Paddling to NZ

Kayaking is a window to adventure. I have experienced paddling on 6 of the seven continents, with paddling taking me to places as diverse as Chile, Sweden, Antarctica, Nepal and Alaska. Canoes and kayaks have beckoned in disciplines as varied as canoe polo, slalom, marathon, sea kayaking and whitewater. Looking for the answer to “What Next?” I turned to local legends Andrew Macauley, James Castrission and Justin Jones, and Scott Donaldson, and cooked up a plan to try to design an ocean kayak and paddle it from Sydney to New Zealand.

It has taken seven years to build my ocean kayak Blue Moon, and gather together mountains of necessary and useful equipment. There were sea trials off Sydney, leading to refinements to improve the things that didn’t work first time, and to acclimatize to seasickness.

Covid got in the way, but I finally left Sydney last November, with a plan to paddle halfway across the Tasman and return if NZ borders remained closed. In a straight line, it is about 2200km from Sydney to NZ.

I had an extraordinary land support team, Chris Stanley, John Bowe, Phil Newman and Greg Smith. They cooked up a plan to extend sea trialling by heading northward up the coast to Port Macquarie, and then veer oceanward via Lord Howe, keeping options open in the early stages for landing and repairs should they be needed.

Rebound off the NE tip of Broughton Island

It took 25 days to coast-hop northward. Plenty of time to get used to Blue Moon’s cruising speed of 3kmh, which was further slowed by south-setting current and headwinds. This was a glorious start to the adventure, regularly meeting up with kayaking friends who came out to meet and paddle with me all the way up the coast. Some nights I stopped in sheltered moorings, whilst others I drifted, usually backward, on the currents close offshore. During this time, I got used to my diet of weetbix for breakfast, vitaweats for lunch, and a smorgasbord of soup and desserts around a dehydrated main dinner meal. A can of coke was my luxury treat each evening.

There was a chance before leaving the coast to get electricians to first find and then sort out the wiring between my solar panels and batteries, so full charge was going into my power storage. Tweaks to the rudder system also improved its robustness.

Border Force released me from Australia mid December. Then for the next 40 days, I saw no land, no people, only sea and sky and sun and stars, plus a lot of shearwaters and a few fish. My route took me out almost to Lord Howe Island. On a sunny day I would have been close enough to see Mt Gower. Yet Cyclone Seth was brewing just beyond, and my land support and weather guru Roger Badham wisely recommended I turn tail, and get as far away from the rough weather as possible. With that buffer, I experienced the highlight of the expedition, just enough ocean roughness to be exciting, without being intimidating or boat-breaking. I likened it to being on skis, facing a deep basin of snow that no one has skied before.

1: Christmas lunch – as close as I got to ham. 2: Special treat on day when confined to cabin close to Cyclone Seth 3: Cool day paddling attire

I got to see 360 degree ocean horizons. The sun rose and set to guide my paddling day’s rhythm. Sleeping at night was never a problem, worn out by the exercise, and cocooned by the dry sleeping area on board Blue Moon. I enjoyed creating and writing stories in the evening so Ian Wrenford could load them onto facebook to share with all my supporters.

My Spot tracker sent out ten minute position updates. After nearing Lord Howe, they told a story of being played with by currents and wind, like flotsam, looping back toward the Aussie coastline. There was a distinct lack of meaningful progress, particularly when the current was faster than my paddling speed and the net result was reverse motion. Fortunately, from my paddling perspective, I simply followed my compass, and progress always seemed positive. Losing my whole coke supply when my sea anchor wrapped round a hatch cover and wrenched it open was possibly the worst moment to endure.

With a little help I reconnected with mainland at Port Stephens, and spent two days there reacquainting with normal food and land that didn’t move underfoot.

With fabulous assistance from the East Coast current, it took only ten days to paddle back down the coast. At every port of call, I was greeted by supporters. Newy Paddlers were there on Newcastle’s breakwater to guide me in even when I arrived well after dark. Such support was heartwarming even after not making the target of New Zealand.

1: Port Macquarie wharf with land support John Bowe, Chris Stanley and Greg Smith. 2: Newy Paddlers welcome at Newcastle Harbour 3: Greg and Jason Slade

Two acts of generosity stand out on my return trip. Both related to food. The first was an invitation from Clark in Newcastle to join him for a roast dinner. Our only link closer than complete strangers was that I parked Blue Moon below his apartment on the way up and down the coast. The second was Charlene, a resident of Norah Head who paddled out on a board to my mooring to share a second serve of her lasagna dinner.

Return to normal life and work took only two weeks to realize I needed to try again. Blue Moon still has plenty of life to live, and New Zealand is still out there over the horizon. So in December this year, I plan to head out for Part 2 of my quest to cross the Tasman. This time I plan to drive to Tasmania, and head out from there, with some Roaring Forties tailwinds hopefully in my favour to help blow me along the way.

-Special thanks to Richard Barnes for the fantastic story!

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