Sunday, February 25, 2007

The last image of Andrew McAuley, taken from a camera retrieved from his kayak, which was discovered off the coast of New Zealand. He is believed to have drowned after crossing to within 55 kilometres of the South Island.

For 30 days and nights, wherever the Australian adventurer turned his salt-rimed eyes, he understood his solitude. His only solace was his courage and determination.

"I never once doubted he would do it," his wife Vicki said yesterday. And he almost did.

Paddling by day, drifting at night while he slept in a protective cocoon, Mr McAuley, 39, crossed 1500 kilometres of ocean. On February 9 he was within 30 nautical miles, or 54 kilometres, of the South Island of New Zealand, close enough to photograph its mountains.

Some time the next day, he expected to make landfall and achieve a long-held ambition to become the first man to take a kayak across the Tasman Sea. His wife and son were waiting for him in Milford Sound.

At 7.15pm, the New Zealand Coastguard picked up an almost indecipherable distress signal from a vessel that identified itself as Kayak 1. There were two clear words: "help" and "sinking". Then silence.

The following evening, his upturned seven-metre kayak was seen from the air. The kayak was recovered but Mr McAuley's body has not been found. It is believed he drowned in 15-degree water when the kayak capsized while he was asleep. He did not have an immersion suit, which might have helped him survive in the cold sea.

Today his wife, his three-year-old son Finlay, his parents, and his brother and sister will attend a memorial service at the Macquarie Lighthouse in Vaucluse.

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