Stand-Up Paddler Attempts Historic Transatlantic Journey on Solar-Powered Board
On Dec. 6, Chris Bertish and his solar-powered stand-up paddle (SUP) board took off from the Agadir Marina in Morocco for an adventure of a lifetime. Approximately 120 days later, the South African sailor and big-wave surfer will have paddled 4,500-miles to Miami, Florida, making him the first person on the planet to SUP across the Atlantic Ocean.
That is, if everything goes to plan.
"I've been hearing that I'm nuts all my life, and I wouldn't want it any other way," Bertish, 42, told the New York Times before setting off on his journey, which took him and his team four years to plan. "I've been proving people wrong all of my life. But I've always wanted to push the boundaries because that's where the magic happens."
Bertish's SUP, of course, isn't your typical board. The $120,000, Phil Morrison-designed craft is more like a stand-up boat that has a watertight compartment that allows him to completely sit upright and stretch out for sleep and rest. The vessel also contains weather forecasting equipment, locater and GPS systems, water storage bladders and anchors. Two sets of solar panels will juice on-board batteries and the electronics.
The design is meant to protect Bertish from capsizing, an unfortunate incident which happened to Frenchman Nicolas Jarossay, who was the previous person who tried to SUP across the Atlantic earlier this year. Jarossay's attempt ended only hours after taking off.
"A key reason for placing the main cabin forward is the that it helps the craft self-right faster, more effectively than any other production boat on the market. The natural shape of the craft on the waterline lends itself to being wider in the forward section of the hull," Bertish's team said about the craft. "As a result, this is where most of the volume exists and by placing a cabin here, it enhances buoyancy to produce a more effective self-righting moment. Moreover, forward placement protects you from headwinds with a superior aerodynamic profile as well as providing easier control downwind. A center plate to aid straight line tracking improves capability even further."
The designers say that the board has a zero percent carbon footprint, to boot.
Bertish is highly aware that the journey will be long, treacherous and a true test of mental and physical endurance. As the Times describes:
"The first five days, as he becomes accustomed to the paddleboard and fights to avoid being blown back to land, will be the hardest, he said—90 percent of the challenge, in fact, by his estimate.
"Once at sea, Bertish can expect to battle rough seas, sun exposure and tricky tides and currents, as well as unforeseen obstacles. He had been waiting weeks in Morocco for the perfect window of weather conditions to begin, and on Tuesday, he concluded that it had arrived.
"Hoping to use the tides and weather conditions to his benefit, Bertish plans to paddle about 30 miles a day—mostly at night, to avoid exposure to the sun—for more than 120 days. On a typical day, Bertish said, he will alternate between resting and paddling every two or three hours. He will continuously hydrate and will nourish himself with protein shakes, freeze-dried meals with endurance additives, and salty jerky to replenish the electrolytes he will lose through sweating."
For entertainment, Bertish has his guitar and an onboard music player to play favorites like Eddie Vedder, Creed, INXS and Johnny Clegg. He also has eight recordings from his mental coach when he needs the encouragement. And in case you're wondering, to relieve himself, "the ocean is a terrific sustainable toilet," he told the Times.
Bertish is already besting his predecessor. Forty-eight hours after taking off, he posted onto Facebook that he was already 60 miles in open waters.
"It was a pretty tough 36-48 hours and now I am out into the big blue," he wrote. "Not exactly the right weather conditions to get me down to the Canaries. We wanted to build enough sea room and a buffer from land so that getting shipwrecked on land was not an option. Last night I had to jump in the water to get my para-anchor off my rudder and it looks like it's doing the same right now. I was taking a break to check systems and there were a couple of glitches along the way that I needed to sort out, but we are doing it!"
Bertish's current whereabouts can be tracked live on his website and on social media. The journey will also raise funds for his selected charities—Signature of Hope Trust, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile.
"This has been a 4-year project in the making and lifetime of preparation and I'm ready," he said in a release. "My specialized SUP craft is incredible, I have an amazing team behind me, supporting me from land and an unbelievable support from friends and people all around the world for this incredible journey, which is going to change the lives of millions of children in Africa, which is what will keep driving and inspiring me right till the end."