Inside The Ride: The SUP That Crossed the Atlantic

All photos: Jason Pickering

Inside The Ride: The SUP That Crossed The Atlantic

w/ Chris Bertish

Age: 42
Hometown: Kommetjie, South Africa

On March 9, Chris Bertish stroked into Antigua's English Harbour as the first person to successfully standup paddle across the Atlantic Ocean. He spent 93 days alone at sea and took over two million paddle strokes to cover an unbelievable 4,050 nautical miles from shore to shore. Bertish endured severe storms, equipment failures, shark encounters, brutally unfavorable winds and huge swells. In this special edition of Inside the Ride, we take a detailed look at the craft and equipment that helped Bertish accomplish this historic feat. —JH

"ImpiFish" custom paddleboard. Four feet wide and 20 feet long, this custom-built SUP designed by naval architect Phil Morrison took four months and nearly $100,000 to build. The ImpiFish weighed 1,350 pounds unloaded and combined design elements of both standup paddleboards and open-ocean rowboats with proven success in transatlantic crossings. Key components of the craft included the ability to self-right when capsized, a rudder system complete with back-ups in case of failure, a watertight cabin on the nose and food-storage compartments below deck.

Solar panels. To charge all the electronic systems on the ImpiFish, including his communication devices, water desalinator and navigation instruments, Bertish harnessed the power of the sun. One solar panel above the cabin on the nose and two on the tail were expected to produce an impressive 200 watts of power. But, cloud cover and other issues led to the solar panels charging slower than expected, which caused problems and forced him to improvise by paddling at different angles to the sun and cutting any superfluous charging.

Cockpit. Equipped with harnesses to hold both his equipment and himself in place, the cockpit was Bertish's sanctuary from storms as well as his sleeping quarters. Space was limited; the cabin was three inches shorter than Bertish and barely shoulder-width. Despite the cramped quarters, he stored his most important items here: communication and navigation equipment; repair and first-aid kits; charging units; laptop; hard drive; battery bank; GoPros; and more. And it leaked. Bertish added silicone to the hatches and applied Vaseline to hatch covers and threads to slow the leak.

Communication systems. Bertish used an Inmarsat satellite phone on an almost daily basis to communicate with his support team, including his weather forecaster and routing specialist. To avoid other vessels, he used Echomax Radar Reflector to amplify his craft's signal and an AIS (a system similar to radar), which gave him information about the other vessels location and bearing. He also had VHF radios inside and outside the cockpit. To stay in touch with his fans, Bertish used a BGAN Inmarsat System to connect to the Internet.

Para-anchor. This is a parachute-like device that would be deployed underwater in severe weather. During volatile conditions, Bertish used this all-important anchor to maintain his position into the weather.

Steering devices. Bertish began the journey with three different steering systems; all failed within the first three weeks. He jury-rigged his own systems to keep the craft pointed in the right direction and also used an auto-helm system to steer while he slept. This system often failed too and left Bertish no choice but to paddle.

Food. Bertish consumed approximately 8,000 calories a day to sustain his daily 10- to 15-hour paddles. His meals were divvied into 95 daily ration packs that were duct taped together in a ziplock bag. These packs included three Travellunch freeze dried meals (per day) in addition to an assortment of other snacks including mixed nuts, energy bars, beef jerky, chocolate, mashed potato packs and hydration mixes. Bertish heated his water with a Jetboil.

Water desalinator. Bertish made drinking water with a solar-powered desalination unit that turned seawater into fresh water via reverse osmosis. This system used a ton of energy, so while he was supposed to make seven to 12 liters each day, power issues and rough seas only allowed him to make five to six. Making five liters of water took about 40 minutes.

Four Ke Nalu paddles. Although Bertish didn't break any, you can never have too many backups.

Leash. Bertish used multiple safety systems and wore a climbing safety harness that was tethered to the craft at all times. In particularly bad weather, Bertish would also wear a 9mm Stay Covered big-wave leash.

This article is the Inside the Ride feature from our 2017 Gear Guide, on newsstands this month! Check back with supthemag.com next week for the full behind-the-scenes story from Chris Bertish’s transatlantic SUP crossing.