Sea-Kayaker Sandy Robson Paddles On Upward India’s East Coast

So far, from the seat of her kayak, Sandra has seen Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and India. Meeting the local people and the cultural interaction has been a highlight of the trip for Ms 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 Katabatic winds and yachtsmen told her it would be very risky. Sandy says, “I don’t think they realize what a kayak can do, or a girl for that matter.” In India it is also quite unusual for a woman to be on the sea and Ms Robson has often been surrounded by crowds of people on India’s shores, something she initially found terrifying, but is now getting accustomed to – it is still tricky though when you don’t speak the language. At dawn On Saturday May 17th, Ms Robson set sail for Pulicat Island and will paddle further north into Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. She expects to reach the Sunderbans by late June and then continue across the border into Bangladesh. There is a website where you can go to find out more about the trip and you can read the day-by-day adventures on the travellers blog:

In the past two months the kayak instructor and teacher from Australia has paddled over 1500kms, set a world record as the first person to circumnavigate Sri Lanka by kayak (just over 1200kms in 33 days) and she has become the first woman and second person to cross Palk Strait in a sea kayak, the first crossing since 1935. Ms Robson’s expedition is inspired by a historic journey made by German kayaker, Oskar Speck. Finding himself out of work in the 1932 depression, Oskar set out from Ulm in Germany with the intention of paddling to Cyprus. When he got there he decided to keep going and bring the folding kayak to Australia. The trip from Germany to Australia took him 7 years. Unfortunately by 1939, war had broken out with Germany and the adventurer was promptly interned by his Australian welcoming committee. His kayak flew a swastika flag and he had a movie camera to document his trip so they thought he might be spy! In 1935/6 Oskar passed along the coast of India in a simple folding kayak with a canvas skin and wooden frame (see for photos)

In May 2011 Ms Robson set out from Germany to retrace speck’s journey in stages. On December 2nd,2012,77 years after Speck, WA kayaker, Sandy Robson was standing on the shore in the Marine National Park near Jamnagar loading up her kayak with camping equipment and food, ready to begin retracing the India stage of the journey of Oskar Speck. Ms Robson expects to complete the trip to Australia in 5 years, 2 years faster than Speck.

Sponsors and Supporters to thank please:Although there is no team following her around the coast, In India, Ms Robson’s expedition has been kindly supported by Mr Jehan Driver of Quest Expeditions who hasa watersport/kite surfing centre near Rameswarem. Without these kind of supporters, Ms Robson says she never would have survived in India. “Jehan helped me with logistics and contacts throughout my expedition. So there was always someone I could call if I needed help, assistance with translating or someone to meet me on the beach and help with the heavy kayak. He’s been through the challenges and the highs and lows of the journey with me and has become my best friend in India. It is those kind of friendships forged along the way that really make the trip special”. In Chennai, Ms Robson is hosted and provided logistical support by sailors from the Royal Madras Yacht Club and she would also like to thank for their fantastic support of her expedition, Indian Coastguard, CSG Police, The Honorary Consul for Sweden Mr ArunVasu, DipankarGhose of Adventure n Nature, The Australian Consulate, the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association’s Ashok Thakker, Sunder from Off Road Sports, Elektronik Lab for GPS help, Chindia Restaurant for Catering, Madras Fun Tools for selected kayak equipment& Murthy from Covelong Point Surf School for shore support.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How far from shore do you paddle

I often paddle just behind where the waves are breaking and less than 1km from shore, however sometimes I am going from point to point and this takes me further out, or I might navigate to an offshore island so I am a long way out, but most of the time I can easily see the beach and find the goings on onshore interesting to entertain me on the long days (8-13hrs) on the sea.


  1. Where are you up to now?

I have paddled to the south east coast of India and am now planning and raising funds for continuing up the east coast of India and crossing into Bangladesh and Myanmar. When the monsoon weather gets bad I will stop for a break, Then by October 2014 I will set out for 13 months to paddle through Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. PNG and Australia will be Stage 5.


  1. How far is the trip from Germany to Australia completed by Oskar Speck?

Oskar Speck articles say 50 000kms.  My distance will be different to Oskar’s because I have had to miss out some parts of the route. In the middle east the war zone in Syria meant I could not go there.  Mines in Iraq at the mouth of the Euphrates resulted in me crossing off this country off the plan.  Iran would not let me paddle there (I could not get permission).  Also Pakistan was on the recommended not to go list for Australians. So, things in the world have changed since Oskar Speck’s days, but the adventure is still as awesome as ever.  I think I will end up with around 23000kms when I reach Australia.


