Interview with team mate Charlie Smith

In this interview we get the privilege to know ‘Rowing from Home to Home’ team mate Charlie ‘Prince Charles’ Smith better.  Charlie will be crew mate on the first leg – the never before attempted, 4500km rowing journey, completely by human power, from Singapore to Darwin.  Charlie discusses all sorts of issues, from his life in Romford, UK, how he plans to handle Axe’s notorious humor, and even his method of dealing with sexual frustration on board the vessel.

Charlie, what’s a boy from Romford doing out here in Singapore?

Well I first moved out here about 2 1/2 years ago when a job opportunity came up with work. At the time I had little knowledge of Singapore apart from what I’d read in some guidebooks, but thought it’ll be a great experience and a chance to travel and see a part of the world that was completely new to me.


Charlie hanging out in the cabin of Simpson’s Donkey (photo: http://www.earthsoulimages)

What’s the major differences, both good and bad, between life in Romford, UK compared to life in Singapore?

Living in Romford was great as a kid, and I made some life long friends through rugby along the way. But it wasn’t until I started discovering climbing and the freedom it gave me that I started really using Romford as a base for training and then going on mini adventures around the country-so long as you don’t mind the weather so much!  Singapore Is a complete contrast, It’s a thriving city, based in the heart of Asia and a melting pot of cultures which makes it a fantastic place to live. However when I first moved here I did find it hard to keep the fire of adventure alive-until I stumbled upon ocean rowing by chance and then eventually the Rowing from Home to Home expedition. The only real downside for a Romford boy is the heat and humidity!


How did you become involved in rowing from home to home?

I’d be lying if I said I grew up dreaming of jumping into an ocean rowing boat and setting off on an expedition like Rowing from Home to Home. I’d never even thought about if before, until I was delayed for 12 hours at Heathrow airport 2 years ago, with only a book to keep me company. That book was Adam Rackley’s Salt, Sweat and Tears, an account of Adam Rackley and James Arnold’s successful voyage across the Atlantic in 2010. The incredible physical and mental strength of Rackley and Arnold – and all those who had attempted to row an ocean before them – sparked something within me. 

It’s by chance really that while I was researching what it would take to launch such a campaign that I was introduced by Rannoch Adventure to you Axe. Since then it’s been an invaluable experience, from starting to train together and eventually becoming the second crew member on such a unique and challenging adventure. It was definitely something that I couldn’t pass up! 

You speak very fondly of your parents – so what do your Mum and Dad think about you being part of Rowing from Home to Home?

Well it was certainly a shock when I first broke the news. I had a difficult time explaining why anyone would want to do this, let alone their little boy. Life is precious and it took a long time for them to come to terms with my choice, by showing them how committed both of us are for making this a success and the precautions we are taking to control the risks involved. 

Despite their reservations they have been so supportive over the months and the years, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Having the support of my family back home is one strongest my sources of strength and none of this would have been possible for me without them. I’m so proud to have them as parents and for believing in me, and supporting my dreams.

In 2018 you have plans for a solo expedition on the Atlantic. Tell us more about this?

When I first learned about the Ocean rowing, I came to learn about the Talisker whisky Atlantic challenge. a 3,000 Mile rowing race across the mid-atlantic against teams of fours, pairs and solo rowers every year. My goal is to be the fastest solo rower in the 2018 race, and weather depending complete the crossing in under 60 days. Being a part of the Rowing Home expedition is invaluable with the knowledge and experience I’ll need to not just row, but to compete across the Atlantic.

How are you training for rowing from home to home and how much more training  do you think you will need before you start?




Speaking to past ocean rowers has been vital in forming a comprehensive physical training program, as we will be spending months rowing upto 12 hours a day each. Compound lifts such as the Squat, Deadlift, Overhead press and row are staples in my programming, as they develop all of the major muscle groups and develop your ‘core’ strength in the back to sustain us rowing. I train 4 times a week at the gym with additional rowing seasons out on Simpson’s Donkey, or if this isn’t possible in my flat where we have a rowing machine.



Being physically fit is important for an expedition, but training also encompasses learning as much about your boat and seafaring which can make all the difference. We have been spending as much time as possible onboard testing not only ourselves but the equipment, rowing schedules and the changes we can make to improve our life at sea. 


At 26 years of age you are nearing the peak of your sexual drive.  How do you plan to handle sexual frustration whilst on-board the boat?

Well as you know you have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Keeping an element of surprise on-board will break up the monotony and frustration we can sometimes feel on the oars!

What do you think will be the most challenging part of rowing from home to home for you?

This will be the biggest challenge of my life so far, and has been close to 2 years in the making for me before we depart. With any true challenge there will always be that element of self-doubt at some stage, at second guessing the path you have chosen. Preparing yourself for reaching you’re perceived physical and mental barriers and moving past them is hard to practice without pushing yourself, especially when tired, hungry, sleep deprived and feeling the effects of physical exertion. It’s why I think to a certain extent people do go out and have these adventures, to find out who you really are. 

Like with other ultra-endurance events when you find yourself in that situation, when the chips are down that you realise that the biggest challenge of all is your own mind. 

You have been working specifically on the nutrition plan for rowing from home to home, can you describe this to us?

Creating a nutrition plan for ocean rowing is challenging in several ways. We will each need to consume around 6,000 Calories a day to sustain our workload, with a significant amount coming from fats (approx 40% of the total calories) as well as Carbs (20%) and protein to repair our muscles (20%). 

Finding calorie dense foods when compared to their weight is a must, as well will be carrying 80 days worth of rations onboard. At 1.5kg each per day thats 240kg of food which we will need to carry at the start of our journey. Examples of these foods are dehydrated ration packs, dried meats such as Bwa Kwa, Biltong, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits as well as some supermarket staples such as instant noodles and tinned fish.

Another factor is finding and preserving foods when refrigeration is not available. food will need to be stored in vacuum sealed packs to preserve them in tropical temperatures and prevent any foods spoiling in the very warm temperatures. 

Hydration is also a major concern, consuming 12 litres a day alone will not replace the salts and essential minerals lost through sweat on a daily basis. Finding the correct supplements and electrolytes is key in preventing chronic fatigue and muscle cramps, and working closely with nutritionists and dieticians to make sure we cover all of our bases and leave nothing to chance. 

During your training expeditions, what was it like to eat, sleep, row, go the toilet and live on this tiny space?

Coming from a city like Singapore it’s an adjustment to go from a thriving city to such a confined space, but it’s in many respects a liberating feeling focusing on one goal, and throwing everything you have at it. It’s not without its challenges of course, apart from rowing under the blistering sun, sleeping in short, 2 hour intervals, eating dehydrated ration backs you also have to maintain focus around one of the busiest ports and shipping lanes on the planet. Even things we take for granted such as personal hygiene and using the toilet become different beasts entirely. 

But it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency, and working towards a vision of what you can achieve if you apply yourself which makes the whole process worthwhile. It’s funny, as soon as I step off the boat after the rows, It’s not long until I find myself wanted to be out there again living and breathing it.


Charlie preparing for the biggest challenge in his life. Photo

What’s the biggest challenges you foresee facing in the row to Darwin?

There are a number of challenges to an expedition such as this, but for me it would be navigating through some of

the most complex waterways in the world due to currents, shipping, weather patterns, which put alot of weight on our seafaring skills. This will be especially important during our final stretch into Darwin via the Timor sea, in which we will have to time our crossing carefully to avoid infamous bad weather at that time of year. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Charlie – how can people follow your future plans after ‘Rowing from Home to Home?’

You can check out my facebook page at:

Or my expedition website:



Rowing from Home to Home open day! 8 October 2016

Do come and join us on the 8th October at the beautiful Raffles Marina venue in Singapore for the Rowing from Home to Home open day from 4 – 6PM.

See the boat, meet the team and hear the story about the expedition!  I will be giving a 30 minute presentation on the expedition, followed by a tour of the boat and you are welcome to join us after for drinks and dinner at Raffles Marina – on your own account🙂

All welcome, bring your kids, free parking onsite.  Details in the flyer attached!

This is free to attend and register your interest by dropping me a line at or check out the facebook event page here:



Expedition trailer is out!

Hello there!

Very excited to release to you the official expedition trailer/teaser – a 2.5 minute short film about the Rowing from Home to Home expedition, put together so very professionally by kiwi film producer Mr Alistair Harding.  A big thank you to Mr Jingyi Tan for the drone footage, and to Charlie Smith, Stephanie my wife and our two kids Kate and Rachel for their input!

Parts of this footage were also aired on New Zealand’s Television 3 station this week on the prime time STORY section which you can see here:

Our story also featured in New Zealand’s online news site STUFF – the link here:

We have grand ambitions to produce content similar to this qulaity, throughout the duration of the expediton next year.  But of course this comes at a cost so currently we are working hard to find the means.  If you know any organisations who would like to have access to beautifully produced media content like this, with their company names and logo’s involved then please do get in contact!


Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson




105km in 31 hours – Training row #2

We departed this previous Thursday evening at 5:30 PM with a plan to make a complete, self-supported circumnavigation of Singapore by human power (using Simpson’s Donkey rowing boat).  Well, as complete as you can, because you see, in reality it is impossible to row around the Singapore mainland. Why? Because someone built a bloody big causeway which you cannot pass under.

What we can do however, is start on one side of the causeway, and row 80nm (130 km) all the way around to the other side of the causeway.  Not a complete loop then, althouugh some might say this is being pedantic as you are only missing a few metres of the causeway section.  We would actually have to leave out a few hundred meters either side of the causeway itself, as from previous kayaking experience I know that the Singapore authorities get more jittery than a long-tailed dog in a room full of rocking chairs when you get close to their sacred bridge which separates Malaysia and Singapore.

Building on the ass-bruising, back-breaking, sleep deprived 1st expedition three weeks earlier, we made a number of experiential based changes, possibly the most important being taking a pee bottle (to avoid falling over board or urinating on yourself or your partner whilst trying to finish your business whilst standing on a slippery, rocking deck, holding on to two of your most prized possessions by one hand each – one of those being the boat of course).  Revisions were also made to our radio and camera systems, shift patterns, food, water, rowing techniques, footwear, and more….

Rather than subject you to a blow- by-blow, 31 hour account of the row, I would sum it up saying, we missed the crucial timings in terms of tide by a couple of hours all the way around.  There are some hot spots in terms of currents around Singapore, and if you don’t get past them with the tide at the right times then it gets really tough to drag a half tonne rowing boat around them.  Right from the start, we had a head wind of 8 – 10 knots which slowed us to a speed of less than 2 knots for the first few hours. This affected us all the way around as we were never able to catch up the time and had to battle indeed around points such as Changi finger and the Tuas hockey stick, as we missed the timing of the favorable tidal streams.


