A world first for SA woman

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Vasti Geldenhuis and Riaan Manser have completed 7 500km of their 10 000km journey in 74 days. They will now continue on to their final destination  New York.

Durban -

A South African woman has made history by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, surviving stormy seas and almost being run over by a passenger ship.

Vasti Geldenhuis, 35, of Cape Town, is the first woman from Africa to set this world record.

She and her boyfriend, Riaan Manser, 41, a professional adventurer, have completed 7 500km of their 10 000km journey in 74 days – a day ahead of schedule.

The distance they have travelled is equal to crossing the Atlantic twice, back to back because of the deviations due to weather.

The couple’s final destination is New York.

Geldenhuis arrived at the Riding Rock Marina, in San Salvador, on Monday after setting off from Agadir, in Morocco, on January 30.

She and Manser were greeted at the marina by a crowd of supporters who were excited about their feat. Tourists at San Salvador also came to cheer them on.

Geldenhuis said she had embarked on the challenge because she had wanted to do something great in her life.

“It wasn’t as much as choosing the rowing challenge. It was choosing a challenge that was physically and mentally challenging and one that I would be proud of completing,” she said.

When she told her family of her plan to cross the Atlantic Ocean, they were shocked and afraid.

“Telling my parents what I wanted to do, was almost as big as doing the journey. But after I told them, they were supportive, but also worried.”

She said it felt surreal having set a world record.

“But, our journey is not over yet. We have to reach mainland US first. When that has been accomplished, we would be the first people in history to have rowed from Africa to mainland US,” she said.

Manser said they faced many challenges on their voyage, including 6 to 8m waves crashing over their boat.

Geldenhuis said at one stage Manser had been separated from the boat during a storm. The boat began drifting away and he could not swim back fast enough.

“He got hold of the fishing line that we trawled at the back of the boat and hung on for his life.”

She said it was difficult for him as his whole body was in pain. “You can’t even close your hands after rowing for so many hours.”

She said the messages of prayer they had received from family, friends and the public in general, had kept them motivated.

They plan to complete the journey by the middle of next month. They will sightsee for a few weeks before returning home.

Burning huge amounts of calories daily, Riaan and Vasti replenish their energy with high-calorie, freeze-dried foods and fish.

Geldenhuis is a lawyer by trade, while Manser rose to prominence by completing three unparalleled world firsts – cycling the perimeter of the African continent, circumnavigating Madagascar by single kayak, and Iceland, with Dan Skinstad, by double kayak.

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