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One man, on brother, one river, one love
Stephen Scourfield Martin Gribble is an expert Orion crew member.

Martin Gribble knows about going to great lengths for mateship, and his mate is his brother James.

For on a hot day in November 2008, while he was travelling in Africa and waiting to go fishing on the Zambezi River, James was dehydrated and fainted while sitting on a stool. He fell backwards on to hard sand.

James was a tall, strong guy and it didn't look like much of a deal - but it was disastrous. In the simple topple, he broke his C4 and C5 vertebrae and bruised his spinal cord, leaving him a quadriplegic.

It was 30 hours before he got qualified medical care, a delay which worsened his condition. Eventually he was airlifted to hospital in Johannesburg and, five weeks later, taken back home to Sydney.

It devastated James' life, and changed Martin forever.

The younger brother devoted himself to James - his best mate - until they both realised that he had to get on with his life. "James doesn't want to put everyone's life on hold," says Martin. "His spirits are so high."

And so Martin, 28, planned a challenge that would not only take him away physically but mentally. In kayaking 2200km of the Murray River from Albury- Wodonga in New South Wales to Goolway in South Australia, he hoped to not only raise money to help support his brother's life and rehabilitation, but help him to better appreciate the drudgery that James goes through each day, particularly in his 6-8 hours' workout a day, and to highlight the river's plight.

He wrote an online blog under the heading "One man, one brother, one river, one love".

"It was difficult being away from James and, though I have always been outdoorsy, I had never kayaked before. I have always been around the water, but more the ocean," says Martin, 28, now an expedition team member and fishing guide on expedition cruise ship Orion.

He paddled a 5m estuary kayak for many hours a day, between 45 and 75km, feeling the monotony that James endures. "It does your head in, just getting up and motivating yourself".

There is no such problem now.

I met Martin as the Orion plied the Kimberley coast between Broome and Darwin. A popular expert crew member, he takes guests out on fishing expeditions each day, and shows their catches in the evening debriefing.

A bit different to the Murray River, where he trolled a lure for 500km and didn't get a single bite.

While the 11-day voyages on Orion seem idyllic, one senses that Martin's days on the Murray were pivotal; branded into him.

Days of one man, one brother, one river, one love.

> Stephen Scourfield joined the Orion from Broome to Darwin. See his reports on the coast in future weeks.

FACT FILE

>> The Puffin Magic Foundation was founded with the primary goal of supporting James Gribble through his rehabilitation. The PMF may, in time evolve to support others in similar circumstances or for spinal injury research.

See www.puffinmagic.org.au. Martin Gribble's blog from the Murray River paddle is still online at www.puffinpaddle.wordpress.com.