Author Archives: Grant 'Axe' Rawlinson

Day 15 – goodbye Northern Territory!

I departed the Barkly Roadhouae around 930am on day 13, loaded down with 10 sticks of chocolate and   12 litres of water to get me through the next 260km stretch to the one horse town of Camooweal.  This stretch was interesting for a couple of points – it is the remotest stretch of the entire cycle with the greatest distance between resupply points and secondly I cross the border from Northern Territory into Queensland. 

I fought headwinds all through day 13. But even worse were the flies. I stopped after 40km for lunch at a rest area and was covered in horrible black flies immediately.  As I sat down in the shade of a rubbish bin eating my sandwich some campervanners parked close by enjoying their lunch from the sanctuary of their vehicle rolled down their window and yelled “looks like you are eating raisin bread with all those flies on it mate!”.

Anytime I stopped during the day I was swarmed with flies and they drove me nuts so I eventually just kept riding albeit slowly for hour after hour, eating and drinking while on the go. Even while riding some of the faster flies could keep up with me but it was better than stopping. 

At 6pm I pulled into a rest stop and just as the sunset the flies dissapeared.  I have noticed this before, that as soon as it gets dark the flies knock off for the day. What a relief to sit there finally after   8.5 hours in the saddle and cook a delicious dinner of beef curry and a massive Mug of sweet tea with no flies trying to crawl up my nose.  After 90 minutes rest I was back on the bike and riding into the darkness.  It was much nicer to ride at night with no headwind or flies. I saw a dingo trot across the road in front of me.  The Milky Way was showing off her splendour and the stars were my friends as I rode with only the noise of my chain whirring to break the silence.

At 1130pm I had hit 190km for the day and lay down at a rest area in my sleeping bags for five hours until 430am.   Wanting to maximise the night time lack of headwinds and flies I  was up to polish off the remaining 70km to Camooweal.  I stopped at 630am for another Mug of sweet tea and a cheese sandwich and to watch the sunrise. Wow the scenery had changed overnight and I am now out of boring flat scrub land and into wide open expansive pasture land which I can see for miles. I saw my first Kangaroo –  unfortunately it was dead on the road. 

15km before Camooweal I crossed the border into Queensland. And then 24 and a 1/4 hours after leaving Barkly Roadhouse I finally pulled into Camooweal at 945am to polish off a distance of 260km since departing then Barkly Roadhouse.

My conclusion from the last 1400km riding through the Northern Territory outback is that I like it much more by night – when the heat and flies dissapear.  It is a tough, tough landscape. A harsh environment and one I would probably not be very suited to living in.  I do feel privileged to have experienced at least a little of it from the seat of Stephanie’s Donkey.

Day 13 – have I made a mistake?

As soon as I turned left onto the Barkly Highway on day 11 I knew I was in trouble. I was met with a constant head wind that slowed me down to just over 10km per hour. With 190km to go to my next water stop, and the bike loaded up with 10 litres of water my mood deteriorated hour by hour as I slowly ground out miles.  After five hours and only 50km I was in a particularly bad mood and wondering if I have made the correct decision to turn down this route. Darkness was approaching and traffic was very light – one car every 15 minutes or so when a beaten up white station wagon passed me slowly and stopped a few hundred metres in front. Oh dear I immediately thought. I am about to be confronted by some bogans in the middle of nowhere.  To my surprise a young Taiwanese guy and his girlfriend got out and waved me down to pass me a can of energy drink. This random act of kindness changed my mood entirely and I cycled on until I reached a rest area in the darkness with a pretty pathetic distance of 70km in over 6 hours.  

I ate a cold can of spaghetti for dinner in the dark and jumped into my sleeping bag and bivvy sack, setting my alarm for 4am.  There were ants everywhere and massive spiders were living in the fence above my head so I sprayed some bug spray around the outside of the bivvy bag and zipped it up tightly.
I wanted to start early in the morning to check if the winds were less during the darkness.  So at 4am I was up, rolled up my bivvy and sleeping bag, and for breakfast had a pee and a full body scratch.  By 4:20am I was off and Cycling and to my relief there was no wind.  I made excellent time in the darkness – averaging 19.5km per hour until the sun rose and the headwinds immediately started again.  I would like to say I turned the other cheek to the wind and whistled my way through them however they really frustrated me. They slowed me again to 10km per hour and I had to use so much effort just to make this speed. It feels like cycling with the brakes on. I yelled and screamed and swore,  stopped and kicked rocks and sticks all the while making sure no vehicles were approaching to watch my tantrum before eventually getting back on the bike and peddling on.  After 120km I rolled into the Barkly Roadhouse at 1pm – pretty happy to arrive and be out of the wind.

Today I start a 260km stretch without water – once again I will carry 10litres with me and will try and split it up into 2 x 130km days or nights depending on the headwinds.  These long sections without water are not the places I wanted to be battling massive headwinds but such is life. It is not as if I have much choice anymore!

Cheers for now,


Day 11 – sleeping with spiders

After 960km of cycling since departing Darwin, here I am at ‘Three Ways’ junction where I have to make the biggest decision of the cycle leg. To turn left or go straight ahead? Turning left takes me a further  2800km across the Barclay Tablelands and a more direct route to Coffs Harbour.  Straight ahead takes me 3500km down the Stuart highway and eventually to Coffs, an additional 700km longer journey in total.  Both routes have their highlights and appeal, however I have finally settled on turning left. Whilst the longer route is more appealing to my sense of adventure – I would not have time to see anything as would need to be cycling over 100km every day for the next 35 days strait to make it to Coffs within my time constraints. I am trying to tell myself to slow down a little and take the slightly shorter version and at least see a little more of the country on the way through. Looking back on this journey since I started on the 3 January in Singapore – it is the times I have stopped somewhere to enjoy a view or a cup of tea or talk to someone that stick in my mind – not the actual travel.

The last three days I have ridden into headwinds and through a landscape which has changed significantly.  I am now in wide open cattle country and trees are becoming replaced with low lying schrubs. Now there is bugger all shade and I have to ride for more than an hour or two to find a road sign or anything I can rest behind out of the sun if I want a break. It really is a harsh place during the afternoon heat especially.

Yesterday I rode 115km to ‘three ways’ junction after spending the night in a gravel pit on the side of the road.  I had ridden into the darkness the evening before and as the flies dissapeared with the sunlight and the mosquitos came to replace them I setup my bivvy bag on sun baked, rock hard, red earth. After two hours of sweating in the bag, the heat finally dissapeared and it became cold enough to get in my sleeping bag by the time 0500 came around and I rose to head off.  As I rolled up my bivvy bag a large spider came running out which kind of spoilt my mood and I dearly hoped it had been on the outside of the bag all night and not inside it with me.  My mood soon improved however as I witnessed a lovely sunrise making the countryside glow as I peddled along lost in my thoughts.  

Alistair Harding our legendary expedition film producer has had to return to New Zealand unexpectedly so I am now alone. It took a day or two to readjust to this and  while I miss his company during the evening when we would meet it is also nice to spend some time alone. I do hope he maybe can catch up again in two weeks or so time.  He was never acting as my support vehicle as we travelled independently with me carrying everything I need so the transition from a practical sense was not difficult.

Yesterday I passed this crazy guy pushing his cart from Melbourne to Darwin – this was day 72 of his trip and he run/walks about 40km per day.

Over the next week I have some massive distances to cover between water stops as I take on the Barclay Highway.  I have a 180km section starting this afternoon and then immediately followed by a 290km section. For both these sections I will need more than one day – maybe 2.5 for the 290km section.  Carrying enough water to get through 2.5 days is the main concern.

