Photograph by Riaan Manser
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Riaan (front) and Vasti Manser row their small boat on their transatlantic crossing in 2014.

Photograph by Riaan Manser

Long-Distance Rowers Spend Their Honeymoon on the High Seas

South African newlyweds Riaan and Vasti Manser will row from California to Hawaii—avoiding hurricanes, if possible—to celebrate their nuptials.

Some honeymooners chill in Cabo. Others lie on the beach in the Bahamas. South African newlyweds Riaan and Vasti Manser will be squeezed into a tiny rowboat, somewhere in the vast Pacific Ocean, and trying not to get on each other's nerves.

On their last transoceanic journey across the Atlantic in 2014, “we had a fight and didn’t speak for two days,” Vasti says.

“A big part of rowing, especially being in that small confined area, is the getting-along part,” Riaan adds.

The Mansers chose to spend their first blissful days as a married couple rowing 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor on Oahu, a strenuous task for even the most experienced mariners. But they are up to the challenge: Riaan was the first person to circumnavigate Iceland and Madagascar by kayak and Africa by bike unassisted, and Vasti, an attorney, is a convert to extreme adventure. Two years ago, they rowed the same boat 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers) from Morocco to New York City, in a six-month journey that made Vasti the first woman to row from mainland Africa to North America.

That trip was not without danger. At one point, Riaan was almost swept away from the boat thousands of miles from the nearest rescue, and Vasti went temporarily blind in one eye from the ocean’s glare.

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The couple in their boat's cabin, soon after launching their transatlantic voyage in 2014.

They’re hoping this voyage will be much less eventful. They’ve renamed their two-person vessel the Honeymoon, and it seems surprisingly petite for an oceanic journey—just 21 feet long by four feet wide (6.4 meters long by 1.2 meters wide). It’s hardly the kind of boat that inspires romance, but the couple will have their hands full with rowing, navigating, and fishing for dinner.

They plan a more traditional honeymoon once they arrive in Hawaii, with surfing, hiking, and eventually lounging on a beach drinking cocktails with tiny umbrellas. “We will drink champagne and celebrate,” Vasti says. “Last time we forgot to celebrate, but this time we won’t!”

We spoke with Riaan and Vasti in San Francisco, just a few days before their departure, to get the scoop on their upcoming expedition.

What made you decide to row to Hawaii for your honeymoon?

Riaan: I think the first thing I see is the achievement factor attached to our honeymoon. We know we're going to get to Hawaii. We just want to have that feeling of that grand achievement. If we sat around a table with our children one day, and we spoke about mom and dad's honeymoon—wow, our kids are going to be impressed! Also, we could have bought a sailing boat for the same cost.

What’s special about rowing for you?

Riaan: There is something very, very, very, very special about putting your foot onto that land, or even seeing the land for the first time, and knowing you rowed there with your physical body. You didn't put up one sail; it's just your power. Yes, you can get little sailboats and those things can fly; they can actually outrun a storm. But for us, we just have to deal with it. There's this feeling of accomplishment that is as if you took the sea on—you didn't win, but you managed to stick it out for one round.

What made you want to row long-distance again, after the hardships you faced on your transatlantic trip?

Vasti: I loved every minute of the trip to New York City. I am so excited for this trip. It’s our honeymoon, after all!

Riaan: Vasti's dad said to her, “Why do you want to do this again? Why would you? You know what it was like last time.” Vasti answered properly, “Who in the world would get this opportunity to do something grand like this? And then I'm actually going to say no to it?” She said that's not how our lives should be. When you get this grand gift handed to you, there's only one answer to it. The second thing is, Vasti said, if she's going to die, she'd rather die doing something like that than on her way to work.

Vasti: I wouldn't have done many things without him. On our first journey, in our first press conference, I was emotional, and I was crying. Not because I was scared; I was crying because I was so happy that he actually asked me to go with him, to experience that with him.

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The Mansers row out of Monterey harbor in California on their way to Hawaii. Their Pacific voyage will take about eight weeks.

What are some of the challenges you expect this time, crossing the Pacific?

Riaan: The hurricanes coming from the south, especially this time of year along the lateral line off the Mexican border. Those winds go 18 or 19 knots [21 to 22 miles an hour]. If we’re caught by one of those we’re in big trouble.

What will an average day look like?

Riaan: We’ll get up early, have coffee and breakfast and then we will row for two to three hours, have a snack, lunch, then row for a few more hours. Then one day a week we try to time it with bad weather, but one day a week we will take off, watch movies, read, and rest in the cabin. We are pretty strict, but won’t be as strict as last time.

Do you have other expeditions in the works, or is this the last one for now?

Vasti: I think when we finish, we’ll definitely say, “That’s the last one, I’m never going to climb back in a boat!” But then time progresses, and you think, oh, there’s another opportunity to go. Now, if we make this one, I’m thinking that I might feel like doing another ocean, like the Indian. but I don’t know. We’ll see when we get back!