Editorial: Good call to end great attempt

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.

That's one of W C Fields' best quotes and it fits aptly enough to the case of kayak adventurer Scott Donaldson who should be praised simultaneously for the sheer commitment he showed to his much-assailed ambition to be the first person to kayak solo from Australia to New Zealand - and for the sense he showed in eventually abandoning the bid.

Nobody could ever say he gave up easily. He spent almost three months tormented by winter conditions, gales and roiling seas. With scarcely more than 83km of his 2000km journey remaining he assessed a recent injury, another dismal forecast, and pulled out.

Desperately disappointed though he must be, his is not a cautionary tale.

Most likely we cannot truly appreciate the depth of his frustration at the conclusion of this, his second attempt. But his experience surely remains the test of a lifetime. And that's immeasurably better than the end of a lifetime, which an even more obsessive approach could so easily have led to.

Contrasts will inevitably be drawn between this case and that of Australian adventurer Andrew McAuley, who attempted a Tasman crossing in 2007 and who came oh-so close to success before his flooded kayak was found just 56km short of his target end-point of Milford Sound.

It appears a freak wave flooded McAuley's craft. The thing is, though, we find ourselves using the reporting phrase "freak wave" often enough to suggest they aren't, really, all that freakishly uncommon in those seas.

McAuley's body was never found. His family and a great many admirers are entitled to remember and celebrate him for the manner in which he lived, rather than died. But the fact remains he did die and Donaldson lives on.

Sometimes that's what even the most ardently held seize-the-day philosophy demands of us - recognising when a task becomes vainglorious and the most life-affirming thing is to ensure you do keep living.

The Southland Times