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Even the Gulf Stream Was No Match for Rowers

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Vasti Geldenhuys is all smiles approaching New York City. Photo courtesy of Riaan Manser
Vasti Geldenhuys is all smiles approaching New York City. Photo courtesy of Riaan Manser

“I am scared. Don’t know what to expect from the Gulf Stream, especially in a row boat! The best thing for my nerves is to get into the boat and just row. Giant seas or not. It still feels unreal, the fact we have done this amazing journey successfully. Well almost, just another 960 nm to go! What a privilege.”

– Vasti Geldenhuys

Vasti Geldenhuys was ready to complete the journey from Morocco she and her boyfriend, adventurer Riaan Manser, began December 30, 2013. They had been in Miami for nearly ten days catching up on some much needed rest and waiting out a strong northerly system. Finally, on May 23, the pair headed to the safety of the ocean to ride the Gulf Stream’s northerly flow to Cape Hatteras before turning straight for New York Harbor.

“When you are on a motor boat or even a sailboat going with the Gulf Stream you can not truly appreciate the power of this phenomenon,” Riaan explained. “On a completely calm day, with the sea as flat as I have ever seen, it appeared as if we were not moving. Our GPS said we were moving at 5.2 knots.”  At one point the rowboat reached a max speed of 7.5 knots over the ground–faster than hull speed of many sailboats. But as serene as this may sound, there was another side to the mighty Gulf Stream that was about to add miles to the pair’s journey.

There’s an Ocean Between Saying and Doing

The couple's route from Africa to New York.
The couple’s route
from Africa to New York.

The Spirit of Madiba carried a Yellowbrick GPS tracker so the world could follow Riaan and Vasti’s progress. Off the coast of South Carolina, the tracker began to take a dramatic turn south. A large low pressure system, packing 50-knot winds, was heading their way. Having already experienced north winds stacking against the driving flow of the stream, the pair made a conservative decision to head west, clear of the stream. However, getting out of the stream was no easy feat. Muscling their way and at times even using their anchor to prevent backward movement, the pair was finally able to turn south to ride with the weather system until they could safely turn north again. The ‘big loop,’ added 360 km to an already long journey.

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Weather wasn’t the only factor that wanted a prominent role in their adventure. Shortly after departing Miami, Riaan realized they could not make fresh drinking water. “Our first attempt to make water only gave us 10 liters. After some troubleshooting we discovered that the valve on the bottom of our boat had broken off.” With no way to repair the system Riaan quickly came up with a plan. “We saw a vessel on our AIS named Pegasus Highway. I called them on the radio and stated the situation. I asked if they could drop us some water.”

Top Tips to Cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas

Before long, an eight-story tall, 700-foot long container ship was alongside their measly 23-foot vessel.  “Vasti was the star of the show,” Riaan beamed. “It was truly ‘James Bond-like’ with the carrier throwing a line for Vasti to hold on to while 60 liters of water were lowered.” With their focus on getting life-essential water they were unaware of just how dangerous the water drop was until they saw the large engine propeller of the ship.  One slip could have meant the end.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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