More than 100 days and 5,000 miles after they departed from Morocco, a South African couple are about to become the first people ever to row -- yes, row, using their arms and all -- from mainland Africa to the mainland United States when they land in Miami this Monday.
Riaan Manser, 40, and his girlfriend, Vasti Geldenhuys, set off from Agadir, on the central Moroccan coast, December 15 in a 22-foot, 1,500-pound rowboat, named the Spirit of Madiba in honor of Nelson Mandela. They carried weeks' worth of dried food, as well as a saltwater converter, but traveled without a support team. Before reaching the Bahamas, where Riptide reached the couple, Manser and Geldenhuys had spent 74 consecutive days on the ocean. Apart from each other, they had no contact with any humans.
"I find in this world, people take the easiest way," Manser said, musing on his motivation for the Atlantic crossing. "Our ancestors were pretty tough people. They didn't have the option of doing things the easiest way."
Only 1,000 miles past the Canary Islands, Manser and Geldenhuys were fighting for their lives when they were caught in a hurricane-grade storm and a monster swell took the boaters by surprise. The wave lifted the Spirit of Madiba completely out of the water, throwing Manser into the sea. Geldenhuys' feet had gotten stuck under equipment, keeping her on board as the boat capsized. After ten seconds or so, the Spirit righted itself, and Manser, clinging to a rope along the boat's side, was able to pull himself back up.
But the vessel's satellite communications were knocked out, meaning the tiny craft would for the remainder of the trip go undetected by any passing ships -- a major safety concern.
"Shucks, man," Manser said of the ordeal. "I think we're a little bit wiser now."
Manser is a professional adventurer. In 2006 he became the first person to circumnavigate the coast of Africa by bicycle, and he has since kayaked around both Madagascar and Iceland. But Geldenhuys, his girlfriend of 14 years, is not. "I'm not really one for extreme stuff like this," she said. "I like to go camping one or two days, but that's enough."
After months of rowing ten hours or more a day, Geldenhuys told Riptide her whole body was in extraordinary pain -- her knees, her feet, her hands, her back. "I don't want to do it ever again," she said. "But I'm glad that we have done it."
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From Miami the couple will continue rowing to New York, their final destination. The route from the Bahamas to Miami, he said, would also be difficult because of the Gulf Stream, and he said several people had told him his little boat wouldn't be able to make it through. The adventurer was undeterred.
"We are nervous about it," he told Riptide. But when they arrive, he promised, "you're going to see these two hardy South Africans that had the spirit that Christopher Columbus had. Even if we float into that marina, you're going to see us there."