Next mission: find kayak

A night without communication 'not worth it'

BLANTON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
Scott Donaldson
CHARLOTTE CURD/ Fairfax NZ

PICTURE OF PERFECT: Scott Donaldson has spent the last two days catching up with his wife Sarah and son Zac, 4.

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Yesterday Scott Donaldson answered the question everyone has been asking.

Why did he try to kayak the notorious Tasman Sea until the middle of winter.

"It was to avoid the tropical storms," Donaldson told the Taranaki Daily News yesterday.

Historical weather patterns suggested he could expect predominant wind and swell conditions out of the west which would aide his attempt.

"That's what it was supposed to be," he said.

Even the decision to leave from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales was thought out. "It was the easiest place in terms of currents around Australia. And even then I got swept south and spent two days paddling back."

Every decision Donaldson made, even the one to give up after 84 days at sea, was calculated and followed two years of intense planning.

However, the weather gods didn't play ball and last Thursday Donaldson experienced what he called the "nastiest night," injuring himself when the kayaked rolled at least three times.

But it wasn't the injuries that ended his dream, he had prepared for that.

"I was on antibiotics five days on five days off. You're your own doctor and physio out there."

What really stopped him was the unseasonable weather, at his closest Donaldson was only 70km from New Plymouth and he could see Mt Taranaki.

At that point Donaldson had enjoyed five days of westerly winds and had they held off another two days the story might have been written differently.

But the wind changed and Donaldson was stuck inside for six days waiting for the unwanted easterlies to ease up.

He was unable to change his battery pack and was facing the possibility of going a night without communication - a risk he wasn't willing to take.

Around 2pm on Friday he pushed aside the kayak, about 74km off Pungarehu, jumped into the water and was winched to safety by the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter.

The kayak is now about 37km from Farewell Spit and Donaldson is organising to get it back.

He and his team are looking for someone with a boat who would be prepared to take them out to tow the kayak back to a safe landing place.

Niwa spokesman Chris Brandolino said the weather in June and early July had been unusual. There had been a predominant easterly flow which caused a headwind and swell, he said.

"Normally his plan would have worked perfectly. I'm sure if Scott had a crystal ball that said there would be easterlies he wouldn't have left."

Aiding Donaldson was weather man Bob McDavitt who, using a programme that monitored wind, currents, wave direction and chop direction, helped him plot his course.

But things just didn't go to plan, early on his desalinator battery packed it in and he stopped at Lord Howe Island.

Then about 350km from New Plymouth his rudder broke slowing his progress dramatically.

However, this too was something Donaldson had considered in his two years of preparation.

"You're thinking about what happens when your equipment breaks and what if it breaks again. You're trying to predict what will go wrong so that when it does you're prepared," he said.

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The hardships added to the adventure and Donaldson said there was beauty in battling the elements.

"The Tasman is a tempestuous beast. One minute you're sailing on a flat, clear, starry night and then 12 hours later it's bumpy and you're all over the show," he said.

Back on land Donaldson has been catching up with friends and family - and helping himself to the seafood buffet at the Devon Hotel.

"I saw a lot of seafood out there but wasn't able to eat it," he said.

However, what he did see included a shark that almost had him for dinner. "It was just inches from my foot," he said.

The shark wouldn't have much to chew on though given Donaldson lost 17kg, slimming down from 99kg to 82kg while at sea.

Donaldson said he had been overwhelmed by the hospitality of Taranaki and planned to thank the public by hosting an open question and answer event this week.

- Taranaki Daily News

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