Smallscreen Reviews

Review: Nat Geo 'Solo: Lost at Sea', and for what?

By April MacIntyre Sep 15, 2008, 5:32 GMT

Review: Nat Geo 'Solo: Lost at Sea', and for what?

National Geographic channel presents, "Solo: Lost at Sea" which chronicles the tragic story of Andrew McAuley's fated journey as documented by a video camera mounted on the bow of his boat.

The somber documentary captures his words as he paddles into the abyss, attempting to survive fierce storms, enormous sharks and over a month of confinement in a one-man sea kayak travelling across the Tasman Sea with pressure sores on his flanks that made his journey all the more a trial.

In addition, the documentary features interviews with his supportive wife Vicki, his close friends who defend his actions, and archival news footage.

The empty sea kayak of Andrew McAuley - 2005 Australian Geographic Adventurer of the year - was found drifting in rough seas about 30 nautical miles from the New Zealand coast on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007.

McAuley was attempting to be the first solo paddler to make the ill-advised 1,000-mile crossing of the Tasman Sea between Tasmania and New Zealand.

The former IT worker had the “explorer/adventurer” DNA, which make some of us leap from planes skydiving, and others without it wear water wings in the shallow end of the pool.  He will traverse one of the most treacherous stretches of open ocean to reach New Zealand in a craft barely bigger than himself.

In doing so, he left his wife a widow; his son with vague memories and no Father.

This documentary is troubling for several reasons.  Mostly it is witnessing the fragile mental state of McAuley who is demonstrably not ready for this kind of danger-seeking test of wills. 

He sobs uncontrollably as soon as he shoves off from shore, not ready for the task of crossing the Southern ocean in his tiny craft.

This is a tale of goal-oriented obsession and selfish desire; his responsibilities be damned.  He was a family man.  There is nothing wrong with challenging oneself in nature, physically and finding personal limits, but when others depend on you and love you, some of these “tests” are downright self-indulgent exercises in futility. 

His story made me think of Timothy Treadwell, the self-taught Malibu Grizzly enthusiast who camped out with the bruin set in their native habitat and wound up being eaten alive by them.

McAuley didn’t think things past reaching the finish line and claiming the glory of the title of “first” to cross the rough 1000 mile strait.

His lack of forethought is caught in his video diary he confided to in his kayak shortly after embarking in January 2007. "I've got a lot of people that want me back," he declared. "I've got a great family."

National Geographic Channel's "Solo: Lost at Sea" is a tale of defiance in the face of responsibility and common sense.  It is a risk-taking adventure where the odds are so totally stacked against McAuley, it is painful to watch.

McAuley managed to survive several hardships during the long journey, including a monster storm that generated nearly 40-foot swells and winds gusting up to 70-miles per hour.  However, two days before the trip was expected to end on the New Zealand coast, authorities retrieved a garbled distress signal from a vessel identified as "Kayak One" -- with words deciphered as "my kayak's sinking."
McAuley’s body was never found, he was just 50 miles from his finish line. 

His widow insists, "He made it." 

 The documentary airs Monday at 10 p.m, September 15 at 10PM ET/PT.

 

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