New departure set!

Well we are still here in Bali – sitting on a very windy Amed beach on the north-east tip of Bali. To cut a long story short – we need a port clearance from the local harbor master to leave Bali, and he is concerned about the weather and strong winds which are forecast at 30 knots currently in the Lombok Strait and further out to sea.  We visited the harbor master yesterday and had some long discussions in Bahasa Indonesian about the seaworthiness of Simpson’s Donkey and our intended route to Australia. The harbor authorities thought we were heading directly to Australia over the Indian Ocean – and the sea state is very rough there currently with 7m waves.  So I explained the route we are taking to Darwin, staying North and utulising the natural shelter of the Indonesian island chain.  We eventually reached a compromise between their date of choice for us to depart (13th Feb) to the 10th Feb which is this Saturday. Overall I am very happy with the way the authorities here conducted themselves with regard to our situation – they are being responsible and have our best interests at heart. So to the harbor master and his team from Padang Bai port here in Bali – thank you and keep up the  good work!  We also are indebted to the support of our local agent here, Asia Pacific Super Yachts, who have supported our expedition tirelessly and processed all immigration, quarantine and customs paperwork on our behalf, received food shipments and been invaluable local support from Bali.  Thanks guys!

I am nervous about the Lombok Strait crossing as it is a huge strait with massive currents and lots of vessel traffic being an ‘archipalegic sea lane’.  It is so hard to get any reliable info on what the current is doing now as its so rough hardly anyone is out there.  The worst case scenario is being swept south down the strait and into the much rougher water south of the Indonesia Islands.  We will be trying our best to stay North and hope to head for a way point 10nm north of the north coast of Lombok.  Times like this require critical thinking and logical decision making.  It’s easy to become impatient and begin to bias decision making with emotions rather than logic.

So for now we are repacking the boat – loading more food and stores for the 30 day push to Darwin, eating like horses and having long sleeps at night.  I am in bed by 8pm and sleeping through till 6am. We are also doing more route planning, committing the island chain and route to memory and generally trying to be as ready as possible for our departure first thing Saturday morning – hopefully around 0800 hours.

This next leg of the journey will be a fascinating geographical journey which I have been looking forward to ever since I dreamt up this expedition.  We will immediately cross the ‘Wallace Line’ when we depart Bali.  The Wallace Line is an ecological transition zone between Asia and Australia.  East of this line the ecosystem becomes immediately more Australian whilst west of this island it is Asian. We will be starting to leave the tropical rain forest trees like teak and ebony and entering more drier type climates with gum trees.  Man eating tigers of Asia will start to be replaced with kangaroos! This change remarkably relates to fish, plants and animal species. If this type of thing cranks your handle I well recommend googling it more and learning about this fascinating natural phenomena – and of course Sir Alfred Wallace himself – the man who ‘discovered’ this line and who was a close friend of Sir Charles Darwin.

Another fascinating fact about the east Indonesian islands is the human history, which for a large part revolved very colorfully and savagely around the spice trade. Believe it or not but in the 1500’s and onward, nutmeg, mace and pepper were only found on one or two islands in the remote eastern Indonesian archipalego. Now these spices were literally (pound for pound) worth more than gold in Europe in those times.  There were many battles for control of these tiny islands, mainly between the English, Dutch and the Portuguese. In those days just sailing from Europe to Indonesia was a death defying challenge, in which many boats were either completely lost at sea or lost over half their crew to sickness. Once in Indonesia they were in a turf war for control of the islands which saw humanity committing nothing short of heinous and barbaric acts on one another.  Eventually there was a land swap deal negotiated and ‘New Amsterdam’ – in control of the Dutch at the time was passed into English control and renamed ‘New York’.  In return the English passed the control of the spice islands (at that time very valuable) to the Dutch.  Unfortunately for the Dutch – the spices were later replanted on other islands elsewhere in the world and the prices started to drop considerably. Now if this history is of interest to you – do read the most excellent book “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg” which is a fascinating recount of these turbulent times.

That’s all from rainy Bali. Be sure to follow the SPOT tracker page on Saturday morning 0800 onwards!

Lots of love from Captain Axe!

Its time to go!

After 6 days R & R here in Bali, 1st mate Charlie Smith and myself are starting to get ready to depart on our FINAL leg of stage one.  The time here in Bali has been surprising to say the least. The weather has been atrocious.  Stormy, angry weather, massive rain storms flooding the island and knocking out the electricity.  I made one visit to the beach with Stephanie and the girls, and the waves were ugly, the winds were screaming and the rain coming in horizontally – what sort of mad prickle head would want to go out in that I thought to myself.

We plan to depart Amed Beach on the 7th February, 2017 bound for Darwin.  We will be attempting to make this massive 1250nm journey in one continuous hit. To put this distance into perspective, it is just over 800nm from the top of the North Island to the bottom of Stewart Island in New Zealand.  In fact, 1250nm is longer than the Tasman Sea crossing from Coffs Harbour to New Plymouth (which straight line distance is just under 1200nm). So it’s a massive distance to cover for us in one hit, but I have three years of research into the currents and wind patterns that tell me we should be getting a good shunt along at least the first leg from Bali to just north of Timor Island.