So after 31 hours and 108km, we rowed into Raffles Marina at 3am on Saturday morning, cutting the journey short by 22km.  Here the tide was against us and the remaining distance would have taken around 7 hours at the pace we were at to reach the causeway. Upon which point we would have had to turn and row back 23 km all the way to Raffles Marina where the boat is housed.  Making a very long day and effectively spoiling sacred weekend time with my family. You can see a real time interactive map of our route here:

Route map

A route map in red showing our journey around Singapore, starting at the centre-top, at the main causeway, and finishing at the red market at Raffles Marina.

So the complete-around-the-island, unsupported loop  challenge remains.  Once again as per the first training row, we learnt an enormous amount and will make changes before preparing once more to do battle with the multitude of challenges that attempting to row a loop of Singapore by human power entails.

Rowing a boat two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours per day, in the tropics is an experience that is difficult to describe in words. Under the intense Singapore sun, it can be nothing short of a brutal,  miserable suffer-fest by day.  There is no escape from the heat and sweat.  Just trying to live on this tiny platform, to keep clean, to eat, to drink, to sleep is a challenge let alone trying to row 12 hours per day each.  The vessel traffic was thick and fast, and the ships were just massive as they glided past us every few minutes, keeping us constantly on lookout and making evasive maneuvers.  However if this game was easy, everyone would be doing it.  I am looking forward to the next outing, Enjoy the photos.

Love Axe

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Rowing the worlds second busiest port – lessons from the first training expedition

Ocean Rowing boats are designed to cross oceans. Massive expanses of endless blue water. Day after day, week after week, month after month without seeing land. Thousands of metres of water below your keel.  If you are lucky, you may on the odd occasion see a vessel, but far away in the distance.  Your food, your water, your toilet, your communications, everything you need to survive for months at a time, is carried on board. This adds up in weight and at 500 – 700kg your boat feels heavy, very heavy.  The oars feel like you are dipping them  in concrete every time you take a stroke. An average speed for a single person rowing is 1.5 – 2 knots – the pace of a slow walk.  You cannot maneuver a boat this size quickly and are very much at the mercy of currents and winds which bully and push you in directions of their choice.

Attempting to row an ocean rowing boat in the worlds second busiest port (Singapore), through these crowded waterways, strong tidal streams, the ever-present risk of reefs, islands and other navigational hazards and the endless human imposed obstacles of red tape  and regulations is by no means a straightforward exercise.  After months of planning and preparation, obtaining necessary paperwork, licenses, registrations and permissions, Charlie Smith and myself set-out at 1AM last Thursday evening from Raffles Marina in a terribly excited and somewhat nervous state to attempt to row around 2/3 of the Island of Singapore.  32 hours, 58nm (107km), 180 minutes of sleep, 5 stoppages and interrogations by the Singapore Police and Coastguard, two very sore backs and backsides later, we rowed the final few strokes into the Sembawang SAF Yacht Club, having successfully undertaken our first non-stop training expedition.


Simpson’s Donkey chomping at the bit to get going at 1AM in the morning at Raffles Marina

The journey started well, and based on our study of the tidal streams around Singapore, we rode the currents for the first 8 hours.  Rowing through the darkness with our navigation lights on and our AIS transponder electronically beaming our position to nearby vessels, we soon rounded the south-western tip of Singapore, averaging speeds of 3.5 knots.  We rowed one person at a time, on 90-minute, alternating shifts.  Rowing at night is beautiful in the tropics, the temperature drops off and the lights of the huge ships made us feel as if we were moving through a magical floating city.


Passing rigs resting at shipyards during the early morning

After 8.5 hours rowing, around 9:30AM we were at the St Johns Island, just off Sentosa Island, having completed 25nm through the busiest section of waterways Singapore has to offer. The constant stream of vessel traffic approaching and crossing from all directions meant we needed both hands on deck, one person rowing and the other steering and on lookout duty.  The downside of this was that we could not rest or sleep on our off-shifts.

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Charlie in the engine room as the sun comes up

After crossing the Tanjong Pagar fairway (container terminal shipping lane), the sun came out to bake and torment us.  The current also turned against us and our speed slowed to a pitiful 1 knot or less as we clawed our way along the east cost of Singapore for the next 6 hours, averaging speeds between 1 – 2 knots.  At the eastern tip of Singapore we stopped for a short break to eat our freeze-dried food, take a quick swim to cool off after 16 hours on the go, and scrape the barnacles off the bottom of the boat. As darkness fell we made our way around the eastern tip of Singapore Island – and the Changi Naval Base.  This Naval base is a heavily restricted and guarded zone so we made sure to stay outside of this area.  However we still aroused suspicions and were stopped again (this for the third time) by the Singapore police who forced us to row for one hour, in a southerly direction, against the wind while they checked our paperwork.  A frustrating exercise especially for Charlie who was on the oars, in the dark and the choppy sea conditions.  After realising our paperwork was complete, the Police became much friendlier, gave us the all clear and even the offer of assistance if we needed it.


Rowing through the midday sun – hot work!

Charlie then took a much deserved rest and it was my turn in the engine room to make the final one mile to round the eastern tip of Singapore. Against the current, with a strong cross wind and with choppy seas making it impossible to get a clean stroke, I clawed our way around at a pathetic 0.8 knots, blinking as the Navy Base shone their powerful search lights in my face every few minutes.

For the next 11 hours we slowly worked our way up the east coast of Singapore, in calmer and much less busy water.  We crossed to Pulau Ubin, an Island off the north coast of Singapore and it was serene and peaceful as we rowed just metres away from the dense mangroves in the dead of the night. By this stage our backsides and our lower backs were very uncomfortable.  But the main issue was our lack of sleep over the last 24 hours.  This coupled with the huge amount of exertion and need to be constantly vigilant meant we were both very tired and it was a slow journey until we finally pulled into Sembawang SAFYC at 8:35AM Saturday morning. Tired yes, but also jubilant to have pulled off our first training expedition in challenging circumstances.


Big ship – little ship. Photo credit: JY Photographs

32 hours of rowing

32 hours later and happy to be pulling into SAFYC.  Photo credit: JY Photographs


So what did we achieve?

Albert Einstein said “The only source of knowledge is experience”.  We learnt more from this 32 hour row, than we could learn in one year of reading books or articles on the subject.  The top 10 learning experiences we will take away and work on for the next expedition are:

  1. Bums get sore when you sit on them for long periods – we need softer seat options. I wore cycling shorts which I found to be very uncomfortable, cramping my style somewhat and eventually I took John Thomas, Barry and William out of the cycling shorts and allowed them to hang free which was much more pleasant.
  2. Lower backs get very sore from rowing long periods – we need to work on good technique engaging our lower abs when we row to lessen the pressure on our lower backs, and also look into using lower back braces to help support our backs.
  3. Hands can get very sore as well from gripping the oar handles. We are fortunate to have fantastic soft Oarsome Oar Grips – these meant we did not get one blister, but we do need to fix them correctly to the handles as they kept rotating.
  4. Food is a major moral boost and very important to keep us going.  Our first attempt at food needs revision.  The dehydrated meals were nice, the two-minutes noodles we cooked were excellent, but the many bags of nuts were not good, we had too many nuts! We need more variety of snacks.
  5. Sleep – to be able to continue rowing in shifts for long periods it is crucial to be able to rest.  We badly needed to sleep, but due to the busy nature of the waterways it was difficult to have this luxury.  It is also very hot in the cabin to sleep during the day so we need to make an area on deck which one person can lie and sleep more comfortably.
  6. Boat maintenance – we need to have a roster and a system for maintaining the boat. ‘Look after the boat and the boat will look after you’.  After we came off our shifts, between eating and drinking, keeping lookout, navigating, entering waypoints into the GPS – our time to maintain the boat was very limited and hence we did not really do it.
  7. Body maintenance – similar to looking after the boat, looking after our bodies is critical.  We need to develop solid routines when we come off shift, to clean ourselves, change clothes, eat, drink and rest correctly.
  8. Ships Log – we were so busy with everything else we ignored the log, we need to start diligently filling out the log every few hours, with the most important details such as battery power, vessel position and speed, current weather conditions.
  9. The little things – there were many small details which need improving and tweaking, things you never think about until you get yourself into the situation – clothes pegs to dry your shirt without it blowing away, spare lighters, where to store the toilet paper, configuring the GPS units so they both display with the same settings etc etc etc.
  10. Team dynamics – the only way to test how you will get along with your partner in extreme situations is to put yourself into these challenging situations and see how you both react.  As Charlie and myself are a new combination, I was very interested to see how our dynamic would work.  It turned out to be a very positive experience which I will share more on in future posts.

We are now gearing up for our next training expedition which will be an attempt to row the entire way around Singapore.  We will put the changes into place which we have learnt and identified above,  and slowly but surely we will become a smoother and more well oiled machine!

Simpson’s Donkey… out…

Route for row to SAFYC

Our route around Singapore in red from our SPOT tracker and MAPPROGRESS tracking website.










Why do we have Monsoons in Asia?

For the first 21 years of my life I lived in New Zealand, where the most common question to ask someone up on meeting is “what do you think of the weather?”.  In New Zealand the weather seems to dictate our daily lives, our actions, our moods and our conversations. Maybe one of the reasons for weather being such a ‘hot’ topic in New Zealand is the fact it is extreme, it changes fast and can be very difficult to predict.

When I moved to Singapore at the age of 22, I found it strange that people thought I was strange when I asked them about the weather!  Here the topic of conversation on everyone’s lips revolves around food – “Have you taken your breakfast yet?”.  I soon realised that the weather in Singapore is generally very predictable, and can be described in two ways:

  • hot and muggy


  • VERY hot and muggy

After living here for 19 years I also learned there were two main wind patterns that affected Singapore and the south-east-asian region.

  • The north east monsoon: December through to March
  • The south west monsoon: June through to September.

As the names suggest for each monsoon seasons the winds blow predictably in these directions during these periods.

The times in between these monsoons are typically called ‘inter-monsoon periods’.  These are characterized by light and variable winds and are often the times of the most intense thunder and electrical storms.  Singapore has over 180 ‘lightning days’ per year (days when lightning is recorded somewhere in the country).  Every year a handful of people die from lightning strikes in Singapore such as this poor chap here, making it one of the lightning capitals of the world. Indeed being caught out, especially in a small boat in a major electrical storm (as I have on occasions) is an unnerving experience.


About to be overtaken by an angry sky – paddling with my wife Stephanie in the Divorce Machine through our first tropical storm off Sentosa Island, Singapore.

After 19 years of living in Singapore and whilst researching the Rowing from Home to Home expedition – I finally learnt the reason why we have monsoon winds in Singapore.  The answer is very straightforward and can be explained in three steps:

Step One – pressure differences

All of the weather on the earth is fundamentally caused – believe it or not, by the sun.  The sun warms certain part of the earth, while other parts in the shadow or further from the sun are cooled.  When the earth is heated, warmer air rises causing lower air pressure close to the earths surface.

Consequently where land or sea is cooler – the air sinks and stays lower.  This means more air, more dense and more pressure, making high pressure areas close to the earths surface.  Air always tries to travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure.  It tries to even out the air pressure all over the world.  This movement causes winds.


Step Two – The asian continent cools

During winter in the northern hemisphere, the enormous land mass of Asia cools. This is from November  through to March.  As it cools, (as described above) the air is heavier and more dense close to the surface making area of HIGH pressure.  Over the equator where Singapore is located – it is hot and there is LOW pressure.  Hence the air travels from the HIGH pressure to the LOW pressure – down from the Asian continent towards and over the equator.  Initially it travels as a north-easterly wind (remember when describing winds the direction is where the wind comes from NOT where the wind is going – so a north-easterly wind is in fact heading in the opposite direction i.e. south-west) direction until it hits the equator, then it turns to a north-westerly wind down towards Australia.

Click this LINK to see an animation of north-east monsoon winds on the 19 January 2015.

I was often confused when people talked about the monsoons as they used the terms ‘north-east’ or ‘north-west’ monsoon and I wondered which is which? Until I finally understood that they are the same phenomenon, it just depends whether you stand north of the equator where you would call it the north-east monsoon, or south of the equator where it would be the north-west monsoon.

Step Three – The asian continent warms

During summer in the northern hemisphere, the asian land mass warms and the opposite occurs.  The air rises and creates a LOW pressure region over the Asian continent, lower in pressure even than the air at the equator and further south.  Consequently the air travels towards the low pressure region in Asia making the winds south-easterly (below the equator) and south-westerly above the equator.

Click this LINK here to see an animation of winds during the south-east monsoon  on 19 June 2015.


Why is this important to Rowing from Home to Home?

Wind strength and direction is extremely important to sailors and mariners for obvious reasons. Now we are travelling by human power so will NOT be using sails of my kind, however the wind still influences our vessel enormously, either aiding our progress or restricting it. It can even push us backwards or worse still into dangerous areas/objects where we do not want to be.  We cannot really make headway against wind speed more than 15 knots and the higher the wind speed the rougher the sea state becomes, to a point when we cannot row safely.

So judging the best time of the year to make this expedition is something that I have been studying for a very long time.  As know one has even tried to travel from Singapore to Australia by human power in a rowing boat – I need to research and make the decisions without the benefit of others experience.  Based on the information given above it would seem the north-east monsoon is the logical time to attempt the expedition?

But wait! There is one more factor to consider.


A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by names such as hurricane , typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone.[4] (source Wikipedia)


Unfortunately the period of the north-east monsoon is also cyclone season.  As you can see from the image above of cyclone tracks recorded over time, our rowing route from Indonesian across to Darwin in Australia passes right through ‘cyclone alley’.  Being caught in a cyclone is something we will need to be very careful to try to avoid.  These are massive storms, with very rough sea states and bad enough for large vessels let alone small little rowing boats. But as with most things in life of value, you have to make compromises and take risks to achieve them.  We need the north-easterly/westerly winds therefore the risk of cyclones is something we will have to manage.









Every boat needs a name: Welcome to the world Simpson’s Donkey!

As the title of this post suggests, every boat needs a name.  Following along from my trusty inflatable kayak which is named ‘The Divorce Machine’ (given by kiwi buddy Blair Spendelow), there were rumors and suggestions abounding that the rowing boat would be suitably named ‘The Divorce Machine 2’.  This was not to be and after a few months of brain storming I am proud to announce that our beautiful Rowing Boat is officially known as ‘Simpson’s Donkey’.

So where did this name come from? It is to do with a very sad part of world history, World War 1.  One of the great battles of WWI was fought at Gallipoli, this became known as the Gallipoli campaign, the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Canakkale to the Turks.  Gallipoli is a peninsula on Turkey’s coastline.  Between 25 April, 1915 and 9 January, 1916, the allies consisting of troops from the UK, France, Newfoundland, India, Australia and New Zealand mounted a massive attack, and attempted to storm the Gallipoli peninsula. The ensuing battle resulted in 500,000 casualties and after 8 months of fierce fighting  – the allies withdrew, their campaign a failure.  But for the Turks it is regarded as one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war.

“In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation’s history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Atatürk) who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli” [source: Wikipedia]

It also formed a very significant part of Australia and New Zealand’s history.

“The campaign is often considered as marking the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand and the date of the landing, 25 April, is known as “Anzac Day” which is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in those two countries.”[source: Wikipedia]

As with every battle there were many heroic feats on both sides.  One of the more intriguing and inspiring stories is of an Australian soldier John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick who served as a stretcher bearer with the 1st Australian Division during the campaign.  After landing  on a beach at Gallipoli peninsula known as Anzac Cove on the 25 April 1915, Simpson began to use donkeys to provide first aid and carry wounded soldiers to the beach  for evacuation.  Simpson and the donkeys continued this work for three and a half weeks, under very dangerous conditions.  They were often under fire and the story goes that he used a at least 4 different donkeys during this period as each one was killed in the line of duty.


Simpson (right) with one of his Donkeys carrying a wounded soldier. (Source Wikipedia)

“Colonel (later General) John Monash wrote: “Private Simpson and his little beast earned the admiration of everyone at the upper end of the valley. They worked all day and night throughout the whole period since the landing, and the help rendered to the wounded was invaluable. Simpson knew no fear and moved unconcernedly amid shrapnel and rifle fire, steadily carrying out his self-imposed task day by day, and he frequently earned the applause of the personnel for his many fearless rescues of wounded men from areas subject to rifle and shrapnel fire.”[source: Wikipedia].

As with many stories over the time, their are varying accounts of the exact facts.  It generally seems to be accepted that Simpson managed to bring over 300 men back to safety during his 24 days serving at Gallipoli.  Sadly Simpson was killed my machine gun fire at Anzac Cove on 19 May, 1915.  However “Simpson and his Donkey” are now very much engrained into the “Anzac legend“.  You can read more about the man and his colorful history here: or here:

Simpson’s Donkey is a synomonous with bravery, faithfulness and courage.  But most importantly to me, the little donkey was a symbol of hope and safety. Imagine being a wounded solder on the battle field, under fire and in pain, far from home, the sight of Simpson and his brave little donkey coming to your rescue as your lifeline must have been one of the most beautiful things you could ever imagine to see.

Our rowing boat is our lifeline, just like the little donkey, she does not move very fast, but we must rely completely on her, for her strength and her sturdiness to carry us safely From Home to Home.




Simpson’s Donkey is officially registered as  New Zealand vessel (Registration number NZ 2270).  She arrived in Singapore two weeks ago and I am very proud to now have her in the water at the beautiful Raffles Marina.  Raffles Marina are very kindly hosting her at their world class facility for the entire 9 months leading to our departure in January 2017.  During this time there is a massive amount of training, preparation, familiarization, modifications and enhancements to do before departure. (See two very short videos of the arrival and launch below)

As with all major expeditions, budgets are always challenging and I am always happy to hear from any potential customers who may be interested in my inspiring keynote speaking services, which is the way I have funded the bulk of the campaign to date.

For those of you reading this who use Facebook, please note I also post regular weekly updates to the expedition facebook page which you can see here:

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead!

Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson

NB:  A big thank you to my friend Ms Lyn Fielding, for helping suggest the name ‘Simpson’s Donkey’.  Originally I was contemplating ‘Anzac Spirit’ for the boat name however the word ‘Anzac’ is protected in New Zealand and Lyn gave me this alternate suggestion which I immediately loved. Lyn, for an Aussie you are not bad🙂


New Team member Charlie Smith!

There has been an intense last few weeks in the Rowing from Home to Home camp, and some big progress has been made. See the updates in brief below:

Charlie  SmithFirstly I would like to make a huge welcome to Charlie Smith who is joining the team as the second rower and crew mate for the journey from Singapore to Australia.  Charlie hails from Essex UK, and if you know much about Essex you may leap to the conclusion that Charlie is a skinny, pasty faced, tracksuit wearing fella with a gold chain around his neck who speaks loudly on his mobile phone and loves football.  Charlie has none of these traits and instead is a strapping, handsome, intelligent, 25 year old investment banker who is currently based in Singapore. An adventurous chap, Charlie loves mountains and spent his time climbing when he was based in the UK.  Since moving to Singapore, Charlie has turned his attention to the sea and has his own long terms plans to take part in the Atlantic Talisker Challenge Rowing Race in a few years time.  Charlie has bought a huge amount of positive energy to the team in the short time he has been on board.  He is strong as an oxe with a down to earth attitude, good sense of humor and has shown his immediate intention to roll his sleeves up and get stuck into the hard grind of preparation for an expedition of this magnitude.  I am looking forward to getting to know him very much better as we spend countless enforced hours together over the next year.

4T8A3191-e1433226950391-193x290Another new team member is Wendy Riddell, a lovely Scottish lady with a beautiful accent who is a professional personal trainer and nutritionist based in Singapore.  Wendy is assisting us putting together out nutritional plan which is not an easy task.  Somehow we need to bring 60 days of food on board for two people, which will will supply 8000 calories of the required carbohydrates, protein, fat and essential minerals to keep us going on a grueling 2 hours on/2 hours off shift, 24 hours per day.  The food has to weigh maximum 1.5kg per person per day and as we have no refrigeration on board, needs to be able to last in 30 – 40 degree heat for weeks on end without spoiling!


Expedition name change – Some of you may have noticed a slight change on the expedition logo.  The original name of ‘Rowing Home’ has been changed to ‘Rowing from Home to Home’.  This is due to the fact that Singapore is my current home having lived here for 18 years of my life.  So I really do feel as if I have two homes, one in Taranaki, New Zealand, my original home, and one where I live now, Singapore, hence the change in name made the expedition seem more fitting.  Thanks Cory Bellringer for designing the logo.

Rowing from home to home logo

The new logo

The boat – more exciting news here and she is currently tucked away nicely inside a shipping container on a much larger boat on her way to Singapore.  She will arrive in Singapore next Friday 11 March and be delivered to her new home for the next 9 months, the beautiful Raffles Marine based here in Singapore.  She is officially registered as a New Zealand vessel, complete with her own name, registration number, MMSI number and VHF radio call sign. (Her name to be be revealed in the upcoming weeks).  I have to say a huge thank you to Charlie, Mike, Lottie and the team from Rannoch Adventures who have done a wonderful, 6 month effort to build this beautiful craft.  She has some interesting modifications which I have added in to combat the conditions we expect to face along the way.


