Sandy Robson is paddling from Germany to Australia

Friendly fishermen and dolphins were all that 47-year-old Sandy Robson had for company while she kayaked along India’s western coast.

And her navigating tools were an admiralty chart to know the tides and depth of sea, a GPS and the Israel-based weatherman’s daily weather forecast. The free spirit is kayaking alone from Germany to Australia – a distance of 50,000 km. She began her journey in May 2011 and has so far covered 6,000 km.

Ms Robson is retracing German canoeist Oskar Speck’s journey in a kayak along the same stretch, from 1932 to 1939. In the process, she will also become the first woman to paddle along the Indian coast – from Gujarat to West Bengal, from where she will travel to Bangladesh and reach Australia, her homeland, through South-East Asia some time in 2016. In between, she will travel back home to resume teaching and her job as a kayaking trainer, to raise funds for the rest of her journey.

She was denied entry into Iran and Syria, possibly for political reasons, while mines spread across Euphrates river by Saddam Hussein’s military kept her away from Iraq.

As The Hindu zeroed in on her at Fort Kochi, she was assembling her vessel to resume her journey. There is no stopping her once she takes to the water - she covers an average of around 40 km per day and this is no mean task. Once she crossed into Kerala, she was frequently ‘intercepted’ by the marine police who wanted to verify the Australian’s passport. What about pirates? “No way, since you have so many police along the coast,” she says.

She is full of interesting ‘hard and easy’ anecdotes about her passage from Kasaragod to Fort Kochi. “The people are very helpful. Once, I landed at a place where a hotel was meant to be located. Since there was no hotel, local residents allowed me to stay at their home.”

There were instances of fishermen sharing their tea and inviting her to their boats for breakfast. And how does she communicate with them? “Sign language works best. Most fishermen in Kerala know English.”

The trip is more about exploring other cultures – I was amazed as people brought me tea and food wherever I landed.

At many places in Gujarat, people crowded around her and the police had to intervene. Was she intimidated at any point in her journey along Indian coast? “Big ships often came too close. But Indian Navy, Coast Guard and police treated me well.”

As with most other foreigners, Ms Robson was taken aback by garbage strewn around at most places in coastal India and even at tourist spots. “This is bad since too many people in India depend on the oceans for a living. Such accumulation of filth affects the marine life and eco system.”

The avid seafarer is also turned away by indiscriminate fishing along the coast. “For example, over 3,000 fishing boats operate from Mangalore. It is high time sanctuaries were made for fish to breed and then spread out.”

She keeps in touch with her family – mom, dad and sister by texting messages and through phone.

And her message to others – follow your dreams and do not wait till you are 60 years old. “People tend to help you all along to realize your dream.”

Ms Robson is getting help from Shajan Daniel, a motor sports enthusiast, who is coordinating with government departments, hotels etc., during her Kerala stay.

Her website is www.sandy-robson.com. Here, she says - I am not afraid of pirates, but I am afraid of not having enough sponsors to keep this expedition going.

john.paul@thehindu.co.in

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