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Back on board with record-breaking sailor Yassine Darkaoui

The name Yassine Darkaoui might ring a bell. That’s because the Moroccan sailor, entrepreneur and Phuket expat graced the Life cover in January this year, sat in lotus on the bow of a boat against the backdrop of Phang Nga.

CommunityExploreTravel
By Amy Bryant

Saturday 1 June 2019, 10:00AM


At the time, Yass was one spon­sor away from heading to Hua Hin to at­tempt to set a world record sailing his Laser dinghy 800 kilometres in the Gulf of Thailand. (Read story here.)

Time escaped me, and before I knew it, there was a message from Yass in my inbox.

“Done. I’m still flying. I didn’t land. Amazed and confused. I saw magic, danger, connection with every­thing. Better to talk. I don’t want to write.”

Interest piqued, I arranged to meet him in Phuket Town in a café lined with canvas tepees, faintly reminiscent of the shisha lounges of his hometown of Tangiers, and settled in for another afternoon of sto­ries from the sea.

A mere two days after securing his third and final sponsor in February, Yass was on a plane to Bangkok.

“I went to the embassy to meet the Moroccan Am­bassador to Thailand, His Excellency Abdelilah El Housni,” Yass explains. “He welcomed me with flags, gifts and traditional food and we had lunch together in Sukhumvit. It was a great pleasure to talk to him and get his advice.”

Diplomatic mission complete, he travelled back down the coast to Hua Hin for a fortnight of daily sailing practice and brain training using his self-produced meditation tracks ahead of the world record-breaking attempt. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and a trio of unforeseen circumstances forced Yass to rethink the attempt almost entirely.

“I found out that the guy that holds the current record was having breaks every evening to sleep on shore, so my attempt [without breaks] was crazy. Then the wind direction changed. Then the insurance company modified the contract saying I could only sail a few kilometres from the shore. It was a night­mare,” Yass says.

Determined to make something of his trip, Yass registered a record in another category: the furthest distance sailed in a Laser dinghy in a loop without assistance and with the best average speed. This might sound a little convoluted at first glance, but sailing a Laser requires a great deal of physical and mental strength. Contin­uously adjusting the position of the body to improve upwind speed – known as hiking – makes the core work overtime, while long sailing periods without sleep and in the dark of night wreak havoc with sensory perception.

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What’s more, behind the boundary set by the insurance company, the bay was a minefield of fishing boats, nets and sandbanks, barely visible in the moon’s half light. Yass plays me a video of him sailing in the early hours. I can hear much more than I can see, mak­ing out the occasional facial feature in the glint of his torch while waves break against the boat and he shouts “Come on!” to the wind.

“In the evening, fishing boats leave the port and turn off their lights. It gets darker, darker, darker. Visibility was less than five metres. It’s more about feeling where you are, feeling the waves. They will remind you that you are not just floating,” explains Yass.

With buoys marking the boundary, turmeric and moringa powder for fuel and a will stronger than the waves, Yass successfully completed his attempt in 30 hours, covering 220 kilometres.

“I don’t like that people ask ‘Who did you beat?’ instead of ‘What did you learn?’” Yass says. “The most important lesson I learned from my journey was the choice. When battling with the ele­ments, I asked myself why I put myself in a situation where everything could go wrong in a fraction of a second. I was there because of conscious and probably unconscious choices.

“We have the choice most of the time. We can choose what our life will look like. We can control our reactions, and by developing a healthy thinking process, most of our problems are not problems anymore. So I am always looking to make choices in the most conscious way.”

Yass thanks his sponsors – Home­less to Billionaire author Andres Pira, Andaman Leisure Phuket and Batik Surf – for their own choices to take that risk with him.

In the spirit of his project ‘Always Higher 4.0’, Yass will return to Hua Hin once again in September and at­tempt to sail 560 kilometres to Koh Pha-ngan and back. This time things will be different. He will sail in a straight line in the light of the full moon, using the southwesterly winds to reach maximum speed.

And I’ll wait patiently for the next enigmatic message in my inbox.


For more information, go to www.facebook.com/alwayshigher4.0, www.al­wayshigher.asia or email extremdinghy@gmail.com

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