Sitting in the 3/4 completed boat in January in Rannoch’s yard in the UK

Training and preparation – physical preparation is ongoing with 5 times per week gym and erg (rowing machine) sessions.  Registrations and paperwork for the vessel have been completed which was a time consuming exercise,  navigating the safest and most cost effective options in terms of what country to register the vessel in.  I have undertaken and passed my marine VHF radio operators exam so am now legally allowed to operate a marine VHF radio at sea.  I am currently partway through my PPCDL – powered pleasure craft drivers license, which is a requirement to operate a boat in Singapore (even though our boat is only ‘human powered’).  This is an intense course with two exams (practical and theory) but a great foundation to learn about navigating around the busiest port in the world which is not for the ignorant, the untrained or the faint of heart.

Over the next two months we will fit out the boats electronics including the water maker, VHF radio, autopilot, GPS chart plotters, radar reflectors and AIS transponder. Both Charlie and I are also taking the following technical courses : Sea survival, First aid at sea, Coastal Navigation Theory, Offshore Navigation Theory. And of course we will be spending countless hours on board the boat, training, learning, adapting and getting used to every single inch of her so that once we depart we can handle everything that is thrown in our direction.

Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson











5 ways to raise money for your expeditions if you cannot find sponsorship

I receive many requests from people for advice on how to raise sponsorship to support the cost of their expeditions or adventures (In fact  I get so many requests I wrote this article giving 10 practical tips on how to do it yourself).

I also frequently hear from a number of people who cannot embark on their expeditions due to a lack of sponsorship.

I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for my expeditions throughout the years and I would like to share some good and bad news with you.

The BAD NEWS is that if you are using the excuse that you cannot go on your expedition due to lack of sponsorship – you are telling a lie.  If you really want to go on an expedition, you will find a way to do it. You will find a way to overcome every single hurdle put in front of you. Raising necessary funds is just ONE of those hurdles. The beautiful thing about taking on massive challenges is that it forces you out of your comfort zone and shows just how much you really want it.

So how do you raise that money then?

Well, the GOOD NEWS is that there are many ‘other’ legitimate and legal ways to raise dollars without going down the sponsorship route.

Here I will share with you 5 tips how you can raise money for your expedition WITHOUT getting sponsorship. Each of these tips I have used successfully myself in the past so I know they work!

1. Corporate Keynote Speaking.

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Me giving an ‘Axe on Everest’ keynote, a story I have given at least 100 times now and raised a great deal of $ for future expeditions.

Learning to tell a really good story about your adventure and especially the lessons you learned through it, which can translate to a corporate context is one sure-fire way of making money.  Good keynote speaker can pull in anywhere from $500 to $10,000/talk, depending on their level of experience SPEAKING, their profile (how famous are they?), and how much VALUE they can persuade the client they can give to their audience.   I have been professionally speaking for 6 years now, and it is the number one source of raising funds to support my expeditions (my next expedition ROWING from HOME to HOME has a budget of $250,000).  The problem here is that professional speaking is a profession, it is a skill that takes years to develop, and not everyone can master it, however if you are prepared to put in the effort, the rewards are there.

(The good news here is that I can help you develop your keynote address. I am a professional speaking coach and I specialise in working with professional and aspiring professional speakers to “define, refine and shine” a polished keynote address that will literally knock your audience out of the park. Visit my website or contact me on to learn more)


2. Run an event

For a successful fund-raising event you will need the following ingredients:

  • A great venue (preferably for free)
  • Fantastic entertainment (preferably for free)
  • Sumptuous food and/or drinks (preferably for free or low-cost as possible)
  • Lots of people (who will pay money to attend your fantastic event)

282 Rugby 6 nationsSo how do you do this? Let me give you an example how I ran mine:

The venue – I found a new, upcoming sports bar in the city which was looking to raise its profile and wanted to introduce itself onto the scene as the premier bar to go to in town for sports people. I visited them and told them in return for them supplying me their venue for the evening, I would bring along at least 150 new customers, all sports people themselves, definite repeat customer potential and the event would be great exposure for their new bar.  They agreed to this as a fair value exchange in return for offering the venue for free.

The entertainment – Rugby players when not playing rugby like to do two things, drink beer and watch rugby.  I chose a night when an international rugby match was being played live on television.  It was free to watch and as far as rugby players go, the best thing they could think of watching that particular evening so that solved the entertainment problem.

Food and drinks – Rugby players love beer. I asked the bar to introduce me to beer sponsors, who were looking to further penetrate the sports scene in Singapore. In return for their beer, I promised them exclusivity as the official beer suppliers and splashed their logo all over the marketing info for the event (see attached).

People – I leveraged off my network of friends and friends of friends to spread the word.  As it was an evening of rugby and beer and very good value at S$100/ticket (as many rugby players would drink 2 – 3 times that per night in Singapore), it was really not very difficult to sell tickets.

I ended with a cool S$15,000 in cash from the evening, not to mention some great exposure for my expedition!

NB:  It took me two attempts to get this right,  the first event I ran, I paid too much for the venue and the food and drinks, did not charge enough for ticket prices and in short, was a great deal of work for what ended up to be only a few hundred dollars profit.

3. Hold an auction

auctionThe ingredients to run a successful auction to raise funds are:

  • Companies/organisations who will donate auction items
  • An auctioneer
  • A venue
  • Inspired people who want to buy your prizes

I held two auctions where I managed to get a number of very attractive prizes to auction off and raised a total of $25,000.

Examples of the prizes were vacations in  luxury villas on tropical islands, tickets to sporting events , cruises on yachts, rock-climbing lessons and more.  In return for the gifts, I offered the donors exposure and marketing during the auction and the build-up to the auction.

The trick here is to find the most valuable prizes you can, that people will be prepared to pay as much money as possible for as they may still be getting it cheaper in the auction than what the normal list price is.  To obtain these prizes, I looked for donors who were looking for more exposure for their products, who would be in a position to donate a product or service which may not necessarily COST them a great deal but has high value to the ordinary consumer.

You will also need an auctioneer, a venue and  people to attend the auction.  For the venue, please refer to ideas from lesson 2 above.  For the auctioneer, if you can’t find a friend or a friend of a friend, then do what I did and do it yourself (a terrifying experience I must admit but if you want it badly enough, you will do it).  One way I found to attracting people to the auction was offering a free 45 minute inspiring keynote presentation by myself first on the evening, followed immediately by the auction.

4. Apply for grants/scholarships

scholarshipsWhen I attended the Outward Bound School in New Zealand many years ago, I was first introduced to the world of grants and scholarships for outdoor activities.  These come in many forms and can be from lotteries commissions who are forced by the governing bodies in certain countries to donate proceeds back to the community, to private companies who offer their own grants.  Generally you will need to make a written submission to a panel of judges and then wait some time to hear the  decision.  The important thing here is to do your homework as some of the scholarships run on one or two yearly cycles, so you may need to apply one to two years before your expedition departs and ensure you do not miss the cut-off.

Rather than pasting a list of links here which may soon be outdated, please use GOOGLE to find grants and scholarships which are relevant to your expedition/adventure.

5.  Mortgage your house

mortgageWhen people ask for me for sponsorship advice, I often ask them this question “How important is this expedition to you? If you do not manage to raise the money through sponsorship, are you prepared for example to re-mortgage your house to raise the funds?”

This is often met by silence, but those individuals who reply that they would do anything it took to get the money together are the genuine articles. These are the people I know are completely committed to the expedition.  On the other hand, there are some who treat sponsorship as a paid holiday and who have the belief that if they do not get sponsorship, they will not proceed.  They have no intention of putting ‘skin in the game’, and are not prepared to commit any of their own money.

If your expedition means enough to you, taking a loan/mortgage is a potential option and I know some people who have successfully done this and paid it back over the next few years.  It does not necessarily have to be as extreme as mortgaging your property, however even continuing working in your day job for an extra few months may be the best option all round.  I have only ever embarked on one expedition that was 100% fully sponsored, the rest I have committed a significant portion of my own cash and time.

I hope this article helps you.Good luck on your journey!







Inspiring People: Scott Butler – journey to Elbrus

In this interview I catch up with firefighter and British human powered adventurer Scott Butler, to hear about his latest expedition to climb Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia and the continent of Europe.  His climb has an interesting twist as he is not starting at the base of the mountain but from his home in the UK, some 2550 miles away!

[Axe]  Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk.  Can you tell us about your current expedition “Journey to Mt Elbrus”.

[Scott]  Hi Axe, thanks for asking me! The Journey can be broken down into three stages – firstly the cycle which was a 2000 mile unsupported, fully loaded solo journey from the UK to the west coast of the Black Sea and the port of Burgas in Bulgaria.  Secondly I aim to do a solo, unsupported, row 750 miles across the Black Sea to the port of Batumi in Georgia.  Stage three involves the title of the trek – climbing Mt Elbrus just inside Russia which is the highest peak in Europe at 5642m and one of the seven summits (the seven summits are the highest mountains on each of the seven continents).

[Axe]  What gave you the idea to attempt this journey?

[Scott]  It all started with just the simple thought of “what next?!”  I was just looking for my next challenge and climbing a mountain seemed like the next thing to do.  From there I figured why fly all the way there?  That body of water could be interesting to cross somehow… and it all just fell into place!

[Axe] In 2015 you set-off and had some bad luck, can you give us an overview of what happened?

[Scott]  Wow!  Yeah, it seemed if it could go wrong it would! I started with a failure of my sat nav and so from day two in France I was already off my planned route and trying to navigate by map and by phone.  This is very time consuming and wasn’t helped when my phone gave up the ghost!  Add to that broken spokes and punctured tyres, 40 degree heat and then the worst news.  My car that was towing my boat; kindly being driven by friends Tim and Jason, blew its turbo 15 minutes into France!!  Sadly, the car is still in France and not working and all attempts as getting the boat to Bulgaria never worked out despite valiant efforts by many.


[Axe] On a scale of 1 – 10 how disappointed were you when you when you realised you could not continue in 2015 and would need to postpone?  Did you ever feel like giving up all together?

[Scott]  Disappointed… yeah, that’s one way of describing it! I felt as though I had failed and let people down if I’m honest. I was lucky in one way in that I had the rest of the cycle to focus on, and tell myself that just the ride on its own was no mean feat. If 10 is the worst, the I’d say 8 or 9 at the time, but the support and well wishes of my followers helped me get through that. Giving up altogether was never an option!

[Axe]  Has this journey been attempted before?  If not – does being a ‘first’ make it more of an attraction to you?

[Scott]  People have been cycling across Europe for decades and Elbrus has no doubt been climbed by thousands, but nobody has ever rowed across the Black Sea before so a World record is in the offing!  I didn’t know this until I’d set my mind on this challenge so it wasn’t an incentive but certainly became a huge focus of the journey.

[Axe] What were the highlights of the 2015 stage?

