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Solo Kayaker Completes Paddle Across Tasman Sea

Richard Barnes has successfully kayaked 2,000 km across the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.

richard barnes in New Zealand on his kayak after paddling across the Tasman SeaA crowd welcomes Richard Barnes as he lands in New Zealand; (photo/southlandapp.nz/Jo Shearer)
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published on ExplorersWeb.

62-year-old Aussie Richard Barnes landed in New Zealand after 67 days at sea. He began his journey from Hobart on the Australian island of Tasmania. “There’s been a lot of quiet moments, [and] a lot of rough moments,” Barnes admitted when he arrived.

This was Barnes’s second attempt at the crossing. In 2021, he had to give up after 75 days because of Cyclone Seth.

This time, he took a slightly different route across The Ditch. Previously, he set off from mainland Australia bound for New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island. This time, he took a more southerly route, from Hobart, Tasmania, to Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island.

Richard Barnes' Tasman Sea kayak route day 1-59
Barnes’ route from Tasmania (left) on day 1, through day 59; (image/Lane Cove River Kayakers)

Overcoming Headwinds

As with most long sea kayak journeys, Barnes’s vessel was not your average shop-bought vessel. “Blue Moon” was custom-built and designed by Barnes. It contained three main compartments. The first was for drying clothes, sleeping, and using electronic devices. The second was for eating and changing, and the third was the cockpit. At 10m long, it weighed 600 kilograms when Barnes started the journey.

During the first few days of his journey, he constantly battled headwinds. “At times, my GPS couldn’t decide whether progress was zero or we were actually going backward,” he said.

As he paddled the Tasmanian coastline, a few sea kayakers and friends joined him for small sections. Then it was two months completely alone.

richard barnes sea kayaking
Barnes at sea; (photo/A. Dawson/Lane Cove River Kayakers)

Birthday at Sea

Early in the expedition, Barnes celebrated his 62nd birthday on his vessel by treating himself to a slightly longer sleep and opening a few birthday cards. That day also marked his first 30,000 strokes of the voyage.

Another big moment came on day 40. In his previous attempt, this was the location where he had to turn around and head back to Australia. Now, he was heading into “uncharted territory.”

Periodically, large waves and strong winds forced him to shelter inside his cabin and wait them out.

“I needed to wear my crash hat round the cabin to reduce impact damage,” he wrote during one tumultuous episode. “While laying down … I strapped myself into bed rather than bracing to every roll.”

Richard Barnes in his kayak at sea
Barnes at sea; (photo/A. Dawson/Lane Cove River Kayakers)

Kayaking for approximately 10 hours a day took a toll on Barnes’s body. Just 22 days in, he was already noticing his leg muscles shrinking from almost constant sitting. After two months, his padded seat had compressed from a well-cushioned 50mm to just 5mm thick.

Barnes is only the second soloist to kayak across the Tasman Sea. It was first crossed by Justin Jones and James Castrission in 2008. The first soloist paddler was Scott Davidson in 2018.

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