Rowing home from Home expedition covers first 500km and crosses the equator





Not much happens at the coastal village of Belo on the island of Bangka off the south-eastern coast of Sumatra. Here, the daily routine is simply get up, go fishing, come home. Except for last night, when at about 4pm a small ocean rowing boat appeared on the horizon and set a course for their jetty, which was suddenly filled with excited children, curious adults and excited chatter as they discovered that the two men rowing the boat had come all the way from Singapore.


The boat was Simpson’s Donkey, a 6.8-metre ocean rowing boat that is currently being rowed from Singapore to Darwin, Australia in the first leg of Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson’s epic 12,000km human-powered expedition from his current home in Singapore to his birthplace in Taranaki New Zealand.


And there couldn’t have been a more welcoming bunch of people to greet them than the people of Belo, who immediately threw down ropes and crowded Rawlinson and his rowing partner Charlie Smith as their wobbly legs lifted them up some rickety wooden steps onto the dry land for the first time in the eight days since they entered Indonesia on the island of Batam.

Equator crossing

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As far as milestones are concerned, it’s not the first that Rawlinson and Smith have achieved in the past week. First they set off on the first leg of Rawlinson’s 12,000km human-powered journey from Singapore to New Zealand by crossing the Straits of Singapore, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Then they rowed across the equator, and now they have reached their first major landfall on their journey by reaching Bangka Island, over 500km to the south of Singapore.


And now, as they depart from Bangka today, they are faced with an even more daunting task, setting out into the Java Sea for Bali, a journey which is going to see them venture off-shore by up to 200-nautical miles (370km).

But if anything makes all that effort worth it, it was the greeting they received from the intrigued and excited  locals at the small fishing village of Belo


Rawlinson’s epic human-powered expedition from Singapore to New Zealand began on 3 January and has travelled over 500km (274.6 nautical miles) to reach the island of Bangka, a place known for its stunning beaches and resorts on its fringes and tin mines in its centre.


“To reach Bangka is an extremely important goal to tick off,” said Rawlinson on arrival at the fishing village jetty just south of the port town of Mentok. “Because by reaching here we’ve had to do a few things we hadn’t done before, so just by reaching here is proof to me that we can achieve what we set out to do.”


Travelling entirely by human-power – that means no engines, no sails, simply Rawlinson and Smith’s own human power to drive them – the pair have been rowing in shifts 24 hours a day as they drive their 6.8-metre ocean rowing boat, Simpson’s Donkey which weighs almost 800kg after it is filled with all their food and navigation equipment.


“Since we left Nongsa Point Marina on Batam Island where we cleared immigration and entered Indonesia, the boat hasn’t stopped. And that’s a huge achievement for us. That together we’ve been able to keep that boat moving 24-hours a day is something we’re really proud of.”

Another first for both crew members was the fact that they crossed the equator on day five of the eight days it took to row from Singapore to Bangka.


“We put down the oars for a little while and let the current take us so we could sit in the cabin watch our latitude tick over until we’d crossed from the northern hemisphere to the southern. And then we celebrated with a mall bottle of coke!” said Rawlinson.


As with any expedition of this scale, Rawlinson and Smith were also forced to adapt to the conditions. For the first few days of their crossing from Singapore to Bangka there was largely no wind, which exposed the pair to the full force of the brutal Southeast Asian heat. Then when the wind did arrive, it came from the North-east rather than the North-west as expected which forced them to alter their route to pass to the south of Bangka Island instead of their intended northern coast landfall.


“I’m really enjoying this dynamic geography lesson,” said Smith. “And the biggest lesson of them all is that we need to adapt to the conditions as we go and there can never be one plan.”


Another challenge Rawlinson and Smith have faced so far are the sudden tropical thunderstorms they encounter along the way – the worst one coming on the early hours of the morning of their landfall at Bangka Island when the skies lit up with a spectacular light display which at times appeared to surround the boat.


But there have also been some amazingly gratifying moments for the pair as well. Including the spectacular sunsets, sunrises and island scenery they’ve witnessed in an area of the world few have ever rowed a boat through before. Also, on the morning of Day eight, they were surrounded by a pod of dolphins as they approached Bangka Island.

And then of course there was the greeting they received at the fishing village of Belo just south of the port town of Mentok, where the jetty was suddenly filled with men, women and children who excitedly crowded around the boat as Rawlinson and Smith pulled into their little piece of paradise and tied up at their jetty.


“It really makes it all worth it to see such happy faces,” said Rawlinson. “And it’s kind of surreal to suddenly be crowded around by so many happy faces, all with questions and handshakes, wanting to take selfies with us, after seeing only one person for the past eight days.”


Then, after one night on land at Bangka, Rawlinson and Smith today got back on Simpson’s Donkey and aimed it south again towards their next goal – Bali – a journey which is likely to take them about 18 days and expose them to a whole new set of challenges, including the first real test at crossing open water.