Mid-ocean equipment failure has silver lining for famous paddler


Everything was on track.  135km a day with the wind at his back and a favourable ocean current. Richard Kohler was in paddling heaven on his way to a sub-70 day Atlantic crossing in his custom kayak. “I was getting into the swing of things,” recalls Richard, who had also overcome three days of seasickness during the first week of his odyssey.  “We were getting down to an ETA of possibly 60 days.”

However Mother Nature had another itinerary. Richard discovered his vessel’s main solar panel had stopped charging the battery, leaving him way down the proverbial creek with barely a paddle and zero charge to power the desalinator and communication systems. Eight days from Cape Town and Richard realised he had to turn around and head back to the hard. “I’m bitterly, bitterly disappointed,” he said in his daily vlog report on December 27. “But the back up solar panel not working is a show stopper.”

Both autopilots gave up the ghost and his temporary fix didn’t last long. Prospects didn’t look good..

What Richard didn’t know at the time was that his problems had just begun. He now needed to angle across the south east wind and the current to reach Walvis Bay, with a narrow margin for error. Take too long and he would be pushed too far north and face an uncertain landing. He might also run out of emergency water. But the alternative was even more daunting – taking off into the deep Atlantic in a glorified (and faulty) water torpedo (called Osiyeza).

So he changed course and hoped for the best.

“It was definitely hard core stuff – not pleasant,” he says of his ordeal. “Four of five days of hectic paddling. Falling asleep on the paddles. The paddle would catch the water and I would get smacked in the face.”

In 16 days of paddling he shed 5kg and reckons he might have had a far worse time of it if he’d turned around even just two days later – in which case he would have had to battle the wind and current for even longer and possibly miss Walvis. “The vessel might well have been abandoned,” he says, somewhat ruefully. He would have preferred a less stressful start to 2022.

The biggest shock was still to come. Richard was still loading his vessel onto a trailer in Walvis when he heard that his father was critically ill in hospital. By the time he made it home he just had time to say goodbye.

“Little did I know that the failure of Osiyeza’s solar panels would give me something special yet heart-breaking,” he wrote in his final expedition blog. “Little did I know that getting Osiyeza back home for repairs would give me a wonderful opportunity in such a dark time.

“The universe works in mysterious ways. I could have been in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Without family or friends. All alone.

“I do not know how I would have coped.

“The silver lining is, I got to sit by his side to talk with him.
To tell him I was OK.
To tell him he was going to be OK.
To tell him how much I love him.”

“My time and focus is with my family as we walk together along a path of uncertainty,” Richard wrote.

The good news is that Richard is far from done. With his team he is figuring out what went wrong with the panels – most likely water ingress causing corrosion – with a view to ensuring it can’t happen again. If all goes according to plan he will set off again later this year even more motivated to be the first to kayak across the pond, 7000km and unsupported, from Cape Town to Salvador in Brazil.

His Ocean X challenge is not all about personal triumph. He is also raising funds for charity group Operation Smile.  Follow his journey here:


Share this: