'You miss the small things' - transatlantic rower Zirk Botha on seeing his kids after 71 days at sea

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Zirk Botha enjoying a burger in Buzios after completing a 7200km solo transatlantic row from Cape Town to Rio.
Zirk Botha enjoying a burger in Buzios after completing a 7200km solo transatlantic row from Cape Town to Rio.
Gonzalo Arselli
  • Adventurer and new world record holder Zirk Botha has returned home from his solo transatlantic crossing.
  • While spending 71 days alone at sea, Botha said he held onto the purpose of his journey to overcome the more difficult days.
  • Botha arrived in Cape Town on Monday morning, following the completion of his trip on 28 February.

Rowing across the middle of the ocean, over the 7 200km between Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro, Zirk Botha clung to the purpose of his solo transatlantic trip to keep him paddling.

The adventurer completed his solo transatlantic ocean crossing on his boat "Ratel", from South Africa to Brazil in 71 days. The feat, completed unsupported by any safety craft, set a new world record.

Holding fast to the purpose of his voyage was the same technique his three daughters used during separation from their father. The girls were at Cape Town International Airport on Monday to welcome Botha home.

"It was really amazing. My kids are very dear to me and it was so special to have them waiting for me," he said.

"It was tough to be away. When I started working on this project, I set goals and spoke to my kids about what the purpose of the trip was. I reminded myself of that purpose to help me during the tough times."

Botha set off on the transatlantic crossing for two reasons. After suffering an associated traumatic brain injury during an accident a few years ago, he wanted to start a project that would encourage others to persevere.

But his second motivation was a much bigger message: Botha set out to highlight the importance of protecting our planet.

"I’m an adventurer. I’ve travelled to the Himalayas and sailed around the Croatian Islands. I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of really pristine places. And I wanted to do something to encourage people to think about sustainable development. We have to take care of our planet, it’s the only one we have."

While on the water, Botha relied only on solar power for all his energy needs – including running his safety and communication equipment.

Aside from his family, Botha mostly missed "the small, everyday things you take for granted" while on the trip.

He recalled:

I missed walking to the corner shop to get an ice-cream. And fresh bread. I don’t eat bread, I don’t even like it. But all I wanted was a warm, fresh slice of bread with butter on it.

The extreme adventurer spent his first night at home with his children and a few friends, eating pizza. While it satisfied a craving, the meal had nothing on the first burger Botha enjoyed after his crossing.

"It was just the perfect taste and texture. Some people might be shocked that I had fast food after completing a row to promote sustainable development, but we need to have balance in life," he said.

Besides yearning for a change from his prepacked and dehydrated meals, Botha longed most for a good night’s sleep – something near impossible on a moving vessel, unsupported, in the middle of the ocean.

He said:

When I did my planning, I researched the best weather. I had good weather, with strong winds, that helped me set the record. But the downside to that was the boat was always moving, there was always the sound of water, and I couldn’t rest properly. It became challenging and mentally draining.

Added to his exhaustion was a grueling slog for several days, after winds shifted early and Botha found himself being pushed in the wrong direction while still many kilometres from the coast.

"Every day for a week, I had to work to make headway against the wind. And every time you stop for a rest, which you need, you worry about being pushed off course," he said.

But the challenges were quickly forgotten on his arrival in Cabo Frio in Rio on Sunday 28 February.

Botha had come to realise during his journey that his South African support team, by then in lockdown at home, would not be able to travel to Brazil to meet him at the finish line. But he needn’t have worried that he would arrive to an empty harbour – hundreds of locals turned out to welcome him, and he was escorted by the local canoe club for the last mile of his journey.

"There were crowds of people, cheering and waving. The reception was amazing," he recalled.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
Would you choose to continue working from home after the coronavirus lockdown if given the option?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's much better for me
40% - 7018 votes
No ways! I can't wait to get back to the office
12% - 2052 votes
A mixture of both would suit me best
48% - 8443 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo