By the numbers: a SUP trip across the Atlantic
© Brian Overfelt
Chris Bertish left Africa on a paddleboard and arrived in the Caribbean 93 days later. Here’s how.
South African waterman Chris Bertish recently completed the adventure of a lifetime – a human-powered solo trip across the Atlantic on a (modified) stand-up paddle board. An incredible feat of both human willpower, physical endurance, intricate planning and a little bit of luck.
The story has spread even further than Chris has paddled, garnering media interest all over the globe. We decided to dig a little deeper into the numbers and find some of the most fascinating data points of Chris’s trip.
93 – Days on the water
Chris’s original mission was to paddle from Morocco to Florida – a distance of 4,600 miles. But bad weather slowed him down and forced him south – so he made a new destination: Antigua.
15 – Hours a day paddling
Or rather, per 24-hour period. Chris actually paddled mostly at night to reduce exposure from the sun – but he still clocked in an average of 15 hours a day paddling.
700kg – The weight of his craft
The 6m board alone weighed 350kg, and an extra 350kg of food and other supplies – plus, Chris himself. Total? Approaching 700kg that Chris would have to push across the entire Atlantic, using only a paddle as power.
Big smiles as he approaches the finish
6m – How big the board was
Chris’s custom-made SUP took cues from rowboats built to cross the Atlantic (although those usually have crews of four.) Inside the cabin to protect him from the elements, he had a full nav station to give him the numbers and facts he needed – coordinates from a chart plotter, with speed, direction, distance, depth, waypoints and a complete navigation bouquet – and of course, radar and radio. Oh yeah, there’s the bilge pump, water purifier, navigation lighting and solar power and battery banks to charge it all.
16m – How big his board looked on radar
I had an ‘EchoMax’, which essentially amplifies the signal of my craft from a radar perspective. if I ping on the radar of a big tanker, it makes my little 6m board show up like 16m fishing yacht – not a tiny little SUP craft no one can see. In the first three weeks I spend a ton of time on the radio – but by the time I got through the Canaries, I was much more comfortable.
A hero’s welcome at home in Cape Town
3x – The level of redundancy
Every mission-critical system on the boat had two different sets of back-ups, creating a triple redundancy in case of system failure. Good thing too.
5.3 – Litres of water a day
System failures did happen. The battery banks not charging meant he had to cut down to basic systems and ration down – for instance, running his water purifier less often. “I had to teach my body to operate on just 5.3 litres of a water a day, even though I was doing the equivalent of an Ironman,” says Chris. “Any sports doctor will tell you that you need over a litre per hour for the time you’re exercising, and I was running on less than half. You can teach your body to do incredible things as long as it has an end goal.”
Not gonna need that safety flare any more!
80 – Kilograms of freeze dried food
Chris packed for 95 days on the water – yep, basically astronaut food for three straight months.
3 – Meals a day (and lots of snacks)
Just over a third of a litre was used to hydrate his freeze-dried food. He’d prepare a re-hydrated meal three times a day, then top off with 200g of biltong, a bite of chocolate and electrolyte powder/recovery shake mixed with water once a day. “It was a pretty scientific approach to nutrition,” says Chris. “I’ve been fortunate to have done this stuff before, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot from that – and applied it to this project.”
15kg – Bodyweight lost
Chris knew he would lose plenty of weight over the course of the trip. That’s why he started at his most bulked-up, over 80kgs. He weighed approximately 65kg when he finished (yes, including that epic beard). His plan now? Get back up to ‘fighting weight’ around 72kg.
2 – Different paddles
One of the issues of the trip? As Chris consumed food over the course of the trip, the boat would get lighter – meaning the waterline would change. That’s why he brought two different paddle shafts – one long, one short.
1 – Scary encounter
With a marine animal of significant size. Says Chris: “I had countless encounters with sharks and other marine life, but one stands out: my parachute anchor caught something big. I was too far out to see to catch the bottom, and it couldn’t have been a fishing net because it was pulling me against the waves – only possibility was a whale... or a giant squid!”
His family are happy to have him back
2 – Hamburgers per day, now that he’s done
"I'm just craving protein right now," says Chris. "So I'm downing a couple burgers a day."
6 million – Amount of money raised (in South African Rand)
That’s how much the project has raised for three charities – Signature of Hope, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile – helping to build schools, feed kids and provide medical care for kids in Chris’s native South Africa – with hopefully more on the way.
What's up next for Chris? He says he's got a big adventure planned... in four or five years. Hey, you paddle across the Atlantic and you'll need some time off.