11 Jul 2014

Kayaker forced to abandon battle

10:32 pm on 11 July 2014

After three months of battling stormy seas, atrocious weather finally forced a trans-Tasman kayaker to quit and call for rescue, about 80km off New Zealand.

Scott Donaldson on Friday abandoned his attempt at the first solo crossing of the Tasman Sea, saying he didn't want to give up, but he'd given it everything he had and is proud of his achievement.

Scott Donaldson with wife Sarah on Friday.

Scott Donaldson with wife Sarah on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Scott Donaldson's crossing was hampered by rough seas and technical problems.

The crossing was hampered by y rough seas and technical problems. Photo: JOHN FUNNELL

The Hamilton man set off from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales on 19 April and had hoped to reach New Plymouth last weekend, but was plagued by technical problems, delays and bad weather.

He had only about 83km of his 2000km voyage left, but stiff winds pushed him backwards and for the past three days he had been drifting south. Overnight on Thursday, his kayak rolled three times in heavy seas and he injured his neck and head.

Mr Donaldson was picked up by the Rescue Coordination Centre about 3pm on Friday after putting out a call for help, telling his support team that his situation was unsafe and he would have to be rescued.

Mr Donaldson said he was facing nights at sea without power or communications and his kayak was beginning to show signs of the battering it had taken. He told reporters in New Plymouth on Friday afternoon it was frustrating to get so close and not complete the trip, but he has few regrets because he gave it everything he could.

"I didn't finish. I was 36 or 34 miles short. That really gets me, especially when you've put in so much. You can balance that out by the fact that I left it all on the track, but at the end of the day, I didn't hit the finish line, which irks me deeply and will for a long, long time."

Mr Donaldson said, however, he could not have made any other decision.

Mike Melody from the Rescue Coordination Centre had to jump from a helicopter into the sea to attach a winch to him. He told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme Mr Donaldson was in surprisingly good condition and things went smoothly.

"I expected him to be in a little worse condition. He was obviously disappointed to have to do this, but he was in good spirits and he seemed fine. He knew exactly what the procedure was to come up to the helicopter, so it all worked really well."

Taupo-based pilot John Funnell had dropped food and water to Scott Donaldson in June and also took part in Friday's rescue. He said the kayaker made the right decision to call for help as there were gale-force winds and five-metre swells.

"He was getting a hell of a hiding and he'd reported in that his harness had broken inside the cabin. He'd rolled several times and he'd suffered injuries to his face and chest."

Mr Funnel said the last person who tried to cross the Tasman this way died in the area where Friday's rescue happened.

Sarah Donaldson said her husband had described the conditions as being similar to being hit in a heavy rugby tackle every five minutes.

"He's just basically trapped really. He's in his cab, he's unable to kayak, he's been side-tackled, if you will, and he's been rolled three times, so it's not too much fun."

Ms Donaldson said she is relieved to have him back on dry land. "I'm just so proud of all he's achieved. He's so strong and determined, and that strength of character is just priceless."

The couple say they are now planning to have some time together with their young son.