Moynihan and Mora Set Sail to Film OpenSea: Journey Across the Pacific…and Need Your Help

Editors note: Nia Mora and Jonathan Moynihan are U.S. based photographers and filmmakers and are about to set sail to film and photograph their sailing documentary: OpenSea; Journey Across the Pacific. They will sail across the South Pacific and film the adventure, the cultures and people, and sea life for their documentary film with an end goal of raising awareness to the South Pacific’s peole and natural treasures. They have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. The following essay describes their first sailing adventure, the inspiration for the new OpenSeas project. Stay tuned as they promise to keep us updated with videos and photographs of this unique journey and film project.

“OpenSea: Journey Across the Pacific” began in the hopes of finding footage about sailing the South Pacific Ocean. We didn’t find much, so we decided to make our own film. We spent 28 days at sea, sailing from Hawaii to French Polynesia in our 35 foot sail boat. Along the way, the project developed into something we felt we had to share with others. We learned things about the way other people lived, which changed the way we ourselves live. We saw the majesty and diversity of the Pacific islands, which taught us about the raw and enduring strength of nature. We braved the ocean, endless blue water for weeks on end, which taught us about ourselves.

We have already sailed 6,500 nautical miles. We have documented places such as The Marquesas,The Tuamotus, The Society Islands,
Niue, and New Zealand’s North Island and Hauraki Gulf. Most people haven’t heard of these places, a lot will never see these places. Our goal is to make a visual montage and a narrative sharing the experience of traveling by sail boat across the ocean and the things a person learns along the way. We’d like to post this documentary for free, online by September, 2014. This project is non-profit, as we believe everyone should be able to share with us what we have seen and where we have been on our amazing journey across the Pacific.


We began two years ago. Jonathan and I both left the United States with the ambition to travel and photograph. We were jaded by the nuances of daily living in the city, and sought out a new way of life amongst nature to better enrich our selves as photographers, as artists, and as human beings. We both looked to the Pacific to spark that inspirational fire within us. We met working with the artist community of Maui in 2011 and decided to further our talents by collaborating on filming and photography projects.  For photographers, Hawaii is eye candy, but we had to continue. So only after two weeks of knowing each other, we left Hawaii together on Jon’s 35 foot sail boat to cross the ocean on the longest trip we have ever completed in one stretch of time. We crossed the equator and 28 days later, we arrived in The Marquesas, French Polynesia.


We had heard stories of cannibals and of  people completely covered in tattoos. Upon meeting a local man on the island of Ua-Huka, he jokingly said he would eat our eyes out. He was to become one of our best friends and also gift us with traditional Marquesian tattoos before we left his island. We were welcomed by the Polynesian people, sheltered by them, fed by them, and befriended by them. Our voyage was educating us about the warm nature of the people of Polynesia. And in turn, the people of Polynesia were teaching us about the true nature of man kind – to be communal, giving, and sharing.

We sailed to island after island. Crossed thousands of miles from the most eastern archipelagos of the Tuamotus, all the way to New Zealand. We crossed beautiful blue seas that glowed yellow in the twilight and deep red at sunset. We crossed dark grey water under thunderous clouds, rain, and winds, which instilled a fear that one only knows as an adult, but which makes you brave and endure and overcome anything. We ran nude on the beaches of uninhabited islands. We ate coconuts, tons of coconuts, gigantic wild crabs, reef fish, urchins, tuna, mahi mahi, squid, and many other nourishing treasure of the sea. We bathed under waterfalls, swam with dolphins, wales, manta rays,and sharks. We saw rainbows by moonlight and the Milkyway almost every night.


Things that were important before didn’t matter anymore. Material things slowly lost their importance to me. I realized that after having looked through my new wardrobe, which consisted of only broken flip flops, bikinis, torn t-shirts, and salty sarongs. Things like water and food, solar power and warm showers became the most important things in our life – essentials I took for granted before because they were always so available. I realized I hadn’t even had a cell phone in almost two years. But I felt happier than ever before in my life! I felt a since of completion, especially within myself, that I had been longing for so many years while living in the city.

The people we met, the experiences we had are all those of which we never want to forget. It was a leap of faith on a one-way ticket


and a belief in ourselves that we could cross an Ocean. We think we are truly living and seeing the world, its lands, its oceans, and its creatures. When I think about it, it seems as though the planet breathes, in the movement of the waves, in the passing of the wind, in the blossoming of the flowers. I have never felt more connected to the place I call home – earth. Traveling and seeing the world, has made us realize our own humanity.

