In March 2010, 25 year-old Kiwi Shaun Quincey became only the second person in history to row solo across the Tasman Sea and live to tell the tale. What made the voyage even more emotional for Shaun, was that he was following in his father’s footsteps. The only other person to have successfully achieved the near-superhuman feat of rowing solo across the Tasman was Shaun’s Dad Colin Quincey, who made the crossing 23 years earlier.
In nearly two months alone in a 7m rowboat at sea, Shaun Quincey overcame storms, broken equipment, capsize, sheer terror and nagging doubt. Never far from his mind was the chilling fact that the most recent person to have attempted the solo crossing of the Tasman Sea (Andrew McAuley, solo kayaker in 2007) had perished within sight of the coastline.
“It’s a real test of how tough you can be – I don’t know how tough I can be. A huge part of me just wants to start rowing back to Australia, but even then, you’re stuffed. Dad must have been much tougher than me – I’m pretty soft I suppose. I want to go home… back to New Zealand.”
Shaun’s Diarycam, Day 15, somewhere in the Tasman Sea.
Credit: James Frankham, New Zealand Geographic
In Alone Against the Tasman we chart Shaun’s course through the soaring highs and crushing lows of a journey that tests his physical and mental limits. His personal insights, and those of his friends and family anxiously tracking his progress, will reveal much about the adventuring spirit that New Zealanders claim as our birthright.
What sort of person has it in themselves to push themselves physically and mentally to the edge of what is humanly possible? Outline Alone Against the Tasman is a story of triumph over seemingly overwhelming odds. It’s an intensely personal story that speaks to universal themes of courage, willpower and sheer bloody-minded determination.
Credit: James Frankham, New Zealand Geographic
The challenge of ocean rowing is as much psychological as it is physical. Shaun Quincey plumbed the depths of despair during his 54 day crossing, but he also learned more about himself than some do in a lifetime. By his own admission he had “some of the best times of his life and some of the worst times of his life.” Much of it caught on his video diary – tears, laughter and moments of madness.
On a good day he would cover 95km – on a bad day he’d cover 20 and be pushed back 21 as he slept. On a very bad day Shaun would experience the sheer terror of being pitch-poled – flipped end-over-end – in mountainous seas with no rescue possible. Sometimes it was only the knowledge that he was following in his father’s wake that kept him going.
In 1977 Colin Quincey was the first man to row solo across the Tasman, traveling 2300 kilometres west from NZ to Australia. In 2010 Shaun set out to become the second.
Although the two crossings were 23 years apart and in opposite directions, they brought Shaun and his father closer together than they’d ever been before.
Colin was a wanderer and adventurer who’d traveled the world, scaled mountains and rowed the Tasman before Shaun was born. The same fickle desires of the soul that urged him to roam saw him leave his family when Shaun was just six, moving to Tonga, Cambodia and finally Darwin.
Into the void of an absent father young Quincey threw his dreams, vowing to emulate his dad’s crossing, but in the opposite direction.
Instead of rowing away from New Zealand as his Dad had done, Shaun set out to row home.
All his life, Shaun has felt an ‘ownership’ of the crossing. When tandem kayakers James Castrission and Justin Jones arrived at Ngamotu Beach near New Plymouth on January 13, 2008, after crossing the Tasman in 62 days, Shaun watched with intense jealousy.
“If someone had rowed solo from Australia, I’d feel like something had been taken from me,” he says. “It’s personal. It’s mine to row. And until I’ve done it, everyone else can back off.”
Tempering Shaun’s burning desire was the enormity of the challenge, and the fact that the last person to have attempted the solo crossing – Australian kayaker Andrew McAuley – had been tragically lost within sight of land. Shaun spent months conditioning his body and mind for the trial ahead, and quizzing his father about the voyage in painstaking detail.
In a way, Shaun made the journey to better understand his father. The two are poles-apart in personality. In 1977 Colin found the voyage itself wasn’t the most arduous thing – it was dealing with the people back on land, media, sponsors, even family members. In contrast, Shaun is gregarious in nature – and he suffered immensely during the two months at sea, the isolation weighing as heavily upon him as the physical exertion.
Credit: Shaun Quincey.
Shaun blogged and pod-casted his way across the Tasman, using a satellite phone to maintain contact with home (racking-up thousands of dollars of phone charges in the process). His website showed his steady progress and more than a million people around the world tracked his progress in real-time. In 1977, Colin didn’t communicate with the world from the time he left shore until he arrived on the other side.
There were countless times on Shaun’s epic voyage when all appeared lost. Just a few days out of Coffs Harbour a storm front hit with unexpected ferocity. Confined to a cabin the size of a Port-a-loo, he could do little but peer out of the Perspex hatch and watch as waves 14 metres high rose over the bow of his seven-metre boat Tasman Trespasser II. He was shaken like a bug in a can for 42 hours and came very close to calling for rescue.
“I kept asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this? This is crazy, I should go back.’ I had three days in my cabin in a storm and it really sank in that there was nothing anyone could do to help me. It was the feeling of total independence that was frightening – total reliance on my own decisions. I couldn’t talk to anyone, I just had to make judgment calls.” Shaun via Sat-Phone, Day 22, somewhere in the Tasman Sea.
Later he had a close encounter with a sperm whale and during another massive storm he capsized and was pitch-poled (end over end) by massive waves. His desalination plant – his only way of getting fresh water – broke-down, he lost oars, he was forced to shelter in his cabin for days at a time riding-out foul weather.
With his Dad’s spectre looming large his thoughts were not “can I make it” or “will I make it” – it was “I have to make it.” “Honestly, if Dad hadn’t already rowed this I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I would have given up weeks ago. Just knowing that he got there is such a driving force – the old man did, so can I.” Shaun via Sat-Phone, Day 22, somewhere in the Tasman Sea.
On March 14th Shaun finally made landfall on 90 Mile Beach after 54 days at sea, beating his Dad’s time by 9 days. His wind-blown route had seen him row over 3,000 kilometres, but the final 300 metres was no picnic – a steep swell forced him to abandon ship and swim the final stretch through the breakers, accompanied by surf-lifesavers. His boat was retrieved and towed to a safe harbor. His girlfriend Lisa Jones and his Mum Nanette Quincey (and scores of news media) were on the beach to welcome him ashore.
Since arriving home Shaun has been in demand as a motivational speaker for school assemblies and business conferences alike. He’s written a book about his experience and is planning his next challenge. But as for another solo sea voyage – would he do it all again? “No. Not for a million bucks. It was a huge fight and I won.”
© Gibson Group 2010
Alex Clark – is a staff producer at the Gibson Group.
He has been a staff producer at Natural History New Zealand and an independent producer/director. He produced the 3 x 1 hour Undercover, 3 x 1 hour Line of Fire and 3 x 1 hour NZ Detectives docu-drama series for TV One, along with numerous 1-off documentaries for TV One and TV3.
Roz Mason – has spent 22-years making award-winning documentaries, dramas and series for New Zealand and International networks. Over this time Roz has shot in Europe, the USA, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and all over New Zealand, not to mention up mountains, down coalmines, into state bunkers, out to sea, into pre-history, the future, and deep inside the human body. She has made films in 6 languages for many media, but they are all stories of discovery and change.
Gary Scott – has been the Senior Producer of factual programmes at the Gibson Group for six years. He has written, directed or produced dozens of New Zealand documentaries since 1995. In addition to EP duties, he is currently producing programmes for broadcast and interactive media museum exhibitions.
Alex Clark, Producer.
Ph 04 384 7789
1 x 1 hour Documentary
M +E available upon request
First aired on TV One (TVNZ) 10 November 2010 as part of the Real Life documentary series.