From north of Timor Island, we will then attempt to drop south and enter the Timor Sea and cross to Darwin. This leg is known as cyclone alley, as this is exactly the time of the year cyclones regularly cruise along here wreaking havoc.  We have our weathermen and a local contact and a very experienced sailor based in Darwin working with expedition project manager Dave Field to keep a close eye on the cyclone situation and give us the thumbs up or down whether to attempt the crossing or wait, the decision will be made on the water once we get close.

One of largest concerns now on the boat is that the rain and cloud cover are seriously affecting our boats ability to make enough solar energy to charge our batteries to make drinking water and run the electronics.  We have manual hand operated options onb oard, we have back-ups for everything we can think of, but it is far from ideal to revert to using these.  I pray for some fine, bright, sunny days to allow us to recharge our batteries and also allow ourselves and the boat to dry out.

We also have the Lombok Strait to cross as soon as we depart Bali – a massive highway for vessels around the world, from super tankers, bulk carriers to nuclear submarines. The currents here are reported to be around 5 – 8 knots currently so getting them right is critical to our safe passage.

No one has ever made a human powered crossing in a row boat from Bali to Darwin (or anywhere in Australia), and even given the research I have done it is also a massive step into the unknown.  The local people and fisherman have asked us all the way down on our journey what we do “kalau laut ombak tinggi?”(If the waves are high).  “Kamu dakut?” (Are you scared). They certainly have respect for the sea in which they live and work and it is hard to try and explain them to that our little boat is actually an incredibly sea worthy craft, and how much preparation and hard work we have done to get here.  I feel much safer in Simpson’s Donkey in rough seas than I would in a lot of the motor boats I see around these parts.

Whatever happens over the next one month, we appreciate your positive thoughts being sent our way and remember whatever struggles you are having in your own lives, even if you wake up at 3AM in the morning thinking about them, remember we will always be up with you, rowing and rowing, straining on the oars and fighting to make out way to Darwin and safety.

Signing out from Bali

Capt Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson


Sitting on the back deck of Simpson’s Donkey during an electrical storm as we neared Pulau Bangka Island, I had lost control of the boat as the wind went crazy, the rain was intense and it was pitch black until these massive bolts of lightening exploded around the boat, lighting up the complete surroundings – I felt very uncomfortable and kept thinking of Kate and Rachel my twin daughters and what would happen if we got hit.





After the storm – Charlie’s version of events..

Today we hear from Charlie Smith on his version of the recent events – enjoy his descriptive writing!


“When you are going through hell, keep going!”

That quote from Churchill rings in my ears in the dead of night.

Everything is dark in the early hours of day 25 and we are stuck on para anchor as another storm looms over us, threatening to send us further North East and away from safe harbor. We are hundreds of miles from shore, and the only sign of life is the faint lights of passing cargo ships, with the constant danger that we may just be in their path.

That’s why I’m on deck, to keep watch every 15 minutes for two hours while Grant tries to grab as much rest in the cabin sodden with salt water. The humidity drains you of the little energy you have left. Sleep is broken and frightful, as the hull amplifies the events unfolding outside and the boat jolts and whips on the anchorage lines holding us fast to the winds howling over us.
We are just over 800 nautical miles into the adventure of a lifetime, having rowed from Singapore on January 3rd and have departed from Palau Bawean in the middle of the Java Sea days before with favorable winds and little current speak of. But today that has all changed as we rounded Madura to begin our entry into the Bali Sea, and we were confronted by the enormity of the task as the weather began to grow menacing and beyond anything we had
encountered before.

There is nothing more humbling then experiencing elements in all of their might the full force of nature that doesn’t care of us at all in our tiny boat. I sit curled up, cold and wet, trying not to think when the next wave is going to crash over the boat in the dead of night, and all you can hear is the sound of the thunderous skies and the stormy black seas all around us. Every once in a while, one of these monstrous waves crests and crashes over the boat, everything-including me- is tied down to the deck as the water tries to rip what it can from us. It’s in those dark times you feel stripped of your ego, all the while the demons inside your head continue to chatter and question your choices that brought you here.
There is no escape from it, there is no ‘pause’ button. If you stop rowing nothing changes, and the weather at times seems never forgiving. Unlike other endurance events the challenge is to keep pushing on knowing rest is right there, where you can just stop and there is no consequence-out here the challenge is to keep going without knowing when that rest will come and the consequences are very real.

As every minute of the shift ticks by slowly, you realize that you are losing yet more ground and the chance of reaching Bali is slowly slipping away. We make the call. It’s time to pull up the para anchor, and a slight pause in the wind direction we decide it’s better to fight standing on our feet than to lie down on our backs. We begin taking 90 minute shifts and working on one goal- to keep the boat moving-however slowly-towards Bali and safe harbor. Rowing at many times with just one arm, feeling the strain throughout our bodies.

