Runaway dad's Tasman crossing impresses experts

Alan Langdon and Que (supplied)
Alan Langdon and Que (supplied)

Whether he's a good father is still being debated, but yachties are praising the maritime skills of a man who sailed to Australia with his six-year-old daughter.

Alan Langdon passed the "acid test" for a boatie of making it to shore alive, one expert says.

Mr Langdon disappeared on a sailing trip in his six-metre catamaran to the Bay of Islands in December. He and daughter Que were reported missing on Boxing Day, but turned up safe and well in Ulladulla, New South Wales, on Wednesday. The journey amounts to about 1300 nautical miles.

"He made a decision, he went, he got there safely," Yachting NZ safety and technical officer Angus Willison told Newshub.

"I take my hat off to him. He went and did it. He was proven to be well-capable."

Ray Burge, Coastguard operations manager, says it was a "challenging expedition to take on", especially with a six-year-old on board. But as an experienced sailor, Mr Langdon probably had little trouble with her.

"She's spent a lot of on boats, so she's well aware of the marine environment. I think she's grown up on boats, so I think she would be probably manageable.

"He was confident with the vessel, he was confident in his ability and he was confident that his daughter had been around boats.

"Babies have been on boats," says Mr Willison.

"There's absolutely no issue with that at all, as long as you're prepared."

The biggest problem they appear to have had is the loss of one of the craft's two rudders. If the second one had failed, neither Mr Burge nor Mr Willison think it would have been too much of a problem.

"There's any number of ways you could adapt all sorts of things on a boat to get yourself going again," says Mr Burge.

"He would have rigged up a jury-rigged steering system and probably got on with the job," concurs Mr Willison. "If a car's steering fails you pull over. If something goes wrong with a yacht, you fix it."

Alan Langdon's catamaran (Newshub.)
Alan Langdon's catamaran (Newshub.)

Alan Langdon's mistakes

Mr Langdon has reportedly been in a custody dispute with Que's mother, who hasn't spoken to her daughter in eight months.

Child recovery expert Col Chapman, whose poster campaign helped authorities track the pair down, says Mr Langdon's actions won't do his case any favours.

"It will shine very darkly," he told RadioLive on Thursday.

"This is somebody, for want of a better analogy, has absconded while still on bail."

Mr Chapman hired experienced sailors to predict, based on the currents, where the pair would end up - and they were bang on.

Taking his daughter ahead of an impending Family Court decision aside, Mr Chapman says Mr Langdon's biggest mistake was failing to take adequate communications equipment. It's believed all he had on him was a basic cellphone.

"Mobile phone coverage is pretty poor once you get off the west coast," says Mr Burge.

"Once you're out into the middle of it all, there is no communication."

This lack of communications gear would have seen the boat fail to get approval to leave the country. The boat was also not registered on the Maritime NZ Register of Ships, as is required by law.

The Coastguard says it has no power to stop people leaving the country, but would advise other authorities if they felt it necessary to do so.

Mr Burge says such a situation has never come up before.

Mr Langdon is still in Ulladulla and has permission to head to Port Kembla, about 100km north, where Australia's Customs service is based. He has to make repairs on his boat before he sets off, and has to check in with police every couple of hours.

It's not known if Que will be back in New Zealand, where she's due to start her first year of school in a few weeks. Que's mum Ariane is in Switzerland, caring for her ill mother.

"Your family courts must catch up to ours, and your legislation," says Mr Chapman.

"In Australia, if a child goes missing like Que did we can get a recovery order within 48 hours.

"In New Zealand, it just doesn't exist."