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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
As told to Katie Cunningham

Three things with kayaker Bonnie Hancock: ‘At sea for three weeks, that jacket was with me’

A woman sitting in a long kayak in the middle of the ocean
‘We are capable of so much more than we think we are’: Bonnie Hancock, who circumnavigated Australia on a surf ski in 254 days in 2022. Photograph: Ben Lavery

In 2022 Bonnie Hancock broke world records when she circumnavigated Australia by surf ski in 254 days – a feat that saw her treated for hypothermia, fatigue and dehydration along the way. By the time she had completed the 12,700km paddle, she had raised $65,000 raised for the mental health charity Gotcha 4 Life.

Hancock has written a book, The Girl Who Touched the Stars, about the highs and lows of that intense trip. “In planning the journey, I remember sitting there and not wanting to be an old lady with regrets,” she says. “I decided to take this on with no evidence I’d ever be able to complete it … we are capable of so much more than we think we are.”

The Gold Coast-based athlete did have a pair of important mementoes from her trip – but one is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Here, she tells us about the souvenir she’s managed to hold on to and the one she lost, as well as the story of another useful object.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

We’d crossed the Great Australian Bight, which is probably one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of ocean. I was 500km out to sea, in huge swells and freezing conditions, on waters known to killer whales and great white sharks.

Eventually we made it across to the waters of Western Australia and along the Coral Bay stretch near Ningaloo. There, one of my crewmates found a bailer shell – they’re the beautiful big shells that you hold up to your ear. We had one when I was growing up as a child – I thought the ocean was in that shell.

If there’s an item that represents that wonderful eight months of my life … it is that bailer shell. When I hold that up to my ear, I can still hear the ocean.

My most useful object

A pair of sunglasses that can take photos, record videos, make calls and play music, all with the push of a button. I’m someone who is quite old school [with] technology but this pair of sunglasses makes me feel like I’m cool!

They’re waterproof, so instead of having to take a GoPro or waterproof camera, I can just wear the sunnies. Even on dry land it’s nice not having to pull your phone out and take a photo, which I think can sometimes spoil a moment.

The item I most regret losing

Hancock in her orange jacket during her world record-breaking paddle
Hancock in her orange jacket during her world record-breaking paddle. Photograph: Jaime Sallows

When I was crossing the Great Australian Bight – a 1,200km stretch of water, I was at sea for three weeks – I had this jacket I would wear every day. It was bright fluoro orange so my crew could see from the boat but, most importantly, it kept me warm. The water temperature was about 10C, and it was about 3C ambient temperature. I lost 8kg from sea sickness in those weeks and still had to paddle 100
km a day.

This is probably too much information but I used to get chafe on my backside and a lot of bruising from sitting for 16 to 18 hours a day. So when I got to Western Australia, I whipped this jacket out and thought, I’ll use it as a cushion. But before I knew it, I was knocked off my seat and the jacket was lost in the middle of the ocean. When the sea is big, you can’t get out and swim after that jacket. It’s just too dangerous. So the jacket was gone.

But I think the beautiful part is that jacket was with me when I needed it and is now part of the ocean. It’s not quite the Titanic jewel but that jacket represented what my crew and I went through.

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