you just cruise along. As I started sailing out to this island with beautiful turquoise water on a beautiful sunny day I noticed a few butterflies flying by. I felt like I had made it.
Suddenly, I was in a cloud of bright blue butterflies.
It was just a magical experience. I planned to spend a few days on these islands and go back to the mainland but I ended up getting trapped out there for at least a week due to the wind conditions. It was just too rough for little Pamplemousse. It got to the point where I was going to run out of food in a day or so if the weather didn’t change. I would have been in a sticky situation.
I woke up one morning and it was calm. All of my resources were low and I had this window to leave. I knew that on one of the next islands over, there was a fancy all inclusive island resort.
At sunrise, I packed everything as fast possible and made it to the all-inclusive resort. I found a cove, hid the boat and snuck in for a big free breakfast. It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. It was a massive breakfast buffet! I ended up going to the island a few times for breakfast and dinner (he says with a cheeky smile). The next morning I made it back to the mainland. The first thing I did when I got back was buy a pizza (the man loves his pizza).
Do you ever miss that time in your life?
I do miss the lifestyle. There were always new challenges and the good adventures. I am still living the life now. I am lucky to have worked in the French Alps and met my amazing girlfriend.
What is one piece of advice you have for someone with a dream?
JUST DO IT! When I pointed to the island and said that I would sail there, people called me crazy and said that I would die. People will always tell you, “you can’t do it or that it is not allowed, it’s not safe, etc.” but just go and do it. Don’t listen to negative people. I love this quote from the slam poet Mike Sinner- “People will tell you stop dreaming, they’re blaspheming, they are doing 9-5 and moaning and they don’t want you succeeding when they’ve blown it.” –Mike Skinner, The Streets
What are your top places in Europe to visit and why?
The Alps – It is so beautiful, whether you go in the summer or winter it is a paradise for outdoor activities.
Delft – It’s a quaint little Dutch town that’s really nice.
Berlin – It’s just really cool city or Prague, Budapest or Vienna!
What ever happened to Pamplemousse?
While I was living with my uncle in Perth and I met this family man who hosted couch-surfers. He had this big shed in the garden. He put up beds in there and let backpackers stay. He also had two kids and so I left it with them to continue their adventures with Pamplemousse.
Earlier you mentioned that you never sailed to East Timor in the Indian Ocean. Will you ever go there?
I had been to a couple of the islands nearby such as Mauritius and La Reunion (volcanic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, peak of fire, peak of snow, paradise) and would be happy to see it again. I am always up for the idea of an adventure crossing the ocean.
What is next for you?
I have a month left on this road trip with my girlfriend. My younger sister is meeting up with us in Dubrovnik. We will take her to Athens and make our way back to the UK for some family dos. After that just, I’ll just go and get a job .
Thank you to Callum for sharing his incredible tale of adversity, adventure and love. Check out his website at theadventuresofpamplemousse.weebly.com.
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