  1. Why did you paddle solo on the journey?

It is difficult to find expedition partners that can drop everything for 6-months, so I tried to find people in the areas where I was paddling who would come and paddle with me for an hour, a day, a week… I like paddling with other people and I also don’t mind paddling solo.  I like the solitude at times, but I also like to socialize and talk to people regularly.  During stage one I had other paddlers accompany me for parts of the trip in Germany, Austria, Serbia, Hungary, Macedonia and Turkey, so I had a lot of company and made many new friends in the world-wide paddling community.  For Stage 2/3 I contemplated  a paddling partner, but in the end I decide to go solo again for India & Sri Lanka.  I have had plenty of support and friendships throughout the journey so I don’t feel alone very often.


  1. Why are you doing this trip?

I am making this trip because I love the long journey and Oskar’s trip has to be the longest and most amazing kayak journey of all time.  If I have a dream I think I should do it now… I don’t see the point in working til I am 60 and then retiring… I potentially can’t do this at 60 so i am taking some of my retirement now.  Maybe the real purpose of the trip will evolve as time passes.  I am meeting kayakers all over the world and that is an exciting part of the journey.  Eventually I will write a book about the trip and the insights I have had to the worldwide kayaking community.  I am also passionate about the natural environment and this trip is highlighting for me some problems that the world oceans face.  I have realized how lucky we are in Australia to have such a rich and diverse ecosystem.  We need to keep working on preserving and protecting these unique ecosystems and the environment that is the support system for our planet.


  1. How can you afford this trip?

I can’t, I have run out of money and I desperately need some sponsorship! Any suggestions are welcome. Email me.  What I really need is 1000 people to donate $20.


  1. How old are you & are you married?

In Australia it is rude to ask a woman her age, but in India everyone just asks, I was 43y.o. when I began the Speck journey, I just turned 46y.o….. but I don’t act my age!In India I have been asked “Where is your Husband” but no, I am not married.  In some parts of the world it is assumed that you must be some sort of damaged goods if you are my age and unmarried, but where I am from arranged marriage is uncommon and many of my close friends are not married.  I am not paddling around looking for a husband, but who knows who I will meet tomorrow


  1. What is the biggest ocean crossing you have done so far on the trip?

I paddled 109kms over 22hrs in Sri lanka and landed in Negombo at 4am. I am going to have to work up to being able to paddle around 200kms in a crossing by the time I reach Indonesia – that will be an over nighter.  I usually average only 6km per hour, but this will increase if i have the wind behind me and a following sea.  I also use a small ‘Flat Earth’ brand kayak sail to give me a boost in the wind.  The flat earth sail makes me smile!


  1. How do you navigate?

Marine Charts and maps firstly and a hand held Garmin GPS to double check my position, calculate drift caused by wind and currents and to make my life on the sea easier.  For safety it is important to be able to navigate without relying on technology.  However, what I love about having my GPS is that I can use it to see my speed, estimated arrival at the campsite, distance to go etc.  This is particularly helpful on the long crossings between islands, or if you want to see if you can paddle to that next point before it gets dark.  I could of course calculate all of this manually, but it would take me time and the GPS does it at the touch of a button.  Garmin also stock great versions of marine charts that Chennai’s Elektronic Lab have installed on my GPS for me.  I have a deck compass fitted on my kayak for navigating a bearing.   I use a detachable ‘Silva Precision Kayak Compass’ that clips onto the deck lines.  I got one for the Northern Hemisphere and will upgrade to a Southern Hemisphere one when i get there.  I would not paddle without a compass.  On most of the crossings I can see the destination from the outset. Not all of the places will be like this though and sometimes they may be obscured by the sea swell/waves/fog/haze, so a compass is essential in this case.  In the past I have navigated using stars or constellations lined up on my bearing.  This is pretty exciting…I was glad to have the back lit GPS though to double check everything when I was out there in the dark (reassuring).


  1. How do we donate funds to your trip?

Please email me and I will provide you with the banking details for a transfer or donate through Paypal using the website donate button on the home page, or invite me to stay at your place along the way.  Sponsors can have free advertising on my site… email me to discuss it.

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