My body is covered in insect bites, headwinds and heat make it difficult to do larger mileage and I hate sleeping in the bivvy bag.  The bivvy bag is my biggest mistake of the the trip. I am always looking for ways to cut weight and this was one step too far.  Fortunately Mr Andrew Cook has come to the rescue and I have a small free standing tent waiting for me in Mt Isa – 6 days ride away which will make camping much more comfortable.  The ground is so hard here I can’t even get tent pegs in so a free standing tent is more appropriate.  Apart from that my legs are becoming hard as rocks as I get fitter and I am loving the over all experience of seeing this harsh, dangerous but beautiful land by my own human power.

Love Axe

Day 8 – sleeping with wallabies 

Every night I sleep out in the open in my tiny bivvy bag. This is basically a small waterproof bag that goes over my sleeping bag. It’s advantage over a tent is that it is very lightweight and I set it up in less than 30 seconds by simply unrolling it on the ground. Three nights ago in a campsite at Mataranka I was sleeping under a tree when around 11am I woke to feel someone lying over my feet. My first thought was that someone had crept up and gone to sleep using my feet as a pillow and in the darkness as I looked down I saw what I thought was a large rabbit lying quietly on my legs. I wasn’t quite sure what to do but but eventually moved my feet and made a grunt to chase the rabbit away.   To my surprise it moved up closer to me and I saw it was actually a wallaby. All night until 530am the wallaby sat with me and seemed to enjoy my body warmth. By 530am when I rose it was nestled in against my shoulder and I lay there looking at this curiously shaped animal for fifteen minutes as it rubbed it a stomach and chewed imaginery food. This one must have been the campground pet but to share an experience with an animal like this was pretty special. Here is a photo of the little fella.

 Here is a short video of the ride to Mataranka pit together by Alistair Harding.

I have started experimenting with different routines – leaving on the bike at 630am and trying to knock out 100km or so before lunchtime. I then rest for a few hours during the heat and have time to do another 40km or so from 430 to 630pm when the temperature drops. I rode for thirty minutes in the dark two nights back and can honestly say that seeing a road train approaching during the darkness at 130km per hour is very intimidating. They are lit up like ships and with a roar like a 747 taking off you hear them bearing down on you for a few minutes before they smash past in a blaze of lights, noise and wind. It put me off trying too much more night riding unless absolutely necessary.  
Two nights ago I slept in a rest area on the side of the road. There were small scrub fires all around the rest area so the area was thick with smoke and many insects. Yesterday I made 100km to a roadhouse called Dunbarra then today I did another easy 100km to Elliot.  Last night I got chewed to death by insects and have lots of bites all over. I am pacing myself as my fitness builds up a little more then I will start upping the daily mileage. 

My big decision is about to come. I will in two days time reach ‘three ways’ junction where I need to finalise my route to Coffs Harbour. Either I go strait down the Stuart highway to port Augusta and “Turn Left to Coffs to make a longer trip of 4500km or I turn left at three ways and follow the Barcly Highway across to Coffs for a shorter route of 3800km. Decisions decisions. Anyway – bye for now!

Love Captain Axe!

Day 3 and 4 – first crocodile sighting 

Hello from the small town of Katherine in the Northern Territory – some 320km from Darwin’s Cullen Bay Marina where I started. Day three was a short ride of 93km from Pine Creek to Katherine. I did not sleep so well during the evening and rose at 5am on day three with the intention to leave in the dark at 6am.  But things did not work out that way and I farted around uploading a video to YouTube and having breakfast so did not hit the road until 730am. This turned out to be too late as by 11am it is starting to get so awfully hot that Cycling from then onwards throughout the afternoon is an exercise in suffering.  (The YouTube video of Darwin  is here)

I stopped after 48km for a muesli bar, Apple and a drink, then pushed on with just one more quick stop until Katherine. This was my first introduction to a longer stretch without anything inbetween in terms of water stops or towns etc. From Katherine onwards the distances between resupply points will get longer and longer – upto just under 300km. 

I was buggered from the heat when I rode into Katherine and found some shade on the Main Street and ate a pie, a sandwich and a banana milk followed by an ice block.  Katherine is a small town with a large population of indigenous people and is quite sad to see a lot of drinking in the Main Street even during the day time.

Today is day four and I had an active rest day – heading with film producer Alistair into the Katherine Gorge for a short boat trip and a beautiful if not sweltering hot walk back out.  We had wanted to kayak the gorge but it has some Crocs in there now as per the picture attached – we saw this smaller one from the boat.

Tomorrow is another 110km day and I will try and rise and leave earlier to beat the heat – I am starting to get scared of the heat – it really is pretty awful to try and ride in.  I also got passed by a large truck far too close for comfort yesterday – at 100km it made no effort to give me any room even though I was on the shoulder and roared past less then 0.5m away. I would have loved to meet the driver.

That’s all from Katherine!

Love Captain Axe

Short video of the departure from Darwin

Thanks to Alistair Harding for the production!

Goodbye Darwin! The cycle leg begins.

Hello from a small ‘village’ some 220km form Darwin. Yesterday at 0720hrs I departed Cullen Bay Marina on ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ laden with enough gear I hope, to get me the 4000+km across Australia to Coff’s Harbour. 

I was lucky to be accompanied by fellow Kiwi ‘Rob’ a soldier with the Australian Army for the first 50km out of Darwin. I was pretty happy when he turned off as I could have a break as we rode non stop and him being on a light road bike and me on the loaded up Donkey was a mid match even though he rode nice and slowly for me.  Day one went generally well although I was I introduced to the afternoon heat of 35 degrees and road trains which are huge! They have upto three massive trailers and roar along at 100 over KM per hour but generally give me lots of room which is nice.

Most Drivers are very friendly and will wave and beep their horns in support which I sometime wish they would not do as it scares the shit out of me.

I had a lovely sleep last night in my bivvy bag – it got cold enough that I had to get into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

The landscape on day one was boring, scrubby land but today I rode 113km to a small place called Pine Creek and the landscape became beautiful. Lots of boulders and burnt undergrowth with some small ranges and cuttings which made the scenery nice. Also lots of termite mounds.  I am averaging one pie and two ice blocks per day as well as two beers.  This afternoon was lots of rolling hills which made my average slow down to about 15 – 16km per hour.

I miss my girls a lot and have imaginary conversations with them while riding. I can’t wait to introduce them to this life. Cycling through a country is a much more intimate experience which connects me with the landscape than I ever feel from driving.

Tomorrow I head for Katherine – 90km only. I need to do at least 100km per day on average to make it over within my time frame so days less than 100km are only options if  I do extra on other days.

My knee got very sore today so I adjusted my seat height by raising it and it immediately felt better.

Bye for now and lots of love,

Captain Axe.

Oh my god! Episode 10 – the best yet!

Hi all!

Please see episode 10 of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries – the best yet and it brings tears to my eyes just watching it. It is my favourite episode so far as it captures us becoming the first people to cross the Timor Sea by human power from Timor to Darwin – officially ending stage one of the journey. This was such an important part of the entire expedition as without getting to Darwin the expedition had no future for me.  It was Charlie Smith’s last leg of the expedition so was emotional for us both to see his departure  from the team.  It was also very exciting as I could now focus on stage two – crossing the Australian continent by bicycle – which I leave in two days time.

If you enjoy this video please share it – it is so beautifully produced by expedition film producer Alistair Harding – a man whom I respect and admire for his unselfish and tireless quest to document the expedition in the most professional manner possible. 

Love Captain Axe

Episode 9 – Bali to Dili

Welcome to episode 8 of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries!

Departing Darwin 14 May – please join!

Departure from Darwin looms!  I would like to invite anyone who is interested and enjoys cycling to join me as I depart Cullen Bay Marina at 7AM on Sunday, 14 May, bound for Coff’s Harbour.  Please do come along and cycle with me as I make my way out of Darwin on day 1 of my 45 day cycle across Australia.

There is a facebook post which shows more information or you can just turn up on 14 May, 15 minutes before the 7AM departure and after a photo or two we will head off!

Facebook invite

Follow this link to see the Facebook invite:


Cycling across Australia – Am I mental?

