Laurie Ford on Andrew McAuley

May 29, 2007

Laurie Ford in Tasmania in this post about Andrew McAuley said

“What went wrong? This is the best guess made by the people on the spot – but is conjecture, as told to me by Paul [Hewiston the kayaker builder].

He was getting tired (he went through emotional highs and lows – this from the video), but was finally in good weather, and in sight of land (the peaks of the mountains anyway). A small front came through that he possibly didn’t bother putting his dry suit on for, maybe because it was a very hot day. He was probably exuberant at being close to land and may have paddled more than he was fit to do, and was extra tired. The cold front capsized him and put him in the water. He could not get back in. He got in under the kayak and unscrewed the rear hatch to get his drysuit out, and the VHF radio. If he was tethered he would have to untether to get into the dry suit. Somehow he got separated from the kayak and it blew away from him faster than he could swim – especially in a dry suit, or half in one.

The rest you know.

I repeat, the above is conjecture from the people on the spot – but a reasonable explanation that would cover all the facts.

Why didn’t he go for the EPIRB. I know Andrew thinks the same as I do on this subject. It is a last resort. It is far better (if possible) to make contact by phone or radio and let people know the exact situation – rather than the huge panic and search that an EPIRB generates. Having said that, I’m quite sure that he would have intended to set it off (as I would) once he was in the dry suit. It was the separation from the kayak that brought him undone.

What lessons can be learnt from this tragedy? First of all, it is possible to paddle a kayak from Tasmania to New Zealand. Never forget that. Andrew planned this expedition in meticulous detail, and he was right – it can be done.

Had he had a small strobe light in an inside pocket of his paddling jacket he may well have attracted the attention of the two helicopters that went out searching on the friday night. And in hindsight the EPIRB should always be attached to the person, not the kayak.”

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