A brief history of rowing and kayaking the Tasman Sea

UPDATED: 10 July 2018

The Tasman Sea is considered by most in the ocean rowing community to be one of the most hostile crossings in the world. Being an extension of the southern ocean it is one of the most unpredictable, unforgiving stretches of sea on the planet.

The following information is the attempts, (both successful and unsuccessful) to cross the Tasman Sea by human power.  Information is obtained from various sources which are credited at the bottom of the article. The list is completed to the best of my knowledge however there maybe some other clandestine attempts which have passed underneath my radar. (If you are aware of any I have missed, in the interests of accuracy, then please contact me at axe@axeoneverest.com and I will update this article!)

For all these brave warriors below who have actually set-off from shore, there are countless people who have ‘talked about it’ and never managed to get to the starting line. From my personal experience this shows just how difficult mounting an expedition such as this is.  There is a tremendous amount of effort required to form a support team, raise the money, prepare your boat and equipment, risk management, train physically/mentally and technically and raise the courage to even get to the starting line.

Technically the crossings below fit into three categories:

  • KAYAKING with sail assistance

I have listed the category of crossing in the header of each attempt.


Another important factor I have tried to record here, is the style of the crossing in terms of support.  Support is generally considered to be in a physical sense, e.g. aircraft or vessel resupply or support vessels following for safety reasons (as opposed to support via information e.g weather forecasting through radio or sat phone).  Whilst all crossings are momentous feats, it should be noted and differentiated that crossings using no support are in a different league to crossings with support. Currently, to-date the first man to cross the Tasman Solo (Colin Quincey) is still the ONLY person to make a human powered solo crossing of the Tasman with no support.  He also was the only one to make the crossing with no GPS, radio or sat comm’s, or water maker onboard!

Anders Svedlund (1969) – ROWING


A Swedish sailor, in his 40s at the time, was the first person recorded trying to row across the wild Tasman Sea. He left Onehunga in a 6-metre fibreglass rowing boat he partly built himself, only to capsize five days later, 65 kilometres from shore. After righting his boat, he was swept ashore at the Waikato Heads.  He had more success two years on, when he became the first person to cross the Indian Ocean alone, rowing from Australia to Madagascar.  He also went on to row a great portion of the Pacific, making it from Chile to Samoa.  Amazingly he carried NO navigational instruments and used only the sun to keep heading in the correct general direction.  A teetotaller and a vegetarian, he cared very little for records, shunned all publicity, and never kept a log or wrote down the story of his accomplishing his feats.  After returning from his Indian Ocean row he went straight back to Auckland, and, without telling a soul where he had been, resumed his old trade as a house painter.  Eight years after that, he died in his Auckland apartment, apparently after falling from a chair while changing a lightbulb.

Colin Quincey (1977) – ROWING

downloadAn English-born New Zealander, Colin became the first person to complete a solo, unassisted trip across the Tasman. He set off from Hokianga in the “Tasman Trespasser”, his 6-metre fibreglass open dory, arriving on Australia’s Sunshine Coast 63 days later. Colin had no working means of radio communication on-board, carried all his own water, navigated by sextant, and landed during the night on a spot unknown to him on the Australian coast during heavy surf.  A truly remarkable and completely ‘unsupported’ crossing.  For 33 years he remained the only person to have accomplished the feat until a 25-year old named Shaun Quincey – his son repeated the challenge this time from Australia to New Zealand.

Amazingly Colin Quincey as of 10 July, 2018 is STILL the only person to ever cross the Tasman solo by human power, completely unsupported.  All other kayak or rowing attempts by solo means have required towing or re-supply by vessel or aircraft.

(Sadly Colin Quincey passed away on 9, July 2018). May this brave legend of the Tasman RIP.

John Elcock (1988) – ROWING

New Zealander John Elcock made three attempts in the late 1980’s to row across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand.  He had a specially built rowing boat and mustered the support of the likes of Australian Adventurer Dick Smith.  Whilst very little information is publicly available about Elcock’s attempts, a documentary was made at the time and it is from this that I gleaned this information.  Elcock’s first two attempts were from Sydney and lasted a few days each before being towed back to shore due to adverse currents and winds.  He then shifted further south to the fishing port of Eden for his final attempt.  His last throw of the dice was marred in controversy as an article appeared in a local newspaper as he left Eden, stating he said something negative about the local fisherman.  This is something that he fervently denied later.  After only 1 – 2 days at sea, he called for help and was towed back into port by one of the local fishing boats.  Much of the town having read the newspaper, were upset with Elcock.  He did not receive a warm welcome and his campaign ended with a hefty salvage bill which possibly ended any hopes of a fourth attempt.