The wet season in Darwin is drawing to a close.  Wet season is HOT and HUMID with massive thunder storms on an almost daily basis.  Once May arrives, Darwin enters the dry season.  Temperatures will drop slightly and the rain will almost disappear.  I am (patiently?!) waiting for May to arrive before embarking on ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ – my wife’s trusty bicycle, and heading off across the Australian outback for a 4,500 – 5,000km journey to Coff’s Harbour on the east coast.  Stephanie’s Donkey and I have ridden close to 3,500 km together, through New Zealand, Scotland, England, Switzerland and France. We are well acquainted.  But this will be our longest and most testing journey yet.


Entering England on ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ on a 2000km ride from Scotland to France

My mood has been swinging wildly since I have been back in normal life for the past few weeks.  The row from Singapore to Darwin has now drifted far away into the list of ‘past experiences’ in my mind.  The emotions experienced on the first stage of the journey are fading at a frightful speed and looking back – it has started to feel as if I am an observer on someone else’s experience.

I compare my adventure life to eating.  I can eat a delicious meal for dinner.  After dinner I feel full and satisfied with the experience.  I go to sleep but wake in the morning to feel hungry again.  I must eat.  If I do not, I will become weak and eventually die. One delicious meal will not sustain me for a lifetime just as one great adventure will not sustain my spirit for a lifetime.

I can’t wait to get on ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ and head out alone into the Australian outback. To spend long, hot days riding across the entire Australian continent.  The massive distance I plan to cover is equal to riding across the whole of Europe or from the west coast of the USA to the east coast.   I can’t wait to fall sleep in the open, under a  sea of stars exhausted from hours in the saddle.  I can’t wait to spend time by myself, a solitary existence, to concern myself with no one else’s needs apart from my own, to ride, to dream, to miss my precious family and realise even more deeply just what they mean to me, and to plan more unique adventures in far away places.  The journey can never end. Without it my spirit is done.




Episode 7 of the Rowing from Home to Home diaries

Hello folks!

Enjoy episode 7 of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries – lovingly and professionally put together by our very own kiwi film producer Alistair Harding.  As you can probably tell, Alistair does this for a living and if you are after professional video production, don’t hesitate to contact him!

This episode covers the 1,500km journey from Batam Island in Indonesia through to Pulau Bawean in the middle of the Java Sea.

Episode’s 8 and 9 coming soon will cover the journey from Pulau Bawean through to landing in Darwin in Australia.


Rowing from Dili to Darwin – running the cyclone gauntlet

On the 10 March 2017, I departed Dili, East Timor in my rowing boat together with my rowing partner Charlie Smith from the UK, destination Darwin, Australia.  This was the final stage in the first leg of my journey to travel from Singapore all the way to New Zealand completely by human power, using my rowing boat Simpson’s Donkey as the mode of transport.  We had no engine or sail on-board and we were not accompanied by support craft.

The expedition named ‘Rowing from Home to Home’, set off from Singapore on the 3 January 2017, and had taken 55 days to reach Dili, arriving on the 26 February 2017.  The last stage of the crossing from Dili to Darwin is described below and written with enough information to hopefully be of assistance to adventurers in the future with their own crossings.

As far as my research, could prove, Darwin to Dili is a regular sailing route – however a human-powered crossing between East Timor and Australia had never been attempted, let alone successfully completed.  I found only one chap who had made the journey in the opposite direction (i.e. from Darwin to Dili) by human power.  This was Jason Lewis, an Englishman who in May 2005, made the journey in 9 days, peddling his custom-made, ocean peddle boat across the Timor Sea. (NB:  using a sail on a kayak is most definitely NOT human power).

The weather in this part of the world is dominated by the monsoon seasons which run with north-westerly winds during the ‘wet’ season from November through to the end of March and South easterly winds during the ‘dry’ season from May through to October every year.  The wet season also corresponds with cyclone season, and is characterised by severe thunderstorms on an almost daily basis and very hot muggy weather.  The wet season is therefore NOT the season of choice for recreational sailing and other water based activities. Local yachties normally have their boats safely tucked away during this period and await the more settled weather of the dry season.

Route map

The red line marks our eventual GPS track from Dili (top left) to Darwin (bottom right).

As can be seen from the map of the crossing above – Jason Lewis in crossing from Darwin to Dili, used the more settled weather patterns in the south-east monsoon to make his crossing during May.  Alas for us needing to travel in the opposite direction, it would be very difficult to row against the prevailing winds therefore we had to make the crossing during the north-west monsoon and hence run the threat of being caught in a cyclone.  To minimise the threat, we left towards the middle of March which is the normally coming to the end of cyclone season but by no means is an assurance (as we were to discover) that we would not be caught by one. In summary, crossing from Darwin to Dili would be a slightly safer and more predictable option to take during the south-east monsoon than coming the opposite direction as we attempted.

Dili was a place of contrast for me.  Magical and beautiful, yet haunting and thought-provoking.  The day before departure we visited the Santa Cruz cemetery in the heart of the city.  This is where the infamous massacre of over 200 innocent civilians by Indonesian troops occurred on November 12, 1991 and was something that shocked and sickened me, filling my heart with pain for people born into this awful situation totally beyond their control. Just how lucky are we to grow up in developed and stable countries? Visit Dili and the Santa Cruz cemetery and it may help to remind you. See the video below for brief 2 minute overview of the Santa Cruz massacre if you would like to learn more.

After an 11 day layover in Dili, we departed on 10 March, 1130hrs (day 67 of the expedition) from Dili harbor, with a small crowd of friendly faces from the local  NZ and UK embassies and Kym Miller and her team.  Kym was our superb host during our stay in Dili and arranged everything for us from CIQP (customs, immigration and quarantine) to accommodation and transport during our stay – she can be contacted through her tourism and adventure company

We had slightly fuzzy heads from our farewell party the evening before so were moving slowly under the 40 degree heat and baking sun.  The water in Dili Harbor seems to contain a flesh-eating bug which a number of people had contacted severe infections from.  Small cuts in their skin becoming infected terribly and requiring hospital treatment to cure.  We were hence very nervous of getting into the water as contacting this infection on the boat when we were at sea would be a critical situation.  Charlie had a cut on his foot which we put in a plastic bag for protection.  When it came time to depart, it appeared I would have to dive into the water to untie our bowline from the mooring buoy which I was not particularly thrilled about. After trying to work Simpson’s Donkey into a position from where I could sit in the boat and untie the line, it provedimpossible and I eventually gave up and jumped in the water and tried to complete the task as quickly as possible before getting out and dousing my body in surgical spirits.

We rowed slowly out of the bay at 1.5 knots and looked forward to catching the currents which apparently set north-east along the coastline.  The first 100nm of the journey were following the north coast of Timor all the way to Jaco Island located at the very north eastern tip of Timor Island. From here we had scoped the currents in the Timor Sea and from initial planning had decided that a direct route, 260nm across to the Tiwi Islands may NOT be the best choice.  Instead we planned to head 100nm further east then drop 220nm directly south to the Tiwi Islands avoiding the strongest current area’s. This added a further 80nm onto the crossing but seemed to be a safer option.

Departing Dili

Cristo Rei statue in Dili Harbour – photo: Alistair Harding

We had a beautiful view of the Cristo Rei as we departed Dili as you can see from the drone photo above. This statue has an interesting history as per this particular view on its origins:

“This 89-foot statue of Cristo Rei was constructed in 1996 as a present from Indonesia to East Timor. Indonesian President Suharto wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Indonesia annexing East Timor by half-apologizing to the East Timorese people for Indonesia’s occupation of the country. To please the Catholic majority, Suharto, a Muslim, built a giant statue of Jesus standing atop a globe, accessible by a 590-step staircase. The statue was built in the Indonesian city of Bandung, where nearly all of the workers carving the face of Jesus into copper were Muslim.

