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article imageDefying virus, Latvian ocean rower plans next adventure

By Imants LIEPINSH (AFP)     Aug 5, 2020 in Travel

After spending 140 days rowing across the ocean without seeing another human being, Latvian adventurer Karlis Bardelis has some valuable tips for those learning to cope with coronavirus lockdowns.

Bardelis started his nearly two-year journey in Peru in July 2018, reaching French Polynesia after nearly five months and finishing in Malaysia in June of this year.

Along the way, he was rammed by sharks off Papua New Guinea, had to use a battery to replace a lost anchor and faced some near misses with other boats.

His longest stretch on the open sea without seeing anyone lasted nearly five months.

"If we can't change the circumstances, we can change our attitudes towards them," he told AFP in his native Latvia, having spent two weeks in mandatory quarantine upon return from Malaysia.

"A lot of people asked me if I didn't lose my mind or become insane," said the 35-year-old, adding: "No, I just enjoy it, because that's what I choose to do."

Pictured here in a rented kayak  Bardelis' epic ocean journey was in a seven-metre plywood boat...
Pictured here in a rented kayak, Bardelis' epic ocean journey was in a seven-metre plywood boat, with no engine and no sails
Gints Ivuskans, AFP

Bardelis documented his epic 26,000-kilometre (16,155-mile) journey on his Bored of Borders Facebook page.

He rowed up to 13 hours a day to make his way from South America to Asia with no engine and no sails on his seven-metre plywood boat, plastered with sponsor decals.

Reaching two metres at its widest point, the row boat is equipped only with a small cabin for sleeping and storing supplies and equipment.

His trip from Peru to Malaysia was documented on the website oceanrowing.com and is believed to be the first of its kind.

"I'm 200 percent certain that I made the first solo rowboat trip from South America to Southeast Asia," Bardelis said.

- Around the world -

Stops along the way connected the economics and environmental sciences graduate with the people of Tuvalu, French Polynesia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, among others.

Bardelis said that wherever he showed up, looking like a latter-day Viking, with blue eyes, long blond hair and an ample beard, locals were invariably welcoming.

In Indonesia, they helped him haul his boat ashore and to scrape barnacles and shells off the hull.

Bardelis made stops along the way  meeting up with locals  including on Sulawesi island  Indonesia
Bardelis made stops along the way, meeting up with locals, including on Sulawesi island, Indonesia
Karlis Bardelis, Karlis Bardelis/AFP

Despite having spent most of his time alone at sea, Bardelis said he never felt lonely.

"The ocean is full of life: I wasn't alone, but rather together with birds, fish, whales," he said, adding that podcasts and audiobooks, downloaded while at port, also helped.

The Pacific crossing was not his first epic sea journey: in 2016, Bardelis rowed with a friend across the Atlantic from Namibia to Brazil.

He later crossed South America on a tandem bicycle with his then-girlfriend, before beginning his solo row from Peru.

Bardelis said that his ultimate goal was to return to his boat in Malaysia, once the monsoon season has passed, and begin rowing again to reach Namibia and so circumnavigate the globe powered only by his body.

"It would be easy to pull up a sail, but I love rowing, and using sails would feel like cheating, even if only to myself," he said.

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