Report - Rowing from Home to Home expedition reach Darwin




Kiwi adventurer Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson and team mate Charlie Smith (UK) managed to dodge cyclones, pirates, huge electrical storms, massive ships, strong currents and brutal tropical heat to finally reach the safety of the crocodile-infested Darwin harbour on 21 March 2017 at 1200 hrs, 78 days after departing from Singapore on their epic voyage. 

Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson (left) and Charlie Smith (right), leave East Timor on 10 March 2017 on their way to Darwin. (Photo Credit – Alistair Harding)

In doing so the pair rowed over 4250km, using nothing but their own human power to propel their tiny ocean rowing boat ‘Simpson’s Donkey’ through the water.  The pair became the first people to ever complete this journey by human power and used no support boats or craft during their voyage.


“We were completely alone out there – our lives were in our own hands – the areas we rowed through in Indonesia were very remote, we were often over 180km offshore and if we got into trouble – we could only look to each other for help.  It was very committing,” said Mr Rawlinson. 


“The scariest time of the whole journey for me was rowing through three massive electrical storms in the Java Sea, I was on the deck at the time and the lightning was striking the sea all around us, it was pitch dark between lightning strikes, the wind was swirling around pushing the boat in 360 degree circles, I had no control of the boat at all and I just closed my eyes and held on, thinking of my wife and two daughters and pretending to be brave until the storm ended”.


One of the largest challenges towards the end of the journey was crossing the Timor Sea from Timor Leste to Australia through an area known as ‘cyclone alley’. 


“The time of our crossing also conflicted with cyclone season, however due to the monsoons this was also the time of year we needed to cross as the wind was blowing in the right direction.  The chances of us being hit by a cyclone were high, and it was a risk that we could not negate no matter how hard we tried.  It was nerve wracking to be out there and constantly worrying about this threat of being caught in a cyclone and I had tears in my eyes when we first caught sight of Australia and knew we were close to safety.”


Mr Rawlinson is an adventurer and mountaineer who came up with the concept of long and committing human powered journeys after successfully scaling Mt Everest in 2013. 


“I made a journey from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Aoraki, Mt Cook, in New Zealand in 22 days and 19 hours completely by my own human power and using no support craft.  This is when the seed was planted for bigger trips and pushing the limits of just what would be possible by human power.  This expedition is definitely pushing those limits”.  


The expedition is called ‘Rowing from Home to Home’ and is an attempt to travel all the way from Singapore where Mr Rawlinson he has been living for 19 years, back to his original home in Taranaki, New Zealand, completely by human power.  The expedition involves three phases over the course of one year, with the first phase being the row from Singapore to Darwin, stage two being a 4000km cycle ride from Darwin across the continent of Australia to Coff’s Harbour, and stage three being a 3000km row across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.  Mr Smith joined Mr Rawlinson for phase one of the journey and now leaves the expedition. Mr Rawlinson will continue the cycle ride across Australia after resting and recuperating, and hopes to start the Tasman Row around the end of the year.


The pair took it in shifts to row their tiny boat (named ‘Simpson’s Donkey’ after the WWI war hero and medic Jack Simpson and his donkey who rescued soldiers from the battlefields of Gallipoli) for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for weeks on end. 


“When we finally reached Darwin, we were physically and mentally exhausted, our bodies were covered in salt sores and heat rashes, but it was a small price to pay for the privilege of completing a journey like this” said Mr Rawlinson.


There were also amazing high’s during the journey – “being surrounded by hundreds of dolphins and whales, birds landing on their tiny boat hundreds of miles offshore, being visited by curious sharks, amazing sunsets and sunrises, swimming in water over 4000m deep, and the amazing peace and solitude the ocean offers once we lost sight of land.”


And the motivation for the journey? “This is purely and simply about adventure.  Exploring diverse and remote areas of our planet in sustainable ways – I wish more people would be inspired by our expedition to undertake their own journeys into mother nature – you cannot do this sort of thing and not fall in love with the environment and want to protect it”.