This is a story about endurance, courage against the odds, and the indomitability of the human spirit. As the world shrinks and the opportunities for adventure diminish, it takes a man of unique vision to be the first person to paddle a kayak solo and unsupported, across the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
After becoming the first and only person to paddle solo the entire circumference of the South African coastline in 2012, Richard Kohler has been training for his next odyssey at a time when self-isolation is the norm. Ocean X is the ultimate solo mission, and after Covid delayed his departure in December 2020, the 52-year-old Capetonian is currently making final preparations and counting down the days to his departure from Cape Town to Salvador in Brazil, solo on a kayak.
“Osiyeza” will be Kohler’s home for the 60 to 80-day paddle, the name deriving from SA music legend, Johnny Clegg’s 1993 song “The Crossing,” the literal meaning “we are coming.” The song is about a dream that is within reach, the possibility to cross from darkness and suffering to prosperity and is a reminder to Richard that his dream is within his reach.
Kohler will be leaving from Granger Bay in Cape Town and will be looking for the weather window between 1 – 10 December for his departure. He will be the first person to attempt to paddle a custom kayak across the Southern Atlantic, 7000 km unsupported and alone.
Richard intends surviving his “Crossing” and not just to acquire bragging rights for the latest outlandish watersports adventure. He is motivated by raising funds for charity, Operation Smile, and partly to slake the kayaker’s innate lust to paddle across anything larger than a glass of water.
THE OCEAN X ADVENTURE
Sailing has always been in Kohler’s blood, beginning his journey at the age of six to later sailing at international level, including sailing in the 2007 Americas Cup campaign for South Africa aboard the Shosholoza. Sailing the equivalent of three times around the globe as a professional yachtsman, in 2012 Kohler became the first person to solo kayak around the entire South African coastline. Having been attacked by a shark during his last mission, having his kayak broken in half and all his equipment stolen, Richard has learnt the art of never giving up and nothing will stop this brave man from dipping his toes into the cold Atlantic Ocean yet again.
The remarkable aspect of this journey into the unknown is the vessel that will carry Kohler all the way to Brazil. An 8m paddling torpedo allows little leeway to move around after 15 hours and 100km of paddling every day, and every single inch of space needs to be utilised for optimal performance and comfort.
“The design brief was to keep it as close to a traditional Surfski but that it should include a sleeping area that can protect me from the uncompromising elements typical of being out at sea,” says Kohler.
The craft is constructed out of carbon fibre making it light and easier to manoeuvre. Kohler will also use a custom-made paddle which has a longer shaft and CS1 blade which is 260-270cm long to compensate for the width of the kayak.
“The kayak is 8m long and less than 1 meter at its maximum width. Considering an average shoulder width is around 50cm, it does not leave much room on the inside for me and my gear.” The cramped conditions are one of Kohler’s biggest challenges. Avoiding leg cramp and debilitating salt sores are daily requirements to ensure he remains at optimal levels to complete his task.
From the outside there is a large array of solar panels with the two forward side panels to present better solar absorption of the sun for drinking water. Research indicates that having enough electrical power to make water is one of the highest priorities. In Kohler’s survival of this mammoth task that awaits him; water equals life.
Nutrition and Hydration
Kohler will need to stay hydrated and will consume at least 6 litres of water a day. He will consume mainly freeze-dried food with minimal carbohydrates. As a fat adapted athlete, he will get all his energy from healthy fats like Olive oil, nut butter and raw nuts and keeping his body in a state of Ketosis (fat burning).
Kohler will have no supporting safety boat and is expected to paddle an average of 15 hours per day. He will have to schedule time to eat, drink and rest to ensure his body receives enough nutrition and rest to recover from the physical exertion.
Kohler will depart Cape Town and head in a North Westerly direction, benefiting from the prevailing South Easterly wind off the Cape coast. He will then head in a Westerly direction once he is in line with Walvis Bay in Namibia. The wind will be behind him as he crosses the Atlantic and heads North of Rio to Salvador where he will complete his journey.
SMD Africa Marine is Richard’s on the water communication partners.
Richard’s Surfski will have the Thales Vessel LINK satellite communications device using the Iridium Certus network of satellites which can send and receive data. This will mean Richard will be able to send images, short videos, check the weather forecasts and emails daily.
Richard will also have an Iridium Handheld Satellite phone for voice calls and text in case of emergencies. SMD in partnership with the AST Group have sponsored the equipment and airtime for both units, bringing Richard’s adventure to life for supporters who can follow his progress on social media.
SMD in partnership with Sea of Solutions will provide several essential McMurdo safety devices including an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and a Personal Locating Beacon (PLB) which are devices which when activated transmits your position and ID via satellite, and an Automatic Identification System Search and Rescue Transponder (AIS SART) and an Automatic Identification System Man Overboard (MOB) which are devices when activated transmits your position and ID via VHF and Radar frequencies that can be detected by all AIS equipped vessels within range.
Gerhard Moolman, CEO of ALTSA, and close friend of Richards is no stranger to the demands of the open ocean and is excited to sponsor Richard’s mammoth expedition. “ALTSA will cross oceans for their customers,” says Moolman, who holds the Guinness World Record for the longest distance on a Surfski. Almost 20 years ago, Moolman paddled 6,152km from Hout Bay in South Africa to Lamu in Kenya.
“From one adventurer to another I could identify with Richard’s dream, and we are proud to be a presenting partner and help in any way to support Richard’s dream,” he added.
Thank you to everyone who has supported and sponsored this adventure, ALTSA, SMD Africa Marine, Seaport Supply, Aerontec, Powersol, Sicomin, Highbury Media, Further Composites, Phil Southwell Designs, Victron Energy SA, Solbian, AST Group, McMurdo, Link Engineering, Cableman, Forever Fresh, Buttanut, Carb Smart, Revive.
Operation Smile is a global surgical non-profit that improves the health and dignity of patients living with cleft lip and cleft palate in low- and middle-income countries. Since 1982, Operation Smile has been committed to providing patients with health that lasts through life-saving cleft surgeries and comprehensive care, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live lives of greater quality and confidence. Its training and education programs elevate safe surgical standards and strengthen a global network to reach more people earlier in their lives. Learn more at southafrica.operationsmile.org or by following @opsmilesa on social media.
For every R6,000 raised another child can receive a life-changing operation. Richard aims to raise over R100k for Operation Smile.
Ronel Visagie, Operation Smile’s Marketing Coordinator, said, “It is an honour to have someone like Richard Kohler choose Operation Smile as his beneficiary and take up such an enormous challenge, to help raise funds for kids and adults born with a cleft lip and palate – to help change lives; one smile at a time.’
Please consider donating to Operation Smile through the Givengain fundraiser: https://www.givengain.com/ap/richard-kohler-raising-funds-for-operation-smile-south-africa/
Follow Richard Kohler’s Ocean X adventure:
Issued by Treble Group on behalf of Richard Kohler
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Account Manager – Treble Group