Shaun Quincey – alone against the Tasman
Did you hear the one about the Kiwi who was so cheap he decided to row home from Australia?
By Karl Mathiesen
SHAUN QUINCEY is an expat looking for a job in London. He loves beers with mates and rugby. He is a lot like you really – except that he has rowed across the Tasman Sea.
Now, Australian Times has held a grudge against New Zealanders ever since they failed to name their national airline ‘Kiwi Air’. However this casual 27 year-old adventurer’s feat would make even the most bitter Bledisloe Cup fan admit that it was “pretty good – for a shee…”.
For 54 days during early 2010, Shaun’s Tasman Trespasser II was tossed across the ocean like a seven-metre, Kevlar-coated woodchip. For nearly half of his journey hostile winds battered him back towards Australia. He spent the entire second week huddled in his tiny cabin as the waves outside reached a ten-metre crescendo. Recalling these harrowing experiences, he said, “you just hold on – it’s pretty horrific”. But his biggest test was to come later.
Shaun’s impulse to row the Tasman came from his father. Quincey blood is intrepid blood. Shaun’s father, Colin, was the first person to row from New Zealand to Australia back in 1977. Nonchalantly clad in stubbie shorts and a t-shirt, Quincey senior made the crossing in 63 days – many historians now cite this incident as provocation for the Howard government’s punitive border protection policy.
“I suppose that’s what sort of gave me the urge to try and become the first person to row the other way,” said Shaun.
His other inspiration was his stepfather. A man who he “was really close to” who died of a vicious, slow acting cancer. His death was a watershed moment for Shaun who decided at that moment that he wanted to do something different with his life.
“You’re not really satisfied with your nine to five lifestyle any more,” he realised. “Life’s pretty finite, you’re not going to get these opportunities twice.”
Shaun’s training was as much about building mental resilience as physical conditioning.
“I could sit on a [rowing machine] for ten hours and be okay with it and then go out for the night with my friends. Or I could stay awake for three days,” he said, sounding a bit like a man in training for the Love Parade.
Over the entire expedition hung the shadow of Andrew McAuley. Andrew’s attempt to kayak the Tasman in 2007 ended with his tragic death, when he was within sight of the New Zealand coast. Shaun said that he repeatedly watched the documentary Solo, made about Andrew’s trip and asked himself “if this is really something I want to put myself through”.
Andrew’s widow, Vicki McAuley, contacted Shaun’s girlfriend, Lisa, on the day after he departed Australia.
“Just to say, you know, don’t worry it’s gonna be fine. That was really strong,” Shaun says. “I really appreciated that.”
Lisa’s support for the adventure was absolute, even in the knowledge of what could go wrong. Although, Shaun hastily admits, “I’m not able to forget it that often – I guess we’ll go to that movie…”.
The middle of Shaun’s voyage was marked by favourable conditions and a chance meeting with a sperm whale.
“I don’t know how I did it but it was just on the surface and I rowed straight into it. It looked at the nose of the boat and then swam away.”
Winds were friendly and a good swell was running. To ocean rowers, that means it’s time to go surfing. The Trespasser II is similar to the surfboats rowed in ironman carnivals and very functional in the waves. One day in particular he was riding waves for up to a minute at a time catching 60 or 70 waves in a row. That day he covered 190 kilometres, playing alone amid the Tasman spray.
Then, on night 36, his little vessel capsized. Locked in his cabin, Shaun was powerless as an enormous storm hurled the boat down a wave face. The nose of the vessel jagged into the water and threw her end-over-end, like jocks in a tumble-drier. A crack in the cabin hatch let in 80-90 litres of water. The boat was pinned upside down by the extra weight. He was now a sitting duck.
Scared and alone, he was sorely tempted to activate his emergency beacon and initiate a rescue.
“It’d be great to give up now and have a justified excuse,” he recalls. However his biggest fear for the whole trip was failing.
“The worst part about it was I knew I could go on. I had no real excuse for giving up.”
He simply sat tight and thought about the moment when we would set foot on New Zealand sand.
“You’ve got to be able to think of happy stuff ‘cause it’s rubbish.”
The boat stayed upside down for half an hour before a wave finally pitched her back right-ways. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, 18 months on, Shaun is a man of purpose. Three months after the trip he submitted 96,000 words to the printers. His book, Tasman Trespasser II, has already sold over 10,000 copies. He runs his own business delivering inspirational speeches throughout the UK and he is planning a four-man expedition to row around the world.
“Do I want to sit in an office somewhere and try and make as much money as I can? I’m just really unexcited about that,” he tells me with a laugh. “Or do I want to row oceans, and visit countries and meet great people. I don’t really feel like I’m wasting my life if I do that.”
“You find yourself looking for the next rollercoaster. Hunting for that sense of insecurity again.”
Don’t miss the documentary about Shaun’s incredible journey – Alone Against the Tasman – on Eden, 9 December.