By Jeff Moag
Published: Canoe & Kayak Magazine, May, 2007
I told my editors that no story this year is bigger than yours, always slipping in the caveat, “if he makes it.” And by that I meant, “if he doesn’t quit.”
Yeah, you turned around once to better insulate your kayak against the cold of the Tasman Sea. And then you shoved off again, into the “roaring forties”—the nastiest ocean the world, where gale-force winds circle the bottom of the globe and there’s no land to stop them. Jesus, you had balls. What a story, if you’d made it.
I’ll never forget the day we talked. I was hunting stories and found yours. So I picked up the phone and we talked for an hour, never mind the international rates. Me working late on a frozen Friday in Colorado, you enjoying a summer Saturday morning in Australia. Still, we connected. We’re the same age, and we’ve both spent our lives chasing adventure. I’m the guy with the camera and notepad, writing modern myths in the third person. You’re the one out there, living them.
I asked the usual goading questions, looking for something to hype. Do you worry about the danger? The high winds, the cold seas, being alone? “C’mon,” I thought. “Give me something.” Then you told me about Casper, the fiberglass cover you planned to lock over the cockpit of your production sea kayak at night and in bad weather. It looked like an inverted trash can, with a huge smiley face painted on it. You planned to clamp this fiberglass emoticon over the cockpit, and trust it to keep you upright and dry, 500 miles from the nearest land.
When you told me you’d built it “out in the back shed,” I thought, “there’s a quote I can build a story on.” So Australian. So perfectly telling of your approach.
Even your motivation was homemade, that photograph of 3-year-old Finlay taped like an afterthought to the front deck of your kayak. Something to keep you going through the capsizes, the 30-foot seas and the 40-knot gales. And, I can’t stop myself from thinking, the last thing you saw as your kayak slipped away. Your boy’s last gift. Hope. How long did you swim in that cold, empty sea, knowing that beautiful child was waiting on the other side?
If only you’d made it.
Australian adventurer Andrew McAuley was lost Feb. 9, 2007, while attempting to kayak 1,000 miles from Tasmania to New Zealand’s South Island. His last reported position was just 30 nautical miles from his planned landfall in Milford Sound, N.Z. He leaves a wife and son.