A spirit of ad­ven­ture

An­drew McAu­ley liked to test bound­aries, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

SOME view­ers of Solo will think ad­ven­turer An­drew McAu­ley is to­tally ir­re­spon­si­ble.

Af­ter all, here is a man with a wife, Vicki, and three-year-old son, Fin­lay, who aims to be the first per­son to kayak from Aus­tralia to New Zealand across 1600km of the South­ern Ocean stretch of the Tas­man Sea, one of the wildest and loneli­est ex­panses on earth.

As he pad­dles out of Fortes­cue Bay in Tas­ma­nia in his frag­ile-looking 6.3m kayak to start his first at­tempt at the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble, he is cry­ing and won­der­ing why he would leave Vicki and Fin­lay.

Ahead is a 30 to 40-day trek that is likely to bring hy­pother­mia, salt sores, sleep­less nights, hal­lu­ci­na­tory ex­haus­tion, the threat of sharks and the pos­si­bil­ity of mon­ster waves and Force 9 storms.

It is at this point any rea­son­able viewer will be shout­ing at the screen, ‘‘Go back! Think of your wife and child.’’

McAu­ley did go back that night, be­cause of hy­pother­mia, but six weeks later — de­spite strong op­po­si­tion from au­thor­i­ties — he made a sec­ond at­tempt.

On Fe­bru­ary 9, 2007, 30 days into the cross­ing and only a day from com­plet­ing his jour­ney, New Zealand au­thor­i­ties re­ceived McAu­ley’s dis­tress call. His body was never re­cov­ered.

Two years later, Vicki is still strug­gling to come to terms with her hus­band’s death. There is no body to bury, no for­mal way to say good­bye to her beloved part­ner.

She has ev­ery right to be an­gry, but she’s not.

‘‘No, I don’t feel an­gry with him and I’ll never feel an­gry with him,’’ Vicki says. ‘‘How can you be an­gry with some­one who was so pas­sion­ate about life and ex­plor­ing its bound­aries?

‘‘I was al­ways fully sup­port­ive of him. I re­alised he was a very driven per­son and I re­ally ad­mired that char­ac­ter­is­tic — in fact that’s prob­a­bly what drew me to him in the first place.

‘‘I had the ut­most con­fi­dence in An­drew’s abil­i­ties, too. He was metic­u­lous in his plan­ning and his re­search and his train­ing and his men­tal and phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion. I knew from past ex­pe­ri­ence on other ex­pe­di­tions that he’d only at­tempt it if he truly be­lieved it was pos­si­ble. We both came to the con­clu­sion that it was a fea­si­ble project for him to try.’’

Vicki has had ex­ten­sive grief coun­selling since An­drew’s death. She says life as a sin­gle mother is hard.

‘‘It’s been very dif­fi­cult to come to terms with An­drew’s death and I feel I still haven’t come to terms with it,’’ she says.

‘‘Fin­lay and I have this beau­ti­ful spot out in a nearby val­ley where we go to think about and com­mem­o­rate daddy. It’s where An­drew and I had our first date. It’s a beau­ti­ful spot. In fact, An­drew had told me that when he died he wanted his ashes spread from the top of the cliff.

‘‘Our lit­tle boy is now 5½. He started school this year. I find mile­stones like that quite bit­ter­sweet be­cause I want An­drew to be here to share them.’’

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