Photo Credit: Supplied

Zirk Botha started his transatlantic crossing on 19 December 2020 from Cape Town to Rio and is set to achieve a World Record for the longest solo row.


Cape Town, South Africa (24 February 2021) – Rowing for the planet and sustainable development, extreme South African adventurer and ex-naval officer Zirk Botha (59) is days away from finishing his solo transatlantic ocean row from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, a total distance of 7200km or 4000 nautical miles (nm).

Having left Cape Town on 19 December 2020 and set to arrive on the weekend of 28 February 2021, Botha is two weeks ahead of schedule and will finish his row in 71 days, depending on the weather. He is set to establish world records as the first person to row the route alone and unsupported by any safety craft and for the fastest row from Cape to Rio. The route was previously completed by duo Wayne Robertson and Braam Malherbe in 92 days in 2017.

Botha has almost reached the Brazilian coastline and is travelling South-West towards the oilfields off the coast.

“I’ve completed 3750nm in 65 days and I have less than 240nm to go. I have been pushed by huge stern seas, which is like riding a wild horse,” said Botha.

“The sea has been quite rough and the winds have been strong. At least the sea is calmer now, but it’s been really tough and I’m looking forward to the end. While I have had near-perfect weather to facilitate a record-breaking crossing, the weather has been intense, with only two calm days over the whole crossing. The relentless nature of the weather has been mentally draining. I wasn’t prepared for that type of challenge.”

As Zirk reaches the Brazilian coastline, he has to navigate through fishing areas and the Brazilian oilfields:  “I have to stay away from the fishing banks and watch out for other vessels. The sea conditions tend to get worse over the shallows, and there might be fishing vessels in the vicinity. I am passing pass inshore of the banks, with the NE from astern, and I intend to pass just inshore of the southerly oilfields.”

Botha says he’s most looking forward to eating fresh, unprocessed food. He’s lost a significant amount of weight, an estimated 10kg, and is struggling to consume enough food to match his energy requirements now.

As Botha nears the finish at Cabo Frio, outside Rio, Brazilian locals at the Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club in Cabo Frio are preparing for a hero’s welcome. Ironically, none of Zirk’s South African friends and family can be at the finish as South Africans are currently blocked from entering Brazil due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions.

What makes Zirk’s row unique and different from other transatlantic rows

Botha’s row is different from other organised transatlantic rows and races, such as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (TWAC).

“I would like to congratulate South African Grant Blakeway on his outstanding achievement and doing South Africa proud in finishing the Talisker. Our achievements should not be compared. Grant did an organised event with rules, Marshalls and a safety boat. I am rowing on my own, on my own mapped route in a homebuilt boat from Cape Town to Rio.”

Botha explains: “Although I have been generously sponsored by juwi and other sponsors for part of my costs and equipment, I had no big sponsorship initially that allowed me to buy a fully equipped ocean rowing boat from the outset. So, I had to teach myself how to do epoxy work and I built the boat in my garden. I fitted all equipment myself and did all the electrical wiring. Also something I had to teach myself to do.

“I am doing a solo row across a route that is remote and mostly far from shipping lanes. There’s no safety back up boat as in organised races, such as in the Talisker.

“As far as I know, other SA solo rowers have only done the Talisker or its predecessor, the Woodvale challenge. No other solo rower has done a transatlantic row which has included coping with the Cape of Storms.

“As a solo rower I am on my own and have to deal with all physical, mental and emotional challenges on my own, without support. I have to navigate myself and there is no one to keep a visual lookout for ships or changes in weather conditions while I am sleeping, so my sleeping time is impaired. When I am not rowing I have to make water, clean the hull and do general maintenance, besides laundry, etc. again impacting on the time I have available to rest or sleep. 

“I am waiting for verification, but I believe this is the longest distance rowed by a SA solo rower.”

Rowing for a sustainable future

Sponsored by juwi Renewable Energies, Zirk is rowing in support of sustainable development and promoting renewable energy as a solution to environmental issues and climate change.

“I want to use #Row2Rio2020 to spotlight the impact of fossil fuels and irresponsible consumerism on the planet, which will be the home of our children and future generations. Renewable energies are essential to a sustainable future.”

“During my entire row I have to be 100% self-sustaining. This provides a perfect showcase to support the message that 100% renewable energy is the solution. I am totally reliant on solar panels and solar-charged batteries as the source of electricity for my watermaker (desalinator), auto-pilot, safety equipment, radio and satellite communications equipment.”

Richard Doyle, CEO of juwi Renewable Energies, sponsors of the trip, applauds Botha: “What Zirk has done is remarkable from an individual perspective. However, it is really symbolic because it is a proxy for the greater effort, we all need to make both individually and collectively if we are to realise sustainability.”

“Renewable energy made up 28% of the global total last year, up 2% on the previous year. There is a steady shift investment appetite away from fossil fuels, and this percentage will only increase.”

“juwi’s vision is 100% renewable energy, and it is increasingly clear that many businesses can get there with energy management and storage. Zirk is a mini-example of this with the sun providing all of the navigation, communications and other electronic functions for his trip,” adds Doyle.

About the boat

The current norm is for ocean rowing boats to be built from marine plywood or in a fibreglass and epoxy mould. Ratel differs from this in that she is built on a design by Phil Morrison using closed-cell foam laid up with fibreglass and epoxy resin.

The specific design incorporates honeycomb construction principles which ultimately makes it very strong when considering it is super light.

“Before I started fitting hatches and equipment I could lift and turn Ratel by myself with one end on the cradle. With all equipment, spares and food loaded, she weighs maximum 550kgs. With a length of 6.5m and beam of 1.62m she is super light,” said Botha.

“To operate my systems I have 2 x 12V batteries connected in parallel with a combined 200aH capacity. These are deep cycle batteries suited for charging with solar panels.

I chose Solbian flexible solar panels because of their good track record on yachts and boats. With a peak capacity of 276 watts at 46 volts, they deliver maximum half of that owing to be positioned at various angles to cater for morning, midday and afternoon sun. They have consistently delivered even on overcast days and as such my batteries have been fully charged every day at sunset.

“Fitted onboard Ratel is a desalinator that provides my freshwater. The Eco-Systems Splash unit can make 16l of freshwater per hour. It runs off 12 volts and requires a 16amp supply.

Besides the desalinator, my most important unit is my VHF radio equipped with a GPS, AIS and DSC facility. The AIS allows me to get early warning of ships in my vicinity whilst the DSC allows me to communicate with them similar to as by SMS. I am also able to call ships on normal maritime channels.

Sources: Press Release
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Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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