The harrowing documentary Solo captures the story of kayaker Andrew McAuley's journey across the Tasman Sea on January 11, 2007. Thirty days later, after he made a distress call, authorities found McAuley's capsized and abandoned kayak within sight of the New Zealand coast, and his disappearance was deemed a tragedy in the media.
What compelled McAuley to leave the safety of his home, as well as his wife and son, and attempt to cross the treacherous body of water between Tasmania and New Zealand? McAuley wasn't even sure about his motivations. "I'm wondering why I'm doing this. I really am," he questioned out loud while paddling into open water, but Solo tries to answer this question using footage McAuley recorded while at sea and through interviews with those closest to him.
Debuting on the National Geographic Channel in 2008, the documentary won awards and accolades for investigating McAuley's disappearance with empathy. "The current debate around this kind of topic is, you know, is it foolish or is it, you know, fabulous, kind of thing?" shared director Jennifer Peedom. "Is he a hero or is he a villain? And it's not nearly as simple as that."
He Survived Multiple Massive Storms
In his online journal for January 31, 2007, Vicki tried to remain jovial about the dangerous weather conditions her husband was kayaking in:
Whether the weather is rough, or whether the weather is not, he'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether he likes it or not! And I'm thinking he's NOT at the moment!
McAuley's odyssey involved enduring 40-foot swells and winds in excess of 70 miles per hour. He would have to tuck himself into his kayak when conditions really went south, but his video recordings show he tried his best to remain positive.
"I'm looking forward to finishing because it's hard, it's hard going, but it's kinda fun at the same time," he said.
- Photo: Hopscotch Films
In His Final Hours, McAuley Sent Out A Distress Call
Do you copy? This is kayak one. Do you copy, over? I've got an emergency situation. I'm in a kayak about 30 km from Milford Sound. I need a rescue. My kayak's sinking. Fell off into the sea and I'm going down.
The day before, Vicki wrote in McAuley's journal, "Andrew claims he'll see us 'Sunday 9 am sharp!?!'"
McAuley Didn't Attach His Locator Beacon To His Body
The medical examiner involved in the case believed McAuley could have been found sooner if he'd had an active locator beacon attached to his body, as it would have made it easier for authorities to locate him after he made the distress call.
Vicki later expressed dismay over this fact, writing:
If only the tracking beacon hadn't failed. If only he had paid that extra $7000 for the Argos tracking beacon.
- Photo: Hopscotch Films
He Lost His Life Within Sight Of Milford Sound
It's uncertain exactly what happened to McAuley in his final stretch, but the part of the Tasman Sea touching New Zealand is infamous for its harsh conditions. Sailor Jonathan Borgais who aided McAuley's journey by keeping track of the weather always knew the last part of the trip would be the worst:
From the beginning, my biggest concern was the approach to New Zealand. And this part of New Zealand is notoriously dangerous. On a good day you can get rogue waves: a two or three metre set that can come out of nowhere. Not big, but powerful. That's very dangerous. I have no doubt that a wave got him.
Based on evidence from the retrieved kayak, investigators believe it sustained damage two days before McAuley hit the storm that ended his life and made it more difficult for the vessel to stay afloat.