Journey to the end of the earth

A lone man drops into the Arabian Sea from a helicopter overhead.  Plosh, he lands in an explosion of sound and water, and struggles to come afloat. He then swims his way to a woman on a kayak by herself, with only a nautical chart, a compass and a GPS that doesn’t always work to help guide her way. No one’s allowed to be in these parts of the water, the Coast Guard informs her sternly. She’s just an adventurer enroute to her next destination, she tells him as she keeps paddling away.

Meet Sandy Robson, a 47-year-old Australian woman, who’s paddled over 9,500 km since May 2011. She’s tracing Oskar Speck’s kayaking route — a German canoeist who paddled all the way from Germany to Australia in the 1930s. “I like long expeditions and kayaking,” she explains. “Oskar Speck’s journey is really significant for kayakers because it is the longest kayaking trip ever made.” It took him seven years to do it, but she hopes to do it in five.

She started in Germany and is planning to paddle all the way to Australia. She eventually plans to put it all in a book, or maybe she’ll need two, because even though she’s completed only half the journey, she already has ample stories to tell. “I’ve broken the journey into stages to make it more manageable. The length of the journey depends on weather conditions and the availability of funds,” says Sandy. When she finishes a stretch of the journey, she goes home to Australia to visit her family and resume her job as a kayaking instructor to make some money. She has a website ( to help people trace her location, follow her route and donate money to fund her journey. “This will be a world record because I’ll be the only woman to make this journey,” says Sandy.  

Kayaking is a fairly common sport in Australia, and she learnt it while she was in university. She didn’t think she was particularly good at it though; it was just something she enjoyed doing. She still likes paddling along the coasts of India, despite the many crash landings she’s suffered. She’s come across many dolphins, turtles and sea snakes (“They are dangerous if they bite you, but they are usually rather timid,” explains Sandy), but she needs to be on the lookout for the more dangerous kind like the swimming Bengal Tiger and the crocodile. The toughest part of the whole trip, however, is acquiring the necessary visas and getting permission to paddle in different regions. “Crossing over the border in a kayak is not something the authorities know what to do about, so it gets a little tricky,” she explains, laughing.

Every day, she needs to get back to dry land and find a place for the night. She usually contacts a local in advance, and finds suitable accommodation. She’s camped in islands in the Gulf of Mannar, pitched a tent in villages, stayed in seaside hotels and slept on the floor in people’s houses. However, if she isn’t meeting someone in advance, she just relies on the crowd that gathers to stare at her to help her find a place for the night.

She’s made many friends through her adventures and says she’ll probably come back to India just to visit them. When she returned to Chennai this time, she insisted on revisiting Murugan Idli with her friends from the Royal Madras Yacht Club and ate idlis, onion uthappams, dosas and vadas to kick-start her day. Replenished, it’s now time to hit the seas again, and this time, she’s going to paddle all the way from West Bengal to the far east of Indonesia. Needless to say, adventures await!

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 5:31:45 AM |

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