In deep waters, and loving it

Jan 06, 2013, 08:01 IST | Phorum Dalal

Perth-based kayaker Sandra Robson, who touched the Mumbai coast in December, is tracing German kayaker Oskar Speck's seven year-long, 50,000 km, expedition from Germany to Australia in 1932

Seventy even years ago, German kayaker Oskar Speck went out of work due to the 1932 depression. With nothing to do, Speck set out from Ulm, Germany with the intention of paddling to Cyprus in a folding kayak. Once there, he decided to extend the journey to Australia. This took him seven years. Unfortunately, by 1939, war had broken out Germany and Speck was promptly sent back home. He was assumed to be a spy as his kayak flew a swastika flag and he had a movie camera to document his trip.

Kayaker Sandy Robson at Veraval in Gujarat

But, in 1935, Speck did pass along the west coast of India. On December 2 2012, inspired by Speck, 46 year-old sea kayaker Sandy Robson arrived at the shore of the Marine National Park near Jamnagar to retrace the Indian stage of Speck’s journey. “I intend to complete the trip to Australia in five years,” says Robson, who has kayaked to Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus so far.

Sandy Robson paddles on the expedition for six months and sails back home in Perth, for the other six

Back home, Robson, who has been kayaking for 19 years, is an instructor and tour guide. “I paddle on the expedition for six months and go back home for the other six, generating funds for the expedition. My aim is to get 1,000 people to give me $20,” says Robson, who has had a hip replacement due to a medical condition that runs in the family. This is only the warm-up though as she intends to continue paddling south along the coast of India for the next three months and hopes to reach the country’s southernmost tip by mid-March. 

At sea
Robson sets out in her kayak, which is five metres long and 60 cm wide, and weighs approximately 35 kg, at first light around 7.30 am. When starting out to a new destination, Robson takes it easy for the first two to three days, depending on how she is feeling and, of course, the weather conditions. Once in form, she paddles around 40 km a day, looks at maps, enjoys the beauty and waves out to fishermen.

“My lunch comprises pasta, noodles, some cheese or chapatti and is usually in the kayak.” What she really misses on expeditions are ice creams and Gouda cheese. “Sometimes, I have the company of turtles and dolphins and busy fishermen casting their nets into the sea. I prefer paddling closer to the coast, as there is activity here. Too far into the ocean, the ride gets monotonous.”

In her kayak, Robson carries a tent, sleeping bag, first aid kit, clothing and food. “My kayak folds up and can be turned into a backpack,” she explains. Robson bought the green-coloured light and foldable kayak especially for the expedition.

Back home in Perth, Robson indulges in anything that has got to do with the beach. “Kayaking, water sports, swimming and snorkeling, says Robson, who also enjoys biking.

Watch out
“I have to be very careful I have to dodge sandy beaches and look for sandy terrain. I live anywhere depending on the situation. When I land on an empty beach, I prefer camping, and sometimes, I stay at hotels. Many times, especially in India, people see a girl alone and invite me to stay at their place,” says Robson, who camped at the marine park in Gujarat and at a hotel in Porbander. “I pre-book at spots I know will be tough to find accommodation.”

Indian welcome
The crowds that gather around her boat overwhelm Robson. “I don’t understand the local languages, but, the intrigue expressed is heartwarming. Indians want to know what I am doing, how I got here, where I will go next,” smiles Robson, who feels there is no better way to commute than kayaking. “No traffic, beautiful surroundings and much healthier.”

If you’re thinking of setting out, Robson has a word of advice: Keep local contacts, train before you set out as a long distance tests your physical and mental strength, be part of a kayaking club to learn from experts and learn a few rescue techniques to protect yourself. 

In Speck’s footsteps
The Speck route took Sandy Robson down the Danube River to the Bulgarian border, then over land to Macedonia where she launched in the Vardar River, looking forward to eventually reaching the sea in Greece. Robson hopped between Greek Islands and crossed the Aegean Sea to Turkey, then continued on the Mediterranean coast to Cyprus. Meeting the local people and the cultural interaction has been a highlight of the trip for Robson. The locals in Greece were baffled that a girl could make it all the way through the Aegean Sea in a kayak. The Aegean is renowned for its catabatic winds and yachtsmen told her it would be very risky. Robson says, “I don’t think they realise what a kayak can do, or a girl for that matter.” Go to to read about the adventure in detail on the India Page

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