Kayakers set on beating the Ditch

Two Sydney adventurers have set off to become the first kayakers to cross the Tasman Sea.

Nine months after Australian adventurer Andrew McAuley died on a similar mission, James Castrission, 25, and Justin Jones, 24, plan to take a different approach to "crossing the ditch".

"There's been a range of emotions, but I'm just keen to get out there, really keen to get out there," Mr Jones said shortly before setting off from Forster, 300km north of Sydney, at 1pm yesterday.

"I believe anyone is capable of doing anything in their life if they truly believe it."

The friends hope their attempt will end a succession of failed bids by other kayakers and make them the first to achieve the crossing by kayak.

Mr McAuley, 39, foundered as he slept on February 9, while he was within 65km of Milford Sound. His body was never found, despite an exhaustive search and rescue mission.

"Obviously it's a very tragic thing that happened with Andrew," Mr Jones said.

"He was an amazing adventurer, but we've tried to learn as much as possible from that experience and also we're taking a vastly different approach to the way he did it."

The pair believe that travelling together in a custom-designed double kayak for the 2200km unaccompanied crossing to Auckland will give them an "inherent level of safety" which Mr McAuley did not enjoy.

"His starting point was down in Tasmania where the water is 10 degrees colder," Mr Jones said.

"Having someone out there with you to keep you in check and to work with you can bring the other one back up."

The duo thought up the mission six years ago and have been in serious preparation for the past four years.

They have taken part in sleep deprivation, endurance and isolation training, as well as completing a Bass Strait kayak crossing and a kayak paddle from Port Stephens to Sydney.

The transtasman trip has been delayed twice in the past year to ensure the team has the right equipment, conditions and safety practices in place.

Preparation has included extensive risk management research and talks with various specialists, including marine meteorologists, Navy doctors and leading sailors.

Mr Jones said he and Mr Castrission expected to be hit by severe storms during the 40 to 50-day voyage in the self-righting kayak Lot 41.

"The kayak is designed to take10 to 12-metre breaking waves,and we've got all the safety features we need so we'll be able to rideout the storm," he said. If they succeed, the pair will complete the longest trans-oceanic expedition in a double kayak by two expeditioners.

They will keep in touch by satellite phone twice a day and a tracking beacon on board will transmit a signal to base every six minutes.

* To track the progress visit www. crossing the ditch. com. au


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