By Eugene Buchanan
After three years of planning and 84 days at sea, Kiwi kayaker Scott Donaldson had to be rescued by helicopter after spending 84 days at sea attempting to solo paddle from Australia to New Zealand across the Tasman Sea. Battered around by 60 mph winds just 36 miles off the Taranaki coastline of New Zealand, he was winched into a helicopter after requesting rescue via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. Making the trip to raise awareness for Asthma New Zealand and the importance of increasing aerobic activity, it was his second attempt at the crossing. Last year, he attempted the same trip, abandoning his effort after his kayak filled with water just two days in. Things were iffy this trip as well, but he persevered. After leaving Coffs Harbour in New South Wales on April 19, he spent a week on Lord Howe Island for repairs and spent another week kayaking in a big circle due to high winds. He later lost his rudder, forcing him to paddle without. Some 300 nautical miles west of New Plymouth, on June 20 a Taupo-based helicopter parachuted three small container loads of water and freeze-dried food; with one of them exploding upon impact, a second water drop was made six days later.
He told local press that after being thrown around in his cabin by the wind and waves on his second to last night, he was "gutted at having to be rescued" but that it was the right call to make. After walking three miles to a waiting ambulance and being checked over by doctors, he spoke to media at the hospital, emotional after not finishing his journey but glad to be safe and sound. In 2007, Australian adventurer Andrew McAuley tried to kayak solo across the Tasman Sea. His flooded kayak was found about 35 miles short of Milford Sound, his target end-point, a month after he set out. His body was never found.
We caught up with Donaldson while he was still recovering to get his take on the crossing.
C&K: How'd it feel to get so close and then have to abort?
Donaldson: I was gutted not to finish, but safety decisions are devoid of feeling and simply a planned process… so no problem with that. Not hitting the finish line irks me deeply and will for a long time. I didn’t want to go home. I was only 35 miles short, which is what really gets me. But it wasn’t hard to make the call.
C&K: Was it more of a weather issue orn injury one? Just no way you could go on?
Donaldson: It was mainly the planned protocol of making safety calls with base. I was running on too many C plans, including: 1) The potential of no communications overnight; 2) The potential of no power or light overnight, as changing the battery was unsafe due to the conditions I had endured for the previous six days; 3) I had several items running on C plans instead of A plans, so there was the potential to break even more gear, such as the inside seatbelt; 4) The incoming weather was such that it could amplify any problems; and 5), the option for safe recovery was readily available.
C&K: What was the hardest part of the journey?
Donaldson: Just staying healthy inside that small space.
C&K: How was it paddling with a broken rudder?
Donaldson: It was bloody hard! It made paddling with a rudder seem pretty easy.
C&K: Andrew McAuley was lost at sea about the same distance away as you were…were those thoughts crossing your mind at all?
Donaldson: No, it was a completely different campaign in almost all areas.
C&K: Any plans to try again for the third time?
Donaldson: Not at this stage
C&K: Do you think it will ever be done?
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