We’d like to share my experience and our photographs that we have taken along the way. We want to inspire people to follow their dreams! This life is about living – about reaching your potential as a human being and doing your very best to do something positive for yourself and then for others. So, we thought it would be compelling to others to make a documentary that show cases the emotional experience of this type of travel and the personal achievement felt after having sailed over the largest body of water in the world. Along the way we have learned so much about the Ocean’s ecosystem, its islands, its people,  and the circumstances they face in today’s world. We feel it so important to show people the planet they live on; to show them its beauty that’s worth fighting for, and how the Earth’s beauty can also transform the human spirit. This is the first post in many that will document our travels and filming of OpenSea: Journey Across the Pacific.

OpenSea: The First Voyage from Nia Mora-Moynihan on Vimeo.

About Nia Mora and Jonathan Moynihan

We are a film and photography duo that began working together on the shores of Hawaii in September 2011. The beauty and diversity of Hawaii inspired us to combine our talents and

Nia Mora

set sail across the equator to the South Pacific in search of more visuals and a more profound understanding of the Polynesian culture and spirit. Our artistic collaboration has since developed into creating photography and film that demonstrate the environment we live in: The Pacific Ocean. The ocean and its islands have left a deep impact on us and inspired us to share its beauty through our photographs and films.

We wanted to discuss the type of gear we use and why it has been so instrumental in the development of our style. First off, we shoot digital. Why? We live on a boat in the middle of nowhere, and it isn’t easy finding a lab to properly develop 120 film on scarcely populated islands. Also, the digital medium has opened the world of high definition film making to people who have always wanted to explore it, but were confined by the finances that went in to traditional film making. So, when we were first met, ironically, but very suitably, we were both equipped with a Canon 7D and a variety of lenses. We combined our gear and our talent to capture the expedition that is now underway: “OpenSea: Journey Across the Pacific.”

Jonathan Moynihan

Why the Canon 7D for filming? We chose the 7D because it gives such a broad range of frame rate  settings. This means you can go from 24fps to 60fps, allowing for more flexibility while filming, depending on your subject. Its been a great experience being able to use this to our advantaging during the editing process. When we film at 24fps, we achieve a more cinematic look and use less megabyte storage. When we shoot at 60fps, we can slow footage down drastically for slow motion clips. Its a great camera and we have had lots of success with it. But most importantly, we needed a digital SLR with manual settings in order to properly manipulate exposure settings. Lots of people have asked us how we get our shots during sunrise, sunset, and at night? We tell them “shoot manual and use a tripod”. Shooting manual on a tripod makes a huge difference with both photographing and filming.

In this ever growing technologically based world, we  always find ourselves researching which new digital gear will better suit our needs. Our first priority with being nature photographers is humidity. We are working on filming and photographing the Pacific Islands and living on a sail boat to do so. This means we are constantly battling moisture. The waterproof jackets on the Canon L series lenses has saved us from much unwanted fungal growth and humidity issues. We also make sure we keep our gear in water tight bags and cases. Nature photography means you have to be in nature. We can head out in to the elements secure with the fact that we our in our element and can focus on the view finder.

We think a great kit should include: one fast lens with a normal focal length (50mm), which we find amazing for portraits with its shallow depth of field. It should also include  one wide angle, which makes the world of a difference when photographing landscapes; and also one telephoto, for capturing nature, wildlife, and subjects you just cant get close enough to.

For the last two years, we have been using:

Canon 50mm f/1.4

Tokina 11-16mm  f/2.8

Canon L 14 mm f/2.8

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6

Now with our Kickstarter campaign, we are looking to upgrade our kit to make better images. After years of field experience, we know exactly what we need. But again, there is always a new camera, with better features. The trick is to find something of quality at a good price, with good consumer reviews that will last a long time in your kit. Why is it so important? Well, my first photography teacher used to say “a good picture isn’t the camera, its the photographer”, with which I do agree. However, the lens, the body, and the camera make are all the tools of the photographer. Its just about learning how to properly use them and knowing what a big difference they can make in the final image. And that final image says everything about your voice as a photographer or film maker. That voice separates the hobbyists from the professional.

With our voice, we are capturing the world to make strong visual work that inspires and builds international cultural ties and encourages education. Together, we hope our ability to respectfully and earnestly depict the diversity of the world will shed light and give a better understanding of the lives of those who populate it. Our aim is to share the splendor of the world’s magnificence, and by doing so, inspire others to work towards humanistic endeavors that preserve and maintain the worlds natural beauty. The spirit of our work is to show the drama of the world, its landscapes, and its people.

You can view their web site here

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