Crossing the final bar
Colin Quincey Obituary – Pioneering Tasman rower.
And it’s true – he inspired many young people to tackle a life of adventure and challenge.
Quincey had already clocked up 35,000 offshore sailing miles, including a world circumnavigation he started at age 19, when the notion of being the first person to row the Tasman occurred to him.
“On 18th June, 1976 I walked out of a small wharfside office on Auckland into teeming rain” the book begins. “The car was suffering yet another dose of severe indigestion, the rent was due. I didn’t have a coat and I’d just resigned from my sixteenth job in eleven years. I ignored the rain (bodies are waterproof) and paddled my way to Queen Street. As I walked, watching soggy, serious faces and the hustle and hassle of the city centre rushing its inevitable way through another predictable day, an old familiar feeling washed through my body – a feeling of freedom.”
He spent some of his remaining cash buying a book – An Evolution of Singlehanders – but, not having the cash to buy or build a yacht, opted for oars instead. When he found out that no one had ever rowed the Tasman, the die was cast.
A former British RN officer, Quincey assiduously studied charts, prevailing wind and current data for the route. Seasoned sailors shook their heads in disbelief – the Tasman had to be tackled from West to East – but Quincey wasn’t a man to take the usual route.
Although he was born in Hull, England, that home of hardened North Sea trawlermen, both the man and his book were and are true Kiwi classics. Tasman Trespasser is sprinkled with laugh-aloud gems of his laconic humour and revealing insights.
He’d been Master of the sail training ship Spirit of Adventure, then taken work as a house painter, his son, Shaun, says. “That’s when he had the idea of rowing the Tasman – lots of time with his hands busy – but his mind free to roam.”
Quincey read everything available about ocean rowboats and, inspired by the boat John Fairfax had used to row the Atlantic in 1972, built his own Tasman Trespasser to a similar design. Lean and double-ended in light plywood.
His epic adventure began at Hokianga in June 1977. Tasman Trespasser’s paltry 61Ah battery powered the running lights and a VHF radio, but
otherwise he navigated by the sun and stars; no satphone, no GPS or weather charts. He gave himself 50-50 odds for survival but, in the event, landed at Marcus Beach, Queensland 63 days and seven hours later.
He surfed Tasman Trespasser into the remote beach at night and staggered on weakened legs about 3km towards a house light. The householders fed him, organised people to manhandle the boat above the high water mark and local police began clearance formalities – and gave him a cigarette. “I sat down on the garage floor to relish the first puffs of this long-awaited fag – and was told later that I had a stupid grin all over my face,” he recalled.
Shaun Quincey, in his own Tasman Trespasser, became the second person to row the Tasman and completed the family circuit 33 years later when it took him 54 days to row solo from New South Wales to Ninety Mile Beach in 2010.
After the crossing to Australia, Quincey joined the RNZN and served at various postings between 1978 and 2001. That year he quit the Navy and bought an 11.8m ketch, Edith May. He refitted her to NZYF category one.
“She must have been the oldest yacht to get cat one,” Shaun says. “Dad just liked adventure – whatever the challenge, it just didn’t seem big enough for him.”
He took to the sea once more in 2003. He was headed for Tonga, but Edith May struck a shipping container near the Poor Knights Islands and sank beneath him. But he eventually made it to Tonga and took on a volunteer teaching role at St Andrews College. He ended up as principal for four years.
His next challenge was helping to build a school for orphans in Burma (Myanmar). The 60-year-old adventurer taught English there but was taken hostage for three months by “local militia” before escaping and swimming across the Mekong River to freedom in Thailand.
He lived in north-east Thailand for a few years then moved to Australia. From 2008 until 2011, Quincey managed a commercial cleaning company in Darwin, then retired to the Bay of Islands.
“He had a small dory which he used to row around the bay in,” says Shaun, “but after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he slowed down a bit.” He also volunteered at the Citizens Advice Bureau and at Paihia’s local op shop.
Colin Quincey died in Kawakawa aged 73 on 9th July, 2018 and is survived by his sons – David, Ben and Shaun.
Farewell sailor. BNZ
LEFT Quincey’s odyssey to Australia wasn’t exactly a straight route.BELOW LEFT Setting new records, Quincey was one of a kind.
RIGHT Preparing the boat for departure.
TOP The supplies needed for a TransTasman row.