That was just one day, one of the darkest so far in the trip. Each day has brought a new dawn and a new set of challenges, we soon learnt that nothing is constant. The weather, temperatures above 40 degrees and the water so flat it was as if we were staring at a plain of glass, to nights so bright with lightening it was as if we were within a cathedral of light. We have experienced nature at her most beautiful, and felt her force in an environment we can never tame.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had time to reflect on the events that unfolded aboard Simpson’s Donkey, and it’s only now that I’ve begun to realize the magnitude of what we have done so far. This experience in a way has only just begun, but the memories of leaving Singapore seem so distant now given all that has come to pass. This has truly been a life changing experience with so many things to test our fortitude and to stop and realize we are truly on something amazing.

Beautiful sunsets, pods of dolphins, even savoring the small items on luxury onboard like a can of coke and a bar of chocolate- you begin to realize that all of trials and suffering is worth it. You get to see yourself in your raw state, and feel immersed in this world which feels liberating from the daily hustle and bustle of ‘normal’ life.

Being able to share this adventure is a gift. When all is said and done Grant will be the only person who will truly understand what it was like out there, a bond being forged by our shared experience and test of will. I couldn’t have asked for a better rowing partner, both working towards a clear goal and supporting each other through the bad times and share the good times.

It’s easy in these environments to become insular but Grants determination is infectious, we watch each other’s backs and look after each other. “Have you drunk enough water?”, “have you eaten?” even asking the simple question of “how are you feeling?”- begin able to open up and talk makes life onboard that bit more bearable.

We have many more trials ahead, and with the rest we have had I can’t deny I’m looking forward to cutting my teeth further. With what we have overcome so far and with the team we have, I truly feel we can keep going, come whatever may.

Able bodied seaman and first mate – Charlie Smith.rough-seas

A lesson in suffering – Singapore to Bali by human power

Try and imagine what it is like to row a tiny boat in a huge ocean for two hours in the rain and wind with large waves surrounding you.  After your two hour shift you come into a tiny claustrophobic sleeping cabin which is also wet through.  Your mattress is sodden, the condensation drips off the walls while you try and sleep for 90 minutes in your damp clothes.  The entire cabin shakes, rocks and crashes continuously in the strong winds, so much that you have to sleep spread eagled, face down to avoid being thrown around.  After 90 minutes of restless sleep you wake, eat some cold muesli, have a drink of water, put on your wet weather gear and get back onto deck in the wind and rain to row again.  Repeat this cycle, every two hours, all through the day, all through the night, day after day after day.

So 25 days since departing Singapore’s sunny shores, it was with immense relief that we arrived safely into Bali at 2315hrs late on the evening of the 28 January 2017.  A journey of 1070nm (over 1900km) completely by human power.  Getting to Bali was a tough , tough fight.  This was mainly due to a massively strong north easterly setting current stream which we had to fight for these three days and nights as we crossed from the shallow Java Sea into the much deeper Bali Sea.  This current stream was pushing us north east, in the direction of Sulawesi and we desperately needed to head south towards Bali.  Bali is an extremely important stop over for the success of the expedition for three key reasons.  We had a food re-supply arranged here, we are meeting family here and most importantly it is the place we clear customs and immigration to officially exit Indonesia and head to Darwin, Australia.  Unfortunately there are only a very small number of ports in Indonesia where a small boat like ours can enter and exit for customs and immigration and Bali is the only option on our planned route to Darwin.   The only alternative if we missed Bali would be to head south to Kupang in Timor Island which would see us hitting some seriously adverse ITF (Indonesian through flow) currents pushing us into the Indian Ocean and away from Darwin.  This was an option I was desperate to avoid.

So for the last three days and nights we had a massive struggle to push Simpson’s Donkey south through the current streams.  With the monsoon winds blowing at 20 – 25 knots, it was our first taste of larger sea conditions and it rained almost constantly for three days and nights.  This made life on-board uncomfortable as everything becomes wet – you are wet while rowing and after your shift the cabin is wet, the mattresses are wet.  Our skins crawled with heat rashes and we both developed salt sores over our bodies.  I started to get a fungal infection on my penis.  It was too rough a lot of the time to boil water and heat food.  Life was miserable.  There was not enough sunshine during the day to charge our batteries to make drinking water.  Our food rations had been contaminated by fiberglass and glue fumes from the holds and tasted disgusting.  We were on constant look out for ships. We were tired and our bodies craved rest. We craved sunshine and being clean and dry.

Four times during those last three days we deployed our para anchor.  This is an underwater parachute which acts as a brake so slow us down.  It is on a long 70m rope which we attach to the bow of the boat.  Each time the current and winds became too strong during the night to row against, we would effectively lose control of the boat, it would start spinning 360 degrees and we would be pushed at over 3 knots north east.  By deploying the para anchor our speed would slow to 1 knot, but still in the wrong direction.  Being on para anchor is awfully uncomfortable as the boat rocks and bucks like riding a wild horse.  We have one person on deck on watch while the other tries to rest in the cabin.

