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Riaan Manser and Vasti Geldenhuys' Morocco to New York rowing expedition

Riaan Manser and Vasti Geldenhuys' Morocco to New York rowing expedition

 
     
Apr 2015

Take me 2 New York – a non-stop ocean rowing expedition from Morocco to New York

In a nutshell: A world first rowing expedition from Morocco to New York which saw Riaan Manser and Vasti Geldenhuys become the first people to row from mainland Africa to mainland North America. Vasti is the first woman from Africa to have rowed across any ocean.  

Category: Team: unassisted, continuous.

Adventurer: Riaan Manser, 41.
Residence: Betty’s Bay.
Birthplace: Pretoria.
Profession: Author and explorer.

Adventurer: Vasti Geldenhuys, 36.
Residence: Betty’s Bay.
Birthplace: Randfontein.
Profession: Advocate.

Previous big adventures: Riaan Manser

Circumnavigating Africa by bicycle (2003 – 2005) - a self-supported expedition which took 2 years, 2 months and 15 days.
A yearlong circumnavigation of Madagascar by kayak (2008 – 2009).
A six-month circumnavigation of Iceland by kayak with handicapped partner Dan Skinstad (2011).

Length: 10 765km.

Duration: 6 months, of which four and half months was spent on the water.

Completion date: 20 June 2014.

Highlights: Rowing into New York Harbour and ending our trip next to the Statue of Liberty: spending four and a half months at sea; not seeing land or other people for a continuous period of two and a half months; seeing the swimming pigs of Staniel Cay in the Bahamas.

Website: www.riaanmanser.com.
Twitter: @riaanmanser & @vastigee & @TM2NY. 
Facebook: Take me 2 New York.

Why

We were sitting on our coach in Betty’s Bay last year when Vasti announced that she wanted to do something great in her life. I knew she always wanted to go to New York, so I said ‘I’ll take you, but we are going my way’. 

We wanted to do something exceptional, something that hasn’t been done before.  So we took ocean rowing to the next level. Nobody has ever rowed from mainland Africa to mainland North America; nor has anyone rowed up the east coast of North America. We realized that the Gulf Stream is an amazing phenomenon – one that not many people will get to experience in their lifetime.

Doing it together was what made the expedition special. But I have always chosen expeditions on which there’s a real possibility of me losing my life. That aspect made this expedition very difficult for me as I didn’t want anything to happen to Vasti. (RM)

Goal

To row, unassisted, from Morocco to New York. 

Originality

This was a world first expedition.  Nobody has ever rowed from mainland Africa to mainland North America. There have been many Atlantic Ocean rowing crossings, but most take the ‘trade winds’ route from the Canaries to one of the Caribbean Islands - a distance of approximately 5000km. Since we were heading for New York we had to take a very different route. After reaching the US mainland at Miami we spent another month at sea to reach New York, our final destination. The total distance of our row (10 765km) was more than double a ‘conventional’ Atlantic crossing.

Planning

We dreamt up the idea in April 2014, left for Morocco on 3 December 2014 and started our expedition on 30 December 2014.  So it took us about eight months of planning.

Risks

Getting separated from the boat.  The total surface of the Atlantic is one fifth of the earth's.  If you get separated from your boat, there is no way you’ll be spotted in that vast amount of water. And even if you are able to send any type of emergency signal, it is unlikely the rescue team wouldn’t reach you in time. 
Capsizing in big waves during storms.
Being run over by ships, especially in the shipping lanes near land. (We were run over by a 250 metre-long Russian oil tanker at 2am in the morning, only 5 days from the end of the expidition.)
Shark attacks while swimming and cleaning underneath of the boat.  We caught a lot of sharks and cut the line as close to the mouth as possible when releasing them. Sometimes this was at night and often the boat was rocking so one of us could easily have fallen in the water in the process.

 

Scariest moment

When Riaan got separated from the boat. Physically it would have been impossible for me to turn the boat around to pick him up. Fortunately he was able to grab hold of the fishing line that we trawled behind the boat, and I managed to reel him back in. Quite a catch!

Being capsized by an eight-metre wave 2000km from the closest land was also pretty hairy. (VG)

Back-up plan

Initially we had a satellite phone, but it broke when a big wave hit us 19 days from leaving the Canary Islands. Our boat had an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) through which we could send an emergency signal. We also had Personal Locator Beacons, which work in the same manner: when activated it a signal goes out to the nearest boat in the vicinity. But there were almost no boats in our vicinity on the Atlantic crossing leg of our journey, and even if there were it would have taken at least 48 hours for a ship to reach us.

Sponsors

Sun International, DSTV, Zurich Insurance, Columbia Clothing, Imtech, Dion Wired, Seaport and Outward Ventures, the distributors of Back Country Cuisine.    

Verification

The expedition was tracked by a Yellowbrick GPS tracker, which sent out our GPS location at least every two hours. The whole route is visible by following the Yellowbrick link on riaanmanser.com.

Unexpected experiences

Pushing our boat out of the swamps after it got stuck in the mangroves as we were rowing through Andros Island in the Bahamas.

Reaching Miami and almost being detained by the police who thought we were Cuban refugees. They let us go after we persuaded them that Cuban refugees don’t usually have sponsors’ logos displayed on their boats!

Funniest moment 

One day, near the start of the crossing (ie when it was still cold) Riaan went outside to the toilet.  Waves were crashing over the boat all the time and he got completely soaked.  He was cold and miserable and just wanted to get back into the “luxury” of the cabin.  He pleaded with me to open the cabin door before another wave hit him but I wouldn’t in case he got his timing wrong and the cabin flooded. He was a sorry sight, but I had to laugh when yet another wave crashed over the boat. (VG)

Best piece of gear

The Yellowbrick tracker. It tracked our expedition, and when our satellite phone broke down as a result of water damage after the capsize, we used the Yellowbrick to send short text messages to the outside world.

What did you eat

We ate Back Country freeze-dried food. You boil water and add it to the packet and within 10 minutes you have Roast Chicken, Moroccan Lamb, Chana Masala, etc. From about half way we caught a lot of fish - dorado, tuna, gator fish, bonito and various fish that we couldn’t identify. We even made biltong from the fish that we really enjoyed.   

What was the worst thing that bit you

Flies in the mangroves of Andros Island.  There were thousands of them and the bites burnt and itched for days.

What hurt most

Our backs, bums, knees, wrists – actually everything. When we got up in the mornings, we felt like old people. We contracted a condition called rower’s claw. When we got up at night, after a rowing day, we couldn’t close our hands. We had to spend five minutes working to loosen our fingers enough for them to grip. 

Adventurer 2015