Day 24 – operation ‘Save the Donkey’ COMPLETE
Yesterday (Saturday 11 November) around 1400hrs I switched off the GPS tracker and stepped ashore at the small port of Ballina in Northern New South Wales. 24 days and 1,100nm after departing Coff’s Harbour.
The last 6nm I was grateful to receive a tow in from the Ballina Marine Rescue team. Ballina port has a bar with breaking surf to negotiate so I would not have liked to have rowed in myself. I would like to extend a massive thank you to the wonderful support of Ballina Marine Rescue, esp to the crew on duty yesterday in the command centre (sorry I do not have their names) and the boat crew whom I name here:
Tony Handcock (skipper)
Brooke Butler (coxswain)
Rodney Guest (crewman)
Bill Ewen (trainee)
Gary Baker (crewman)
These guys are all volunteers and do a wonderful job protecting the people in the water 24 hours per day/7 days a week. I am looking forward to donating to their organisation.
I have been through a lifetime of emotions and experiences in the last 24 days. Without a doubt it was the toughest 24 days of my life. We rowed through shipping lanes and were surrounded by steel giants travelling at 15 knots, making me sick with fear, night after night. We were capsized, smashed by waves, visited by sharks, dolphins and sea birds and pushed around by the invisible but supreme forces of wind and current.
I was pushed and tested to the extreme in mother natures ultimate arena. This is one of the reasons I take on these journeys. My emotions rolled with the swells, often on an hourly basis from the depths of despair to highs of hope. The Tasman showed me she is a merciless bully, she is violent and cruel, unforgiving and waiting to expose any weakness she can find. I have new felt respect for her that can only be earned from direct experience. For the last 8 days my complete focus was on getting back safely to shore, together with the boat. The last three nights I had little sleep. The last evening I did not sleep as we crossed the shipping lanes.
But we made it to shore, yes we are not in New Zealand, but from the jaws of defeat we salvaged some victory. Simpson’s Donkey is bruised and bleeding but still a beautifully seaworthy little craft. We have hope again. The expedition has hope. This final stage is much more than just trying to cross the Tasman. It is the culmination of a dream, of years of effort, commitment and sacrifice. It is the grand finale of 147 days and almost 10,000km of travel completely by human power since departing Singapore on January 3, 2017.
Love Captain Axe
PS: I would like to thank especially over the last 24 days the following people:
Roger ‘Clouds Badham expedition meteorologist. I spoke to Clouds every day, often twice/three times per day as we tried to work our way through a very complex set of wind/current/rowing dynamics. He could let me know down to the hour when I would be smashed by winds from different directions. On the final evening he stayed up all night with me, updating me through the night. He never gave up and without him I would never have made it back to Australia with the boat. He always referred to what was happening in the boat as what ‘we’ were doing. He made me feel he was with me in the boat.
Dave Field – expedition project manager – managing an expedition like this is not easy, especially when its going wrong. I spoke to Dave every day and often vented my frustrations towards him. He coordinated so much in the background, so professionally and gave me the reassurance he was always on watch. I am forever indebted.
Doug Gayford – Doug helped coordinate my return and safe entry to land in Australia. He was preparing to come out in a yacht as far as necessary if the situation required. I was nervous of landing on an unfamiliar coastline as I approached Australia again and he was a massive help working through that as well with ongoing logistics of sorting the storage of Simpson’s Donkey
Coffs Harbour Customs – Thanks to Dean Pascoe and colleague for travelling all the way to Ballina to process me back into Australia. What a gentlemen and an ambassador for his organisation and to the goodness of Australian people.
Stephanie – My wife. Sorry for not being at home during difficult times, thank you again for holding the fort and being there in spirit when I needed it. I will be home soon.
Alistair Harding – Film producer – as all year long, once again Alistair had made the huge last minute effort to get to the landing site, once again I saw his tiny drone in the sky as we approached the safety of land. Alistair, this expedition is your journey as much as it is mine.
To the people who sent positive messages – thank you. They helped enormously with my moral