Sailing through the Antipodes
Spindrift for schools

By  Dona Bertarelli

I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.

Sailing through the Antipodes

Nous sommes aux Antipodes” (“We’re in the Antipodes”) is an expression that French people use to say that they are poles apart from someone, only in this case, we literally are in the Antipodes, having just passed within six nautical miles of the islands of that name.

Consisting of one main island and a number of small islets, the Antipodes Islands figure on UNESCO’s World Heritage List along with New Zealand’s other subantarctic islands.

For those of you who may not know, New Zealand is a pioneer when it comes to the protection of its flora and fauna. More than 20 percent of its territory is covered by national parks, forests and nature reserves. Trailblazers in the environmental rehabilitation of its islands, the country’s Department of Conservation has implemented programmes designed to systematically eradicate species introduced by man (goats, cats and rats) and then reintroduce native species, all with the aim of protecting and rebuilding a unique biological heritage.

The country’s marine protection programmes are every bit as ambitious. The first nation in the world to create a marine reserve, in 1977, New Zealand now has 45 of them, the latest of them being the Kermadec ocean sanctuary. Spanning an area of 620,000 sq km, its creation was announced to the United Nations general assembly on 29 September 2015.

One of the most geographically and geologically diverse areas in the world,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Fishing and mining have now been banned in the Kermadec sanctuary, which encompasses the longest chain of submerged volcanoes in the world and some of the planet’s deepest ocean trenches and now provides a vast haven for thousands of species such as whales, dolphins, turtles and sea birds.

We are currently sailing well to the north of the Kermadec Islands, though the Antipodes Islands are themselves protected and form part of a nature reserve to which access is restricted. The main island is home, however, to a castaway depot, such is the frequency of shipwrecks in the area.

The island group was discovered in 1800 by Captain Henry Waterhouse of the British ship HMS Reliance and owes its name to the fact that it is at the antipodes of London, i.e. it lies in a position diametrically opposed to that of the British capital.

The discovery of shards of Polynesian pottery 75cm under the ground in 1886 led some to believe that the island was visited long before the British arrived. In 1803 Waterhouse’s brother-in-law Georges Bass obtained a monopoly for fishing and trading in seal skins, which were much in demand at the time. Later that year, however, Bass went missing after setting sail from Sydney and was never heard of again.

In 1893, an attempt to establish cattle on the islands came unstuck when the ship carrying the livestock, Spirit of the Dawn, foundered off the coast of the main island. The 11 surviving members of the crew subsisted for 87 days by eating mussels, roots and long-winged sea birds known as muttonbirds, unaware that on the other side of the island lay a well-stocked castaways’ hut. The depot has proved useful on several occasions over the years, with French sailors finding shelter there when the barque Président Felix Faure was wrecked in Anchorage Bay in 1908. It also came into use more recently, in 1999, with the wreck of the yacht Totorore.

Hoving into view under low, grey clouds, Antipodes Island is far from a welcoming place. Standing 400 metres tall, it rises from the sea in sheer cliffs that seem to stand guard against any attempts to land there. We continue on our way accompanied by a flock of birds, among them pairs of albatrosses, who reign supreme as the masters of these uninhabited lands.