Transatlantic ocean rower Zirk Botha is halfway from Cape Town to Rio!

Cape Town  22 January 2021: Extreme adventurer, Zirk Botha, has reached the halfway mark in his transatlantic ocean row from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, a total distance of 7000km or 3800 nautical miles (nm) on 22 January 2021. He is the first person to attempt the journey, rowing alone and unsupported by any safety craft, and his pace is setting outstanding records.

“Today, my boat Ratel and I cruised across the halfway line. As such it is appropriate to celebrate this momentous occasion with us at your earliest convenience. I’m going to ‘Splice the Main Brace!’ as they say in the navy when they have a celebratory drink.”

Botha is following what is known as the Great Circle Route. “It’s not a direct route from Cape Town to Rio; I first headed out of Cape Town in a North West direction to benefit from the prevailing South Easterly wind, I then turned West and am now travelling at a latitude of 17oS. Now, at halfway, I have the trade winds behind me as I cross the Atlantic to reach the Brazilian coast, where I will turn South again towards Rio, which is at 23oS.

“On the Brazilian side of the ocean, the wind is predominantly North Easterly, so I have to arrive on the coast North of Rio to have the wind behind me to head into Cabo Frio, where the old Rio de Janeiro yacht club is, which is where I will be finishing.”

“Getting to the halfway point of this incredible challenge is a momentous occasion, which is amplified by the fact that I am two weeks ahead of schedule,” said Botha.

“ I initially anticipated  the trip would take 90 days, but if conditions remain favourable I may well reach Rio before that.

“While I still have another 1900 nautical miles, or 3500 km to go, so I won’t be slacking off the pace.”

Sponsored by juwi Renewable Energies, Botha has dedicated his trip to promoting environmental awareness and the importance of a sustainable development for the future of the Earth: “I want to use #Row2Rio2020 to spotlight the impact of fossil fuels and irresponsible consumerism on the planet, which will be the home of our children and future generations. Renewable energies are essential to a sustainable future.”

“During my entire row I have to be 100% self-sustaining. This provides a perfect showcase to support the message that 100% renewable energy is the solution. I am totally reliant on solar panels and solar-charged batteries as the source of electricity for my water maker (desalinator), auto-pilot, safety equipment, radio and satellite communications equipment.”

“My work in the renewable energy sector, consulting  to juwi, equips me to speak with knowledge regarding the competitive costs and benefits of renewables. The platform that the ocean crossing creates will allow me to drive home the message that the increased uptake of renewable energy is a key solution to the climate change challenges faced by our planet.”

About the boat

The current norm is for ocean rowing boats to be built from marine plywood or in a fibreglass and epoxy mould. Ratel differs from this in that she is built on a design by Phil Morrison using closed cell foam laid up with fibreglass and epoxy resin.

The specific design incorporates honey comb construction principles which ultimately makes it very strong when considering it is super light.

“Before I started fitting hatches and equipment I could lift and turn Ratel by myself with one end on the cradle. With all equipment, spares and food loaded, she weighs maximum 550kgs. With a length of 6.5m and beam of 1.62m she is super light,” said Botha.

“To operate my systems I have 2 x 12V batteries connected in parallel with a combined 200aH capacity. These are deep cycle batteries suited for charging with solar panels.

I chose Solbian flexible solar panels because of their good track record on yachts and boats. With a peak capacity of 276 watts at 46 volts, they deliver maximum half of that owing to be positioned at various angles to cater for morning, midday and afternoon sun. They have consistently delivered even on overcast days and as such my batteries have been fully charged every day at sunset.

“Fitted onboard Ratel is a desalinator that provides my fresh water. The Eco Systems Splash unit can make 16l of fresh water per hour. It runs of 12 volts and requires a 16amp supply.

Besides the desalinator my most important unit is my VHF radio equipped with a GPS, AIS and DSC facility. The AIS allows me to get early warning of ships in my vicinity whilst the DSC allows me to communicate with them similar to as by SMS. I am also able to call ships on normal maritime channels.

“Ratel is fitted with 3 electric bilge pumps and a manual hand bilge pump in the unlikely event of a flood. I also have a tiller pilot, but have not used it since departing from Cape Town. Other minor systems include cabin and external lights, as well as navigation lights.

To charge my satellite phones I have installed various connection points that allows for USB or connection by lighter socket. I have a limited 220 V requirement which is powered through an invertor. My total daily power consumption is 115aH, excluding the tiller pilot which I considered a nice to have. The onboard solar system is capable of delivering double the requirement. My power allocation is managed by a Victron BlueSolar charge controller.

With consideration of maritime safety, Ratel is designed and constructed like a life boat so that, should she roll over, she will self-right. During the extreme weather that I experienced over New Years, she has also proven to be very sea worthy. At no stage did I fear that she would roll over.

Botha  estimated that the construction process would take maximum 9 months. In the end, owing to Covid delays it took a year.


I am fortunate that all the parts and components that makes up Ratel was sponsored. This includes a 4 person compact NovaMarine life raft, life vest, EPIRB and Parachute anchors. It is thus difficult to give a breakdown of the cost on an itemized basis, suffice to say that project budget is close to R500 000.

  • Juwi Renewable Energies provided the financial backing for the critical equipment such as solar panels, my water maker, and the VHF and satellite Communications equipment.
  • NovaMarine provided all my safety equipment such as a liferaft, life vest and an EPIRB as well as the data for my satellite communications.
  • Aerontec provided closed cell foam and much needed guidance.
  • Saertex provided the fibreglass and Bulwark the epoxy.
  • High density nutritional products were supplied by Genesis
  • Nutritional Products whilst Spar supplied a range of foods from muesli to chocolates.
  • Safety satellite tracking is done by Fleetmon who continuously monitors my position.
  • Stormgeo provides weather monitoring software and access to
  • weather data.
  • Bondi Blu provided UV protective Eyewear and Tuckers Tackle fishing gear should the need arise for more food.
  • Ratel was decorated by Boock Sign writers and the Simon’s Town Marina Company and Falsebay Yacht Club provided mooring and docking facilities.
  • And for those moments when comfort is required, Dirkie Condensed milk provides the vital addition to my much loved cup of filter coffee.

“It is thus readily apparent that the Row2rio2020 project became viable owing to these companies rising to the challenge and lending the vital support that was required to make it possible.”

“Also, for a project like this one must also consider the value added by the Shore Support Team, without whom it would not be possible. I am in daily contact with the Team who comprises of a Team Manager, Rowing Technical Advisor, Weather Man, Weather Router a Weather Analyst and a Media Manager. Each one plays a significant role.”

“I am encouraged daily by the messages of support that I am receiving from so many people and groups and in return, I am humbled that this challenge can serve as inspiration to many.”

About Zirk Botha

A maritime and adventure background – Zirk Botha served as a Naval Combat Officer in the South African Navy for 17 years, where he also qualified as a Combat Diver. During his time in the Navy, he completed three Atlantic crossings. He is also a qualified 200T Yacht Captain (Master of Yachts) and has sailed extensively.

Botha is an avid adventure racer, competing in many multi-day non-stop events that comprised trail running, rock climbing, river rafting and mountain biking. His many adventures include trekking the Himalayas, and stand-up paddle boarding through the Okavango Delta, of Botswana.



Facebook: Follow his page Zirk Botha- Live a Great Adventure

Trackamap: Track his progress in real time: Http://

Hashtags: #Row2Rio2020 #ZirkBotha

Instagram: @zirk_botha

Published by Susan Parker-Smith

An intrepid and insatiably curious traveller, I love adventure, nature, the undiscovered, seeking out extraordinary people with passion, an eye for detail, authentic experiences and heartfelt service.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: