South Island Circumnavigation Covered in ‘This is the Sea 4’


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No stranger to difficult stretches of water Justine Curgenven was part of the first all-female team to round Tasmania, she’s paddled up the Pacific coast of Kamchatka and made a solo circuit of Iceland’s West Fjords. Her three This is the Sea videos portray sea kayaking as dynamic and adventurous and have helped to grow the sport, and this spring she filmed her circumnavigation of the South Island of New Zealand. She and Barry Shaw comprised the first group to accomplish this feat, all five previous circumnavigations having been made by solo paddlers. Battling 40-knot winds, treacherous shore breaks and a bout of illness that forced a helicopter evacuation midway through the trip the two returned to Christchurch on April 1st. After a summer paddling the world over Curgenven is back on land editing her newest video, This is the Sea 4.

P.L:What was the most exciting moment of your trip?
J.C.:The trip took 67 days and covered 2,400km so there were lots of exciting moments! For me, the most heart-stopping moment was probably coming in to land at Okarito on the West coast. There was a 2-3 meter swell and a strong onshore wind. We were still debating whether to try to land or not when a wave suddenly reared up behind me and broke on top of me. I leant into it as much as I could but I couldn’t stay upright and it flipped me over, and was so powerful that it immediately rolled me up again. I was being bounced in towards shore, engulfed in the wave, unable to see anything other than white spray and I tried really hard to judge by feel how much to lean into the wave without digging my bow in. I failed and I was flipped over again, this time the wave pulled at me in all directions but it carried on without me and I was able to roll up. I couldn’t see Barry anywhere, but more waves were closing in on me so I had to make a decision. There was no way I wanted to turn around and try to paddle back out through those breaks so I paddled desperately in to shore and hoped that Barry would manage to land OK. I let a few smaller waves bongo slide me in towards shore until I was within about 5 metres of the beach, but I was side on to the beach and before I could turn the kayak to land, I felt myself being sucked back out to sea into the path of the next breaking wave. It broke on top of me and I actually leant into it too much and I flipped over for the 3rd time. I was really worried that it was really shallow there and I’d hit my head on the bottom but I didn’t, I rolled up, gritted my teeth and powered myself to the shore. As I landed I saw Barry coming into the beach 200metres away. He had a well-timed run in and was unscathed.

P.L:Why do you think all the previous circumnavigations were done by lone paddlers and not groups?
J.C.:Paddling around the South island is a really challenging endeavor, and one you need to allow at least 3 months for so I guess there aren’t that many people with the experience, time and desire to do it, so finding 2 people who want to do it at the same time and who feel their paddling styles and expectations are compatible might be tricky!

P.L.:How beneficial was it to make the trip with Barry? Any turbulent times?
J.C.:I wouldn’t have paddled around the south island by myself. There are so many surf landings and launchings where you could damage yourself or your kayak that I wouldn’t want to risk being by myself in those circumstances. Even more importantly, I much prefer having someone to share the good and bad experiences with. Being weather-bound in the pouring rain for 3 days is bad enough, but to be alone and demoralized for that long would be horrible! Now we can talk about our memories of the trip together. Barry is a fantastic expedition partner, he’s a really good paddler, he’s good company and he’s really easy going. We had a few minor arguments and we disagreed over a few decisions but when that happened we usually just chose the most conservative option and got on with it. As long as you remember that whatever happens is part of the adventure, then it’s all good!

P.L.:Do you have any advice for other sea kayakers who may face illness while on the water?
J.C.:I got a serious bladder infection and had a fever for two days before being evacuated by helicopter to the nearest hospital. The only advice I can give to anyone else is to be as prepared as possible. Before the expedition, I attended a five-day wilderness first responder course which taught me how to deal with lots of potential incidents, we took a wilderness first aid book on the trip and we spoke to several doctor friends before the expedition ( both kayakers!). One of them, Susannza Gaynor, supplied us with a first aid kit for the trip including four different types of antibiotic and instructions for when to use them. Another, Bob Mark, agreed to be on the end of our satellite phone for us, and we called him when I got sick. He advised me to start taking one of the antibiotics which I did, and had my symptoms not got worse, I’d have just stayed where I was and continued taking the pills until I felt well enough to continue paddling. When I got to hospital, they said I was on the correct antibiotics and I just needed time to recover. For bladder infections in particular, which a lot of women suffer from on paddling trips, you can buy some tablets which you disolve in water called Cran-eze. These are a urinary alkalizer which also container cranberry. If it starts to hurt when you are peeing then take two of these a day and it might stop the infection from taking a hold. Also drink lots of water and eat or drink any cranberry products if you have them.

P.L.:What’s in store for you next?
J.C.:I’m busy editing my latest sea kayaking DVD, “This is the Sea 4” which features a documentary about our New Zealand expedition as well as footage from the Queen Charlotte islands, Norway, Israel, Lake Superior, the Bass Strait, the Ottawa river and Dubside. I’m working hard to get that on the shelves by 18th October and then Barry and I are coming to America with the new DVD on a film tour. We’ll be showing the premiere of the DVD in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Florida and New York. Details will be on my website soon. After that, some skiing and some more paddling trips, perhaps around Sardinia in early 2009.

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