22 January 2008
Only about 300 people have rowed the 2 500 nautical miles covered in the Atlantic Rowing Race – roughly one-fifth the number of people who have reached the top of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.
South Africans Bill Godfrey and Peter van Kets have now not only completed the trans-Atlantic crossing; when they rowed into English Harbour in Antigua in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it was as the winners in the pairs division of the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race.
The event began on 2 December 2007 from San Sebastian, La Gomera in the Canary Islands.
After 51 days at sea in their seven-metre boat, Gquma Challenger – “gquma” in isiXhosa means the roar of a lion, or the sound of a breaking wave – the two East Londoners completed their epic voyage, second only to the fours boat Pura Vida, which crossed the finish line in first place overall on Saturday.
Godfrey and Van Kets were made to fight all the way for their pairs victory, however. After 2 552 nautical miles (4 726 kilometres), they finished only 20 miles ahead of their nearest rival, No Fear, rowed by Britain’s Jon Csehi and Nick Histon.
Apart from the distance, most of the challenges were predictable, such as having to contend with varying weather conditions, including storms that resulted in big seas.
Some of the challenges were predetermined by the race rules that prohibited any assistance whatsoever, with disqualification the punishment for those receiving outside help.
All food and drinking supplies, including a desalinator to produce drinking water, had to be carried on board the 7.1 by 1.9 metre boats, which were purposely built for the race.
On board, they carried a satellite phone, a laptop computer for monitoring weather patterns, and other sophisticated instruments.
There was not much that could be done, though, to prepare for the company of flying fish, one of which gave Godfrey a big smack on his head!
A visit to the Gquma website’s blog reveals messages of congratulations: “Simply the Best” is the title of one, while another reads “A stunning achievement”, and another “You are the champions, champions of the world”.
With Antigua six hours behind South Africa, an increasing number of congratulatory messages are sure to be posted on the website.
Both Godfrey and Van Kets brought strong pedigrees into the race, although nothing they had previously done could have prepared them for task they faced.
Godfrey was previously a member of the South African national rowing squad. He lived in the United Kingdom for some time and while there competed at Henley and other major UK events.
On the Team Gquma website, he explained why he decided to take on the Atlantic Rowing Race, saying: “It’s there and it has to be done.”
In good stead
Van Kets, a relative newcomer to ocean rowing, has a background in kayaking and surf ski racing, which stood him in good stead for the Atlantic crossing.
He twice contested the 255 kilometre Port Elizabeth to East London Surf Ski Challenge, which gave him some idea about the demanding test he and Godfrey would face.
The last words about Godfrey in his profile on the website read: “He will do everything in his power to prove his worth and make South Africa proud”.
Having won the race with Van Kets, Godfrey and his partner have both proved their worth and made South Africa proud.