A Drop in the Ocean
Starting their voyage from Cape Town in April 2015, Durban based brothers Davey du Plessis (26) and Richie Wolff (21) will endure the ultimate physical and mental challenge – crossing the Atlantic Ocean by means of a customised pedal boat, with no engine or sail and become a drop in the ocean. This 6450 kilometre journey, from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, is expected to take between 90 to 150 days and will test their determination and willpower. A compassionate environmental campaigner, Davey hopes this expedition will shine a light on the pressing environmental issue of the Holocene extinction. Stormy seas; extreme seasickness and equipment failure are all a possibility for this dynamic duo.
Amanzi Magazine received this exclusive interview between Etoile Smulders and Fiona Ayerst of Africa Media in Mossel Bay, who spoke to Davey about the upcoming adventure and his vision for the project.
Two months into a planned solo source to sea navigation of the Amazon River, I was ambushed and shot within the isolated jungles of Peru. The adventure turned into an intense moment-to-moment struggle to survive as I made my way wounded through the dense jungle,seeking rescue and safety. If people want to know more I have written a book, Choosing to Live. It can be purchased on my website.
My goal was to become a professional speaker and author. Initially lacking motivational material and experience, I chose to pursue adventure for the inspiring experiences it would offer. Adventure has thus become a platform for me to set up expeditions and dedicate them to a cause I am passionate about.
What does the term “adventurer” mean to you?
To me, an adventurer is an individual who pushes themselves beyond their comfort zone in an unfamiliar environment. Once in this situation, there are no clear instructions on how to fulfil an objective, and this creates an adventure.
What creed or belief system do you live by? What drives you?
What is your favourite quote?
“Strive not to become a man of success, but rather strive to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein
Do you have a mentor or hero/heroine? Who do you look up to and why?
I have set my own standards and have chosen to become my own mentor. I continually measure myself against myself, and no one else.
My previous adventures have taught me how to enjoy the present. During the Amazon trip, I was constantly pining for comfort; home; my bed and especially my loved ones. This distracted me from my actual adventure. I often caught myself wishing it were raining when it was sunny; for company when I was lonely and even for home cooked meals when I was hungry. This pining often prevented me from embracing the beauty of my current situation. For the ocean crossing, I hope to embrace every aspect of the trip and of the adventure.
Within the last 550 million years of life on the earth, five mass extinctions have taken place, dramatically reducing all life within a short period. The fifth extinction, that of the dinosaurs is the most widely known extinction. All known extinctions were caused by cataclysmic events such as great weather and temperature shifts, super volcanoes and asteroid impacts. These extinctions were caused by events far beyond the impact of any single biological species. The sixth extinction, which is what life is currently experiencing, is solely due to human impact. We are destroying all life at a rate one thousand times faster than normal and it’s getting faster all the time. Our magnitude of destruction is remarkably sobering to me. I feel haunted by the mass destruction we are causing.
It amazes me that people throw their hands up in the air about the demise of the rhino but there is very little or no input into plant, insect or animals species that are disappearing daily. I do not understand this. A liveable environment is created by all the species within it. Biodiversity is responsible for the air we breathe; the water we drink and the food we eat. By wiping out entire species so fast we are playing a dangerous game. Biologists teach us that each species is an integral part of the system that nurtures human existence.
The heart and soul of the Atlantic Project is its cause – which is- creating a broader awareness of the current sixth mass extinction plaguing many species, due to human impact. The reality is that the scale of extinction is so huge that a simple pedal across the ocean will have little to no impact on the species being lost daily, but hopefully it will provide a wake up call. It is my goal that the voyage be viewed as a metaphorical “drop in the ocean”. I don’t think people care enough, until something happens that affects them. Thus, I will be urging people to implement the radical change that (we all know deep down inside) is required. This world is not ours to own and do as we may, we share it with all other life and in my view we need to acknowledge that fact and live accordingly. Davey will be logging his progress and the journey will be tracked live . This is a live link of the journey along with status updates.
I have been surfing my entire life and have grown up loving the oceans, and thus for my third expedition, I wanted to focus on the ocean. In my opinion, the ocean is the last domain in which humans are not a domineering force.
Can you tell us a little more about the pedal boat itself?
Originally, I thought about rowing across the Atlantic, but was a bit sceptical because this feat has been accomplished before. Then, I recalled the pedal boats in the lagoon when I was younger and how they always seemed to be faster than the rowing boats. Pedalling across the Atlantic seemed a lot more unique and challenging to me. The boat was designed by a nautical engineer in the United States, but is being built by my uncle in Knysna. My uncle and I are close and it has been a great experience working on this project together with him.
I did a bit of sailing after my schooling and from there worked in the maritime industry for two years. Overall, my experience is rather limited but I do not see this as a disadvantage for the Atlantic project. Crossing an ocean in a pedal boat, compared to a sailing vessel or a motorised vessel is very different.
What training have you been doing?