Despite three months of construction and a cost of 5 billion rupiah ($559,000), the Indonesian government failed to appease the majority of East Timorese people. Part of the reasoning for this is that Suharto angled the statue to be facing the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which caused controversy amongst the recipients of the gift.

The ploy had little effect on staving off the East Timorese independence movement, which the people won in 2002. But, like its counterpart in Rio De Janeiro, the Christ statue in Dili still stands.” (source:

The sun baked us mercilessly that first day as if we were sitting in an oven.  It was with intense relief when it finally started to fade and we were treated to a spectacular sunset as the temperatures began to drop, the same time as a large pod of dolphins and what looked like small whales jumped and splashed in the water some distance from our tiny boat.

During the heat of the day we row in one hour alternating shifts and at night-time changed to a 2-hourly alternating shift pattern.  This in effect meant we kept the boat moving 24 hours per day with one person rowing at all times.  We each row 12 hours per day with 12 hours rest. Bearing in mind we had 55 days and nights of rowing to reach Dili, we were a well oiled machine by now and slipped back into the routines of rowing and resting almost immediately.

I suffered through my predictable pattern of homesickness which begins at the start of each leg.  Waves of loneliness and depression wash over me as I miss my wife Stephanie and twin daughters Rachel and Stephanie back home.  After 2 – 3 days these feelings ganerally begin to fade and even though I still miss them, I can start to enjoy the adventure more.  My diary on day 68 reads: “Day heats up as hot as hell,  struggle through it, hangover not helping,, depressed at missing girls and just want to get to Darwin now and finish off this leg”.

After the first night we realised we would be subject to tidal influence all the way up the coast. With the tide we would make 2.0 knots quite comfortably for a few hours then when it turned we would slow to 1 knot or less.  However it was never strong enough that we could not make forward progress, albeit very slowly.  East Timor is a very mountainous country, with the highest point Tatamailau (also known as Mount Ramelau) at 2,963 metres (9,721 ft)ASL.  Whilst nice to be close to land with beautiful views, the downside to this was that due to the massive scale of the mountains, it made us realise how pitifully slow our progress was.  Sometimes I would be on my third particular shift of the day and feel that the view and the scenery were exactly the same as 6 hours earlier!

During the early hours of the 13 March – day 70 of the expedition, we finally rounded the tip of Jaco Island, 3 days after we departed from Dili.  Jaco Island is a tiny uninhabited island on the north-east tip of Timor. Apparently a species of deer called the ‘Javan rusa’ live on Jaco island and can drink salt water due to the lack of fresh water.

The sea was glassy calm and the air hot and sticky with no wind, making it very muggy inside the cabin.  I did not manage to sleep well that evening due to the heat, but as we started to move further from the island a welcome NW breeze sprang and our speed increased to 3 knots.  3 knots in an ocean rowing boat feels like you are about to take off.  My spirits on the entire journey were very much related to the speed we were travelling at.  All my calculations leading up to the expedition for planning purposes were based on maintaining 2 knots for as close as possible to 24 hours per day.  If we dropped below 2 knots my spirits would drop, if we dropped below 1 knot I became gloomy and if we were being forced backwards I was positively angry! This is also related to how difficult it is to row the boat.  With tail winds and currents, the boat glides through the water with little effort, rowing becomes a breeze.  With 15 knots or more of tailwind, the sea state begins to build and you get following sea’s and can even begin to surf the boat which is tremendous fun.  However at less than 1 knot and into headwinds, just keeping the boat heading in the correct direction is hard and frustrating work.  It feels like you are rowing in wet concrete and it really takes the fun out of the situation.

At 0800 hrs every morning I called our project manager Dave Field in New Zealand to get an update on the weather using our Satellite phone from Network Innovations. Day 70’s call revealed that some strong westerly winds were forecast for a few days time that would effectively push us some distance to the east.  As I explained above, the initial plan was to head further east initially before dropping directly south to the Tiwi Islands.  But upon hearing this forecast and discussion with Dave, we decided to change the plan. Instead we would now head directly south- east from the tip of Timor towards the Tiwi Islands, and in a few days time use the effect of the strong westerly winds to push us the further distance east to avoid the strongest currents in the Timor Sea.

14 March – Day 71.  Today we started to get some squalls passing through.  The rain was a welcome relief from the brutal heat and rowing naked the cooling water felt like heaven on my skin which was being plagued by heat rash.  A head wind developed from the SE, so in general our progress was very slow, hovering between the 0.5 – 1 knot mark.  We usually had the GPS running continuously for the rower to see his speed and heading. However at these speeds this is a constant reminder of just how slow our progress really was. It was depressing me and I was determined to take control of my mental state and get myself into a positive spirit.  I knew this was within my control but sometimes it is easier said than done.  I eventually found a solution, I turned off the GPS!  I immediately started to enjoy life much more.  By steering off the compass and turning the GPS on only every few hours to check heading and speed I started to look around and enjoy the surroundings much more.  I thought positive thoughts.  I became much more involved in the moment itself.  I reminded myself how lucky I was to be here and that I can only control those things within my control – the wind, weather and currents are beyond that.  What happens with them will happen.  It was a pivotal moment in the crossing for me.

Due to the headwinds, we had to point the boat at a bearing of 200 degrees to make progress over ground at 150 degrees.  In effect the boat was moving sideways through the water.  At the end of day 71, we made only 5nm in 8 hours of continual rowing.  I wrote in my diary “5nm in 8 hours rowing! Thank god for my new mindset!”.  Normally this would have depressed me but now I really did not care.  We would make up the time later when the conditions turned.

Our position was 185nm from the Tiwi Islands and around 60nm from East Timor. Because East Timor is so high with her mountainous interior, we could still make her out and it was depressing to have rowed three days away from land and still be able to see it. I was now concerned if we could actually make it to Darwin before getting caught in a cyclone.  The winds at this time of year should be predominantly from the west or north-west which would have made our crossing more straight forward.  So to have them coming from the south-west or south-east was not what we had hoped or planned and was slowing us down to a point where we were moving too slowly for our safety. We had plenty of food and water on the boat, the main issue I was concerned with was the threat of a cyclone.  I started to work through scenario’s for abandoning ship and catching a ride on a passing merchant vessel if we got a warning of a cyclone imminent.

That night – things improved and the wind swung to the NW.  We made 2 knots of speed until 0300 hrs on 15 March, Day 72, when a massive rain storm passed through from the south for 2 hours.  Charlie did battle on the deck but could not force the boat forward through the storm.  When rain squalls pass over, they normally last for short periods of around 5 minutes to maximum one hour.  They will often bring stronger gusts of very localised wind which can swirl around and push you all over the place.  It is generally not worth putting the para anchor out for these short periods, as it would take more effort and time to deploy and retrieve than the storm would last for.  During my subsequent shift as the squall passed, I managed to row at 0.4 knots in the darkness for one hour until the wind turned to the W, and wS happy to see the speed increase to 1.8 knots.  By 0700 hrs on Day 72 the wind had swung to the NW at 16 knots and we were now flying along at 2.8 knots.

The first 60nm of the crossing of the Timor Sea saw us passing over water depths 1000m and deeper.  However once we were  one-third of the way across we reached a massive shoal, where the sea floor rises to 100m or less in a giant plateau for the rest of the way to Australia.  It is this shallow area where we feared the currents would start to run most swift, and from our information they would be subject to tidal influences, maybe even changing direction on a 6 hourly basis.

Around 1200 hrs on day 72 we received a welcome surprise when a large aircraft flew over us at just 200 feet.  It swooped around and made another low pass and we could make out the insignia of the Australian Border Force on its side.  It was our first concrete sign we were approaching Australia after 72 days of effort and it was terrifically exciting. I wrote in my diary:  “weather gray and overcast, feel quite tired, 3 days @ 2 knots to Cape Fourcroy!”