Our first para anchor deployment was in the midst of a storm.  It was the first time we had ever deployed the system so took much fumbling in the dark.  I dropped the bow line into the water, Charlie had to go for a swim to retrieve it, not a pleasant experience in the pitch dark in rough sea’s.  Of course we made sure he was well secured to the boat by his harness and safety line.  Being on watch on the deck was an exercise in suffering.  Some of the waves were so large they crashed completely over the entire boat, pouring over the cabin roof with water pouring in through the ventilation hatches.  The back deck would completely flood and you would be effectively floating on the deck instead of sitting on it.  The best place on the back deck was to hide in against the cabin door and hold onto the grab bag.  For two hours we would hug the grab bag, clipped onto the jackstay with our harnesses and safety line for fear of being washed overboard.  Being separated from the boat in these conditions is a death sentence.  Every 15 minutes we pop our heads up to scan for vessels.  In the darkness you cannot see the waves coming – only hear them.  There can only be one more miserable thing to do in these conditions – and that is to take a crap.  Which I needed to do in the early hours of the morning. I cursed and swore at my bowels and their lack of timeliness as I sat on the bucket and held on for dear life.  The problem with being on para anchor is that it soon became apparent it was simply delaying the inevitable.  We were still drifting in the wrong direction, just more slowly.  The only option was to try and row, we had to get back on the oars and fight the current and winds and pray that we could somehow break out of these current streams.  When your options in life become extremely limited – everything becomes very simple, maybe not easy but definitely simple.  We needed to row ourselves out of the shit we had got ourselves into.  “Row you bastards Row” – Colin Quincey’s mantra sang through my mind.  So on we rowed – hour after hour after hour.  It was physically and mentally exhausting trying to row in those conditions.  We had to point the boat at a heading of 230 or 240 degrees, and row as hard we could.  The rudder would be locked off as far as possible to one side to try and hold our heading but this was still not enough to hold the course in the wind, so we would row using one oar only to try and keep the boat strait for hours on end until our right arms were overly strained and painful.  The waves were getting steeper with some of them starting to break at the crests.  One wave hit us broadside and broke at completely the wrong time, I was swept off my rowing seat into the safety lines – the entire deck under 2 feet of water.  Even when pointing the boat  at 240 degrees and rowing as hard as we could – our course over ground was 110 – 120 degrees.  Basically the boat was moving broadside through the water.


When the winds picked up too high, we stowed the oars and surfed the boar at 4 – 5 knots using the foot steering.

There were two times during the last week  I was sure the expedition was over.  It seemed impossible to break out of the current streams, and every mile further we were pushed east was making it tougher and tougher to move south to Bali.  I thought of all the work that had gone into the expedition, and how it would feel to fail so early on.  How many people had helped and supported to get us to this point.  How would it feel returning to Singapore after only one month of a year long expedition? I thought of the glee on the faces of the naysayers who had rubbished the idea and made bets how long it would be before we needed rescuing.  And then I realized – hold on mate, you can’t just push the magic button and return to safety here.  Whatever happens,  right now, you are in the shit, and you need to get out of this situation yourself and make landfall somewhere, anywhere.  I wanted to cry – I actually deliberated it, but realized it was waste of energy and emotion that I did not have.  We simply needed to row, whatever option we had, if we missed Bali or made Bali, of the expedition was over or not, we still  needed to row.

Making pitifully slow speeds of 0.5 knot, we eventually had our lucky break.  As the water became deeper – dropping from 70m depth from the Java Sea down to over 1000m in the Bali sea, the current started to ease. It dropped its vicelike grip on our tiny boat and allowed us to start heading at 170 degrees – almost due south. And our speed started to improve – until we felt we were flying at almost 2 knots.  I felt a tiny glimmer of hope.

Around 20nm from Bali we started to see her massive skyline appearing though the clouds.  Bali is such a beautiful island –  I will never forget how beautiful she looked from the sea.  I am immensely grateful that I have had this opportunity to see her like this, under my own steam, after so much effort and risk, could land ever look more beautiful?  Her ridge lines appeared through the mist like a scene from Jurassic park and they beckoned to me.  The huge volcano Gunung Agung, appearing at 3031m elevation on our left.  And as we got closer we started to make out individual tree’s and buildings.


Mt Agung – the highest mountain on Bali at 3031m is a beautiful volcano and this is the view that greeted us as we rowed into Bali.  Photo credit: Alistair Harding

I call it a miracle we reached Bali.  Sometimes in life we need a little luck, we need miracles.  This miracle came with a massive amount of effort and by putting our balls well and truly on the line, but I still consider it a miracle and whoever out there was watching over us and gave us the strength to break through those currents, I thank you very much.