Paul Caffyn (1987/1989) – KAYAKING

Paul Caffyn surfing into Queens Beach, BowenPaul has twice attempted to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand.  During a 1987 attempt with Ron Allnatt, a combination of severe weather and the Tasmanian authorities curtailed the attempt. During a second secret attempt in 1989, Paul’s co-paddler chickened out when eight miles off the coast of Tasmania. Paul was not willing to paddle the double kayak solo.  Paul is most well known for making the first ever circumnavigation of the Australian mainland by sea kayak.

Nick Barbara and Cathal (Carl) Dickens – ROWING

The two soldiers made two attempts to row across the Tasman in 2002. The first attempt from Muriwai beach in New Zealand ended very close to shore when the boat over turned and would not self right in the strong surf.  They then made a second attempt from Sydney in Australia and were again capsized and ended up clinging to their upturned boat for two days before being rescued by a passing tuna boat after using the last of their flares.  I cannot find any photographs of the pair so please do send me some if you have them.


Andrew McAuleyAn Australian adventurer, McAuley first tried to kayak across the ditch in 2006, but turned around after two days due to difficulties keeping warm. He made his second attempt from Tasmania, bound for the Milford Sound. After 30 days at sea and surviving torrid conditions, he disappeared just 56km from his destination. His final message – a scratchy recording pleading for help – was initially dismissed as a hoax. His body has never been found. McAuley’s effort was truly remarkable for the fact he was paddling a modified two-person sea kayak.  A craft most unsuited to long crossings at sea.  He had also chosen to cross the Tasman from a very southerly route where the winds were more constantly in his favor however the sea conditions are much rougher than further north.  He utilized the assistance of a sail during his crossing.

Steven Gates, Andrew Johnson, Kerry Tozer and Sally Macready (2007) – ROWING

78674154The team of 4 x Australian rowers rowed the Tasman in 31 days. The two men and two women travelled 2200km in their 11-metre, 1.5 tonne custom-built boat, narrowly avoiding collisions with dolphins, sharks, and ships. They left Hokianga Harbour in the Far North and landed in Sydney Harbour, the first Australian team to make the crossing. They currently hold the record for the fastest crossing of the Tasman Sea under human power.  They reportedly had paid $4,500 to have a support boat travel with them at the start of the journey which never showed up! I believe they received a tow to get out of Hokianga Harbour therefore their crossing is deemed supported.

Justin Jones and James Castrission (2007-2008) – KAYAKING

Trans Tasman kayakers near goalThe Australian pair nicknamed ‘Cass and Jonesy’ became the first to cross the Tasman in a kayak, completing the journey in 60 days. They took off in their kayak named “Lot 41” after the legendary racehorse Phar Lap’s auction number, from Forster, New South Wales, and landed on Ngamotu beach in New Plymouth. They struggled with water maker failures, encounters with sharks, sea sickness and strong headwinds, that caused them to spend a number of days paddling in circles and eventually added a much great distance to their journey.  They team needed no support or re-supply on their crossing.

Olly Hicks (2009) – ROWING

493512975_c3404d5e23_oBritish explorer Olly Hicks initially set off from Tasmania to circumnavigate Antarctica (his expedition aim was to row around the world) in his half million dollar rowboat named “the Flying Carrot”.   Sponsored by VIRGIN, and only part-way through the attempt, due to difficulty in making progress he changed his mind and headed in towards Stewart Island instead.  He had encounters with great white sharks and his 95-day quest ended when wild conditions led him to call it a day. He was towed into port by the Shangri la, a Bluff cray-boat, before he headed back to England. He plans to make a subsequent attempt in the future.

