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Row you bastard, row!


Some sad news came through last night about a good friend of Henna Gaijin – that one of New Zealand's heroes, Colin Quincey, has died. Colin forged his name in history in the summer of 1977 when he steered his row-boat, the Tasman Trespasser, out of the Hokianga Harbour, pointed it in the general direction of Australia, then rowed for 63 days until he finally crash-landed in the dark on Marcus Beach near Noosa, becoming the first person to cross the Tasman by human power.

He is still the only person to row the Tasman from Aotearoa to Australia solo, and the only other person to do it in the opposite direction is his son, Shaun.

As one sign I have seen in TV footage said: "Quinceys 2, Tasman 0".

(Scott Donaldson of course just last week became the first person to cross the Tasman in a kayak).

I first met Colin in early 2016 when I was taking photos on the beach at Russell in the far north of New Zealand. It was the last day of a short trip up there and as I breathed in the beautiful morning, a small orange row boat appeared from the direction of Paihia across the bay – only a couple of kilometres away. It seemed an obvious item to photograph, so I snapped off a few shots. And then when it came ashore, I went over and met Colin for the first time.

My first impression of him was that he was a lovely bloke. And very fit for his age. He told me that he'd had this particular row boat for a while but that he'd been waiting for a beautiful morning like this to try it out. I asked him what it was like to row a boat that far – all the way from Paihia, which seemed to me a long way away across the bay – and he simply said it wasn't too bad.

Not once did he mention that he had once rowed a boat from New Zealand to Australia.

A few months later, as chance would have it, I began filming a documentary about Grant Rawlinson's epic human-powered expedition from Singapore to New Zealand which would include a row from Singapore to Australia then from Australia to New Zealand. And as part of that I got in touch with Colin, to ask if I could interview him for some background – which he accepted – and I set out to "meet him".

Still unaware he was the guy who I'd met on the beach at Russell, I arrived at the driveway of his home at Paihia and suddenly I saw the orange row boat.

Excitedly I recounted the story to him and he remembered me and we went about "meeting" each other all over again.

And then I asked him:

"Why didn't you tell me you'd once rowed the Tasman? Surely when I asked you about how hard it was to row from Paihia to Russell – a distance the naked eye can easily quantify – you might have mentioned it?!"

To which he simply replied that he wasn't the sort to blow his own trumpet.

That's the sort of guy he was. He let his actions speak for him.

I spent a whole lot of time with him that day and have spoken to him many times since as he became a huge supporter of Grant Rawlinson's Rowing from Home to Home expedition.

His motto that he had scrawled on his own boat as he battled across the Tasman – "Row you bastard, row!" – even became Grant's motto, and is the title of one of the documentary episodes I produced about Grant and Charlie Smith's row from Bali to East Timor.

With the interview I had with him, I hope one day – once I'm finished with the documentary about Grant Rawlinson – I can put together a nice one about Colin and perhaps his son, Shaun, as well.

Probably the biggest thing that sticks with me about Colin was his answer when I asked him why he decided to attempt to row across the Tasman. It was, he said, his way of inspiring young people to be more adventurous. All I can say is, what a way to do it!

And I think his lesson still stands today. Because I'm still inspired by Colin and his epic achievement. And I think others are too.

Rest in peace Colin. You will be missed. But never forgotten.


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