Rowing from Home to Home expedition about to enter the record books
Grant ‘Axe Rawlinson and rowing partner Charlie Smith are now approaching both the record books and Bali after having rowed over 1000 nautical miles since they began their epic 12,000km Rowing from Home to Home expedition in Singapore on January 3.
Already it’s an amazing world-first feat for Rawlinson and Smith who will become the first people to ever row from Singapore to Bali in an ocean rowing boat. The pair have been rowing 24-hours a day in 2-hour shifts for most of the time except for two short breaks on land at Bangka and Bawean Islands in the Java Sea.
For Rawlinson, preparations began about three years ago for this expedition which will see him rowing with Smith from Singapore to Australia, before being joined by Kiwi ocean rower Rob Hamill for a cycle from Darwin to Coff’s Harbour in Queensland before rowing the rest of the way to his birthplace in Taranaki New Zealand.
The adventure's goal, dreamt up by Rawlinson, is to travel the 12,000km journey entirely by human power (that means no engines, no sails) from his home in Singapore to his birthplace in Taranaki, New Zealand and is aptly named Rowing from Home to Home.
The journey, which began in Singapore on January 3, has already passed a number of milestones. Firstly when Rawlinson and Smith crossed one of the world's busiest shipping lanes between Singapore and Indonesia aboard their 6.8-metre, UK-built Rannoch ocean rowing boat named Simpson's Donkey. Then the crossing of the equator and reaching Bangka Island before becoming the first people ever to row across the Java Sea. And now, as they approach Bali, they are about to celebrate the achievement of rowing over 1000 nautical miles.
As could be expected, the challenges Rawlinson and Smith have faced have put the pair through the full range of emotions, and not just on the boat.
“The closest I came to giving up was before I even set foot on Simpson’s Donkey,” says Rawlinson. “When I had to say goodbye to my wife Stephanie and our twin daughters, Rachel and Kate. I was standing on the dock in Singapore and it was the only time I’ve ever really truly doubted what I’m trying to achieve. But since we got out on the water, I couldn’t be more sure of what I’m doing.”
"There have been times when things have got a bit dicey when we've been caught in some very fierce tropical storms," says Smith. "When that happens, the sky is lit up like a cathedral of light and it's very easy to lose control of the boat as it spins around 360-degrees while you’re surrounded by thunder and lightening. And then there have been other times when we've been approached by fishermen wearing balaclavas who we suspect might actually have been pirates. But then there's also been times when I've felt like the luckiest man alive as I've been rowing on a rolling sea with an amazing sunset to look at while the wind pushes me along. These are things that people just don't see and I feel extremely fortunate”.
Also there’s the huge physical and psychological battles that both Rawlinson and Smith face every day as they inch their way through the vast Indonesian archipelago living on dehydrated meals and rowing in 2-hour shifts 24 hours a day:
“Most people say to us that they would find getting out of sight of land to be the most frightening part,” says Rawlinson. “But for me, it’s the only time I feel safe if I’m honest with you. Because this boat is made for ocean rowing and when we’re near shore, it makes me very nervous because the currents and winds can easily force you onto rock and reefs.”
“But also, when you get out 120 miles away from land,” adds Smith, “you start to think about what would happen if something bad happens out there and how difficult it would be for someone to find us. And that’s when it becomes a very different psychological battle.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s all been hard work. There have also been times when the pair have been over-awed by what they’ve seen. Along the way they’ve been treated to pods of dolphins joining them for periods of time. Or evenings when they’ve been in such remote areas of the sea that the stars have been clearer than anything they’ve ever seen. And then there’s also the experiences of wonderful hospitality they’ve received from the Indonesian people at Bangka and Bawean islands in the Java Sea where they were greeted with both looks of bewilderment and awe as they came into shore for short stops along the way.
"It changes you," says Smith. "These places we are travelling through are very remote and the people who live there don’t see westerners all that often – let alone ones arriving in a rowing boat. So you can’t help but be affected by it in a profound way."
“At the moment, our focus is solely on reaching Bali,” adds Rawlinson. “We have planned for the rest of the journey, but until now Bali has been the goal. Then we’ll think about getting to Darwin. With something of this scale, it’s about splitting it up into parts and attacking each one by itself, because each part of this journey has very different challenges”.
“For me, it hasn't yet sunk in that we’ve just become the first people to ever row across the Java Sea and I’m extremely proud of what Charlie and I have done even just as a feat of navigation, let alone the distance part of the equation. So I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when we get to Darwin!”
And so now, as the journey nears Bali, the pair are looking forward to a few days of well-earned rest from the constant 24-hour rowing aboard Simpson’s Donkey. And after that, it will be all about extending their world-first row by continuing their journey East along the islands of the Indonesian archipelago before rounding East Timor and heading South to Darwin, Australia where they will become the first people to ever row a boat from Singapore to Australia.
You can follow the expedition’s progress at the links below: