Riaan and Vasti Manser with their son, James. The family enjoyed the Hermanus sunshine last Friday as they celebrated Vasti’s birthday at Creation Wines, The Wine Glass and the Windsor Hotel. Photo: Taylum Meyer.

When you take your girlfriend on an 11 000 km rowing trip across the Atlantic ocean to get to know each other better, consecrate your marriage by rowing from California to Hawaii, and consider “us time” to be a 100 km bike ride with a stop halfway for breakfast, then celebrating your wife’s birthday with a leisurely overnight trip to Hermanus might seem anti-climatic.

But for the internationally-known adventurers, Riaan and Vasti Manser, this was exactly the family time they needed.

Their celebratory outing started last Friday with a romantic morning picnic on the beach that Riaan organised, followed by a trip up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley for a late lunch at Creation Wines to experience their Fynarts tasting menu. After checking into the Windsor Hotel, the couple went for a quiet dinner and a wine tasting at The Wine Glass. For Saturday morning, a trip to the Hermanus Country Market was planned so that James, their one-year-old son, could enjoy a ride on the kid’s train.  

The Mansers row into New York City on 20 June 2014 after a 172-day expedition that started in Agadir, Morocco. Photo: www.riaanmanser.co.za.

Although they live in Betty’s Bay, Riaan readily acknowledges that, like many locals, he and Vasti don’t spend enough time getting to know the region they have called home for the past 12 years. For them, this two-day birthday celebration was about going to places they had not been to before and getting to know their “neighbours” better.

“How many of us book even one night away and act like tourists in our own region?” asks Riaan.

“Besides the picture-perfect weather these two days, I loved Creation’s duck paté. And the vibe and concept of The Wine Glass. Tasting world-class wines without opening 100 wines. That’s a no-brainer if you love wine,” says Vasti.

The “First” Couple – Riaan and Vasti Manser

  • Riaan was the first person to circumnavigate the coast of Africa by bicycle, a distance of 37 000 km, through 34 countries over two years and two months (September 2003 – November 2006).
  • Riaan was the first person to kayak around Madagascar alone and unaided, a distance of 5 000 km (August 2008 – July 2009).
  • Riaan, along with rowing partner Dan Skinstad, were the first to kayak around Iceland, a distance of 2 300 km (March – September 2011).
  • Vasti and Riaan were the first to row across the Atlantic from Africa, a journey which they completed alone and unaided. They started from Agadir, Morocco and arrived in New York City.  Along the way, they stopped off at the Canary Islands, Bahamas and Miami (December 2013 – June 2014).
  • Vasti was the first woman from Africa to row across any ocean (December 2013 – June 2014).

When Riaan isn’t in the throes of his next big adventure, he spends a lot of his time elsewhere in South Africa, at the office in Somerset West and, sometimes, abroad. Nevertheless, they choose to make Betty’s Bay their home. “We like the quality of life here. We love the freedom of cycling wherever we want. We love surfing and fishing (I’m a keen fisherman). In Betty’s Bay you have a strong contrast of winters and the summers, the scorching sun and the bitter winds,” he says.  

“There is something special about living where the mountains touch the ocean,” he adds.  

Being away, however glamorous it may seem, has its drawbacks. During the fires that ravaged many parts of Betty’s Bay, Vasti, who is a practising junior counsel of the Cape Bar, was by herself while Riaan was, literally, in the middle of the ocean.

Riaan enjoys the ocean with the family pet pig.

“It’s actually not the first time we have had a close call with a fire in Betty’s Bay and Riaan was not there. Obviously, it’s very stressful. We have four dogs, four cats and a 100 kg potbelly pig. My biggest concern was getting all our animals to safety. I didn’t even think about our possessions. For me to lure our pig into the car without Riaan’s help would have been impossible,” says Vasti.

Right now, Riaan is in the midst of editing and post-production work on The Odyssey, a documentary on the two-month, 5 500 km row from the Canary Islands to Barbados that he completed in February with novice Fanafikile Lehakha, a Soweto resident.

Although Fanafikile didn’t know how to swim, he was chosen from over 15 000 applicants, whittled down to 50, with 10 going through a short boot camp. An effective one-week swimming crash-course and Fanafikile was ready for the journey of his life.

Riaan believes that the Odyssey concept is powerful and is keen to have someone from outside South Africa chosen for the next adventure. “There is a yearning for people to find their own space,” he points out, before adding, “I’ve realised that my job isn’t about adventure. It is to be an inspiration.”

The Odyssey is expected to air in November 2019 on DStv. Check your guide to confirm.  If you want to learn more about Riaan Manser, visit his website www.riaanmanser.com


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