Rowing across the Atlantic, solo!

South African Peter van Kets is about to begin rowing across the Atlantic, solo. He won the Woodvale Challenge two years ago, with Bill Godfrey. He’s now aiming to do it solo and going for the record. The race starts Sunday, 6 December 2009.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Peter to get a bit of a profile on him. I’ve been building a website to represent South Africa’s adventurers and their expeditions – it isn’t online yet ‘cos I’m still messing with it and collecting content. I’m also still deciding exactly what to do with it.

In the interim, here’s the profile I wrote on Peter. You can follow his progress through the event website (link above) and his personal websites (links below).

Birthday: 2 September 1966

Website:, (for 2009 Atlantic Rowing Race)

As a full-time adventurer and motivational speaker, Peter takes advantage of the ocean environment that his home town of East London offers. He is married to Kim and they have a four-year old daughter, Hannah.

Although he rowed across with Atlantic, Peter’s favourite sporting disciplines are paddling and surfski. Yes, left-right-left-right forward progression with a paddle vs sculling with oars with your back facing your destination. Good friend Cliff Coombe, Peter’s shore manager for the 2009 Atlantic Rowing Race, introduced him to paddling (in 1996). Peter has since paddled SA’s major races, like Dusi, Fish and Berg and featured in a number of sea kayaking documentaries. Rowing? That came later. Bill Godfrey taught him to row, specifically for the Atlantic Rowing Race. When not on the water, Peter rock climbs and surfs.

Winning the 2007 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race is Peter’s proudest sporting achievement. “Ja, that was a big one – most definitely,” he says. His silver SA Canoe Marathon medal is another hard-earned achievement of which he is proud.

Food is a crucial to an expedition’s success. Freeze-dried meals give Peter power and he can eat them day after day without retching. “I pretty much just get on with it,” he says. “I don’t sit there wishing I had a hamburger. Sure, it isn’t like normal food at home, but it is fine especially if you have enough variety in the flavours.” The Chicken Tikka meal rocks Peter’s boat: “I like spicy food”.

Peter really enjoyed reading Riaan Manser’s book, ‘Around Africa on my bicycle’.

Out in the ocean, encounters with people other than imaginary friends are rare. He’ll have to save his German, picked up as a child growing up in Windhoek, and Hebrew, learned studying for a year in Israel, language skills for when he reaches shore.

He does sing ‘Row, row, row your boat‘ to himself. He also sings other songs for which he knows the tune but not the words. “I use whatever comes to mind and it usually turns out quite funny,” he confesses.

Peter isn’t very material-possession orientated, but if his house was burning down he’d make a grab for irreplaceable items like his the photographs of family, friends and places that document his life – that is after saving his family and cat.


Although Peter has done a number of sea kayaking expeditions, like from Tanzania to Pemba, for documentaries, he is most well-known for his 2007 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race victory, with Bill Godfrey. They completed the race from the Canary Islands to the West Indies in 50 days 12hrs and 15 minutes.


On 6 December 2009, Peter sets off on his own to row solo across the Atlantic in the 2009 Woodvale Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race. This expedition is expected to take him up to 70 days to complete. Looking ahead to the more distant future of 2011, Peter plans to circumnavigate the Tropic of Capricorn by kayak, trekking, cycling, paragliding and rowing.

Peter is the BRAND AMBASSADOR for CapeStorm, New Balance, Garmin and Suunto. Liberty is his SPONSOR for the 2009 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race.

* Image from Peter’s website

1 Comment

  1. Realising your dreams by such great expeditions as the transatlantic solo row is very inspiring. Well done! Your survival pod looks awesome! My wife and I were driving to the Knysna marathon and saw your boat being towed on a trailer. At the time I guessed it was for some hectic adventure, and subsequently discovered it was for sure! Looking forward to reading your book and watching the documentary.

    Where to next…?

Comments are closed.