Chris Bertish, a South African big-wave surfer and sailor, just paddled a standup surfboard across the Atlantic, unassisted, in 93 days. He started his 4,050-mile journey on December 6, 2016, setting out from Agadir, Morocco, and paddled, triumphant, into Antigua’s English Bay on March 9. He broke multiple records along the way: first to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic on a paddle board and longest distance paddled solo across open ocean in a 24-hour period: 71.96 nautical miles.
Bertish did most of his paddling at night to help minimize sun exposure, and would typically cycle through two- to three-hour shifts of rest and hard work to maintain his energy. Though he averaged 44 miles a day throughout his journey, Bertish paddled 60 miles during his final push, on a cloudy, stormy day. It was fitting: the journey, predictably, was not a smooth one. Bertish battled storms, shark encounters, a torn rotator cuff, and a scary few weeks during which his craft consistently took on water. Needless to say, solid ground felt good.
At 20 feet and 1,350 pounds, Bertish’s custom-built paddleboard is far from your typical SUP. Designed by naval architect Phil Morrison, the primary concern was safety, and speed and comfort took a backseat during the build. A tiny watertight cabin sits at the front of the craft, and ports beneath the deck held Bertish’s water and food (primarily freeze-dried meals and jerky). Equipped with satellite weather-forecasting systems, GPS, and radios–Bertish did a few interviews mid-ocean and regularly updated social media followers on his progress–the craft, ImpiFish, is probably the best-outfitted SUP ever, but arguably the most bare-bones craft to ever make a solo ocean crossing.
Constructed to right itself easily if capsized, the small craft’s other major line of defense against rough waters is a para-anchor system that, when deployed, helps keep the craft balanced and in place. When weather got rough, Bertish would hole up in the tiny cabin–which allows him to sit upright–and ride out the storm with the help of the anchor, which operates much like an underwater parachute.
His long history of managing big, unruly water–Bertish is an accomplished big wave surfer, past winner of the Mavericks surf competition, and held records for open-ocean paddling prior to his journey–equipped him well for managing not just the technical challenges presented by his improbable journey, but the mental challenges as well. During a mid-ocean interview with SUP Magazine, Bertish explained the way his diverse skills converged in this mission:
“I don’t consider this to be a SUP adventure anymore. It has become the ultimate waterman project, using all my knowledge from everything to do with my saving, my navigation, my surveying, my surfing and being comfortable in giant storms and big waves. Dealing with everything you could possibly imagine and more and still staying positive and proactive to get through it, one challenge at a time.”
Bertish dedicated his journey to three organizations, Signature of Hope Trust, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile, and fundraised $490,000 throughout his trip to help them carry our their humanitarian work.
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