Colin O’Brady is a professional adventurer, an endurance athlete whose last major feat was to set a record for the world’s first solo crossing of Antarctica. He’s also climbed up Mt. Everest and holds three mountaineering world records. All these adventures were on land. Now O’Brady, part of a team of six, wants to row 600 to 800 miles across the Drake Passage from Cape Horn at the tip of South America to Antarctica, some of the most dangerous waters in the world. It doesn’t bother him that until three months ago he had never rowed anything at all.
O’Brady, 34, is used to challenges. Raised in Portland, Oregon, he was a state swimming champion in high school and on the swimming team at Yale. Then, on a backpacking trip after graduation, he was in a devastating burn accident in Thailand; doctors warned him he might not ever walk normally again.
At work as a commodities trader in Chicago, O’Brady started rehab. It went well. He entered marathons, and triathlons. He set records.
No one has ever rowed from Cape Horn to the mainland of Antarctica before. “The driving passion is to add one more grain of sand to human achievement,” O’Brady told The New York Times. “Doing something that’s never been done before really appeals to me.”
O’Brady’s boat is 25 feet long with a four-foot beam. It does not have a motor or sails. Three men will row at any given time, while the others rest in small watertight cabins. Everyone will work on 90-minute shifts. Although O’Brady himself is a novice rower, the other five men on the crew are all experienced ocean or collegiate rowers.
The plan is to leave Chile on December 10, the start of the Antarctic summer, and take about three weeks to reach Antarctica. The problem with the Drake Passage is that it opens to competing currents converging from the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans. Seas often reach 30 feet or more. Boats have been sunk and countless lives have been lost there over the past 400 years.
O’Brady and his crew do have a backup plan. The Discovery Channel is making a documentary of their trip, and will follow the row boat with a 120-footer, although it will not offer support or food during the record attempt. See the video below: