One Month at Sea: Malherbe-Robertson Duo Cross the Prime Meridian

Cape to Rio Row with Braam Mahlerbe and Wayne Robertson

It’s been one month since Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson boarded their rowboat, the Mhondoro*, and set out to cross the Atlantic in the name of global conservation. With a total journey length estimated at three months, they are right on course to complete their mission on time. If you were to chart their progress today, you’d find they’ve rowed a blue line through more than 1700 miles (2700km) of Atlantic waters, putting them nearly below the remote island of Saint Helena.

You’ve heard of smooth sailing. Now it’s time to learn about “rough rowing.” It’s only a small exaggeration to say Braam and Wayne have averaged a brush with death a day for the past month. Braam continues to chronicle the adventure, sending updates when their communication equipment allows it. As an extremely invested sponsor of this world-influencing mission, ASEA has put together a summary of the recorded events since the brave duo departed.

*A word of Central African origin denoting a tribe’s spirit guardian taking the form of a lion

Woolly Weather on the Water

The primary threat to any seafaring vessel is the weather. The interrelated wind and wave conditions can change quickly and wreak havoc on a ship’s orientation. Such was the case immediately for our team of two. Thanks to a sudden wind shift, Braam and Wayne began their journey with an 11-hour-straight row just to avoid running aground on the offshore islands of Robben and Dassen.

Even when they were out of coastal range, the weather offered up plenty of mighty challenges. Amidst a stretch of cloudy, sunless days (accounting for 20 out of their first 23), a few days distinguished themselves above and beyond with swells that swallowed, capsized, lifted, and dropped the boat a full 20 meters—all with Braam and Wayne tumbling inside the tiny cabin (which they affectionately call “the kennel”) like a load of wash. These capsizes have been common enough that the two men have now completed their own training course:

“We have our righting routine down now,” says Braam. “We have to lie across the mattress and brace ourselves for impact to avoid head injury.”

Most recently on the adverse weather front, our adventurers bunkered for a lightning storm that forced them to shut down all electronics and hope for the best. From one of Braam’s Facebook updates:

“Because of the lightning, we had to shut down all electrical systems. This included navigational chart plotter, navigation lights and AIS (Automatic Identification System) which we need to pick up any ships in the vicinity. For all intents and purposes, we were a bobbing, insignificant cork, bouncing around on a very tempestuous sea.”

On the bright side, the prevailing winds of their squall sent them hurtling in the direction of their destination. All said and done (a little rowing included), the team moved 68 nautical miles over 25 hours. Impressive!

A Blip on the Radar

If at 20 feet long the Mhondoro is a dot, then a 1,000ft supertanker is Pacman—and the Atlantic’s shipping channels are a classic video game arcade. One of Braam’s main fears when setting out was being crushed by one of the many behemoth vessels transporting cargo from port to port.

On more than one occasion, this fear was proved logical. The first few high-traffic weeks on the water required paying special attention to their monitoring system. And with their nav light temporarily deactivated (the result of a capsize), they spent nights feeling especially invisible to tankers that passed uncomfortably close at times.

For now, they have cleared the main shipping lanes and can place their focus elsewhere.

The Progress and Setbacks Laundry List

Today, Braam and Wayne have the psychological boost of having crossed over the Prime Meridian. What’s more, they celebrated Wayne’s 51st birthday on March 4th by turning full west at 270º and setting their heading directly to Rio.

Assured that the duo is doing well, we can look back at a few of the activities and obstacles that have ensured theirs is not a boring stroll across the pond:

  • Communications: Besides posting regular updates to Facebook, Braam and Wayne have given radio interviews to a few South African radio stations to promote the DOT Challenge and give listeners a feel for the trek that put them out to sea. They’ve also been in radio communication with a number of vessels with whom they’ve shared the waters.
  • Taking Their Lumps: The first recorded injury appears to be a small chest laceration Braam sustained at launch from the business end of a screw. Just a few stitches and he was on his way. This was followed by a passing throat & sinus infection. Next was the slow-but-certain onset of rowing blisters, which, at this point, have mostly given way to callouses. Aside from the standard scrapes and bruises that accompany a storm-caused capsize, Braam also earned himself a cracked rib. His case was not helped by later being swept overboard by a wave (though harnessed in).
  • Sight-Seeing: As previously mentioned, awe-inspiring storms and supertankers have been a regular sight of these two journeymen. The deck of their boat has hosted some less frightful sights, including flying fish and squid. Just off deck, they’ve half-enjoyed, half-lamented the presence of box jellyfish swarms, which have kept them out of the water on some of the nicer days.
  • Promoting the Cause: We already mentioned the mid-ocean radio interviews and Facebook posts, which keep word out on the DOT mission. On top of this, they’ve been receiving donations and watching app downloads rise.
  • Admiring & Learning: An epic journey like this would be utterly wasted if there were nothing to learn, nothing new to appreciate, no new perspectives offered. Fortunately, Braam has shared some of the ways in which his mind has been expanded:

From post on February 18: “The sea is a deep indigo blue with a depth of around 4kms. Our current regime is a row shift of 1 ½ hours pretty much 21 hours a day (and night). The ‘together’ hours are cooking meals and sharing stories. It is vital that we interact and get to know each other. From my past expeditions I have learned the power of humour as well as the importance of open, honest communication.”

From post on March 7: “How can I possibly know joy, happiness and wonder if that is all I’ve ever had? I would have no comparison and, in all likelihood, think there was something better. We need the dark and the light, the hot and the cold, the great love and the pain of deep loss, the Yin and the Yang. We are born into this and are equipped to handle it, grow from it and be an example to others because of it.”

For more updates, be sure to follow the Cape-to-Rio journey using these channels:

  • Download the DOT Challenge app. There’s no better way to support the cause, and you can use it to track the rowing progress.
  • Visit www.dotchallenge.org for more comprehensive coverage and information on the purpose of the expedition.
  • Visit any of the following Facebook profiles for full firsthand accounts of the mission’s events:

https://www.facebook.com/braammalherbe.extremeconservationist
https://www.facebook.com/DOTChallenge/?fref=nf&pnref=story