Australian Border Control airplane flyby

The Australian Border Force passes over at 200 feet (60m).

Day 73 – 16 March.  Overnight it rained hard and I sat rowing in my Musto storm jacket as the wind rose to 16-17 knots from the W.  By now I was getting very good at estimating wind speed and could generally pick it within a couple of knots when I double checked with our wind speed indicator.  The night was overcast which meant no moon light.  It was completely black on the deck with only the faint glow of the compass light to catch my eye. When it is this dark this you cannot see the waves coming.  We had to steer at 180 degrees to make a course over ground of 140 degrees. This meant the wind was coming directly on our beam (side) which makes life very uncomfortable on the boat as it rocks violently from side to side as the waves pass through at the same direction as the wind.  We had prepared the deck for possible capsize and discussed capsize drills earlier in the evening. Because of the strength of the wind, we had to use the centre board, which is a ‘fin’ we can insert and remove below the bow section of the boat.  When inserted, the centre board allows us to hold course much easier in  cross winds.  However it also slows down our progress significantly as it adds more drag.  After a few slow hours with the centre board deployed,  I noticed the wind swing to the NW in the early hours of the morning.  So I removed it and our speed immediately shot up from 0.4 to 2.0 knots.

During the 0800hrs call with Dave Field he gave us some depressing news.  The wind was forecast to turn to the SW, then S then SE over the next few days, which would mean direct headwinds for us to try and row into.  The only positive was that the wind strength was meant to drop to 5 knots or less.  For the rest of that day we managed to hold 2 knots of speed all the way through to 1400hrs.  It was a nice enough day to have the sunshade out and we managed to dry some of our gear on deck.  That evening the wind started to swing back to the W, and Charlie has trouble making forward progress during his first 2 hour evening shift.  When I came on deck to row from 1900 – 2100 hrs, I tried for 20 minutes and the wind and current were making it impossible to even keep the boat heading in the right direction.    I looked at the water depth and noticed it was 76m of water.  Could we combine our 70m para anchor line to our 30m anchor line and drop our 8kg anchor here? ‘It may work’ I thought, but the biggest danger is getting the anchor snagged and not being able to retrieve it up again.  We decided on trying the parachute anchor first so dropped this into the water on its 70m line and waited for it to unfurl.  After a few minutes it became tight, however quickly became apparent that on para anchor we were being pulled directly north at 1.5 knots.  This was not at all desirable to be losing ground at this pace so we retrieved the para anchor and re-rigged the ropes to make a 100m anchor line and with a wish and a prayer dropped our anchor over the side.  When it hit the bottom there felt like a very small amount of rope left however after letting it all out, we noticed our progress halt.  The anchor seemed to be working! It was holding us at least. Alas being on anchor in windy conditions is not a pleasant experience for rest.  We both lay in the cabin as the boat rocked and bucked from side to side and tried to snatch some sleep.  I ended up wedging myself as tight as I could against  the wall of the boat to stop my body and head slamming against it every few seconds.

Day 74 – 17 March.  We rested on para anchor until 1100 hrs, waiting for the winds to drop. By this time they had dropped to < 5 knots, so together we strained and hauled and only just managed to pull up the anchor.  It is very hard work pulling it in on its 100m of thick line.

Hauling in anchor

Fighting hard to get the anchor in.. This would have been bordering on impossible for one person to try to retrieve.

I rowed the first one hour and made a measly 400m, it appeared we were fighting current here as the wind was too light to be affecting our progress this much.  The Australian Border Force plane passed over us again and this time we managed to contact them on the radio. Charlie had a brief discussion with them and they read us some regulations about what we can and cannot do as we enter Australian waters.  By this stage we had started two daily phone calls with Dave Field in NZ to get updates on weather.  At 1500hrs I called him and he gave us some very welcome news that after the southerly winds have passed through it looks like 3 – 5 days of NW and N winds! This looked to be our window to make it all the way into Darwin! I was so happy on deck I shouted and whooped and screamed like crazy.

We started to make some better progress that afternoon and were back to my happy pace of 2 knots.  At 1845hrs our position was 100nm from the mouth of the Apsley Channel. This is the channel which separates the two Tiwi islands,Bathurst Island and Melville Island. It is over 40nm long, and in places is only a few hundred metres wide.  It is lined with sandy beaches, mangroves with plenty of mosquitos, lots of saltwater crocodiles and has very strong tidal streams which reverse every 6 or so hours.  It is definitely a place I wanted to row through, and I had it in my mind for three years that this is how I would like to enter the Beagle Gulf for the final run into Darwin.  We had another choice that was possibly faster however but also subject to strong tidal streams which would be harder to counter as we would be in deeper water.  This was passing around Cape Fourcroy on the western tip of the Tiwi Islands (Bathurst Island).  This was a less exciting option for me and I much preferred the Apsley Strait.

That evening our luck turned again as the wind turned to the south and rose to 16 knots. All day since raising the anchor we had made only 12nm.  The wind started pushing us directly north at a speed of 2 knots.  In 67m of water we once again tossed our trusty anchor over, and once again it held.  We both rested in cabin until 0200hrs when the electronic radar reflector started going crazy.  This is a safety device which has an audible alarm which alerts us when a ship is close and is receiving a radar signal.  I scanned the horizon for thirty minutes in the dark as the alarm continued to ping.  Checking the AIS on the chart plotter I could not see any vessels so eventually turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. Something was out there but the only thing I could think is that it must have been over the horizon.

Day 75 – 18 March.  I actually managed to have a very nice sleep overnight.  Leaving Charlie asleep in the cabin, I come onto deck at 0600hrs and made porridge and tea for breakfast.  It was a beautiful morning on deck, so peaceful and as I sit there quietly eating my porridge I am in love with mother nature and wish this would never end.  Conditions have settled enough for us to depart, so again with maximum effort and grunting we just manage to raise the anchor and set off again.  I took the first shift and made 1 knot at a 120 degree heading which is the best I can hold as the counter current is trying to push us north.  However as the day wore on we managed to pick up pace and by the afternoon are at over 2 knots as the tide turns and the currents flow in our favor.   That evening I ate a delicious freeze dried meal of Moroccan Lamb with couscous in the dead of the night as a few stars peeked out from behind the clouds.  It was magical on deck and with a slight tailwind of 5 knots from the north we made excellent progress.

Day 75 – 19 March.  On my last 2 hour night shift from 0500 – 0700 I made 5.7nm of distance! This is a fantastic speed for a rowing boat and was further than we made in an entire days rowing a few days back.  We were now only 36nm from Cape Fourcroy and almost the same distance to the mouth of the Apsley Channel.  We still had not made a decision as to what route we will take – the Cape or Apsley Channel?  The decision was soon taken out of our hands by the wind.  Being predominantly from the N we had been pushed further S than E, and now would need to travel directly east to make it to the mouth of Apsley Channel.  This would be very difficult with the Northerly winds so the choice was simple, Cape Fourcroy it was to be.

Day 76 – 20 March.  We made good progress overnight and by 0945hrs were only 19nm from the Tiwi Islands.  We expected to see them by now, and regularly scanned the horizon but there was nothing to see but endless flat sea.  I started to plan the crossing of the Beagle Gulf, between the Tiwi Islands and Darwin.  Here the tidal streams are very fierce due to the large tidal range Darwin experiences.  Fortunately for us our arrival coincided with a 3/4 moon which is neap tides when the tidal range is only around 2.5m, instead of the typical 4-8m tidal range at spring tides (full and new moons). The good thing about the Beagle Gulf is the water depth is shallow enough for us to drop anchor (50m or less) all the way across.  As the tidal streams appeared to be too strong to row against the anchor was to be our safety net to allow us to get into Darwin.

At 1530hrs when we were only 12nm off Bathurst Island we finally caught our first glimpse of Australian soil.  The Tiwi’s really are very low-lying and it was only by standing on deck that we could make out their profile in the distance.  What a magical site it was to see them and to confirm that our minds were not playing tricks on us and they did really exist!