I haven’t been training much, partly because I haven’t pedalled the boat yet and also because I believe that the greatest challenge I have at sea will be from my mind. The human body is able to adjust and adapt to the majority of tasks it faces, however the mind can easily make or break any experience. I had never cycled more than thirty kilometers before I did my first big adventure in 2011, a cycle along the entire length of Africa. I did a short training cycle a week before I left. During that trip I managed one hundred kilometers per day on average; for four months, with no problems. The Amazon project was the same, I hadn’t paddled more than a few kilometers and had never even paddled the type of kayak I was using. I literally put the kayak into the amazon river, wobbled around for a bit then started paddling and did sixty kilometres my first day. I kept that distance up until I couldn’t continue. My focus is always on my mind, as it is usually my greatest ally but I know it can be my greatest foe. I look after my body and nurture my health daily through clean living and conuing a raw vegan diet. Because of this I am confident that it will serve me in any task. My mind, on the other hand, needs constant checking, rechecking and updating.
My diet on board the pedal boat will be similar to my diet at home which consists of mainly fruit, some nuts and sprouts. I do not count calories as it is widely accepted that calorie intake is not the crux of performance nor do I rely on calculations of input versus output. Because I like to eat fresh fruits and vegetables which will rot after a few days,I have planned to eat fruit primarily in the beginning and then rely on soaked nuts, coconuts, sprouting seeds and dehydrated fruits after that. I eat like this at home; have no health issues and require no supplementation, medicine or vitamins all whilst living a fairly active lifestyle. I am confident in my diet and I have no urge to drastically alter my eating.
Have you planned for a ‘worst case scenario?’
I have sat with this idea for almost two years, planning and working around any possible ‘worst-case-scenario’ and have catered for what I expect and what others (who have done similar voyages) have experienced. I did just as much planning for the Amazon expedition. I catered for everything I thought could go wrong and then out of nowhere I was shot at. I learned that no matter how much I had prepared for a worst case scenario, I lack the physical capability to dodge bullets. That’s life, it finds a way to challenge you regardless of the amount of effort you put into avoiding tumbles and knocks.
What safety and backup plan do you have?
The pedal boat will not leave port without all the necessary safety equipment stocked onboard. We will have the same level of safety equipment as any type of boat attempting an ocean crossing. If things go wrong, we have a life raft and radios to depend on and I am prepared to send out a mayday if I really need to.
Depending on the severity of the storm, we will either try our best to pedal through, or drop a sea anchor off the bow. A sea anchor will keep the boat piercing big waves head on rather than side on, as this would capsize us.
What size waves can the craft manage?
Waves out at sea and close to the coast vary in power and in magnitude. At sea, we will face large bodies of water, compared to coastal waves, which are smaller but more destructive. At sea, our vessel can handle waves several meters high, but along the coast, we are limited to waves about two to three meters high.
What types of situations could arise?
The main issues of concern are running out of food and or fresh water; possible injury; bad weather; collisions with larger sea vessels or debris; various technical issues; severe seasickness and the boat not self-righting itself if we capsize. The nature of any adventure is bound to present unforeseen situations and challenges. I have catered for everything that I envision could possibly go wrong, but there are so many variables that still present situations I cannot prepare for. Facing these unforeseen challenges will present the opportunity to innovate and become resourceful. When you are thrown into a survival situation its because something you didn’t expect popped up. Survival then comes down to resilience, resourcefulness and the desire to live against all odds – it’s a mindset.
Our medical supplies cater for every foreseeable malady from seasickness, to large cuts and broken bones. I spoke to a guy who rowed this same ocean and in a freak accident he sliced a huge portion of his calf open. He managed to bandage it up but he knew it was serious. He told me that he experienced a moment where his injuries were enough to prevent him rowing and sufficient reasoning to send out a mayday for help, but he chose to endure and pushed through with a bandaged calf until he eventually reached his destination. He also ended up breaking a record for the fastest row across the Atlantic! His story reminds me that no matter what we experience, there will undoubtedly be moments that we have not catered for; moments where we can either pack it all in or choose to endure and push through.
Who is sponsoring you and why?
I chose to self-fund the expedition without any assistance from outside sponsors. I do not want the expedition to become a vehicle to promote a company and dilute my attempt to convey the threat of mass extinction.
Tell me about your relationship with your brother and why it will withstand this voyage which could turn into quite a test?
Brotherhood is an extremely difficult bond to break. Richie and I have grown up together and have always remained close, and for that reason, there is no doubt in my mind that our relationship can only strengthen.
Have you any plans for another adventure after the crossing?
I have many adventures in the back of my mind, but I choose to focus my energy on the task at hand. My goal is to build a career as a popular speaker and writer. I want to deliver a message that promotes less discrimination against non-human species. Adventure to me is just the vehicle for these priorities.
How does your mother feel about the Atlantic project?
There is no doubt that my mother, Robyn, is nervous, after all both her sons are heading out on this expedition. In the end, I know she understands that I do what I do for a great purpose. My mother supports me unconditionally and I am extremely grateful for that.
Davey will be logging his progress and the journey will be tracked live . This is a live link of the journey along with status updates.
Young Leader Series No 2
Authors: Fiona Ayerst