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6 Men Successfully Cross Drake Passage In A Rowboat

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now we're going to take a trip across some of the most treacherous waters in the world. Between South America and Antarctica, where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans converge, there's a violent meeting of strong currents, frigid winds and ocean swells up to 40 feet. This infamous stretch is called the Drake Passage.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES CRASHING)

KING: Last month, six men did what seemed impossible - they crossed it in a rowboat.

ANDREW TOWNE: (Laughter) It was wild.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That is Andrew Towne, who's from Minneapolis. He was one of the six on this epic voyage.

TOWNE: The rowboat is tipping forward and backward, side to side. And then out of nowhere, you get a 30-foot wave crashed down over you.

GREENE: Yeah, this sounds totally crazy. The crew was drenched in this near-freezing water, and then the storms came.

TOWNE: The big storm feels like you're in a washing machine. And I don't know - you keep moving (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER)

KING: They rowed all day and all night. They slept in shifts. And every crew member was desperate to take their minds off of the agony of this 600-mile journey.

TOWNE: My teammate John, he was suffering so much he did an entire shift where every single stroke he said the name of his daughter in his mind. Colin was another teammate. He actually sang Bob Marley "Redemption Song" out loud for hours, which I thought was quite a morale booster.

KING: Finally, on Day 12, as they neared Antarctica, serenity on the ocean.

TOWNE: Almost glasslike water, with penguins following us, jumping out of the water at almost the exact speed our boat was travelling, and whales off each side. Knowing that the finish line was so close was the most emotional moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REDEMPTION SONG")

BOB MARLEY: (Singing) Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships.

GREENE: Andrew Towne and his crew completed the world's first human-powered row across the Drake Passage. You can watch their journey on Discovery Channel's "The Impossible Row."

[Editor’s note: No official organization certifies which journey is considered the first human-powered row across the Drake Passage. A similar rowing expedition across the Drake Passage took place in 1988 and was led by Ned Gillette. The crew members used a sail at the start to help move their rowing craft from the rocky shore. The team rowed to Antarctica’s outer islands, not its main peninsula.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REDEMPTION SONG")

MARLEY: (Singing) But my hand was made strong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 25, 2020 at 11:00 PM CST
No official organization certifies which journey is considered the first human-powered row across the Drake Passage. A similar rowing expedition across the Drake Passage took place in 1988 and was led by Ned Gillette. The crew members used a sail at the start to help move their rowing craft from the rocky shore. The team rowed to Antarctica's outer islands, not its main peninsula.