1st site of Tiwi Islands

1st site of the very low-lying Tiwi Islands – we had to get within 12nm of them to see them.

As the sun set and the evening progressed we made it to within 1nm off the east coast of Bathurst Island and were struggling to round Cape Fourcroy.  Our progress became slower and slower until at 2200 hrs we were being pushed backwards at 1 knot, even while trying to row forwards at hard as we could.  The water depth was showing 46m on the echo sounder so was definitely within our capabilities to drop the anchor.  However I was weighing up the opportunity cost of dropping the anchor and running the risk of losing it if we could not retrieve it, or continuing to row for a few more hours even if we went backwards and lost some miles, until the tide turned and we could make progress again. What eventually sealed the decision was the wind which was blowing at over 10 knots from the west, forcing us towards the crocodile infested shoreline of Bathurst Island in the darkness.  Getting beached on this shoreline at night was a proposition I was definitely most highly motivated to avoid.  By now deploying the anchor was a familiar routine and very soon we had dropped it and were bobbing around in the pitch darkness, only 1nm off the coast of Cape Fourcroy.

We both lay in the cabin but I did not sleep and instead lay resting with one eye on the chart plotter and my ears listening to the strength of the wind.  At 1230hrs I noticed that instead of the bow pointing to the south, we seemed to have swung to the north.  Whilst at anchor our bow points towards the direction the current is coming from. So this meant that the current should now be pushing us south.  We set about trying to haul in the anchor line however using all of our brute force we could not budge it even one little bit.   I set-up a simple 3:1 pulley system (similar to crevasse rescue techniques) and even using this mechanical advantage the anchor would not move.  After 45 minutes and pulling, heaving and straining we realised we would not be able to get the anchor up.  Now there was only one option, to cut the line with a knife.  This was a committing act, as without the anchor we would be much more vulnerable as we crossed the Beagle Gulf in the strong tides.  The question was simple – do we cut it now, or wait until morning?  It seemed like delaying the inevitable to wait for the morning, so out came the knife and with a few short strokes, I kissed goodbye to hundreds of dollars of beautiful octoplat deployment line, and anchor and chain.

With relief, we found the current was doing what we predicted and we immediately started making excellent speed south.  Very soon were at the south-eastern tip of Cape Fourcroy. We had been using Navionics electronic background charts all the way from Singapore which proved most excellent for navigation.  But here we found their coverage area stopped just a few miles off the coast of the Tiwi Islands, and I needed a second set to cover the Darwin approach – which were inconveniently back home in my storage area in Singapore.  As any good mariner should have, we carried paper charts, and I sat in the cabin in the early hours of the morning, with sweat dripping off my nose, scaling coordinates off the paper chart to try to avoid a dangerous shallow area known as the Afghan shoals as we rounded Cape Fourcroy. With a current pushing us from behind at 2.5 knots, in a couple of hours and around 5nm,  we were soon past these.  As the sun came out it was a beautiful feeling to key in the final waypoint of the entire journey to Darwin – Cullen Bay Marina, directly across the Beagle Gulf and distance of 50.4nm.

It was now day 77 (20 March) and crossing the Beagle Gulf became an exercise in working with and against the tide.  My heat rash which had plagued me off and on since leaving Singapore was starting to flare up again by now, and felt like my skin was crawling, especially on my torso area.  The skin under my arms where constant rubbing was occurring due to the rowing motion was becoming broken and painful, so I changed from my favored naked rowing style to wearing a long-sleeved rowing shirt to try to alleviate the rubbing.  I knew that I only needed to make it another 24 hours or so before I would be back on land with the comforts of fresh water showers and air conditioning.  This would stop the heat rash and other skin issues within a few days.

Around 1130hrs the tide turned directly against us and I battle to make 400m in my one hour shift.  Dave Field had passed the tidal information to us by sat phone so this was one of the first part’s of the entire 2360nm journey that we had a reasonable idea of what the currents would be doing and at what time (except for day one and two of the expedition in Singapore where I had a very good handle on currents and tides).  Hence we knew we just had to hold on until 1440hrs when the tide would turn and we could start to make progress again – until then it was rowing on the spot! Like hamsters on a wheel we continued to row, making pitiful progress but at least not losing ground. And as the afternoon wore on the tide did turn and we picked up speed again.

The evening of day 77 was our last night on the water.  For Charlie especially it was poignant time.  On one hand he wanted to reach Darwin, and on the other hand he knew it was the end of the expedition for him.  His mood became quite and reflective.

Charlie and I had shared a good working partnership on the boat during the expedition.  It was his first major expedition, and he had done well, whilst learning an enormous amount about the realities of big trips.  Being confined to a tiny space with one other person, with no more than 3m of space at maximum to separate you from each other for so many days on end, can be very difficult to cope with.  We had a couple of flare-ups during the trip, but always managed to move on quickly from these.  This I believe is one of the keys to working successfully in small teams.  It is the people who hold grudges for long periods, even days on end that would make life very difficult on these type of high pressure environments.  The ability to have a disagreement, get over it and have a laugh afterwards is very important to being able to work with others.

That evening we rowed slowly past a massive oil rig, which was lit up like a massive Christmas tree, right in the heart of the Beagle Gulf, some 40nm offshore.  We passed with 0.5nm of this massive and most impressive feat of human engineering and tried to raise them on channel 16 on the VHF to say hello, alas to no avail.

That evening around 2100hrs we heard a crackling over the VHF – “Simpson’s Donkey, Simpson’s Donkey this is Nautilus – do you copy? Over”.  It was local Darwin sailor John Punch, who had come out 30nm offshore in his beautiful catamaran, together with Chris his friend and our expedition film producer Alistair.  We were forbidden to make physical contact until we had passed through customs and immigration, but to hear a friendly voice and see the boat a few hundred metres away, allowed me finally to believe that we were close enough now we would make Darwin safely.  Nautilus stayed out all night, and eventually caught up with us again in the early hours of the morning as day light broke to film us on the final approach to Cullen Bay Marina.

We made excellent progress all through that final night at sea, never dropping below 1.5 knots and generally averaging over 2 knots of speed.   As the daylight broke we were treated to a magnificent sunrise over Darwin city and seeing her so close gave us all the motivation two human beings would ever need to get the job done!  We set-up the second rowing seat and very soon both of us were rowing in unison.  With a tailwind and current we were making some of the fastest speeds of the entire journey and averaged over 4 knots as we passed Charles point, now with just 5nm to go to reach the entrance to Cullen Bay.  We had one sand bar to negotiate off Charles point, thankfully John Punch pointed this out to us and guided us around the worst of it. however the water depth dropped to 2.6m below the boat for a brief stage and I had my heart in my mouth as we went over this.  The sea state became very choppy and rough but at 4 knots we were soon clear with the final run in to Cullen Bay left before us.

Rowing two-up to reach Darwin

Sunrise over Darwin city and our first site of the end goal as we row two-up for the last few miles.

There was one last hurdle to negotiate as we made the final approach to Cullen Bay – we were going too fast and could not stop!  The entrance to the marina involved negotiating a tight left-handed turn into a narrow channel between two large rock walls.  In a motorboat with engines with reverse thrust this would be rather straight forward, however in an ocean rowing boat being pushed at over 4 knots by strong winds, with no ability to stop, reverse or even control direction by more than 30 degrees, it was a nightmare. As we got closer, visions of being smashed into the rock walls ran through my head and the fact that Simpson’s Donkey has no insurance and cost me $150,000 to purchase, started to make my blood pressure rise.  Fortunately we managed to rig up a makeshift anchor and under (by now in our eyes our local hero!) John Punch’s excellent advice dropped the anchor just 100m off the entrance to the marina and came to an abrupt stop.  So close – yet still so far to our goal.

