A spirit of adventure
Andrew McAuley liked to test boundaries, writes Colin Vickery
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.’’