Shaun Quincey (2010) – ROWING

128500-81160-34Shaun Quincey rowed his way into the history books, joining his father as the second rower to make a solo crossing of the Tasman Sea. He chose to go the other way to his dad – leaving the New South Wales coast, and was pushed north by strong winds and current as he neared the New Zealand coastline.  He feared missing New Zealand altogether and eventually made it to 90 Mile Beach in the Far North. He ran out of water during the crossing and required a resupply by airplane.  He was capsized at one stage and had issues righting his boat.  The gruelling 53-day ordeal, in which he faced capsizes, broken equipment, and even a collision with a sperm whale, required him to row 1700km more than planned.

Team Gallagher (2011-2012) – ROWING

Boat_with_Ricoh_logo_400x400Lead by Nigel Cherrie, a crew of four New Zealand men called Team Gallagher after their title sponsor, decided to row harbour bridge to harbour bridge – Sydney to Auckland. They spent 55 days, twice as long as planned, in the Moana, their 10-metre rowing boat. At one stage they were forced to spend 10 days on sea-anchor due to rough weather and contemplated rowing back to Australia.  The crew, which also included the son of Sir Peter Blake, endured food spoilage, blisters, and a broken rudder, before they safely arrived in Auckland Harbour. having spent a very memorable Christmas at sea. They team needed no support or re-supply on their crossing.

Stuart Cleary (2014) – KAYAKING

13325709_969465073171384_8231522955788535035_nCleary had an ambitious plan to make a complete circumnavigation of the Tasman Sea solo in his kayak.  Crossing to New Zealand via Lord Howe Island then returning to Australia via a more northerly route resulting in a voyage of 15,000km or more.  Leaving from Ballina in Australia he ran into problems within the first few days of his paddle.  Fortunately he was still within 100km of the coastline when boat started taking on water.  He activated emergency flotation and was subsequently rescued.  Amazingly 18 months later the kayak completed the Tasman crossing alone and was washed up on the shores of New Zealand as per the photo on the left (Photo: Nathan Marshall)

Malcolm Skelton (2017) – ROWING

8f627a1b26a147e09613b7cf14375350Skelton departed Coffs Harbour in Australia in 2017, bound for New Zealand. After 11 days at sea he abandoned his attempt after discussions with his wife and expedition meteorologist. Skelton was subsequently rescued by a passing cargo vessel after activating his emergency distress beacon and his boat was later scuttled by a fishing vessel. One of the aim’s of his crossing was to raise awareness and money for a condition his wife suffers called Friedreich’s Ataxia.

Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson (2017) – ROWING

8Rawlinson set-out from Singapore in his rowing boat ‘Simpson’s Donkey, on January 3, 2017.  His plan was to travel all the way from Singapore to New Zealand completely by human power.  The first stage was a 4,200km row from Singapore through Indonesia and East Timor to Australia.  Together with Englishman Charlie Smith, the pair became the first to ever row this route and arrived in Darwin 78 days later.  Rawlinson then travelled by bicycle, alone across Australia for 4,000km to Coff’s Harbour where he set out again in his rowing boat, this time solo, to cross the Tasman.  After 24 days at sea, and a massive 2,000km circle, Rawlinson was capsized in storms and blown back into the shores of Australia in Ballina, further away from New Zealand than where he departed. Rawlinson will attempt the crossing again in 2018.

Scott Donaldson (2013-2014-2018) – KAYAKING

NZKayakerDonaldson, a kiwi, set off solo from Coffs Harbour with a plan to kayak to New Zealand then back again to Australia.  He had made a similar attempt in 2013, which was aborted after two days when his kayak filled with water. His second attempt was planned to take between 50 and 70 days, but nearly three months in, and only 83km from New Zealand’s shore, he had to abandon his mission after suffering injuries when his kayak rolled a number of times during heavy weather. He had also required a resupply by airplane with food and equipment to fix breakages.

Donaldson made a third attempt in 2018.  Departing Coff’s Harbour on May 2, 2018, ten days later he reached Lord Howe Island and awaited a weather window before departing again.  He ultimately arrived at the Port of New Plymouth in New Zealand on the 2 July, 2018, becoming the first person to kayak solo across the Tasman.  He was resupplied enroute.















Posted on September 20, 2017, in Rowing Home. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wow. Hardly anyones made it.Good Luck Axe.


  2. Another successful chapter to add to this intriguing tale. Solo kayak, unassisted, unsupported with a self designed and built kayak – Blue Moon. https://www.lcrk.org.au/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.2022BlueMoon


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