After an hour of bobbing around in the intense sunshine, the wind dropped and John came out again in his small dinghy to guide us into the marina, which to my immense relief we managed safely.  We were greeted by a modest crowd of onlookers of whom we generally had no idea whom they were, some reporters and TV camera’s and of course customs and quarantine staff.  As we pulled in beside the dock, I touched the jetty and solid ground for the first time since leaving East Timor and gave it a pat and a kiss.  We had finally made it.  My dream, my vision.  So much effort, so much risk, so much uncertainty…  We had run the cyclone gauntlet and won.  In 78 days we had rowed this amazing little boat over 2,360nm all the way from Singapore to Australia – becoming the first people to ever complete this journey by human power.  Stage one was complete.

Side note: I would like to personally thank those people who made stage one of the Rowing from Home to Home expedition a success.

Charlie Smith my rowing partner who now leaves the expedition.  Spirits are high my friend – may you achieve your own ambitions and dreams in the years ahead.

Dave Field – our project manager, if it was not for you we would still be bobbing around trying to make our way into Pulau Bangka.

Alistair Harding – our film producer who does so much more than produce amazing films. Thank you.

Monique Dickerson – our PR manager for making the regular updates and posts on our behalf.

To my wife Stephanie and family back home in NZ – thank you for supporting this crazy hair brained idea.

To all our sponsors and supporters, people who left messages of support – I am so glad this excited so many people, and so many of you are coming along on the journey.  Please keep following and share the journey with your friends. The world needs adventurers, who take on challenge and risk and push our boundaries in sustainable and responsible ways.   The next two stages are yet to happen and will only get more exciting.

To all those people who did not believe in this journey – who tried to steal the idea but failed, who took bets when we would need rescuing – thank you also! Your attitude did nothing but give me more strength and determination to get the job done.

Captain Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson

Finally the Donkey is safe!

Axe here and I am so happy to say that finally our beautiful little donkey is safe and sound in Cullen Bay Marina. I will write more detail later about the last few days of the expedition however after finally arriving at the entrance to Cullen Bay Marina there were 24 hours of ‘issues’ to sort out with customs/immigration and quarantine. To cut a long story short – the boat was inspected by customs divers and a suspicious shell fish was found on the hull which meant we could not enter the marina last night and I spent one more night on the boat. Today we got the clearance to enter and at 1130hrs we finally moored Simpson’s Donkey securely to her berth. What a magical feeling to finally see this amazing little craft which has carried us so far, finally safe and secure at her mooring. I am also very much looking forward to having a nice rest in a proper bed this evening.


A massive thanks to our local Darwin hero Mr John Punch who guided us in from 30nm out in his yacht, seen here in this picture with us. And of course our trusty film producer Alistair Harding for superb efforts ensuring our arrival was captured.

It is with a mixture of fondness and sadness that I announce Charlie Smith my trusty rowing partner and friend will now leave the expedition. It was always the plan that Charlie would only join for the first phase from Singapore to Darwin, and he will shortly return to Singapore and back to work. His spirit of hard work, positive energy and determination will live on and I will miss him dearly. Go well my friend. With out you I could never have done this and together we made a great team.


And so Simpson’s Donkey has made it all the way to Darwin, Australia! Even as the weather gods attempted to keep them away for a few minutes longer by sending in some strong winds to keep Axe and Charlie anchored a few hundred meters offshore, in the end they were never going to be denied and they docked just a few minutes ago!

Both are well, coherent, understandably tired, and now a little hot as they sit in the dock answering questions from Australian Customs!!

Thank you everyone for your messages of support- you’ll be hearing from Axe and Charlie very soon once the port and immigration clearances are completed! Go the Donkey!!




New ETA- 11.30am-12pm at Cullen Bay Marina ferry wharf, Darwin, Australia

Ladies and gentlemen!!! Simpson’s Donkey is within sight of Darwin, Australia!!! After leaving Singapore on January 3 and making its way through Indonesia and East Timor, and in the process becoming the first rowing boat to make its way across the Java, Bali, Flores and Timor Seas, Grant Rawlinson and Charlie Smith are about to set foot on a whole new continent and here’s the first photo to prove it!!! #GOTHEDONKEY


#nikon #d500




Hi Guys, 

Before we launch into sharing Captain ‘Axe’ Rawlinson and 1st Mate Charlie Smith’s update for Day 76, we would like to share with you all that their arrival to Darwin is very close!! As we share this latest blog it looks like the guys will arrive at Cullen Bay Marina tomorrow (Tuesday 21st March) at 9am – 10am local time! Of course you all know that this timing might change so we will do our best to update you with any changes as they occur, but keep your eye on the tracking map for the most up to date progress and if you’re in Darwin tomorrow, come on down and join us in welcoming Simpson’s Donkey to shore. 

Now for what you have all been waiting for……..

Hello from the cabin of Simpson’s Donkey on day 76.  What an interesting last two days we have had.  We were so excited to catch our first glimpse of Australian soil as we approached Bathurst Island yesterday that it was very disappointing we could not see it at all until we were very close.  Bathurst Island is so flat that we had to get within 12nm away before we could make it out.  At 1630 hrs yesterday afternoon, I turned my head from the rowing position to scan the horizon as I had been doing regularly all day, and I had to rub my eyes.  I thought I  saw a smidge of something.  I jumped up and there before me was the coastline of Bathurst Island, I whooped and shrieked and Charlie came out of the cabin to do a small jig on the back deck.  What an amazing site and something we will both never forget.

Alas the night did not go so well after that.  The decision to pass through the Apsley Strait or go around Cape Fourcroy was basically made for us by the Northerly wind which did not allow us to make enough easting to reach the Apsley Strait.  So instead, Cape Fourcroy it was to be.  We were making great time and were only 2nm from the southern tip of Fourcroy last evening when the tide turned and we started being blasted north at over 1 knot even while trying to row south.  We were also subject to a 10 knot westerly wind which was threatening to blow us onto the shore of Bathurst Island – we were only just over 1nm offshore at this stage. So out with the anchor again and in 46m of water we dropped it over the side.  It immediately held (to our relief), and we lay and rested with one eye on the wind gauge and one on the GPS chartplotter to observe our direction of drift.  At 0100hrs we noticed the current seemed to be trying to push us south again so we set about trying to retrieve the anchor.  With both us hauling we could not even budge it one little bit.  After many attempts at this, we set up a 3:1 ratio pulley system (to those mountaineers out there – similar to a ‘Z’ pulley system for crevasse rescue).  We tried a further 30 minutes but still could not get it to budge.  So with reluctant acceptance, just before 0200hrs we cut the anchor line and said goodbye to our trusty anchor.   This was a committing thing to do because the anchor was a major part of our strategy and safety plan to make it into Darwin against some very strong tides which are too strong to row.

We then however proceeded to make very good time around Cape Fourcroy, before turning east for 7 miles, hugging the coastline to avoid the potentially dangerous ‘Afghan shoals’ just 3nm off the south coast of Bathurst Island.  Once past these it was a special moment to plug in the final waypoint of so many for this journey, Cullen Bay Marina in Darwin – our final destination, a distance of 50.4nm away.  We set a direct line for this, crossing the Beagle Gulf.  We are now around 36nm from Darwin and nearing the middle of the Beagle Gulf.  The tidal currents here are fierce and they run with us for 6 hours and then set directly against us for 6 hours.  So that means for the past 6 hours we have almost rowed on the spot, making a measly 2nm as we wait for the tide to turn in our favor.  Our trusty anchor we lost – here we so desperately need, and as we get closer to Cullen Bay Marina the stronger these currents will get.  We must find a solution for holding our position.

