When Colin Quincey set out in the summer of 1977, alone, to be the first to row across the Tasman Sea, he calculated he had a good chance of dying.

He was carrying only a short-range two-way radio, so once he was out of sight of land, he had strictly limited chances of seeking emergency help.

The odds of surviving or not were about even - 50/50 - says Colin, now aged 71

"I didn't know that the middle of the Tasman particularly is very unpredictable ... the biggest danger was the possibility of breaking an arm or something like that. Had that happened, I probably would have died.


"You can mitigate against those things as much as you can by being careful, in terms of personal injury, but ultimately it's luck whether you get there or not."

The Tasman Trespasser. Photo / Supplied.
The Tasman Trespasser. Photo / Supplied.

Monday will mark 40 years since the end of the epic, 63-day journey when Colin, who has been an officer in the New Zealand and British navies, among other occupations, arrived at Marcus Beach on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

But his crash-landing in the dark was not the end of salty sea sagas for his family: son Shaun - who was not yet born in 1977 - repeated his father's feat in 2010, in the opposite direction, rowing solo from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales to Ninety Mile Beach in 54 days.

Colin Quincey. Photo / Supplied.
Colin Quincey. Photo / Supplied.
Colin Quincey's son Shaun arrives at Ninety Mile Beach after rowing across the Tasman Sea.
Colin Quincey's son Shaun arrives at Ninety Mile Beach after rowing across the Tasman Sea.

How did Colin react to his son's plan to repeat his own death-defying journey?

"I said: 'That's a good idea'."

"One of the motivations for my trip was to encourage young people to get out there and do stuff, rather than the cottonwool world, which is still the same today.

"I never envisaged that young person being my son."

Colin, 32 at the time, rowed out of Hokianga Harbour on February 6, 1977 in his 6.1m Tasman Trespasser and got to about 40 miles offshore before he struck his first southwesterly gale.

Colin Quincey on the oars in his Tasman Trespasser. Photo / Supplied.
Colin Quincey on the oars in his Tasman Trespasser. Photo / Supplied.

"That blew me back towards Cape Reinga. I was within sight of land, looking at the lighthouse on Cape Maria van Diemen, maybe five miles off shore.

"The current or wind changed and I got kicked out clear of the land."

The Herald interview with Colin Quincey following his arrival in Australia.
The Herald interview with Colin Quincey following his arrival in Australia.

After arriving in Australia, he told a Herald correspondent he had encountered little rough weather except at the start and end, plus a mid-Tasman gale that blew him more than 400km off course. He had intended to land in Sydney.

For this article, Colin told the Weekend Herald that much of the trip was a boring daily grind of "eat, sleep, row", but there were highlights.

One was a scary, though somewhat spiritual, encounter with an orca that was longer than his boat.

On a grey morning, half asleep after a night's rowing, he heard a "whoosh" as the killer whale surfaced and exhaled, just 10m away.

Colin increased his rowing to panic speed before realising the enormous sea mammal could outpace him 15-fold with a few flicks of its tail.

"I stopped and sat and chilled out and watched. It came within about 20 feet [6.1m] of the boat and had a look for a few seconds. There was this big, black eye ... looking at me. The blackness of it was intense. I looked back and there was some sort of communication there.

"Spiritual? Yes. Absolutely magic. Was the trip worth it? Yeah, for that 15 seconds, yes."

Another highlight was managing to surf the boat down the face of 3m waves on a good-weather day with a strong following wind and the tune Wipe Out playing on his cheap transistor radio.

"Another magic moment."

The basics of the father's expedition were similar to the son's. Key differences included the level of technology: navigation by sextant in 1977 versus GPS in 2010; BYO fresh water, more than 300 litres of it, versus an on-board desalination unit; virtually no communications versus satellite phone.

"I was communicating daily with shore and the world," says Shaun, a celebrity speaker and entrepreneur. "He [Colin] disappeared off the face of the earth for 63 days."

Shaun Quincey's boat Tasman Trespasser II. Photo / Supplied.
Shaun Quincey's boat Tasman Trespasser II. Photo / Supplied.
Shaun Quincey's view from his cabin on Tasman Trespasser II. Photo / Supplied.
Shaun Quincey's view from his cabin on Tasman Trespasser II. Photo / Supplied.

Shaun's boat had an enclosed cabin, whereas Colin's had a "tunnel" in the rear of the boat, which he dubbed "the coffin".

"It turned out after two or three tests to be too uncomfortable," Colin says.

"I could get out of rain and wind and I did that from time to time, but for sleeping, because the boat rocked incessantly, I was getting banged from one side to the other, so I slept out in the cockpit ... across the cockpit in my sleeping bag.

"I was longer than the width of the boat and my feet were over the edge so I covered them with a plastic bag."

Another difference was that while Shaun was met on arrival by a large crowd, Colin's landing, with his food almost finished, was on an empty beach.

He crawled around for a bit, remembering how to walk, before rocking up to a house 400m away with a light on, the home of Keith and Elizabeth Murray.

Elizabeth told the Herald at the time: "I didn't know how to react. He said, 'Hello. I've just rowed from New Zealand'."

Colin's version of the encounter adds that he asked, "'Has anyone got a fag', because I had run out of smokes on the way across." And the Murrays were suspicious - there had been an escape from a prison in the area - until they saw his boat.

Shaun, who was 25 when he rowed the Ditch in his 7.3m-long Tasman Trespasser II, agrees with his father that it was mostly pretty boring. And when he landed on March 14, 2010, having swum the last 300m to shore, Shaun, like his father, had trouble walking at first.

But the trip had memorable, if frightening, moments, as he recounted to a reporter at the time: "Crashing into a sperm whale was pretty incredible, as was flipping in the middle of the ocean at 11pm at night - those were definitely crazy times."

Shaun and Colin are in a club of two, as the only people to row solo across the Tasman.

Two groups have done the journey as foursomes, one pair paddled a kayak and a solo rower who had intended to go around Antarctica from Tasmania nearly reached Stewart Island before being towed into Bluff.

One other man failed in a solo rowing attempt - the first, in 1969 - and two have failed in their solo kayaking attempts, one of whom disappeared without trace off Milford Sound on his second voyage.

Grant "Axe" Rawlinson plans to be the next to row the Tasman, as part of a two-man team. He arrived in Australia last month, completing stage one of a three-stage trip from Singapore to New Plymouth.

On his expedition website, Rawlinson, who has climbed Mt Everest, describes the journey: Stage one was rowing to Darwin with Charlie Smith, stage two is cycling to Australia's east coast with Kiwi Olympic and expedition rower Rob Hamill, and stage three is the Tasman row with Hamill.

Shaun Quincey says completing his gruelling voyage gave him a huge and enduring sense of achievement and part of that is that no-one has repeated the family feat.

Was his trip about proving himself to his father?

"Definitely. You want to be able to achieve more or to do what your parents have achieved. That certainly played a part. I wanted to be able to step up and do something cool like what he [Colin] had done.

"The fact that no-one has done it since, that's pretty good. I was first one way, he [Colin] was first the other, that's just a cool thing."

*Listen to Colin and Shaun Quincey speak to Newstalk ZB's Andrew Dickens, Sunday at 11.35am