From Kommetjie to Rio de Janeiro in 70 days – local adventurer Zirk Botha has become the first person to complete a solo row across the southern Atlantic Ocean, covering 4000 nautical miles or 7 200km, without a physical support team in tow.
At the same time, he is set to claim a world record for the time he took to achieve this goal.
Mr Botha spoke to the False Bay Echo from Brazil, the day after completing his 10-week journey.
He said that two years ago he had made the decision to cross the southern Atlantic Ocean, solo, in a rowing boat. He had been called mad, crazy and a lot of other things.
“It took a lot of planning and preparation, but, last night, I completed the crossing – in a record time,” he said.
He described the day after his success as being “crazy”. He thanked his virtual support team for being available 24/7 during his time alone on the open water.
An ex-navy officer, Mr Botha, of Meadowridge, is an adventurer, athlete and motivational speaker. He launched his row from Kommetjie on December 19 last year to raise awareness about climate change, and the impact of irresponsible consumerism and fossil fuels on the planet.
Renewable energies were essential to a sustainable future, he said.
It was a full two months later on Wednesday, February 25, that he saw land again for the first time. And two days later on, Saturday February 27, at 3.45am, South African time, he reached Búzios, Brazil. It was 10.45pm, February 26, local time.
“While the magnitude of what has been achieved is sinking in,” he said, “I would like to encourage everyone to dream big, do big, and never allow anyone to discourage you from living a great adventure.”
After completing his record crossing, Mr Botha rowed the final stretch from Búzios to Cabo Frio for the official finish at the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro, on Sunday February 28.
The trip was gruelling and he lost 10kg, but he said the mental challenges had been most taxing.
“Some days into my challenge I realised this was larger than I anticipated. I had to cope with storms, aches and pains, but the worst part of it was the mental challenge.“
The weather had helped him make record progress but it had also stopped him from taking a proper rest.
He dedicated the last stretch of his trip to those facing their own challenges.
“Many people are going through big challenges right now,” he said. “Please hang in there and be strong and believe that these difficult times can and will come to an end.“
He rowed on average 58 nautical miles a day, and he said the worst rowing conditions had been within sight of land when side swipes had knocked him off the seat of his boat about ten times in two hours. His phone and all his communication and navigation apps had been swamped.
“Fortunately, I had back-up,” he said. He gritted his teeth, put on Europe’s The Final Countdown, and stayed the course.
At that stage, he was 19 nautical miles from the Brazilian coast, and very happy for it.
His updates on his website and Facebook page included the daily tracks he played and they included Everybody Hurts by R.E.M, Fix You by Coldplay, Many Rivers to Cross by UB40 and Help Me by Kris Kristofferson.
He had been surprised by how little aquatic sea life he had seen during his journey, he said. “Are we, as the human race, busy killing our planet?” he asked. “I have to assume that our oceans are being fished and trawled faster than nature can replenish stocks.
“I am rowing for our planet. We need to place the environment at the top of the economic agenda to be sustainable into the future,” he said.
One of the highlights of the trip was watching a pod of dolphins play around the Ratel, his rowboat, for about 10 minutes.
The boat, designed by juwi Renewable Energies South Africa, was powered by solar panels. Solar-charged batteries powered an on-board desalinator, which could produce 16 litres of fresh water an hour. The boat, he said, showed how renewable energy could solve the planet’s environmental problems.
All his food was dehydrated and he ate six to seven meals a day – combinations of dehydrated freeze-dry foods, muesli with protein powder, sweets and dried fruit.
Richard Doyle, CEO of juwi Renewable Energies South Africa, said that only 28% of the globe used renewable energy. Mr Botha, he added, had been a model of sustainable energies, even at sea and the company was proud of what he had achieved.