The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir


Adventure Travel

Apr 26, 2017

South African Duo Nears Completion of Trans-Atlantic Rowing Expedition

Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson want you to “Do One Thing”—anything—no matter how small, to improve the state of our planet.


Michael Levy

To inspire people to action, they decided to do one thing as well, only theirs was considerably bigger: They endeavoured to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town to Rio De Janeiro.

UPDATE: On the morning of May 9, South Africans Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson glided into port at Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club, thereby concluding their trans-Atlantic Cape-to-Rio rowing expedition. Their 8,200-kilometer journey lasted 92 days and required approximately two million strokes. On a bluebird Brazilian day, the duo was greeted by well-wishers, media and government representatives from South Africa, all offering congratulations on their improbable feat. To view video of Malherbe and Robertson’s arrival in Rio, click here.

On March 9, when South African Chris Bertish arrived in Antigua and became the first person to stand-up paddleboard across the Atlantic, solo and unsupported, another industrious South African was approximately one month into a similarly huge world-record attempt. Braam Malherbe had left Cape Town on February 7, along with partner Wayne Robertson, with the goal of becoming the first team to row from South Africa to Rio De Janerio, Brazil. If successful, their crossing would also be the southern-most rowing expedition ever completed in the Atlantic Ocean.

And so, for the past two-and-a-half months, Braam and Wayne have been rowing their small boat, the Mhondoro, day and night.  The Outdoor Journal caught up with Braam on April 18, his and Wayne’s 71st consecutive day at sea. They were about 1000 kilometers shy of the Brazilian coast, but had deployed their parachute anchor for the day as the currents and winds were pushing them back eastward. Once finished, they will have rowed some 6,700 kilometers.

Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson heading out to sea on their boat, the Mhondoro. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.
Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson heading out to sea on their boat, the Mhondoro. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.

After that long at sea, Braam and Wayne were feeling pretty worked. “Between physical and mental fatigue, and sleep deprivation, you lose it a bit,” Braam explained. But despite having faced considerable adversity, they remain positive, their spirits constantly buoyed by the knowledge that they are rowing for an important cause, perhaps the most important there is.

“DOT. Do One Thing,” Braam said. “The DOT Challenge is an app we launched that we want to get millions of people using—like a Facebook for the planet.” The goal is to get people to start changing behaviours that are detrimental to the environment. The campaign focuses on four main issues: water, waste, conservation (of all species), and energy.

How does rowing across an ocean get people to take shorter showers? Or turn off the faucet when they’re shaving? Or any one of the other “one things” Braam has in mind? “This row is a catalyst to show that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” he said. “And more importantly, we can do amazing things if we all pull together.”

It is a lofty goal, no doubt. But just as each stroke propels Braam and Wayne’s vessel closer to Rio, each “one thing” done by those to help the planet moves us in the right direction.

Wayne Robertson (left) and Braam Malherbe (right). Photo: Braam Malherbe collection.
Wayne Robertson (left) and Braam Malherbe (right). Photo: Braam Malherbe collection.

Braam is an Honorary Game Ranger in South Africa and sees the plight of the rhino as a perfect encapsulation of the environmental challenges facing the world. “The hunting of rhinos symbolises two things for me,” he said. “Greed on one hand, and ignorance on the other. And the human racewe can no longer live in a world of consumption and greed at an unprecedented rate.”

The two rowers have ample time to contemplate big issues and questions on their journey, as most of their time is occupied with simply grinding out stroke after stroke. They take turns: one rows for two hours, while the other sleeps, cooks and communicates with their land-based support team.

When they’re not rowing, they’re liable to be dealing with snafus of all shapes and sizes. “The boat has capsized four times,” Braam said. “Once in a 40-foot wave. Completely upside down, hatch closed, for a full five minutes.”

In one of the capsize episodes, Braam’s trip nearly came to a scary end. As the boat rolled upside down, Braam and Wayne were spun from one side of the cabin to the other. Somewhere in the chaos Braam broke his rib. “Very difficult rowing for a week,” he remembered. “And I still feel the remnants of it a month-and-a-half later.”

While it’s not the first mega-endurance challenge Braam has undertaken—he previously ran all 2,610 miles of the Great Wall of China in a single push, and ran along the whole South African coastline—it may be the most challenging. Beyond the sleep deprivation and capsizing, other difficulties include maintaining morale amidst the “bland views of ocean, ocean, ocean;” procuring enough potable water with their emergency water pump after their higher-tech, more efficient one blew up after only a few days at sea; and avoiding the path of supertankers, which they have several times come perilously close to colliding with.

Braam and Wayne leaving port in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.
Braam and Wayne leaving port in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.

While the end of the trans-Atlantic voyage is in sight, Braam sees it as just the beginning of the DOT Challenge. He hopes the app reaches millions of individuals. And he’s already got his next crazy, endurance project lined up: In 2018, Braam and Peter van Kets will embark on a “15-month circumnavigation of the globe along the Tropic of Capricorn, using only non-motorised means.”

It’ll be a wild adventure, but if he can get enough people to start doing those “Silly, little, tiny, teeny, insignificant things that if millions of people do themlike the movie Pay it Forwardthen we can change the world.”

Check back at The Outdoor Journal for updates on Braam and Wayne’s journey. To learn more about the DOT Challenge, visit the campaign’s website at www.thedotfoundation.org.


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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."



The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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