[Scott]  Austria was undoubtedly a huge highlight.  The scenery along the Danube was breathtaking and camping literally meters away from the riverbank in a stunning valley was one of those moments where you think “It’s places like this that are why I do these things”. The Danube in general was a highlight- especially as I never planned to ride it!  With the navigation problems an Englishman living in Germany that I bumped into suggested that I take the Danube as it was well signposted.  It wasn’t straight but I could just knuckle down and it enabled me to knockout 140 mile days in the saddle.


But more than the scenery it was experiencing countries like Serbia where you wouldn’t necessarily visit.  The further East I got the more friendly people became.  That’s not to say I didn’t meet wonderfully kind people in the West, far from it!  But I think the further East you get, the less cyclists there are and maybe people appreciate how far you’ve come to be there in that moment. Honking horns, people waving, thumbs up as they pass, being given free food and drink in exchange for photos with me, picking me up when stranded with a busted bike in Hungary when looking for bush to camp behind… it really was wonderful.


Not forgetting the other cyclists that I met! People from all over the world, heading in each direction, with different aims and daily mileage, but all out there searching for something.  Brilliant.


[Axe]  I understand you took a ferry across the English Channel, which obviously is not human power, did you ever consider human powered options for this portion and how important or non-important was it to you to make the trip as human powered as possible?

[Scott] As I mentioned before, the journey really only began as a jaunt up a mountain and slowly developed into the trip it became.  The idea that I would make my way by human power was something that ‘just happened’.  I did take a ferry over the channel –  I looked into kayaking the channel but it proved to be too costly!  I never made too much of it being all human powered and although there was some disappointment at having to take a ferry, ultimately I felt that I was covering enough miles by my own power!  The problems with the boat and the extra cost ultimately made up my mind.  Once this is competed and I have a few thing under my belt then ‘going the whole hog’ might be on the agenda!

[Axe]  What were your biggest fears before you started the journey and how how did you manage these? 

[Scott]  Without being big headed, I didn’t have any fears.  At least I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge any fears!

[Axe] Whats your biggest fear and challenge going into Stage 2 and 3?

[Scott]  Again, no real fears, although, and you’ll laugh at this; my boat sinking!?  Since I discovered that the boat I had bought was rotten inside, I’d spent all my time repairing something I had no knowledge of.  With such tight time constraints I never managed to get the boat into the water to see if it floated!!  People were incredulous that I was heading onto the Black sea without seeing if my repairs were seaworthy and in hindsight this was quiet irresponsible, but I was confident!  At least now I get to test it in some actual water!

[Axe] What is your budget for this expedition? (if you don’t mind me asking!)
[Scott] A budget is a funny thing. It makes you think, naturally, of money. But in reality, certainly in my case, it meant ‘time’ much more than it did money. We all lead such busy lives with so many commitments that getting time away (and to train!) to pursue these sometimes perceived crazy pursuits can be difficult. I’m very lucky that my employers allowed me to:
A. save some holiday from the previous year and
B. the shift pattern that I work as a firefighter allows for larger chunks to be taken off.
The two different budgets will of course intermingle if you aren’t as lucky as I have been as you may need to get the financial backing to cover unpaid leave for example.  For me that was the toughest part: getting sponsors. I did secure some but ultimately I have backed the majority of this adventure. Now I’m doing it ‘budget’ style, certainly in regards to the cost of the boat, and if I’m honest I’m waaaay too slapdash to keep proper track of my expenditure. Once I’m ‘in’ I’m ‘in’ and what it cost is what it costs, using my credit card and dealing with it another day. With the problems I had with the boat and the car and false dawns of restarting thanks to the garage in France (whole ‘nother story) my costs went up. But loosely 8k for the boat, £1000 for tow bar and trailer service, £800 for the bike and equipment, mountain guide, pass and visas etc £2500…. around £15k should have covered it all… but bear in mind as long as I don’t sink or trash the boat there is always a second hand market for ocean rowing boats and it will always be an asset.
If you want it enough it can be done!


[Axe]  Please tell us some more about your boat

[Scott]  Pacific Pete is a 23ft 1997 Woodvale class plywood ocean rowing boat.  It has crossed the Atlantic 5 times and was last owned by Geoff Allum who, along with his cousin rowed the Atlantic in 1971!! Geoff was a huge help and inspiration and I only hope I can justify his decision to sell it to me!  By today’s standards it is old fashioned and heavy- but I like that about it!  As you well know yourself Grant, this isn’t a cheap thing to undertake and Pete was in my price bracket.  It was unfortunate that it turned out to need so much work, but neither Geoff nor I were to have known.  Finally, it’s name.  I’m honoured to carry the name Pacific Pete.  Peter bird was the first man to row solo across the Pacific Ocean and he was a great friend of Geoff’s.  Peter was sadly lost at sea on a further attempt at the pacific.  It’s an honour to own and to be rowing such a legendary boat and one with such a legendary name attached.


[Axe]  How much training, planning and preparation did you and are you doing for this expedition?

[Scott]  Training wise I did at least a 10k row every day on the rowing machine, but usually 2 hour stints – sometimes 2 sets of 2 hrs and sometimes a 4 hour stint (mind numbing!).  I’d also fit in weight training and running.  Couple that with evening stints on the exercise bike at work and 50 to 80 mile bike rides.  The planning was relatively simple, but the logistics and fundraising/sponsor seeking was hugely time consuming and to be honest with you quite demoralising!  I’m no ‘blagger’!  All in I took around 18 months to bring it all together… which made the last minute rush with the boat repairs quite galling!

[Axe]  What are the top three lessons you have learnt from attempting this expedition? In hindsight would you do it again?

[Scott]  Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  As soon as I got home I missed the ever changing scenery, the never knowing where my next meal was coming from or where I was going to sleep that night, meeting new and interesting people and challenging myself every single day.

Lessons?  Hmmm… No matter how demanding my thirst or how pushed for time, you’ve got to eat.  I’m well aware of the importance of nutrition and in my opinion I follow a diet that fits my training needs, but this seemed to go out the window when on my travels!  Take spare spokes and… Bring a spare car!?!

[Axe] How can people follow your progress when you set-off again?

My website has a map linked to my GPS Spot system and I update my facebook page – which proved to be the greatest tool on my travels to keep people involved with little videos. Over 1500 people watched me run into the Black Sea!

This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!


5 lessons Rowing Home taught me in 2015

One of the great things about taking on huge projects is that you learn so much, about so many things as you journey through the process. It’s impossible to get everything right the first time, hindsight is a powerful tool and often wisdom is gained through experience and sometimes making bad decisions.  These are the 5 key lessons Rowing Home has reinforced to me in 2015:

 1.  The power of momentum

23d0566There is a Malay expression “Sidikit sidikit lama lama menjadi bukit” which translates into “”A little bit over a long time becomes a hill”

I have been working on ROWING HOME for 1.5 years now, and I could honestly say I cannot remember a single day that has gone by during this period when I have not done something towards the expedition.  Be it researching weather, equipment, boats, routes, previous similar attempts, approaching, contacting, meeting potential sponsors, training,  learning technical skills, budgeting, team selection, discussing with documentary producers and keynote speaking during the evening to raise funds.

Momentum has both energy and direction.  By losing the momentum in a project, you risk making wrong turns as well as making forward progress.   Similar to training in the gym, it’s much easier to do a little bit every day rather than attempt  to do a massive amount every now and again.

2.  The importance of  aligning values when building teams

valuesIt takes teamwork to make a dream work.   When working in teams, we can all share the same vision or end goal but have different ways of achieving this.  The methodology of achieving the end goal comes down a great deal to the values of the individuals and the team as a whole.  Working with teams who do not share similar values is a bit like trying to drive a car but having multiple people handling the steering wheel – all with different ideas on which direction to head to reach ultimately the same goal.  In Rowing Home, I have had to make difficult decisions on team selection, and have found that whilst painful to go through, there is an almost instantaneous surge of momentum and positivity when new team members with more aligned values come on board.



3.  Give before you expect to receive.

givingRaising money for expeditions can be difficult, soul destroying at times, time consuming and on the other hand very rewarding and exciting when you are successful.  As well as money, there are many forms of assistance  I require and I am lucky to have help from numerous sources, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and some not.  One key trait in common from the people who are helping me is the fact I have helped them in some way, at some time along the way.  Or at the very  least I always try and help them in the future.  You are in a much better position to request support from someone whom you having assisted  in some way first.  I have many examples of this , for instance earlier this week I approached a chap in the UK whom I had never met but wanted a favor.  I noticed he was raising money for a cause so made a donation, then sent him a message informing him I loved what he was doing, that I had donated to his cause and then finally asked him for some information.  He was very hospitable and helpful in return.   I also support other adventurers in many different ways, e.g. logistical support and I am continually being asked for advice on sponsorship.  Often these requests I find can be somewhat rude and selfish  in their approach (one lady contacted me and ordered me to introduce her to Richard Branson who she was sure would definitely sponsor her quest to climb the seven summits, unfortunately she failed on her first attempt at the first summit and gave up the project).  My motivation to assist people with these requests is greatly diminished.

Always be courteous and generous, if you are not, you will find it too late when you actually need something to start pretending you are a lovely person:)

4.  Put ‘first things first’.

prioritiesThere are hundreds of tasks to do to prepare for ROWING HOME. But certain ones are more important than others, the ‘mission critical’ requirements which must be met within certain time frames or the expedition would literally die.  One of these key tasks for example has been raising S$120,000 to get my boat finished for the expedition.  I continually remind myself that without money this expedition will be nothing, and at this stage this is the most important task for my time and energy.  The marketing, planning, training, preparation etc are also important however I only have so much time in one day and first things come first!

5.  Adventure is amazing but NOTHING beats coming home safely to see your family and friends:)

I love adventure, but it would mean nothing in itself to me without the knowledge I have my beautiful children, wife, extended family and friends to come back too.  There is a fine line to balance with serious adventuring and having a happy home life.  Many adventurers I know get this wrong and their relationships seriously suffer or are non-existent.  My biggest goals in adventuring are to balance pushing my thirst for extreme expeditions with:

a.  not getting divorced

b. not going broke

c.  not getting killed.

My love of family also pushes me to train and prepare harder in an effort to manage the risk as responsibly as possible.


Adventure means nothing without these people to return home too.

Happy 2016 everyone!





Rowing Home training in full swing

Merry December to all! Rowing Home training has been in full swing for two months now.  One of the main things I have realised early on is the importance of learning how to row!  Having spent lots of time on the water facing forward and paddling a sea-kayak, I have found it a very different and challenging experience facing backwards and adapting to the rowing motion.

Rowing a boat is really a full body work-out, using your legs, core and upper body. Because of this you can get more power into each stroke over a more sustained and longer period than you can kayaking (well I can anyway!).  It makes rowing a more efficient and faster way of human powered propulsion over the water.  I have been training at the Pandan Reservoir in light weight, single scull boats for the past two months.  These take some practise getting used to and consequently have seen me having a number of involuntary swims, however I am slowly getting used to them and attached is a short video clip of last weekends training session.



