The goal of Ralph’s “ZEEMAN OCEAN CHALLENGE” is to cross the Pacific Ocean at its widest point from Peru to Australia – solo. During the 16,000-kilometer crossing he will not make use of any motorized or wind-related power. This extreme challenge will take between seven and nine months to complete and will be non-stop, without re-supplies or any other support. If Ralph succeeds, he will be the first!
After almost six weeks Ralph Tuijn looked different to me. I had to look twice before I was sure it was him, when I “caught” him at Curacao Marine on his way from Amsterdam via Curacao to Lima, Peru, the starting point of challenge number two.
It might be the small and civilized beard that caused my confusion. After all, I first met Ralph when he arrived in Curacao on the 23rd of December, looking like a cave man after his 87 days’ expedition, rowing across the Atlantic as reported in All At Sea’s February issue. That was the successful completion of part I of Ralph’s expedition, accomplished in the company of his elder brother Mike.
Part II started last month in La Punta, a small peninsula near the city of Lima and just outside the port of Callao, where the Zeeman Challenger arrived in the container. It was only Ralph, who started for this second challenge, rowing across the Pacific; Ralph all alone…
In between the two expeditions Ralph went to Holland, his native country, where he spent five busy weeks, doing preparations, TV interviews and lectures. Before he came back to Curacao he took his wife Winnie and daughter Isis to a vacation house in France for “some decent R&R.”
On February 18th Ralph left Holland and his family. The farewell at Schiphol airport was difficult, in particular for his mother, Roos, who had a very hard time letting her son go. There’s a good deal more safety equipment on board for this crossing, like a survival suit, an extra Epirb, GPS and the Argos tracking system, but of course that doesn’t mean very much to a mother.
The sad news that the Australian adventurer and ocean kayaker, Andrew McAuley, was missing on February 9 didn’t contribute to a comforting atmosphere. MacAuley, Australia’s Adventurer of the Year 2005, recently attempted to row across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand. He was only a day away from a successful 30 days’ crossing when he sent out an SOS from his position at sea, prompting a search-and-rescue operation. Andrew’s kayak was located, capsized, late the following evening approximately 30 nautical miles off the coast of New Zealand. He has never been found.
Ralph’s flight from Amsterdam to Curacao didn’t cheer him up either—it was not the turbulence but the in-board movie “The Guardian” with lots of storms at sea, sinking ships and the main character eventually drowning during a rescue operation that forced Ralph to realize what might happen to him at sea.
Before heading home Ralph had made repairs, adapted and adjusted the vessel in Curacao and packed hundreds of special freeze dried meals in perfect balance before shipping his 24ft bright yellow Zeeman Challenger to Peru, preparing for a smooth start in March.
“In Curacao everything went swimmingly”, stated Ralph, “but in Peru things turned out to be different, very different. Initially the Peruvian Customs were going to confiscate all the food, drinks and cigars on board, which would have been a serious problem. I knew the Peruvian customs weren’t the easiest to deal with. I had to produce a detailed list of exactly what was on the boat, which I had to think quite hard about. How many pens, spoons, sponges and lighters would I have on board again? I packed Adventure food meals to tide over the expected 275 days of the new challenge, four times two hot meals a day for the first couple of months, a little bit less for the remaining days. An ocean rower is hungry all the time”, says Ralph from personal experience. “I still had the order form of the new meals, but there were leftovers from the Atlantic as well. It took quite a bit of working out.
“It turned out alright in the end, but then the next problem: the Zeeman Challenger, loaded with goods, would be in Peru for a short while, but it couldn’t be in transit, they said. That meant unpacking everything! Our agent in Peru was a happy choice of my transport sponsor “Evergreen”; together with my efficient contact person, Moises Woll, an ex-rower in the Peruvian National Team, they managed to get things done.”
When Ralph arrived in Lima on the 20th of February he found his boat unpacked, all the food packages sorted, brand by brand and meal by meal, and over particularly counted. It was decided that the Yacht Club Peruana in La Punta would be the starting point. This Yacht Club made its facilities available for free.
This second part of the Zeeman Ocean Challenge, the crossing of the Pacific Ocean, is being supported by some new sponsors. Various water sports and outdoor materials needed to be added, adapted or replaced for the journey so that Ralph had new, and in some cases, improved equipment, increasing the chances of success as well as his general safety. New rowing benches were also sponsored so that Ralph started out on the Pacific with brand-new equipment there as well.
Despite having a family, Ralph will never stop this challenging way of life. He has finished with his old life, being a qualified male nurse. Exploring the world is now his zest for living. In 2010 he’s planning to cycle to every farthest corner of New Zealand on a mountain bike…..
When out at sea Ralph is already looking forward to his next challenge: crossing the Antarctic on skis without any help from kites like his colleagues did. “When I’ll arrive in Brisbane, my projected destination, I expect to have finished the workout of the new plan” he said, just before he left. And yes, he’ll do it alone again… naturally.
What to fear when you row across the Pacific:
1: Islands. “My biggest fear is to come across too much islands, because there are thousands of them in the south Pacific. Unlike any other sailor in this part of the world I wish I’ll only see the ocean there. In this boat it’s impossible to row against the currents to avoid the islands, so I’ll have to navigate between them; I’ll not be rowing but just controlling both autopilots to steer away from the islands hoping to catch the right currents. When I see people on a beach I’ll be far too close and it will be very dangerous. The only thing to do then is hoping that the currents get me around and not to the island. In case the feared scenario happens the only thing I can do is contacting someone on the island to get me towed away. I also can rely on my base camp manager Michel Schuurmann in Holland who will provide me with all information I need to get help “I’ll stay in touch with him daily both by phone and e-mail”.
2: Sharks and other big sea creatures. “I’m not afraid to be eaten but big fishes can have the bad habit to scour off stains against the hull of my boat.”
3: Poisonous fish. “To get some variety in the humdrum food I’ll catch and eat what the ocean provides me. I almost didn’t survive my last adventure if I had eaten a fish that turned out to be strongly poisonous. How I discovered it? While preparing the fish I took a photo and mailed it to my base camp manager, who consulted a specialist and reached me just before I could take the first bite… During my stay in Curacao I had an excellent teacher. Gijs Boer from Curacao Marine took me out at sea fishing while teaching me all the tips and tricks so it won’t happen so easily anymore.”
4. Except for the wrong currents Ralph has to fear possible tropical storms or “typhoons” as hurricanes are called in that part of the World. Although the season runs from November through April he still has the change to face a monster storm
For all calamities he’s well prepared!
What to pack for nine months on the ocean (a partial list):
-1100 freeze dried high calorie hot meals
-100freeze dried banana yoghurts
-100 chocolate mousse desserts, freeze dried
-200 apple/apricot compote
-50 muesli in case the weather is too rough to heat the water
-9 bottles of vodka for Saturday’s happy hour
-2 I-pods containing 20 gig of music
-1 big first aid box
-2 silicone breasts*
*received with thanks from a girlfriend to avoid a major problem during the first leg of the challenge: pimples on the bottom.