Transferring gear by human power from Simpson’s Donkey at anchor in Amed Bay, Bali, Photo credit: Alistair Harding

I would like to personally thank Dave Field our project manager for his support through this journey to date, I speak to him sometimes 3 times per day on the satellite phone, the worse the conditions the more I talk to him,  speaking to him makes me feel safe when I am scared and tired.  The most wonderful news we received as we arrived into Bali was that Dave and his wife Davinia have just had a beautiful baby daughter.  Also our  film producer Alistair Harding, who has become much more than a film producer.  In Pulau Bangka, Pulau Bawean and Bali here, he arrives early, scouts out safe landing spots, arranges formalities and makes friends with the local people to welcome us in and get us safely into unfamiliar harbors, which is a massively stressful experience in a rowing boat with no engines.  In Bali he came out late at night on a small fishing boat to guide us into harbor and a safe mooring buoy.  We would never have been able to get in here without his support. Also to Charlie my team mate on this first section from Singapore to Darwin – a more solid and honest friend to share this experience with – I could not have wished for – thank you for being such a brave and committed team mate.

As we approached beautiful Bali’s shores in the darkness, and we finally knew we were going to be safe and make landfall, I turned to Charlie and said – “no one but you and I will understand completely how hard this has been, except the next guys who try it,  but whatever happens – we will always be the first.”

Thank you for the lovely messages of support we have been receiving – one my main goals from the early days of this expedition was to share the experience in a positive way with as many people as possible.  To inspire and send positive vibes about the way we can live our lives.  It’s great to see so many people following and enjoying the progress but also I hope you can take away things yourself from what we are doing and apply them to your own situation in positive ways.

So that’s me signing out – tremendously excited to see my wife Stephanie and daughters Kate and Rachel arriving tomorrow for 6 glorious days of R & R here in beautiful Bali.

Yours in Human powered adventure,

Captain Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson




So a lot has gone on since yesterday’s update… first of all, after a brutal, brutal slog, the guys have made it now to within 20 kilometres of the coast of Bali and can now see the mountains of the island looming ahead of them!! And what’s more, their perseverance is now being rewarded with some calmer seas and weaker winds which have now turned to push them down the coast towards their landfall at Amed Beach! And furthermore, the currents along the coast where Amed Beach is have now turned to be in their favour which will be a welcome relief as they arrive!

So now the thoughts are turning to a safe arrival at Bali. Amed Beach is a small bay with a few different obstacles the guys will need to beat to get in safely. First of all, the approach along the coast is spotted with reefs which cause the beaches to be lined with surf. So they’ll have to keep wide of the coast before turning sharply into the bay while avoiding the rocks at the southern end of the beach…. and remember, Simpson’s Donkey is an ocean rowing boat not designed to come into shore, so this is by far the trickiest landfall they’ve encountered so far. So for safety’s sake, we’re now organising a boat to come out to meet them and guide them in when they arrive either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

So as we wait, it’s time to celebrate a couple of fantastic things that have also happened in the past 24 hours… Firstly, late last night Simpson’s Donkey passed the 1000-nautical mile mark!!! That’s over 1800km since they left Singapore on January 3!!!! Amazing stuff and something to celebrate when they arrive at Bali tomorrow!

And secondly, Expedition Project Manager Dave Field and his wife in Waipu, New Zealand have overnight welcomed a new baby girl into their family!! Awesome stuff Dave!

So fantastic news all around today but keep those messages of support coming in – the support was overwhelming yesterday and it was a great boost to the guys as they battled the toughest conditions they’ve faced so far on this epic undertaking!

For Simpson’s Donkey’s current position, see



Back in 1977 when Colin Quincy became the first man to row across the Tasman Sea, he scrawled across his boat a scribbled note to himself where he could see it as he rowed through his toughest times… It read: “Row You Bastard, Row!” and it was that same message that he sent to Axe and Charlie late last year when we went to meet him. Now is the time that brings those words to mind for Axe and Charlie…

The word is the guys are safe but doing it very tough right now. Gone are the high speeds they were loving as they exited the Java Sea … and as they entered the Bali Sea last night they got hit smack in the mouth with some of the hardest conditions they’ve experienced so far on the journey… The winds shifted and together with the currents Simpson’s Donkey was swept north away from Bali (see the map pictured), making Axe even consider trying for Lombok instead of Bali. But that’s not possible because they need to get to Bali to complete the immigration clearances for leaving Indonesia, so now they’ve since corrected their course by aiming SImpson’s Donkey in a more southerly direction, aiming 230-degrees and rowing with one oar against the wind to achieve an actual course of 160-degrees!

So as you can imagine, rowing under such conditions is extremely tough-going for the guys, as they make only about 1-2 knots in some very rough beam seas – that’s when the waves are coming at them from the sides, making it extremely hard to (a) keep on track and (b) row! Added to that, the currents are getting stronger the closer they get to Bali. Before they left Bawean, Axe talked about this happening, that with the Bali Sea, they’d hit the Indonesian through-flow current (ITF) for the first time and was preparing for all eventualities. The biggest problem with this is that the current moving through the Lombok Strait at the moment (which they are approaching) is moving at 8 knots which is a speed of about 4 metres a second… far to strong for Axe and Charlie to row against…

So now the challenge is to get across the Bali Sea and get closer to the coast so they are as far away from the centre of the Lombok Strait current where it’s strongest… but not too close… because the winds are currently coming in off the water very strongly and will threaten to blow the guys ashore which is obviously an expedition-threatening possibility.

