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Braving the Atlantic for a good cause

From left: Dirk von Delft, Stefan Vine and Johnnie Ball. SUPPLIED

From left: Dirk von Delft, Stefan Vine and Johnnie Ball. SUPPLIED

Published Jan 22, 2022


Cape Town - Swells of over 10m or more will not stop rowing enthusiasts from completing the Atlantic Ocean crossing.

Head of the paediatric trauma unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Dirk von Delft, along with teammates Johnnie Ball and Stefan Vine, from Wales, will take part in the Forget Me Knot Atlantic Row, to raise awareness of dementia and raise funds for Dementia UK. They will start at Portimão in Portugal and finish at Cayenne in French Guiana on the South American Coast. The trio will set off on the 7 000km Atlantic crossing this weekend or early next week depending on weather conditions.

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Von Delft said they chose to partner with Dementia UK to raise awareness and funds for their work.

“The inspiration for this comes from Johnnie’s father's long battle with dementia. Going through this tough experience made Johnnie realise that no one can be prepared for this and most people don't know what a diagnosis of dementia would mean for the family of the affected person. The patience, strength and fortitude which carers and families of dementia sufferers bring to the fore will motivate us too. We hope to be the first three-person crew to complete this crossing and we want to set a new record time of 48 days or less.

“The dangers are significant and real when rowing from Portugal to French Guiana. The Atlantic is known for its storms, huge swells and heavy seas. Rowing teams and sailing vessels occasionally encounter swells of over 10m or more. One can also expect high winds.

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“During calm one needs to deal with sun exposure and, of course, the physical strain of rowing 12 hours a day. But we have prepared for all of this and systems are in place to mitigate for every eventuality. We have also had psychological coaching to help us prepare mentally for the unexpected,” he said.

They are partnering with a local NPO called Sea Search, a marine mammal research unit, who do research on dolphin and whale migration and their communication. They will be doing long stretches of underwater sound recordings for Sea Search in areas which research vessels don't often get to.

“We are very excited to partner with Sea Search. We have the advantage that our boat is noiseless. Thus we expect to get very clean recordings of various species of whales, porpoises and dolphins between Portugal and South America,” he added.

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Director of Sea Search Simon Elwen said: “Sea Search is excited to work with Dirk and the Forget Me Knot Row team. Not only are they undertaking an incredible journey to raise awareness and funds for dementia, but offered to further maximise their trip across the Atlantic by collecting sound recordings en route. Sea Search will be analysing these to look for the presence of whales, dolphins and other man-made sounds in this poorly studied area.”

Dementia UK said: “Every one of us has the need for meaningful activities, we need to feel valued and that we are here for a reason. Adjusting to a reversing of roles with a parent with dementia can be difficult.”

Founder and director of Dementia South Africa Karen Borochowitz said: “Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease and over 100 other types of dementia) is a global challenge. Getting a diagnosis can help families prepare emotionally, socially and financially to take care of a person living with dementia. It is important to empower themselves about the disease and how it progresses. A new case of dementia arises somewhere in the world every three seconds. Many people believe that it is a normal part of ageing, which it is not, although age is the greatest risk factor.”

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Dementia is a term used to describe a group of neurological disorders which causes a progressive decline in cognitive function and interferes with your daily life.

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