NSW’s Donna Edye has completed what’s believed to be the longest solo sea kayak journey undertaken by a female in Australia.
But she is still on the quest that inspired her to travel in the first place — raising awareness for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
A tired but triumphant Donna returned to her hometown of Wollongong on September 28, 2003 after setting out in October 2002
She had endured months of hardship that saw her hospitalised for blood poisoning, negotiate crocodiles, battle sunburn, sickness, sadness and anxiety.
Donna, paddling a Pittarak, was an experienced flat-water paddler when she set out but had little experience in the ocean.
She had spent some time training with Larry Gray prior to departure, squeezing sessions in between long working days in a hair salon and her evening fundraising commitments.
But having a close relative with mental illness, Donna was determined to do everything in her power to help. She had settled on the idea of an awareness-raising sea kayak journey from Cooktown to Wollongong — and despite fears for her safety that is what she intended to do.
The first day out looked promising. Conditions were mild and the sea flat. But then the southeast trade winds kicked in — headwind conditions that were to stay with her most of the way.
“I actually grew to like them in the end,” says Donna. In fact, she managed to slowly build up to 60 kilometres per day.
Up to Tweed Heads she had a support team. From then on, she was on her own. Her most difficult offshore winds were experienced at Tin Can Bay. “I was in tears,” says Donna, who was scrambling to meet pre-arranged media commitments.
Donna passed many beautiful places but rarely had time to enjoy them. Her schedule was a round of television, radio and newspapers interviews— more than 50 stops in total — about her exceptional quest.
Despite having a standard meshed tent, thousands of midges were able to penetrate one night while camping in swamp lands. The bites were so profuse that was she hospitalised for three days with blood poisoning.
From then on, she paddled with socks on her arms to keep the sun off the bites. She was on medication that caused dizziness. She had sore eyes, sunburn and many mixed feelings about her undertaking.
When she returned to Wollongong, her anxiety levels were higher than in her worst solitary moments. She didn’t know whether she wanted to be home or not. She felt angry, relieved, happy and, at times, terribly sad.
“People could not relate to the trip or what I had been through,” says Donna. “But at least I was completely satisfied with the awareness I created.
“And I love my boat. It has become part of me.”