So with all that said… Keep sending your words of encouragement – we’re passing them on to the guys daily and they really help – and right now is when they need them the most!

Row you Bastards, Row!

Keep up to date with where the guys are:-

Map Progress




So after having a good time of it speeding across the remainder of the Java Sea at high speed for the past couple of days, last night a dose of reality hit the guys in the form of some rough weather and uncooperative winds. It got a bit stormy with winds rising to about 25knots and swinging around to the South-west making things very uncomfortable, forcing Axe and Charlie to drop the sea anchor for the first time in the expedition (think of a parachute in the water which holds the boat from being swept away). And for a little while, even with the anchor down, it was even threatening to sweep the Donkey north and away from Bali altogether. But with the morning has come some calmer weather and a more favourable North-East wind which has got them back on course and is pushing them along at about 3.5 knots which is fantastic progress after the frights of last night!

So now the challenge is to enter the Bali Sea which should happen today sometime. Once there, the challenges are going to double. Firstly because we’re still not entirely sure what the currents will be doing there, and secondly, as you can see by the map showing their planned course into Bali, they’re going to have to turn in a more southerly direction on their last 70 nautical mile approach to their landfall at Amed, Bali. And as you can see by those little black lines pointing north east (the direction from where the wind is coming from), the winds are going to be coming in from the sides and pushing them away from Bali for the last 36 hours of this leg. If last night was rough, it’s just a taste of what’s to come… Stay tuned and check out the guys progress at !! Go the Donkey!

Planned course to Bali

Simpson’s Donkey Update


We have gone banana’s! We are currently 70nm away from being the first people to ever row across the Java Sea! It’s been a grey, overcast and wet last 24 hours but we don’t care as the wind has been right up our tail pipe with speeds not dropping below 2 knots for the entire period. We can right now just make the outline of Madura Island – some 20+nm to the south of us. Fingers crossed the wind stays blowing from the North West and the currents are kind as we cross from the Java Sea into the Bali Sea tomorrow afternoon. The Java Sea is very shallow and depths seem to average around 70m, however tomorrow when we cross into the Bali Sea we will truly feel some deep water when the bottom drops away to over 1000m water depth. Last night we were surrounded by over 38 fishing boats and I felt a little sorry for the fish – one of them even jumped out of the water and into the cabin to wake Charlie up with a fright! The area we are in now is much quieter for vessel traffic.

Captain Axe and able bodied seaman Charlie.



So as we left Bawean yesterday morning in the rain after a short 3-day break on the island, there was a certain edge to the mood aboard Simpson’s donkey… Because even if this 3rd leg from Bawean to Bali is the shortest by a long way… And even if we are full of confidence after proving our mental strength by crossing the Java Sea… Getting to Bali from here is the first time we’re going to encounter the massive Indonesian Through Flow Currents that have the potential to stop this exhibition in its tracks…. And if that isn’t enough, the winds are still blowing across us instead of behind us like they’re supposed to be at this time of year… So yes- it’s our shortest leg. But no- it’s certainly not going to be the easiest… Stay tuned and we’ll do our best to keep you up to date with the progress- in the meantime, check out our position at



Crossing the Java Sea was the most difficult challenge we’ve faced to date, and to arrive at an island which is not much more than a dot in the middle of it is an achievement we are very proud of, so we have a lot to be thankful for! Especially since this island, Pulau Bawean is one of those untouched gems that everyone should visit.

From the beautiful blue sea surrounding it to the deep green jungles and bright green rice fields that fill it, this place is something to behold. But most of all, in our three days resting here before the next leg of the Rowing from Home to Home expedition, the thing which had struck us most is the beautiful, friendly locals who have made us feel so welcome and have opened their arms to us.

Everywhere we have gone while we are here people have stopped to smile and wave and say hello or ask for a selfie. So it has been a very gratifying experience. One of the great things about this expedition is that it is taking us to places far off the usual tourist trail where most people never visit- and we are truly enriched for the experience. So if you’re looking for somewhere different to visit in Indonesia, we truly want to say- check out Bawean!! Like us, we promise, you won’t regret it!

What’s more, if you do decide to come here, give our friendly guide a call- his name is ARI WIBOWO (pictured in the blue shirt!) and he has been an absolute star for us helping us get around, showing us the sights and making sure we are as well fed as the locals! (His number is 081230857152 and you won’t regret either visiting Bawean or getting in touch with him to help you do it!). To get here, take a flight to Surabaya, then catch a taxi to Gresik where you can catch a ferry every second day to Bawean with the Bahari Express Ferry (every other day they come back from the island).

Anyway- that’s the end of the plug for Bawean (our way of saying thank you to our amazing hosts!) – now it’s time to get back aboard Simpson’s Donkey and tackle the approach to Bali… Stay tuned because this ain’t gonna be as simple as it looks!


