Almost unheard of in most sea kayaking circles Oskar Speck must rank as one the greatest paddlers of all time. He was born in Hamburg in 1907 and like many other Germans he was the victim of the economic depression, which gripped the country in the early 1930’s. He lost his job, when the factory he worked at closed down, so he decided to undertake a kayak journey, hoping to find work in Cyprus.
On the 13th February 1932 he launched at Ulm on the Danube. He was paddling a 5.5 metre two-man kayak built by Pioneer. He followed the course of The Danube before entering the Aegean Sea. Paddling via a number of Greek islands he reached the Turkish coast before crossing to Cyprus, but by now he had given up thoughts of working on the Mediterranean isle. From there he crossed to Syria, in two days, before taking his kayak apart and catching a bus to the Euphrates. From there it was along the Iranian coast before heading for India. In Madras he took delivery of his third kayak. In 1936 he arrived in Burma before following the coast of Thailand and Malaysia. He partly financed his expedition by giving lectures along the way.
His fourth kayak came into use in Singapore. From there he wandered through the islands of the Indonesian archipelago, to reach Papua New Guinea he had to complete a 110 kilometre open crossing. He crossed to Thursday Island, off Australia, on 20th September 1939, after having paddled over 55,000 kilometres.
Unfortunately the Second World War had just been declared and as Speck was a German he was arrested. He spent the next 7 years of his life in an internment camp! Some reward for having paddled so far and endured a huge number of incidents including pirates, sharks, storms etc. He died in 1995 at the age of 88, still in Australia having run an opal dealing business, in the years following the end of hostilities. One of the great unsung heroes of 20th century kayaking.
The magazine of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club contains far more information about this amazing adventure.
It would be interesting to know what distances some of the more active sea kayakers of recent years have covered, and how it compares to the distances paddled by the pioneering kayakers of the early to middle years of the 20th Century. Do you know what your lifetime total is?