Kayaker Scott Donaldson prepares for another attempt at near fatal Tasman crossing
Scott Donaldson is preparing another attempt to kayak solo across the Tasman. (ABC News: Meghna Bali )
Adventurer Scott Donaldson is making final preparations in his attempt to become the first person to kayak solo from Australia to New Zealand.
The New Zealand expat is giving the 2,200-kilometre paddle across the ditch another crack — in 2014 he came within 80 kilometres of New Zealand and was within site of Mount Taranaki when he was famously winched to safety.
“We just need to finish that job off,” Donaldson said.
“We got a bit smashed out there and all the safety gear was basically wrecked and our safety options were dwindling so we had to make the call and it was a once in 40-year storm blowing us back to Australia at that time.”
An unrepairable rudder made him late and put extra pressure on the gear before he was rescued.
“Everything was extra hammered because of that so by the time I got to where I got, it wasn’t really the weather that did it,” he said.
“It was just the safety gear was all trashed and everything [was] unusable.
“I’d actually seen probably a bigger storm than that earlier on in the trip and that wasn’t any problem at all, but this one was a blocking storm and it stuck around for a week.”
Ready to set off in April, pending weather report
When the weather experts give the word in April and there is up to a window of up to five days of good weather Donaldson will set off from Coffs Harbour Jetty on the NSW mid-north coast.
He hopes to arrive at New Plymouth in New Zealand within 70 days of his departure.
“You need to have a decent window to get away from Australia or there’s a high chance you get pushed back,” he said.
On a good day, Donaldson will paddle for 16 hours but he said good days only happened once every now and then.
“Generally in the Tasman you get a couple of days of good progress, good weather,” he said.
“Then that will almost always be followed up with two to four days of poor weather, trying to push you backwards, so that’s just life on the Tasman.”
Challenge is driving force
The multi-sports athlete, who moved to the Coffs Coast after visiting the region to organise his 2014 campaign, said it was all about the challenge for him.
“That’s the way I’ve done things most of my life and I’ve coached people to do challenging things so it’s really about the challenge for me,” he said.
And because I got so close last time, I’ve got a body of information that really needs to be put to use.
He said to the average person, the boat he will use looks very similar to the one he used on his last attempt, but to him just about everything’s different.
“There are huge improvements in every direction,” he said.
“For example, it’s all carbon fibre now so I’ll be carrying probably 50 kilograms less than I did last time.”
The trans-Tasman kayaker will be eating mainly dehydrated food which is being tested on the army in New Zealand to get more calories into the body.
“I have a bit of a magic mix of carbohydrate and protein and electrolyte drinks, which all sounds very easy but when you’ve got to have two hands on a kayak paddle, it can get quite tricky sometimes,” he said.
‘He’s got the skills’
The first tick of approval Donaldson needed was from his wife Sarah.
“It’s definitely a ‘we’ decision, not an ‘I’ decision; she’s the bigger half of the team really,” he said.
Sarah said he had the skills to do the paddle and was very close to doing it four years ago.
“I’m not fearful, he’s got the skills [and] we’ve got a very clear safety plan. He’s got the goods to do this,” she said.
“There is always that element of concern that I have and the weather will do what the weather will do but at the end of the day, we’ve mitigated the risk as much as we can.
“It is a sacrifice for sure but it is going to be an amazing achievement and yes, we are not getting the next biggest house or the next big TV.”
Asthma message in paddle
Donaldson has asthma and will again be teaming up with Asthma New Zealand to raise awareness of the condition.
“My message is basically [that] asthmatics have to exercise, they must, their lungs need it,” he said.
“I’m proof of what can be done out there — and there are many other really good athletes — but in terms of your own health, asthma or not, if you’ve got asthma it’s critical to do that exercise and strengthen those lungs.
He said he was excited about the trip because of all the work he and his team did last time.
“We’ve gone through every single area and said ‘right, what can we do better?’ Now I’m keen to get out there and actually prove it,” he said.
“The dictator of whether I can achieve it is the Tasman.
“It might decide to have the worst conditions in 50 years [and] that’s the way the Tasman controls it but I’ve done everything that I can control and in that respect, I’m certainly better than last time and last time, I got close.”
The website tasmankayak.com has a tracker to follow Donaldson’s attempt.