Rowing Home gets two new team members!

Yesterday was an exciting day for ROWING HOME with two new members joining the team.

Rachel Jacklin Rawlinson and Kate Ngaire Rawlinson arrived one minute apart, twin sisters who came into this brightly lit, confusing world, very startled, with small whails and sporting more hair than their father.  (Middle names chosen after the names of their grandparents – Ngaire and Jack).

It is unsure exactly what position in the ROWING HOME team the pair will take up, however weighing in at 2.345kg and 2.565kg each, I can see enormous potential as lightweight rowing partners.  They definitely  wont be adding a great deal of unnecessary weight to the boat.

Attached below is mother and daughters.

This has definitely been a team effort and a massive thank you to Dr CT Yeong and the team from Mt Alvernia Hospital here in Singapore, as well as the many other people who have supported us on this difficult journey.





New expedition launch: Rowing Home – Singapore to New Zealand by human power

Things have been a little quiet on the major expedition front for the past one year here at, but there is a very good reason for that.

I have quietly been plotting away my most ambitious project yet. A human powered journey from Singapore to New Zealand, some 12,000km in length. The expedition is called ROWING HOME, and we plan to depart in December 2016 from the shores of sunny Singapore here, using a state of the art ocean rowing boat as the main mode of transport.

The journey will be split into four main legs:

Leg One – a 3,200km row from Singapore down through the Indonesian Archipalego to Timor Island

Leg Two – an 800km row across the Timor Sea from Timor to Darwin

Leg Three– A  4,000km cycle from Darwin across Australia to Sydney

Leg Four – A 2,500km row across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Taranaki

Route map black and white

This expedition has a budget of S$250,000.  After one year of toil, shedding blood, sweat, tears and countless rejections from potential sponsors…. I finally secured the first half of the funding, S$126,000 worth, which is enough to have our beautiful ocean rowing boat finished (she is built in the UK by Rannoch Adventures), and shipped to Singapore, arriving in January 2016.

The boat will be based at the the beautiful RAFFLES MARINA Yacht club for ten months training, testing and preparations until December 2016 when we plan to depart with the North-East monsoon winds on this ‘never-before-attempted’ journey.



“To attempt a unique, challenging and environmentally friendly expedition through a remote and diverse area of our planet. To document and share the experience in order to educate and promote awareness in our environment. To inspire sustainable exploration and development along with healthy lifestyles.”


Rowing Home Logo

Our logo was designed by a Taranaki man (Mr Cory Bellringer).  You may wonder why a predominantly Ocean Rowing expedition has a mountain in the logo.  This is Mt Taranaki – a beautiful snow capped volcano which I grew up beside in the province or Taranaki, New Zealand. This is the first mountain I ever climbed at age 14.  It was many years later, during a climb of Mt Taranaki in 2014, that I first looked out over the Tasman Sea and came up with the plan to attempt this expedition.  From the mountain the sea looked huge, scary and beautiful, and I felt drawn to it.  Just as I feel drawn to mountains.  Mt Taranaki will be the point we will be aiming for to finish our expedition.  She will be our guide, our beacon to navigate towards as we near New Zealand.  Thus the mountain is a hugely important part of our expedition, hence our logo!

To find more about the ROWING HOME team click here.

To find more about the ROWING HOME sponsors click here.

If you are a school teacher and would like your class to follow this unique expedition please email me at

Have a beautiful week ahead!

Love Axe

Peak to Peak 2015 – The movie – climbing the Dragon Horns

Instead of a lengthy blog post,  I created this short video of the awesome adventure we finished last week – Peak to Peak 2015 the  movie – ENJOY!

Peak to Peak is off and rolling!

We summited Bukit Timah Hill tonight to set Peak to Peak 2015 off in fine style.  At 163m ASL, Singapore highest natural land point is not the toughest climb any of us have made, but this modest jungle covered hill bought back many fine memories of the hours, days, weeks and months I have spent training here over the years for bigger climbs around the world.  In 6 hours time we will set-off on our bicycles to ride 150km, across the border into Malaysia, up to the small town of Mersing on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia.  From here we will attempt to kayak out to Tioman Island then a three day climb of the mighty Dragons Horns to finish our expedition.

You can follow our progress live on the realtime map link attached here which updates from my GPS SPOT tracker.  Good night!

With Alan Silva on the summit of Bukit Timah Hill - the start point of Peak to Peak 2015.

With Alan Silva on the summit of Bukit Timah Hill – the start point of Peak to Peak 2015.

Peak to Peak 2015 – Slaying the Dragons Horns, Tioman Island, Malaysia

In 8 days time, Peak to Peak 2015 will set-off….

In 2013 Alan Silva and myself made our first Peak to Peak Odyssey from the summit of Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand to the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook, completely by human power (read more here).  In 2014 we made our second Peak to Peak journey this time on the opposite side of the world, from the summit of the UK (Ben Nevis) to the summit of France – Mt Blanc, (read more here).

Our Peak to Peak journeys follow these basic principles:

  1. Begin and End on interesting mountain summits
  2. The journey between the summits made completely by human power
  3. The expedition to be completed on a shoe string budget
  4. The expedition to be fit into our annual leave entitlement
  5. Our particular journey/route has never been attempted before
  6. The ‘style’ of the expedition to be carried out with as little support as practically possible.

Peak to Peak 2015 will adhere to the same philosophy as the previous expeditions and involve us starting on the summit of Singapore – the mighty Bukit Timah Hill at 163m above sea-level.  From here we will make our way by bicycle 150km north, into Malaysia to the small town of Mersing on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia.  From Mersing we will make a 65km open water sea-kayak directly offshore to reach the Island of Tioman.  Tioman is a small but beautiful, heavily forested Island, surrounded by Coral Reefs.  According to legend (and Wikipedia!):  “Tioman Island is the resting place of a beautiful dragon princess.  Whilst flying to visit her prince in Singapore, this beautiful maiden stopped to seek solace in the crystal-clear waters of the South China Sea. Enraptured by the charms of the place, she decided to discontinue her journey. By taking the form of an island, she pledged to offer shelter and comfort to passing travelers.”

The geology and geography of Tioman island is very interesting.  Massive granite outcrops reach out from the steep jungle, rising vertically hundreds of metre into the heavens.  The most impressive of these are twin 400m vertical monoliths known as the “Dragons Horns”

We will be attempting to finish our expedition with a big-wall-style, three day, vertical ascent of the Dragons Horns, which have only been climbed a handful of times since the very first ascent in the year 2000.

As usual we be using a SPOT Tracker to track our progress in real-time, I will share the link within the next few days before we depart.  We expect this mini-expedition to take us 7 days in total – wish us luck!

The  Dragons Horns on Tioman (Photo source:

The Dragons Horns on Tioman (Photo source:

Route map of our intended journey.

Route map of our intended journey.

The story of the old man who defeated two younger men

“That’s a very long way to go just to climb a rock” said my wife Stephanie over the phone as I gratefully flopped down in a seat on the ferry.  “This is not just any old rock, this is the Old Man of Hoy – a 137m high ‘sea stack’ which is very famous” I replied to her in an attempt to justify my folly as I struggled to get my breath back.  I was explaining to Stephanie the finer details of mine and trusty climbing partner Alan Silva’s plan to climb the Old Man of Hoy, located on Hoy Island in the Orkney Islands, Northern Scotland.  So far the trip had involved flying from Singapore to Hamburg in Germany (for a business meeting), after which I flew on to London Gatwick, then took a connecting flight to Inverness in the north of Scotland.  The next morning in a rental car with an engine smaller than most motor mowers, we drove 2.5 hours to Scrabster at the very northern tip of Scotland, arriving just 11 minutes before our ferry to the Orkney Islands departed.  This saw us having to make a mad dash, running/stumbling the 1.2km from the car-park to the ferry boarding gates, our climbing packs bouncing heavily and uncomfortably on our backs.

After the phone call to Stephanie and my sweat had cooled and I regained my breath, I walked outside to the ferry sundeck. Very soon we had crossed the channel and the red-tinged sandstone seacliffs of Hoy appeared.  I strained my eyes for the first glimpse of the Old Man, and sure enough there he appeared, looking a little bent at the top and cleverly camouflaged against the backdrop of the mainland behind him.  From a long distance away on the ferry, it was hard to feel a scale for the size of the challenge that lay in wait for us, but all that would change the next morning.

The Old Man of Hoy is a 449-foot (137m) sea stack on the island of Hoy, part of the Orkney archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. Formed from Old Red Sandstone, it is one of the tallest stacks in Britain. The Old Man is very popular with climbers, and was first climbed in 1966. Created by the erosion of a cliff through hydraulic action some time after 1750, the stack is no more than a few hundred years old, and may soon collapse into the sea. (Source:  Wikipedia).  Alan had long harbored a desire to climb this incredibly unique piece of vertical geology, and I had agreed to join him on a quick three day jaunt to make an attempt.


We soon arrived in the small town of Stromness on the main Island of Orkney, departed the ferry and had a 3 hour wait for our second ferry ride of the day to the Island of Hoy.  We sat at an outside table on the main street, drinking tea and watching the goings-on of the small community.   Stromness is a sleepy and quaint town, mainly built of a light gray colored local stone.  Some of the buildings date back back to the 16th/17th century when the town was first settled.  Stromness is now the second largest town in the Orkney Islands group with a population of around 2000 people and a daily ferry service from mainland Scotland.  The main industries are fishing, tourism, sheep farming and renewable energy.  This was a day to be enjoyed by the tourists and we watched walkers and nature lovers wandering slowly up and down the main streets, enjoying the relaxed pace of life and the beautiful scenery.

View of Stromness from the ferry

View of Stromness from the ferry

At 6pm we boarded our second ferry ride for the day and steamed for 20 minutes south to land at Moaness on the Island of Hoy.  Hoy Island has a much smaller population, around 400+ people, and is a windswept island, barren of trees with large, smooth, rounded hills rising to 400+m above sea-level. The scenery is stunning and beautiful, reminding me somewhat of southern Patagonia with its remoteness and constant wind.

We walked for one mile up a small hill to reach the Hoy Outdoor Centre, a wonderful hostel which could cater to probably 50 people or more.  However this evening we shared it with only one other couple.  The next morning we took a taxi (arranged by the hostel caretakers wife), for a journey of four miles to Rackwick Bay on the Western side of the Island. Rackwick bay is a stunning natural ampitheatre, a large bay with a pretty beach which forms into massive protective seacliffs at either end. Windswept and looking out directly to the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a small settlement once existed here, being home to artists, authors and bohemians.  These days I was told, only one family is now based permanently here.

