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Notes by Oskar Speck relating to the final days of his voyage

Date: 1930s
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Object Name: Report
Object No: ANMS0533[025]

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    • From Germany to Australia in a folding boat (Itinerary) My journey began at Ulm on the Danube in May 1932. I had no intention then of travelling to Australia in this boat. At the border between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria the Danube started to get boring as far as a folding boat trip was concerned. The Varda River in Macedonia was waiting to be negotiated for the first time. I took the boat to Skopje on the upper Varda and tried to go down the Varda. Upon my arrival in Veles the boat needed repairs. Half the ribs were broken and the rubber cover was in shreds. I sent the rubber cover back to the Pioneer company at Bad Toelz to be repaired. By the time it was returned to me, the Varda had frozen over. I had to spend the winter in Veles. I was able to continue in March 1934. I arrived at Salonika one week later. Then there was a big change: travelling on the ocean. I had a lot to learn. I set sail instead of paddling - the foot-operated steering mechanism became more important than the paddle. In strong winds I had to hold the sail rope by hand. Steering with my foot and sailing by hand allowed me unprecedented control over the boat. The most important thing was to always keep the rudder under water. I was able to avoid large waves, twist and turn the boat whichever way I wanted. It turned into acrobatic sailing. Bit by bit I learned to cope with huge seas. Practice makes perfect. I reached Rhodes via the islands of Andros, Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos, Amorgos and Stampalia. From there to Castellorosso and on to the coast of Turkey. From Cape Anamur I crossed over to Cyprus. I went around Cyprus from Levka to Limassol, to Larnaca and Famagusta, and on to Cape Andreas. Then I made the crossing to Latakya in Syria. Overland to Meskene on the upper Euphrates. Down the Euphrates to Bazra on the Shatt el Arab. On to Fac at the mouth of the Shatt el Arab and then across the Persian Gulf to Bushire. Along the coast down to Bandar Abbas. I had written to the Pioneer company from Bazra asking them to send me an identical boat to Bandar Abbas for free. The new boat was taken to Bandar Shapur by mistake, and remained stranded there. I was forced to wait for over three months at Bandar Abbas until the new boat finally arrived. I had my first bout of Malaria there and from then on I had it more or less constantly. It was only during my internment in Australia that I was finally cured of it. In the new boat I went to the island of Hormus and from there along the coast of Baluchistan to Karachi in India. The mouth of the river Indus, like all the mouths of big rivers, was problematic for me in my folding boat. But I had a lot more experience now. I followed the coast to Porbandar, Diu, Daman and on to Bombay. Then along the Malabar coast and across to Colombo. I had to make a big decision there. It was May 1935 and the news from Germany was positive. Unemployment had decreased to almost nothing, and there was no reason why I shouldn’t return to Germany. I sent a letter to the Pioneer company asking if they would sponsor me if I continued on to Australia. I would need at least two more boats and another two or three years. The Pioneer company agreed and I was confident I could reach Australia in their boat. I asked them to send me the new boat to Cocanada in India and then continued around Cylon via Galle, Trincomalee and on to Point Pedro. Then I crossed back over to India and went on to Madras. Via Cocanada, Gopalpore on to Calcutta. Across the Sundarbuns to Chittagong, Cox Bazar and on to Akyab in Burma. Then on to Bassein and Rangoon. After that to Tavoy, Mergui and on to West Siam, Phuket, Kantang and Penang. Across the Malacca Strait to Singapore. Another boat was waiting for me there. I crossed over to Sumatra, then on to Java, Batavia, Semarang, and Surabaya. I went to the islands of Bali, Lombok, Soembava, Komodo and Flores. Then past the islands of Pantar and Alor on to Timor. Along the coast of Timor to the island of Lakor. There I had an experience which changed all my travel plans. I was attacked and mistreated by a group of natives in the middle of the night. I was able to escape in my boat that night and reached the island of Sermata. But it was only on the island of Barbar that I could notify the police of the attack. I was unable to hear anything in my left ear, but I had to continue on to Saumlaki in the Tanabar Islands where there was a missionary hospital. They examined my ear and sent me to the military hospital at Ambon. From there back to the hospital at Surabaya. There my ear was operated on and I had to stay for a few months for treatment. My boat and all my belongings remained at Saumlaki. The boat was damaged and I had to write to the Pioneer company again from the hospital. One year later I was able to continue my journey from Saumlaki in a new boat. The accident on the island of Lakor caused a great stir. Not just on Java, but also in Germany. The Dutch officials would have liked me to give up my endeavour. But I would have none of that. I was prohibited from landing along a stretch of New Guinea reaching from Kamran Bay to Merauke. The natives there were supposed to be very uncivilised. So I had to travel all the way round New Guinea and Papua. A further waste of 6 months’ time. I went from Tanimbar Island to the Kei Islands. From Kei I had to make the longest crossing of the whole journey. The distance from Kei to New Guinea is about 200 km. I had to use my compass. The winds were strong and I made it in 34 hours. Since it’s impossible to sleep on the ocean in a folding boat, this is about the limit of what can be done in an ordinary folding boat. It could have quite easily taken 20 hours longer. Past the government station at Fakfak, then around the Bird Head Peninsula to Manokwari. Then to Hollandia, Vanimo, Madang, Salmaua and Port Moresby, and after that to Daru and Saibai.
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