With Germany in tatters, his small business bankrupt, Oskar Speck got into his kayak in 1932 for what would become an epic, seven-and-a-half-year paddle—30,000 miles, packed with hero’s welcomes and near-death escapes, all the way to Australia. But as Speck battled sharks, hostile locals, and malaria, Hitler rose to power and W.W. II began. This is the story of Speck’s voyage, an adventure nearly lost to history. Sheets of monsoon rains, pushed by southeasterlies running to 25 knots, forced Oskar Speck and his 18-foot folding kayak off the open water into the protection of the mangrove forests of New Guinea. It was the second piece of bad news for Speck on this day in September 1939. Earlier, in the primitive village of Daru, where the natives dried crocodile hides to eke out a living, a fisherman had given him a report from the far side of the world: war had been declared in Europe. Steering alone into the sheltered waters of the coastal swamps, Speck had kayaked 30,000 miles on a trip that began seven and a half years earlier on the Danube River in Germany. It was the longest kayak trip in history. When Oskar Speck set out from his ruined country in 1932, Germany had only a sm...