Row, row, row your boat

  • Peter van Kets conducts sea trials in False Bay.
  • Peter van Kets conducts sea trials in False Bay.
  • The Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Challenge 2009/10 route. Image credit: Woodvale Challenge
  • The Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Challenge 2009/10 route. Image credit: Woodvale Challenge
Date:25 October 2009 Author: Sean Woods Tags:, , ,

Local adventurer Peter van Kets readies himself for a solo journey across the Atlantic

Most people would consider rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean as a sign of madness, and they’d be right. But, as we all know, one man’s insanity is just another man’s challenge. Take East Londoner Peter van Kets for instance, his purpose-built boat might have “100 per cent committed” branded prominently on its side – but fortunately he’s committed in the right kind of way.

As van Kets earns his living out of living dangerously and motivational speaking, it’s understandable that problems don’t feature much in his psyche – but positive reinforcement and words such as “perseverance” and “persistence” do. Two years back, along with his partner Bill Godfrey, he competed in the 2007/08 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race (Pairs Class) and they won – completing the arduous 5 438 km crossing from the Canary Islands to Antigua in 50 days.

This time around, and much the wiser, he’s heading off on his own – hoping to shatter the standing record of 78 days for the solo crossing. Says van Kets: “It’s important for me to set myself a target. In my best-case scenario with good weather and no storms, I hope to make it in 50 days, but I’ve mentally prepared myself for 120 days at sea. If it takes any longer than that then they must come and fetch me!”

His boat, named – meaning “to push through tough times” in Xhosa – was built in Cape Town by Jaz Marine. Made out of carbon fibre, Kevlar and epoxy, and then vacuum-moulded – it’s lightweight yet extremely strong. But most importantly, its inner PVC foam core makes it virtually unsinkable. Water ballast of 150 litres, along with the hull’s profile, makes it self-righting in the event of a knockdown. A daggerboard is there to minimise leeway when van Kets experiences beam (side) winds on his crossing. Stephen du Toit from Performance Craft fitted the boat out, and Robert Galley from Galley Electronics took care of all electrical installations.

Sea trials took place in False Bay (watch the video) under the watchful eye of Simon’s Town NSRI’s skippered by Louis Duimelaar. proved to have no vices, allowing Van Kets to get in a good practice row. It also provided an opportunity for Galley to swing the gyro compass, check the electrics and set the auto-helm.

The plan, according to van Kets, is for him to use the first two thirds of the race as part of his training so as not to “peak” too early, and then put his shoulders into it for the last stretch. He’ll row for 90 minutes and take 90 minutes off for the first two thirds of the crossing, then shorten his rest periods to one hour for the last third, saying “I know it’s hard to believe, but your body can get used to anything!” And, because storms are so noisy and uncomfortable in a small boat, he intends to row through them – after all, it was a strategy that really paid off for him and his partner last time.

The 2009/10 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race starts on the 6th of December. To follow van Kets’s progress visit

To check out the video of sea trials in False Bay, |click here|

Read the full article in December’s POPULAR MECHANICS – on sale on 16 November 2009.

Read Sean's latest blog on van Kets: Life inside a tin can (posted: 8 February 2010)

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