Kayak completes Australia to New Zealand voyage, without paddler

Stuart Cleary set out in 2014 to paddle solo from Australia to New Zealand. He didn't make it. But his kayak completed the 1,200-mile voyage. 

(Nathan Marshall via AP)
Stuart Cleary's kayak lays on Muriwai Beach, New Zealand on June 1, 2016. Stuart Cleary set out in late 2014 to paddle solo from Australia to New Zealand in his homemade kayak but abandoned the vessel shortly after starting the trip.

Stuart Cleary set out in late 2014 to paddle solo from Australia to New Zealand. But in the end, it was his homemade kayak that completed the 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) journey on its own.

Just hours into the trip, Cleary ran into equipment problems. Later, his kayak started taking on water, and he was forced to abandon the vessel before being rescued at sea. Eighteen months later, the kayak has washed up on a New Zealand beach close to where Cleary had intended to make landfall.

Nathan Marshall said he was taking his dogs for a run on Muriwai Beach near Auckland on Wednesday morning when he found the barnacle-encrusted kayak. He approached it cautiously.

"I thought there was going to be a body," he said by phone.

Instead, he found a vessel that was stained and battered but remarkably intact considering its odyssey. Inside the cabin were remnants of the failed voyage: rusted cans of food, a radio, a waterlogged first-aid kit.

Marshall posted a message seeking information about the vessel on a community Facebook page and within a few hours was talking to Cleary in Australia.

"It's just incredible, just unbelievable," Cleary told The Associated Press by phone from his Gold Coast home. "It seems like the kayak had a mind of its own. If only I'd known that it knew the way."

Cleary, 54, a former oil-field diver, had spent four years training and preparing for his voyage.

He designed and built the 6-meter (20-foot) kayak, using a wooden mold that he covered in high-grade foam and layered with fiberglass. He included a cabin that was just long enough for him to sleep in.

Cleary initially had wanted to circumnavigate the Tasman Sea, but changed his plans due to the weather. And nobody had ever completed a solo, unassisted kayak crossing from Australia to New Zealand.

He left in December 2014 from the town of Ballina in New South Wales with food to last 70 days, hoping to reach land within a month.

But 12 hours later, Cleary's GPS device started failing. Then it was his steering rudder. He turned back to the Australian coast, only to get hit by heavy seas. At one point, he opened the hatch and a wave crashed in.

"Everything went pear-shaped," he said.

When rescuers arrived, the waves were too large for them to tow or retrieve the kayak, so they abandoned it. Cleary said he figured it would wash up in Australia or circle about and sink in the notoriously rough Tasman Sea.

"There are storms and wind and waves," he said. "There's a collision of weather systems — it turns into a massive cacophony of weather directions."

Six months after the rescue, Cleary tossed out the trolley he'd used for transporting the kayak, giving up hope that he'd ever see it again.

But on Wednesday, the kayak was found washed ashore just 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the entrance to Auckland's Manukau Harbour, where Cleary was initially headed.

"I think it's pretty crazy that it turns up right next to where there is beach access instead of smashing on the rocks," said Marshall, a builder, who hauled the kayak to his farm with the help of some rangers.

Cleary said he plans to visit the farm later this week, although this time he'll be traveling to New Zealand by plane. He said the kayak will likely need to be thrown away, but first he wants to see if there's anything he can learn from the damage it sustained.

That's because he's considering making a second crossing attempt.

"It feels like unfinished business," Cleary said. "Particularly now that the bloody kayak beat me there."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.