Simpson’s Donkey has made it safely to Pulau Bawean!

805 nautical miles from Singapore; Axe and Charlie have made it safely to the little island in the middle of the  Java Sea and once again had a very special welcome from the locals! The guys are in great spirits and still in one piece!

Pulau Bawean is an island dominated by an extinct volcano, Gunung Tinggi, with its centre rising 655m above sea level, this sleeping giant has provided a spectacular scenery and has been a very welcome change from endless miles of ocean!

Once the guys have had a well deserved rest and a decent sleep, before boarding Simpson’s Donkey and make an attempt to get to Bali – a challenge in itself with the monsoon currents and definitely not a forgone conclusion that they can make it.

Stay tuned for more updates but in the meantime check out some snaps from their arrival to Pulau Bawean!


Hi Folks,

Have a read of the latest update from Simpson’s Donkey on another milestone reached!!

“Yesterday at 1700hrs we reached the exact halfway point in our crossing of the Java Sea – 200nm (370km)from Bangka Island with 200nm to go to reach Pulau Bawean Island.

It took us 4 days of 24 hours continuous rowing to get here – we stopped rowing for 2 hours, cleaned the boat, went for a swim and cleaned ourselves, and then we sat together on the back deck and shared a can of beer and a dram of whiskey. We felt very civilized for two hours before jumping back on the oars at 1900hrs and rowing through the night.

We are currently around 165nm from Pulau Bawean – about 3 more days of rowing. We are both tired, Charlie reports that his body is starting to creak and the exhaustion sweeps over me in waves every hour or so. During the day it is 41 degrees under the shade. Night rowing is cooler but a massive mental battle to get through the solo 2 hour shifts. We are looking forward to making sea anchorage at Bawean and catching up on much needed sleep.

Capt. Axe and First Mate Charlie”.



Hi All,

Catch Episode 6 of the epic adventure to catch all the action of the final farewell!

A special thanks in this episode goes out to Axe, Charlie, Stephanie Rawlinson, Peter Hutton, Brent Rubbo Raffles Marina and Axe’s parents Ngaire and Jack!


The last three days have been very eventful since leaving Belo village in Bangka Island.  As we departed around 3PM in the afternoon we made for the middle of the Selat (Strait) where we thought would be the strongest currents.  We soon picked these up and rode them for 1.5 days, averaging over 2 knots and at one point had a storm blow in behind us which saw us travel at over 6 knots for 45 minutes!  Selat Bangka is HUGE and we could not see one side of Sumatra when out in the centre.  Towards the southern point we got caught in the middle when the tide changed and had a 5nm battle to get to the Bangka side at 4AM as the current pushed us north.  We were exhausted and dropped anchor in 5m water and rested for 4 hours until the tide changed and we set off again around 9AM.

We rounded the southern tip later that evening of Selat Bangka in a glorious sunset and rowed into the night with lovely tail current, which did not last long.  We soon found ourselves battling a strong southerly setting current and I started to develop stomach cramps and diarrhea which sucked the energy from me.  In the early hours we were hit by a massive electrical storm, similar to the one we encountered as we entered Selat Bangka.  Massive bolts of lightning and thunder all around us and I lost control of the boat for 1.5 hours as she was blown all over the place and we did 360 degree turns.  I hate these storms and get quite scared.  It was when it passed however we were blessed with beautiful tailwinds and following seas for three hours and made 3 – 4 knots.  It rained most of yesterday and I was exhausted and weak from feeling sick, so kept up rowing but in my off shift lay and rested. I feel better today and this morning we saw a pod of dolphins and a sea snake as we cleaned the hull of the boat.

Charlie is a great rowing mate, and always remains cheery even when tired.  Dare I say it he is actually quite cute as during the evening time when he is sleeping, he sleep talks like crazy to me; telling me all sorts of wonderful stories and offering to come back on shift after being asleep for 10 minutes!  We are having a real adventure out here, its not easy but nothing in life of value comes easy.  At times I wonder what the hell I am doing, at times I love it, at times I miss my girls so much I cry silently in the cabin, but I always try and remind myself I am lucky to be in this situation.  I leave you with this beautiful poem my mother sent me the day we departed:

If you think you are beaten you are:
If you think you dare, you don’t;
If you want to win but think you can’t;
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose you’re lost;
For out of the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in a state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger and faster man,
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.

Walter D. Wintle


Hi Team,

This afternoon Simpson’s Donkey completed another epic milestone! We arrived safely and in one piece to Bangka Island. The surroundings here are beautiful and the locals are showing a lot of interest in the boat and expedition; it is great to have the local support and be surrounded by so many smiling faces.

Did you know that these islands not only hold pristine white beaches with crystal clear waters and coral reefs – a hot spot for diving and snorkeling, but they are also the largest producers of tin in Indonesia! It is quite fascinating what you learn when exploring new shores.

Check out some snaps below on our arrival!