Alan Silva on the walk-in from Rackwick Bay

Alan Silva on the walk-in from Rackwick Bay

As we started walking we quickly noticed we were being greatly aided by a very strong tail wind which pushed us along in massive gusts.  After 30 minutes we had reached the sea cliffs beside the Old Man and the wind had risen to such a strong level that we were very careful to stay away from the edges, in fair of being blown over.  The first view of the Old Man was intimidating.  I had studied numerous photos and video of our route and could trace it out with my eyes, however the share size and exposure of the climb once up close was a shock.  The strength of the wind also was not aiding my confidence level and as I gazed over to the summit,  a small grass patch no larger than a small bathroom area.  I tried to imagine what it would be like standing there with these massive gusts of wind.

Alan Silva standing on the sea cliffs in strong winds - the summit of the Old Man of Hoy seen behind him.

Alan Silva standing on the sea cliffs in strong winds – the summit of the Old Man of Hoy seen behind him.

The track leading down to the Old Man is exposed and requires care in many places.  We slowly picked our way down, happy to be in the shelter of the cliffs which blocked the winds for the 15 minutes it took to arrive at the base.  Once at the bottom we were once again exposed to the wind and we both stood at the base surveying the massive stone structure in front of us.

Looking up at the Old Man of Hoy from the base.

Looking up at the Old Man of Hoy from the base.

“What do you think of this wind Al?” I yelled in between gusts.  “Not that much Grant, its not nice trying to climb in wind like this, the ropes get blown sideways” replied Alan. “Yeah, it would also be pretty dodgy at the higher up where the wind will be stronger” I added, so we soon found some shelter and sat and decided to wait for sometime to see if it would abate.  What a magnificent spot to wait.  We watched seals swimming around the coastline below us, the ferry to Stromness passed by us far out to sea, we saw fulmars (sea-birds) nesting on the ledges on the Old Man of Hoy and could even make out old pitons and slings from much earlier climbs hanging from the rock.

Two hours and two ham sandwiches later the wind had not abated and we were trying to decide what to do when two young German climbers arrived at the base.  “The forecast is for the wind to get stronger today so we are going now” they explained to us.  And with that they had set-up their ropes and were off.  This spurred us into action also and as soon as they had cleared the first pitch Alan lead off.  The route we were attempting is the original route – the way it was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonington and Tom Patey.  The original climbers returned in 1967 and climbed it again, this time whilst being filmed by the BBC which made the documentary attached below and played it on Christmas day 1967 to over 15 million people I believe. This in effect made the Old Man of Hoy into a national celebrity in the UK.

The original route consists of four pitches of climbing, with the first being the easiest, and the second being the most difficult.  We knew if we could get over the second pitch we would be able to make the summit.  When I arrived at the belay ledge at the top of the first pitch we had a long wait while the German team climbed the second pitch.  We were wondering what was taking so long and were soon to find out why.

The second pitch is awkward for a number of reasons.  From the belay spot, the climber must first down climb to a narrow ledge, then cross this then climb a vertical crack passing two overhanging roofs.  The climbing on the second pitch is really hard and exposed.  It is rated at grade 20 in the NZ climbing grade, and even though I had been training hard for this climb, three times a week in our local crag in Singapore, this was harder than the level I could climb at.  I was however happy enough to second it behind Alan.  Alan, a much more experienced rock climber than myself was climbing grade 20 in Singapore, so was tasked with leading this crux pitch.

From the belay ledge at the top of the 1st pitch, the lead climber soon disappears from site as they start off on the second pitch.  With the strong wind, communication was virtually impossible, unless the timing was perfect enough to wait for temporary lull or break in the winds which came along very sporadically. After what seemed like a very long time, the German leader reached the belay at the second pitch and his partner moved up to join him.  Now it was Alan’s turn.  He set-off on the traverse, as I carefully belayed him.  He was soon across the awkward ledge and ready to take on the vertical crack.  After 3m of vertical climbing he clipped into a rusty old piton, then disappeared from my site as he climbed higher. My only contact with him was the rope between my fingers as I felt it play out as he climbed higher.  The rope moved slower and slower until it stopped moving at all.  “Must be hard” I thought to myself as I imagined his struggle on the rock face.

For the next 20 minutes I stood and waited, the ropes moving a tiny bit forward but then dropping back again. “Must be really hard”  I thought again to myself. As with any situation where you have to stand and wait with little knowledge what is happening, your mind starts to play all sorts of tricks as you imagine the scenario.  Then I heard Alan’s voice shout “I am almost at the ledge”.

Great news! But as I broke into a smile I felt a jerk on the ropes, as if he had fallen.  We were using double ropes to climb (two ropes) which were creating a lot of drag for Alan, especially with the awkward traverse meaning they were not running straight, but in a zigzag fashion.  Thus I could not feel his movements immediately through the rope.  “That was strange” I said to myself, not overly concerned as I was sure Alan had shouted to me that he was at the belay ledge.  However another 10 minutes later there was still no movement.  Finally I managed to catch Alan’s voice once again, “Slack!”.  As I gave out slack on the rope he dropped back down into view looking pale and exhausted. “I can’t do it Grant, I am at the crux and its too hard.  I tried three times and fell once, I don’t have enough strength left”.  “But I thought I heard you yell you were at the ledge?” I responded in surprise.  “No I yelled out I was falling!”.  In the strong winds somehow I had misheard him completely.

Alan Silva setting off up the first roof on  pitch 2

Alan Silva setting off up the first roof on pitch 2

Alan was knackered and if he could not climb this pitch there was no way I could climb it.  So we we dejectedly abseiled back to the base of the climb, packed our gear and began the walk-out.  As we made our way back up the path to the cliff tops it was great to see the two German climbers reach the summit and I shot these photos of them.  However I felt very much for Alan as I knew how much it meant to him to climb the Old Man.  We discussed our options as we walked out in the strong winds.  “Well we still have a few hours tomorrow to make another attempt Al?”.  “That’s it Grant, lets come back tomorrow and have another crack, I will get my aid gear set-up and can try aiding the crux (most difficult section) if I need to”.  With that his mood changed instantly and he strode off with a much more positive manner.

A lone German climber stands on the summit of the Old Man of Hoy

A lone German climber stands on the summit of the Old Man of Hoy

Two German climbers on their knees on the summit of the Old Man of Hoy in strong winds

Two German climbers on their knees on the summit of the Old Man of Hoy in strong winds

The next morning we once again returned to the base of the Old Man.  This time I lead the first pitch, and very soon reached the belay and bought Alan up to join me.  Overnight the crack system had become quite wet however, and as Alan began the delicate traverse he immediately struggled with the wet, soft, standstone.  In parts he explained it was actually muddy and very sandy with many downwards sloping holds making the climbing very difficult.  As there are no bolts on this climb, he was carrying a large amount of weight with all the metal climbing gear he was using to insert into the cracks to protect his fall. This weight, the wet, soft, muddy, sandstone coupled with the rope drag of the two 9mm ropes made it very hard work and once again the pitch defeated us.  Around 11AM we retreated, abseiling from the second pitch, agian disappointed with not making the summit but secure in the knowledge we had given it our best attempt.

Gearing up at the base of the climb on day 2.

Gearing up at the base of the climb on day 2.

Me leading the 1st pitch on day two.

Me leading the 1st pitch on day two.

As a consolation we opted to forgo the taxi, and make the 3 mile walk back to Moaness.  This turned out to be a beautiful walk, and quite therapeutic, through the peat, heather and mountain tarns (lakes).  We returned to Stromness on the evening ferry and took the following morning 6AM ferry back to mainland Scotland.  As we sailed past the Old Man on the way home, I walked out onto the back deck of the ferry.  It was very misty and I was alone.  I could just make out his summit through the cloud and I had a special moment where once again, I thanked climbing for taking me on this remarkable journey to an amazing part of the world, that I otherwise may never have known existed or had the motivation to visit.  Summit or no summit, the journey itself had been spectacular and I had no regrets.  I hope the Old Man of Hoy will be there for many more years to come, and I hope the next time I visit, the Old Man will be kinder and allow us to stand on top.

Inspiring People: Sandy Robson and the art of Spelunking and She Wee’s

For the past seven days, my wife Stephanie and I have had the pleasure of hosting a lady who is retracing the steps of a chap named Oskar Speck.  Oskar happens to be this this dead German guy who in the 1930’s made perhaps one of the greatest kayaking voyages of all time. After being made redundant during a depression, Oskar decided to leave Germany, not by traditional modes of transport, but in a folding kayak with a mission to ‘see the world’.

Seven years later, this remarkable man finally ended his journey by paddling onto dry land land in the north of Australia having traveled some 50,000 km in his kayak all the way from Germany. Bearing in mind these were days long before GPS Navigation, mobile phone coverage and Google Earth mapping existed, coupled with the fact that Oscar himself could not even swim, meant it was one hell of an adventure with some massive challenges to overcome along the way.  Far from the warm Aussie reception that may be expected upon completion of such a journey – Oscar did not apparently have the gift of choosing the best timing and arrived in 1939, just as World War II kicked off.  Being of German stock, he was immediately locked up for the duration of the war!

Fast forward some 70+ years and Australian woman Sandy Robson decided to set out on her own journey to see the world. Sandy is retracing Oscar’s epic trip and set-off in 2011 from Ulm in Germany.  After arriving in Singapore on Friday 17 April, 2015 at 2:20PM she has paddled around 12,000km.  Due to political and safety concerns in certain area’s including Syria, Iran and Pakistan she has had to skip certain portions, none-the-less hers is a remarkable journey in it’s own right.

Sandy enters Singapore through Raffles Marina Yacht Club in April 2015.

Sandy enters Singapore through Raffles Marina Yacht Club in April 2015.

I first came across Sandy, whilst researching information on my upcoming human powered expedition (details to come later) on the internet.  Noticing her route was passing through Singapore I reached out to her through that wonderful communications system Facebook (another thing Oskar Speak had to do without), and offered her my assistance as she paddled her South East Asian leg.  Since that time in late 2014, I have assisted Sandy with my network of contacts in Bangladesh (thank you Shahin and Tasnuva), Singapore and Indonesia (Thank you Pak Budi) with security permissions, permits, press, immigration, equipment storage, speaking engagements, accommodation and the many other logistical and bureaucratic arrangements that go into journeys like this which cross multitudes of international borders.

Much has been written about Oscar and Sandy’s journey in various press, so I thought this post would focus on one or two things that you will never read in the newspaper or see on the television, a brief peek at  the behind the scenes life of Sandy.

One of the questions that many people want to ask but often are too polite is – how do you go to the toilet when paddling your kayak for 8 – 10 hours a day, often without coming into shore?  Sandy shared her secret to this last night as we sat around having our final meal, and with her permission she agreed to me sharing it with you on this post.

