Fresh off the exhaustion and satisfaction of summiting the top of the world – Mt. Everest – in 2017, adventurer Andrew Towne of Minneapolis said his next plans were more down-to-earth: maybe ballroom dancing, martial arts or orienteering.
But plans change.
Beginning next week, Towne and five others will attempt to row a vessel across a stretch of ocean that gives even hardened mariners nightmares.
The team plans to row from the tip of South America to Antarctica through the 600-mile Drake Passage, connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans.
Towne barely had recovered from Everest when his next adventure became clear. A former crewing teammate at Yale, Matt Brown, set a speed record rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I realized that everything he loved was what I loved,” Towne said, of the physical and mental demands. “I thought, ‘This is it: ocean rowing.’ How did I not think of this before?”
Towne, 37, has prepared during sessions with the Minneapolis Rowing Club (“raining and cold weekends,” he said) and also a test run with his team in August off the coast of Scotland. His boatmates are a who’s who of adventurers and rowing record-holders. Fiann Paul of Iceland, Cameron Bellamy of South Africa and Jamie Douglas-Hamilton of Scotland were part of a crew that set a Guinness World mark when they covered 5,000 miles across the Indian Ocean in 2014. The fifth member is Colin O’Brady of the United States who became the first person to traverse Antarctica solo and unsupported in a trek last year. John Petersen, another Yale crewing alum, also is aboard.
If they succeed, Towne said they’ll be the first to row unaided all the way to the Antarctic peninsula. In 1988, adventurer Ned Gillette and a team rowed the Drake Passage, using a small sail at times on their 28-foot vessel.
Towne is no stranger to extreme environments – including Antarctica – but he said the likelihood of encountering angry storms, towering swells and chilling cold in concert are new terrain.
The crew plans to row three at a time, 90 minutes on, 90 minutes off for rest and nourishment. They hope to finish in three weeks.
The Discovery Channel, a main sponsor, is calling the attempt “The Impossible Row,” with a show of the same name now airing. Discovery will document the adventure and post to its social platforms. A documentary also is planned. Towne said a vessel will shadow the group in the event of an emergency. The safety measure was required, he added.
Towne said the rowers will test their boat again Saturday or Sunday. Like other ultra-rowing vessels, their 29-foot boat is self-righting. It also includes extra insulation and cabins at each end of the craft.
“Don’t fear; anything is possible” is a mantra that has served Townes in his adventure log (he’s climbed the highest mountain on all seven continents). He said the words still echo as he prepares to fly to Chile.
“I’m excited and I take inspiration from many people around me. Specifically, my dad, who always encouraged me and my brother to follow our passions,” Towne said.
“We live in Minnesota, and this doesn’t seem so crazy, so exceptional,” he said, nodding to the exploits of polar explorers like Will Steger and Eric Larson. “It ceases to feel so daunting. There are a lot of Minnesotans who are following their passions with ardor.”