“On Saturday evening at 2030hrs on Day 5 of the expedition we crossed the equator, Axe rowed hard up until 20m before the line then we sat in the cabin together and watched the numbers tick over as we left the Northern Hemisphere and entered the Southern Hemisphere – we celebrated by sharing a small bottle of coke.” day-5-crossing-equator_004

Day 5 update

Hello from Simpson’s Donkey!

It 1200hrs on day 5 here on Simpson’s Donkey as we send this update on our progress. The last 5 days have seen us make some decent progress but not without out share of challenges! Our farewell departure from Raffles Marina on Day one was everything I wished for. I did not want to publicise the date and wanted only a few close family, friends and supporters down to see us off. And that pretty much was exactly what happened as we had a very nice send off as we pushed off at 1405hrs. It was very surreal to leave from our beautiful home base for the past year at Raffles marina for the very last time and I looked back with a pang of sadness as we rowed slowly out of the marina and turned Simpson’s Donkey south. The plan on day one was to make it to One 15 Marine at Sentosa Island using favorable tidal currents. The little donkey was loaded with over 200kg of extra weight and this made our progress a little slower than normal however we immediately noticed she sat more stable in the water. The tidal streams were not as strong as we hoped and due to our slow progress we reverted to rowing two-up (two at a time) for the last 4 hours, we actually ran into the next tidal cycle and had a battle for the last hour to even make it into one 15 marina safely. Here we arrived at 11pm and moored up for the night.

Day 2 we departed at 1430 hrs, this was the day that I said goodbye to my wife Stephanie, and daughters Kate and Rachel who had come down to see us off. As every minute drew nearer to departure I felt sadder and sadder and held Rachel and Kate in my arms treasuring every second with them. Saying goodbye to Stephanie and the girls was the hardest thing I have ever done and my tears flowed freely as I gave them one last hug. My heart broke into one thousand pieces as I turned and pushed off the berth and we slowly rowed away. A huge part of me wanted to quit the expedition right there and then and go back home with them.

The plan on day 2 was to clear immigration in Singapore and make it over the shipping channel to Nongsa point marina in Batam, Indonesia to enter Indonesian waters officially. The shipping lanes were very busy as we rowed up to the crossing point. Here I monitored the AIS (vessel tracks) on the chart plotter looking for an opening and immediately saw we had a chance right then. So rowing two up we set off across and managed to pick the timing perfectly. Massive vessels were coming from either direction but we made it over. We then had another battle into beam on winds which caused a choppy, messy sea before finally arriving at Nongsa point after 7.5 hours continuous rowing 2-up at 10PM. Getting into the poorly marked marina channel was hairy in the dark and we ran over a shoal of 0.6 m depth which was lucky we did not hit the bottom. I had to radio ahead to Alistair to wave his torch from the marina to guide us in in the dark.

Day three we set off at 1430 hrs and headed south down the channel between Batam and Bintan Islands, we immediately began two hour shift patterns with the intention to keep the boat moving 24 hours per day. That evening I managed to sleep for around 4.5 hours in my breaks between shifts and Charlie also managed some sleep, and we also made decent mileage south bearing in mind the strong tidal streams we had to fight. Now on day 5, we have kept the little Donkey moving continuously for almost 41 hours and seem to be able to make the 40nm (70km) per day which I am working on. Life is all about adjusting to the routine of living on the boat, 2 hours on and 2 hours off, eating sleeping, rowing, maintaining our bodies and the boat, navigating and communicating using the sat phone and email system once per day. We had one exciting moment on the eve of day 3 where we ran aground on a poorly marked shoal on the chart. It was pitch dark and quite scary but we managed to get off with a few scratches to the rudder only. Charlie is rowing well and we both have developed pizza bum and working at cleaning and applying creams here to mitigate this. The north east monsoon winds are NOT blowing at all at the moment which surprises me and the sea-state has been like glass for the last two nights which makes rowing, eating and sleeping much nicer. Night times are lonely for me but beautiful also. The stars and the peace is a welcome change from Singapore hustle and bustle.

In 13nm we cross the equator – which is about 7 hours time so hopefully I can send a photo back from there.

Love to you all,

Axe and Charlie.


Hi folks,

A quick update for you! It was a tough day of 7.5 hours of two up rowing with one 15min break last night just to reach Nongsa; it was a good honest workout! Customs has been cleared, the tides are right, the wind is behind us and we are headed off into the night. Hopefully it is a more pleasant evening!

Stay tuned for more!


Ladies and Gentlemen, Simpson’s Donkey has left the building… well, we’ve left Singapore at least! Today was a big day because crossing the shipping channel between Singapore and Indonesia was our first big challenge… but everything went off without a hitch and we even had time for one last quick call home before entering Indonesia and moving on to the next big challenges ahead!



Finally after two and a half years of preparation the wait is over!!! We pushed off today from Raffles Marina at 14:00 to begin the most epic adventure of our lives! Thanks to all the supporters and sponsors who came down to wave us off. Stay tuned and spread the word, Simpsons Donkey is on its way!!


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