Sitting inside a wobbly kayak a few kilometres off the shoreline in strong winds and choppy sea’s is not an ideal place to try to take a pee.  For a man – it is more straight forward  as you can see from this short video clip I took from my kayak in the middle of the Cook Strait in New Zealand.  Being a lady is not so easy however, Sandy’s system is to use a small plastic funnel called a She Wee.  The She Wee directs the pee into a small bottle also held in the cockpit which is then emptied over the side at the end of the job.  A quick rinse of the She Wee in the sea water and everyone is happy and onwards to Australia Sandy goes!  Attached below you can see a picture of the She Wee, and also Stephanie my wife’s good fortune to be given a first hand look at Sandy’s personal She Wee just as she finished her dinner.

Close up of the 'She Wee'

Close up of the ‘She Wee’

Look at the size of that!  Sandy Robson showing off her She Wee to Stephanie Rawlinson.

Look at the size of that! Sandy Robson showing off her She Wee to Stephanie Rawlinson

That answers the peeing question. What then happens if you need to do number 1’s?  The big one? Drop the boys off the pool?  Give birth to an alien? (Or whatever term you use in your particular country for taking a dump)    Well Sandy introduced me to an entirely new concept here called ‘Spelunking’.  If you look up Spelunking in a dictionary you may see it referred to as the sport of caving or potholing.  Sandys definition of Spelunking refers to a cave of a different nature and she patiently explained to me that Spelunking in kayaking terms is the art of taking a crap in the water whilst one is swimming.  Sandy also explained that this is normally an emergency measure and she normally plans things out so she is on dry land when she needs to answer this call of nature.

This morning as 7:20AM my trusty climbing partner Alan Silva and myself waved goodbye to Sandy from Tanjung Beach on Sentosa Island here in Singapore.  As Sandy waved back to us and paddled off on her journey south towards Batam Island, Indonesia, a tinge of sadness swept over me.  Sitting in her little red kayak, she looked so small compared to the open ocean, the massive ships, the strong currents and thousands of kilometres of journey I know lay in wait for her.  I felt honoured to have been a tiny part of her remarkable expedition.  To see first hand, how hard this petite, fiercely independent,  48 year old Australian lady (with a complete hip replacement) works, day in/day out, to make her dream into a reality.  Sandy would be awake all hours of the night, working away in our tiny spare bedroom, cleaning and sorting equipment, planning and researching her route, communicating and making contacts, fulfilling press obligations, preparing her keynote talks to raise the critical funds she needs to sustain herself financially, and the list goes on.  The next morning she would generally be up and gone before we even rose.  Her energy and drive were incredible, and to anyone who may be thinking she is on a gloriously relaxing holiday, I can assure you that it is in fact very, very hard work.

Sandy Robson prepares her kayak on Tanjung Beach in Singapore ready for departure to Batam Indonesia (Sunday 26 April 2015)

Sandy Robson prepares her kayak on Tanjung Beach in Singapore ready for departure to Batam Indonesia (Sunday 26 April 2015)

What lies ahead of Sandy is 10,000km of perhaps the toughest paddling of her entire journey.  The monsoon winds have turned now, from the North Easterlies which would have blown her down towards Australia, to the dreaded South Westerly monsoon which she will be paddling directly into.  The ‘Selats’ or Straits between the Indonesian Islands have massive tidal streams reaching 5 – 8 knots (4m/s) current speeds.  Currents that swept Oscar Speck 20km out to the open ocean before he could escape their awesome clutch.  Pirates, crocodiles, Komodo Dragons, 200km open sea crossings, lightning storms, and being in foreign lands where she does not speak the language.  Day after day, night after night, for 1.5 years more (or for ‘as long as it takes’ according to Sandy), she will continue her journey. But far from feeling sad, worried, or even anxious for Sandy, I reminded myself I should be happy.  For those of us fortunate to know Sandy we should feel proud.  For those who have never met her then you should feel inspired.  Sandy has the experience, the skill and the mental and physical strength to finish this journey.  She is living her dream, every single day and night, month after month, year after year, doing something she loves.  In terms of expedition style, hers  is a role model –  environmentally friendly, naturally powered and minimal impact.  No raping of the world’s non-renewable resources for short term glory here.  She is setting a tremendously positive example about what can be achieved in a sustainable manner and above all, is having one hell of an adventure.  I cannot wait for my next adventure – how about you?

Saying goodbye to Sandy on Tanjung beach.

Saying goodbye to Sandy on Tanjung beach.

To follow Sandy’s progress South you can visit her Website or Facebook page at the links below.

This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!

Inspiring People: Terence Tay – Singapore’s solo motorcycle nomad

Some of my favorite travelling experiences have been when I have been solo.  Today we catch up with a very cool cat, Terence Tay to talk about his passion – solo motorcycle touring around Asia.

[AXE]  Hi Terence – Can you tell us about your passion for ESMT? (extreme-solo-motorcycle-touring)

[TERENCE]  I’m not entirely sure if what I do can be considered extreme motorcycle touring, Axe. But I enjoy pottering around on a motorcycle, visiting places, meeting people and learning more about their cultures. Perhaps the only thing extreme is the food I put in my mouth! 

One man's meat is another man's delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)
One man’s meat is another man’s delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE] How did you get into riding motorcycles in the first place?

[TERENCE]  It all started in college, many years ago. During my first week of school, I spotted some older boys, fooling around in the parking lot, on their dirt bikes. They were trying to do donuts, burnouts and wheelies on their bikes, if my memory serves me right. They weren’t very good, to be honest, but boy, they seemed to have loads of fun on their machines. 

We became friends later and they sort of got me interested in riding. We would meet up at night – school days or not – and go riding into MacRitchie forested area, prohibited, of course. Or race along Orchard Road(town) on weekends, also illegal. 

Motorcycles, to me, symbolise freedom and mobility. And a great way to start a conversation. It’s also a relatively cheap way to get around. For that reason, it’s a popular way to get around in an expensive city like Singapore.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

[AXE] What gave you the idea to start motorcycle touring?

[TERENCE]  Before I sold my car in 2010, I was driving up and down Malaysia on my own. However, I wanted a better connection with the places that I’ve visited, as I felt that the sensory input bit was missing. It was like watching a movie inside a car. So I made a decision to sell the car and purchase a motorcycle so that I could “participate in the movie”. Now, I could feel the heat, smell the road, taste the rain and sometimes, touch the sky. 

I started riding on my own to Genting, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in that order, before venturing out to Cameron Highlands that year. Then I rode up to Hatyai, Thailand with some other bikers. That was a breakthrough for me. Once I crossed into Thai soil, it sort of broke the mental barrier. My mental map expanded from just Malaysia to include Thailand. Now I’ve a build-in GPS for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in my head as well. 

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

[AXE] Whats your largest adventure todate? Is this also your favorite adventure? If not what is and why?

[TERENCE] That’s a tough one, Axe. In terms of scale, the 15,000km, 82 day journey of Indochina would be my grandest. I travelled across Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam before returning home to Singapore. It left me broke financially but a richer person, spiritually and mentally. I traveled really slowly on my motorcycle and experienced many things most tourists wouldn’t. I received kindness from locals less resourceful than myself and even took a step closer to mastering the art of non-verbal communication. All in all, I’ve a better feel of what our neighbours are doing up north, as it happens on the ground, and not as reported in the mainstream media.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence's favorite adventure to-date.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence’s favorite adventure to-date.

It’s arguably my best adventure, if not for the one that followed. Last December, I was able to share my love for motorcycle touring with my partner Cher who has never toured on a motorcycle before. So to push and prod her around Thailand on a 6,700km journey over 23 days and return her safely to her parents…that felt really special. It felt like an achievement.

It’s one thing to be able to do something you’re passionate about. To share that passion with the person you love, priceless.   

Cher right, me left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one's adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Cher right, Terence left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one’s adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE]  Why do you normally choose to ride solo?

[TERENCE]  Ah, that’s a simple one. When you ride alone, you’re the boss. You get to make all the decisions, and accept all the consequences. Life’s easier that way. When you ride in a group, more often than not, you’ve to share that responsibility. 

Also, riding alone reduces the barrier between others and me. I may become an easier target for crime perhaps but the distance between two strangers shrinks very quickly too. So if I become a victim of a crime, it’s also easier to get help.

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can't afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can’t afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

[AXE]  What are the three best things that undertaking these massive adventures has taught you?


1) Life’s about making decisions. Better decision, better quality of Life.

2) You can only control what you can only control. So always start with that first.

3) If nothing happens, nothing happens. No worries!

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

[AXE] Terence – I understand some of your trips you have given back to the local communities – what have you done, what gave you the motivation to do this?

[TERENCE]  Yes, I may have been alone on trips but I couldn’t have done it alone. I’ve received much kindness and generosity on the road, from random strangers mainly. So I try to give as much as I receive so usually, towards the end of a trip, on the return leg, I’ll seek out the homeless and destitute along way and leave pieces of clothes(freshly laundered, I might add!) with them. 
The last trip, however, Cher and I decided to take a more organized approach and adopt an orphanage in Mae Sot. The goal was to raise awareness and funds during the ride. The response was very encouraging and we met our fund-raising goal quickly. We even received 2 solar cells from Third Wave Power, a local tech company, and 4 amazing adventure books “From Peak to Peak” from a Kiwi author (who chose to remain anonymous) to donate! How about that!
Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground, and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground,
and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

[AXE]  Riding motorbikes is risky in Singapore. Let alone around Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar – how do you handle the risk personally and how does your family handle the risk?

[TERENCE]  Gee Axe, that’s a tough one. I’m generally a risk-taker. The greater the risk, the greater the rewards, presumably. If there’s a 80% chance of survival, I would usually accept the challenge. Not sure how that would sit with my parents but they stopped worrying about me since the Indochina trip. 

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

[AXE]  What is the hardest thing about any motorcycle adventure? 

[TERENCE]  For me, it would be to stop. I enjoy life on the open road. Perhaps too much! So whenever the end of a journey draws near, I will start to feel a tinge of sadness in my heart. Then I dream about the next adventure. 

[AXE]  How would you recommend people to get started motorcycle touring? What would you tell them if they said they were worried about the risk?


1) Start with a motorcycle that you can pick up over and over by yourself.

2) Pack light to go farther.

3) Have a plan but prepare to make changes along the way.

As for risk, Life’s too short to worry about dying. Start living today!

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It's only good for 6 months.  (The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It’s only good for 6 months.
(The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

[AXE]  Whats your dream journey?

[TERENCE]  Right now, it’s a toss up between circumnavigating India or running the length of Americas, from Argentina to Alaska! Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions, mate.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It's usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It’s usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

[AXE] Terence thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventure’s.  To follow Terence please like his facebook page:
This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!
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