C&K Hero Paul Caffyn

Paul Caffyn clowns for Justine Curgenven's camera at home in New Zealand.
Paul Caffyn clowns for Justine Curgenven’s camera at home in New Zealand.

By Jeff Moag

Paul Caffyn’s first sea-kayak expedition was planned as a 300-mile traverse of New Zealand’s wind-lashed Fiordland coast. But when he finished that stretch with Max Reynolds in 1978, he decided not to stop. He completed the first sea kayak circumnavigation of the South Island eight weeks and 1,200 miles later. The next year he rounded the North Island, and in 1980 he and Nigel Dennis made the first sea kayak circumnavigation of Great Britain.

All of that was mere prelude to one of the greatest sea paddling exploits of all time—Caffyn’s solo circumnavigation of Australia over 360 days in 1981 and 1982. In addition to the distance (9,420 miles), a tropical cyclone and Southern Ocean gales, he faced three sections of sheer limestone cliffs, each more than 100 miles long with no place to land.

Caffyn thought the cliffs impassable, until he devised a plan to link his kayak to that of another paddler, allowing both to rest. Never mind that his partner pulled out; Caffyn had deemed the impossible to be possible, and that was enough. The longest section, into a headwind that peaked at 30 knots, took him 34 hours. Caffyn has since logged more than 30,000 sea miles, including circuits of Japan and the entire Alaskan coast and four major expeditions in Greenland. Last summer, at 61, he completed a 700-mile slog along the Southeast coast that he rates among the most challenging of his life.

This story first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine. Read more about Caffyn, including his 2010 Unfiltered interview, at CanoeKayak.com.

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