We are both a little tired now and having mixed emotions about potentially ending the journey sometime tomorrow.  On one hand we want to arrive safely and step onto shore, on the other hand it is a special time for both of us out here on this boat, finishing a once-in-a-lifetime journey.  At the same time we are constantly reminding ourselves not to be complacent, we are in a dangerous part of the world for a tiny underpowered boat, not only currents but today we had another reminder when a shark swam up to investigate the oars as Charlie was rowing.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those people who are part of this journey with us and have helped and supported us to be here.  This is not a story of two people in a boat – it’s a team effort and special thanks must go again to Dave Field – tirelessly, calmly and so professionally providing such important information to us twice per day, a better project manager we could not have wished for.  John Punch for being our man on the ground here and hopefully we will see him at sea somewhere later this evening in his yacht – we are forbidden to make physical contact until we clear customs and immigration but at least he will be keeping an eye on us as we negotiate these last 36 miles of strong tides.  To Alistair our film producer who once again has made the long journey down to our landing point as he has done all previous landings – we can’t wait to see you buddy. Monique Dickerson who receives these blog updates and posts them on our behalf, and to all our sponsors who have contributed so much.  And finally to our families and loved ones back home for continued support and love.  For me especially, Stephanie my wife, I always remind myself that no matter how knackered and crap I feel out here at times, it is not as hard being at home running a house, working fulltime and acting effectively as a single mother with two (lovely but energetic) little twin girls.  I don’t think I can ever repay your faith and support in me.

We hope you have enjoyed following our journey.  We also hope that at least a few of you may be inspired to take on larger and greater challenges in your own lives.  Challenges with real risk, with no guarantees of success, and that will push you far from your comfort zone.  Because as I have found once again with this expedition – adventure is super food for the human soul and that area outside your comfort zone is where the magic starts to happen.

Much love and respect,  Captain ‘Axe’ Rawlinson and 1st Mate Charlie Smith.



Hello from the cabin of Simpson’s Donkey on day 74. We are currently 74nm from Cape Fourcry on the Tiwi Islands. We had another tough evening last night. After hauling in the anchor yesterday morning we stole 12nm of distance with some favorably light winds until around 1900hrs, when the wind turned to the south and rose to 16 knots. I rowed as hard as I could and we were still heading north east at a 30 degree heading at 2.2 knots when in fact we needed to be heading south east. So after 30 minutes of waiting to see if the wind would pass through, we threw out the anchor in 67m of water depth. Just as the previous night, the anchor immediately bit and held which was a relief. We rested overnight and managed to sleep much better than the previous evening, probably due to being so tired. On anchor we are concerned about being hit by a ship so we had the navigation (anchoring) light on and also our electronic radar reflector, which also emits an audible beep if it picks up a radar signal. At 0200 hrs this morning it started beeping like crazy, but there was no vessels to be seen on the horizon or on the AIS chart plotter, I stayed up for 45 minutes on the lookout, before finally turning off the alarm and going back to sleep. There was something out there for sure but maybe it was over the horizon.

Every time we drop the anchor we run the risk of losing it, getting it snagged and having to cut the line. Hauling the anchor in is very hard work even for both of us working together. For one person I am not sure if we could even do it. But we managed to get it up and were off again in light winds at 0700hrs this morning. We have slowly picked up progress during the day and are now flying along at 2.5 knots with the most magical forecast of winds from the northwest of 15 – 20 knots expected for this evening . They are meant too last for the next four days! This is our weather window to get all the way into Darwin. 20 knots of wind will be quite windy and we expect some rough sea conditions, but as long as it is behind us it should push us along nicely. We have not made a final decision about the route into Darwin, either through the Apsley Strait or around Cape Fourcry, let us wait and see where we end up as we get closer to the Tiwi Islands tomorrow. I am not yet thinking of reaching Darwin, the distance may seem short if you look at the chart and how far we have come, but it is a tough fight to get there still with crazily strong tidal currents and we cannot get complacent. It was only a matter of time the longer that we were out here, that a cyclone would spring up. Dave Field has just passed us the news there is a cyclone warning out now. Our safety now is in speed to get to the Tiwi Islands and onto Darwin before anything nasty turns up.

I have been allowing myself time to reflect on the journey thus far and how far we have come. From those early days when we departed from Raffles Marina on the 3 January, crossing the crazily busy Singapore Straits, rowing through storms in the Bali Sea, suffering the blistering heat of the Flores Sea, fighting to get into Dili and now this amazing journey of stealing miles between deep water anchorages across the Timor Sea. I have to almost pinch myself to think how we have been able to come, in such a relatively short time, completely by our own human power. I leave you with these words from Captain James Cook:

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.”
Captain James Cook







DAY 73 – UPDATE FROM AXE ABOARD SIMPSON’S DONKEY – An emotional roller coaster

Hello from the cabin of Simpson’s Donkey on the evening of day 73. As I write this, I can hear the rhythmic sound of Charlie on the oars as he pounds out his last one hour shift of the day before we move into the two hour night shifts.

I hear water sloshing around the hull as we move at 2.2 knots and rain falls gently on the cabin roof. I am warm and dry and feel almost insanely comfortable inside the cabin, but in 50 minutes time I will be out in the rain for my first two hour shift of the night.

The past three days have been an emotional roller coaster for us as the wind and currents continue to tease and haunt us on an hourly basis. Day 72’s morning call with Dave Field at 0800hrs almost bought me to tears as he said we had three days of southerly winds at 10 knots and more to look forward to which in effect would send us backwards most probably. Fortunately we made good time during the day yesterday as the winds stuck to the North West until early evening time when they swung around. By 2100hrs, we were fighting a 14 knot south westerly and could not control the heading of the boat, the best bearing we could hold was 75 degree which was taking us away from the Tiwi Islands. So we deployed the para-anchor which immediately picked up the currents which were north setting and started dragging us directly north at 1.5 knots. Again not good at all, so we pulled that in. The area we were in was only 70m deep so we took a punt and joined the 30m anchor line to the 70m para anchor line and dropped our 8kg anchor over the side.

Normally you need at least 3 times the anchor line of the water depth you are in to hold your boat, in our case we only had 100m, when in fact we should have had 70m x 3 = 210m. Maybe because Simpsons Donkey is so light or maybe because of luck the anchor set and held and we stopped moving! Well stopped moving is not completely true as she then started bucking around like a wild horse for the rest of the night.

We stayed on anchor until 1100 hrs this morning and tried to rest and sleep. To get an idea of what is like to sleep in this little boat on anchor in strong winds in the middle of the ocean, please lie on your side on your bed, then get a good friend to hold your shoulders in both hands and shake you vigourously on a 1 second interval for hours on end. You get the picture! Needless to say we did not sleep that well!

However at 1100 hrs the wind had died to less than 5 knots, still coming from the south but we heaved and groaned and managed to retrieve the anchor without using the SARD (stuck anchor retrieval device also known as a knife). I made only 400m in that first hour of rowing as we fought headwinds and current, and nothing makes me more depressed than spending a lot of energy to make bugger all progress. However over the course of the afternoon we have sped up and are now happily moving at 2.2 knots.

Even better news is that the evening call to Dave Field revealed strong northerlies coming our way on Sunday – we just have one more day tomorrow (Saturday) to battle out some crap from the south then we will be flying to the Tiwi Islands and onto Darwin.

We are now only 77nm from the mouth to the Tiwi Islands channel called Apsley Strait, also known as Bathurst Channel which we hope to pass through to line us up for good run for the last 40nm into Darwin. I am super excited to have the opportunity to navigate this channel – it is full of mangroves, sand bars, sandy beaches and of course salt water crocodiles which will be no threat to us in our boat as we pass through the centre of the channel.

I am a little nervous of coming into Darwin with her strong tidal currents and another unknown harbor so relying very much on Dave Field for advice coupled with our local man on the ground John Punch who is an experienced sailor and helping us enormously.

Today we got flown over again by the plane from the Australian border control and managed to make radio contact, they were friendly and told us a few rules and restrictions and we hope to see them again tomorrow if they pass by for another flyby. That’s all from Simpson’s Donkey – good night!

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