SA adventurer rows for Rio again after bad weather halts first attempt

Zirk Botha leaves Kommetjie, in the southern Cape peninsula, on December 19 2020
Image: Supplied

Extreme adventurer Zirk Botha embarked on a solo row from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro on Saturday after extreme weather halted his first attempt.

Botha, 59, left Kommetjie, in the southern Cape peninsula, on his boat named Ratel. Strong winds quickly halted his first departure on December 5.

The journey is expected to take 100 days in “frequently dangerous conditions” and Botha is the first person to attempt the crossing alone. He expects to row an average of 14 hours a day, covering 20-40 nautical miles, weather permitting.

“The weather conditions are now more consistent, the wind direction is no longer constantly changing and I have 3-4 days of suitable southerly and south-easterly wind and sea conditions to get offshore and away from the coast,” said Botha.

“I do feel anxious but I feel very positive and excited to get going.”

Botha will follow the “great circle route”, starting by heading northwest with the assistance of the southeaster.

“After 1,000km, once I am north of the latitude of Lüderitz Bay in Namibia and about 300 nautical miles offshore, I turn westerly so I can have the benefit of the wind behind me to take me across the Atlantic,” he said.

“On the Brazilian side of the Atlantic, the wind is north-easterly, so I have to arrive on the Brazilian coast north of Rio to have the wind behind me to head into Cabo Frio, where the old Rio de Janeiro yacht club is, which is where I will be finishing.”

Botha said he is undertaking the extreme challenge in support of the environment and sustainable development.

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

“For my solo row from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro I will be 100% self-sustaining for over three months. This provides a perfect showcase to support a message that 100% renewable energy is a practical option.

“In fact, in this case it is the only viable option: I will be totally reliant on solar-charged batteries as the source of electricity for my water maker (desalinator), autopilot, safety equipment, radio and satellite communications equipment.”

Botha is a former SA Navy combatant officer and a qualified combat diver.  He crossed the Atlantic three times while he served in the navy.

He is a qualified 200T yacht captain  and has sailed extensively. He is also an avid adventure racer and rock climber.

“The boat has been named Ratel which is the Afrikaans name for honey badger, an animal known for its courage and tenacity, which I will need to complete this challenge,” he said.

“I will probably consume 10 litres of water and 8,000 calories of food per day.  If you consider that a normal person consumes approximately 2,500 calories a day, it’s a lot. Even so, I expect to lose over 12kg crossing the Atlantic.”

Botha built his boat “almost single-handedly”  This included installing solar panels, navigational and satellite equipment and a desalinator.

“To prepare for a challenge like this was quite a daunting task. I am fortunate to have the support of sponsors.”

by Philani Nombembe