LOS ANGELES (AP)—As freezing water thrashed their rowboat in some of the most treacherous waters in the world, six men fought for 13 days to make history, becoming the first people to traverse the infamous Drake Passage with nothing other than sheer manpower.
They dodged icebergs, held their breaths as giant whales breached near their small boat and rode building-sized waves while rowing 24 hours a day toward Antarctica.
The team of men from four countries finished crossing the Drake Passage Dec. 22 in just under two weeks after pushing off from the southern tip of South America.
“This is a really big deal in Antarctic history to hear about this,” said Wayne Ranney, a Flagstaff, Arizona-based geologist who has led expeditions to Antarctica and crossed the Drake Passage in motorized vessels more than 50 times. “One hundred percent of their progress was done with those 12 arms for 600 (nautical) miles. That’s just phenomenal. I can’t even imagine.”
Besides the threat to their lives, the men labored under grueling conditions. Their 29-foot rowboat, named the Ohana, had to be in constant motion to avoid capsizing. That meant three men would row for 90 minutes while the other three rested, still cold and wet.
“You’re rowing inside an open hold, 40-foot sea waves are splashing in your face, near-freezing water is splashing over the bow,” said 34-year-old Colin O’Brady of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the six men on the boat.
The men had to use a bucket to go to the bathroom. To rest, two men needed to lie shoulder to shoulder in a tiny space while a third would lay in a fetal position in an even smaller area.
“You’re curled up and jammed into a small space, trying to get a few winks of sleep before the alarm would go off and boom, you’re back at it again,” O’Brady said.
The other men on the expedition were: Jamie Douglas-Hamilton of Edinburgh, Scotland; Fiann Paul of Reykjavik, Iceland; Cameron Bellamy of Cape Town, South Africa; Andrew Towne of Grand Forks, North Dakota; and John Petersen of Oakland, California.
Paul, Douglas-Hamilton and Bellamy are record-breaking ocean rowers, Towne is a championship rower and has climbed the tallest mountain on every continent, and Petersen was a championship college rower.