Why pay the bank-crushing flight fare to New York when you can simply jump in your canoe and row there? Well, for one thing, you would have to be as mad as a bat in a belfry, and secondly you might have to revise your itinerary slightly as it might take a tad longer than you had originally planned.
This didn’t put Riaan Manser off, however, nor his partner, and they completed the world-first westward journey in six gruelling months that put their stamina, nerves, endurance and, if I had to wager a guess, relationship to the ultimate test!
This isn’t the first project of Manser’s that might seem slightly psychotic to you and me. In 2003 he circumnavigated the entire African continent…on a bicycle. When he pedalled out of Cape Town to begin the 36 500 km through 34 countries, his intention was to use this journey to generate local and international awareness of the often appalling standard of living in Africa, as well as to nourish his lust for African adventure. In his bestselling book, Around Africa on my Bicycle, he describes how he negotiated the Saharan and Libyan deserts, was kidnapped by drugged-up Liberian rebels, got thrown in jail by hostile Equatorial Guinea border police, and other such delights.
His two-year African bike ride generated so much awareness and positive feedback, including earning him Adventurer of the Year in 2006, that he decided to embark on another somewhat bonkers endeavour: kayaking around Madagascar. It was in 2009 when he set out on his kayak, again alone and unaided, to set another world first of paddling 5 000 km around the world’s fourth largest island. Incidentally this was also a period during which the country was plunged in political turmoil and Manser was again imprisoned for a number of days on suspicion of carrying out mercenary activities. Other trials included the physical strain of rowing pretty much all day every day, bad weather and currents, unreceptive wildlife, and the like. He published his second book, Around Madagascar on my Kayak, and it was again very well received.
In 2011 he upped the ante when he and a friend, Dan Skinstad, circumnavigated Iceland. In his third book, Around Iceland on Inspiration, he describes the dire tribulations they had had to endure in the arctic waters around Iceland over the 2 300 km, five-month, downright heroic journey. A voyage which he depicts as ‘an epic saga of team work and self-discovery’.
However, Manser’s most trying adventure to date would only kick off in December 2013 when he and girlfriend Vasti paddled out of Morocco in a 6.9 m rowing boat headed for New York. When Vasti had innocently asked her explorer-cum-adventure junkie boyfriend if they could have a holiday in Manhattan, she should probably have envisaged that they would not be travelling there via any conventional means.