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Couple’s epic Atlantic row ends

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South African rowers Riaan Manser and his girlfriend, Vasti Geldenhuys, embrace in their rowing boat, Spirit of Madiba, after passing the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour on Friday. Picture: Mike Segar

Durban - Adventurer Riaan Manser and his girlfriend, Vasti Geldenhuys, have made history by being the first people to row from mainland Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, to mainland North America, without a support boat.

The 10 765km journey took six tough months.

The couple set off from Morocco in December last year in a 6.9m rowing boat, the Spirit of Madiba, and reached New York City on Friday to huge fanfare.

They were the talk of the town, Manser said from Grand Central Station on Saturday.

They were en route to judge a South African potjie competition after a line-up of interviews by American journalists.

“We have done interview after interview, and appeared on a number of breakfast shows. Our expedition is all over the news. It is just so surreal. The response from South Africans here has also been amazing.

“We were met by the ambassador and the mayor of Joburg. We have been made very welcome,” he said.

They reached Miami early last month, where they spent a few days before setting off for the last leg of the journey, which ended up being the most harrowing.

A particular challenge was rowing through the Gulf Stream, which is so dangerous that many ships give it a miss.

“We didn’t know what we had in store. It was a horrendously difficult 2 000km leg. The weather was so tough.”

Manser, who is originally from Richards Bay, said they had a close call when he hooked a medium-sized shark while fishing.

“Suddenly there were 10 sharks circling our little rowing boat. I was surprised at how calm we were.We brought the hooked shark closer to the boat to release him. After a while the other sharks left. No surprise that we didn’t bathe for the next month in that water. We had wet wipe baths.”

He said the fog during the final leg of their journey was so thick they couldn’t see 10m in front of them.

“Some days were very tough and we just kept going. At times we rowed the slowest we had ever rowed on this trip.

“But we never gave up. Once a Russian ship nearly crashed into us.”

Despite all that, Manser said they were very happy with their accomplishment.

“It hasn’t really sunk in what we have achieved. No one has done what we have done in this six-month journey. We are happy and proud of what we achieved. You have to push even when the going gets tough. Vasti’s determination spurred me on.”

Although they will spend 10 days sightseeing, Manser said they couldn’t wait to get home.

“We miss our family, friends and our dogs. We can’t wait to return home to our little fishing village in the Western Cape.

“Being away from home for so long made us realise that we have amazing people in South Africa. There is such beauty and diversity in South Africa, which we miss.”

They have a number of motivational talks lined up when they return home, but will return to New York to speak at a conference in July.

They won’t be rowing there, though, Manser joked.

“It’s too soon to make jokes about rowing anywhere at this point, but we will definitely be flying for a while,” he said.

Sunday Tribune


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