Mother and son team to pedal across the Atlantic

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The Atlantic Project mother-and-son team of David du Plessis and Robyn Wolff are aiming to cross the south Atlantic on a pedal-powered boat(Credit: David du Plessis)

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With the goal of drawing attention to the mass extinction of species caused by human activity, a mother-and-son team from South Africa is aiming to cross the south Atlantic on a customized boat powered solely with a pedal system. Experienced adventurer Davey du Plessis (27), a raw vegan environmentalist, author and speaker, will lead the 6,450-km (4,008-mi) crossing that is expected to launch in late November, weather permitting. His mother, Robyn Wolff (50), who is also vegan, will be on the boat pedaling with him.

Called the Atlantic Project, the unsupported crossing is estimated to last between 90 and 150 days. Du Plessis explains in his blog that he chose the pedal boat after looking into how ocean crossing rowboats worked. He concluded it would not be the best way to venture into the rough waters of the Atlantic.

"Not only did a pedal boat seem as having the most efficient propulsion system, it also allowed me to have a cockpit within the boat and cover from the elements, meaning that I wasn't exposed to the unforgiving ocean conditions," he says.

He approached American naval architect Dudley Vix to design a customized boat, which was built over a period of two years by his uncle Tertius du Plessis, an experienced yacht builder in Knysna (SA). Christened Vakita after an endangered porpoise in the Gulf of Mexico, it was built to endure the adverse oceanic conditions and self-right itself in the event of a capsize.

In his ongoing effort to maintain environmental credibility, du Plessis did painstaking research to find sustainable materials for the boat's construction. The best he could come up, which in his view is still not ideal, was a Forest Stewardship Council certified marine plywood that came from France. With the wood in hand, he found a plant-based epoxy from USA by manufacturers EcoPoxy.

The crossing will be the first human-powered one to depart from South African shores and the third pedal boat to ever attempt an ocean crossing (we have previously written about an attempt to go from Canada to Hawaii). Departing from Cape Town headed for Rio de Janeiro in the coming weeks, it will be the first time a team of two has crossed the South Atlantic east to west under human power from continent to continent non-stop.

Du Plessis adds that he is funding the expedition with his own money to avoid the trappings of corporate sponsoring and greenwashing. He and his mother will also be making the trek without any support craft providing backup.

Mass Extinction

On his project page, du Plessis says that, by 2050, between 30 and 50 percent of all species will face extinction as they are currently disappearing at 100 to 1,000 times the normal background rate.

"We are living in a time where we are seeing the extinction of species so great that it rivals the extinction of the dinosaurs," he tells Gizmag. "But unlike the dinosaurs being wiped out by a meteor, humans have now taken the reins and are driving extinction through our industrial development, agriculture, over-population, consumption, hunting and destruction of natural ecosystems. It's a sobering reality of human neglect, exploitation and destruction of the natural world."

The Atlantic Project will be his third expedition, having previously cycled across Africa in 2011 and navigated the Amazon River in 2012, when he was attacked and shot in the jungle. He tells the story in his book Choosing To Live.

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