By Mark Gleeson
CAPETOWN (Reuters) – Less than three months after completing an exhausting, record-setting swim, endurance athlete Cameron Bellamy returns this week to tackle another epic ocean challenge, this time rowing one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world.
The South African is part of a six-man crew who will set out on Wednesday to row some 800 kilometres across Drake Passage, from the tip of South America to Antarctica.
The stretch of water is renowned for being among the most dangerous maritime passages with swells between 30 and 50 feet, high winds, icebergs and brutally cold weather, despite this being the Antarctic summer.
The expedition, dubbed “The Impossible Row”, is being led by American Colin O’Brady, a former endurance triathlete who has no previous rowing experience but who walked across Antarctica solo and unsupported last year. It is expected to take three weeks.
Bellamy, a former international rower, spent days in hospital in September after enduring severe sleep deprivation, acute overheating, ‘salt mouth’ and extreme fatigue after 56 hours 26 minutes swimming 151km from Barbados to St Lucia.
“Physically, I didn’t take long to recover but mentally a bit more,” Bellamy told Reuters in a telephone interview from Cape Horn, the starting point for the crew’s challenge.
“But this was an invitation I could not refuse. It is a bit of a scary and daunting challenge but I’m relishing the opportunity.”
Icelandic explorer Fiann Paul will co-captain the expedition with Bellamy as one of the strokes. John Petersen, Andrew Towne and Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, who rowed across the Indian Ocean with Bellamy, make up the rest of the team.
Three will row at a time for 90 minutes while the others will cram into tiny hatches to eat and sleep.
“The boat is pretty typical for ocean rowing at 25 feet long but does have some custom-made elements for the cold, like reinforced hatches and extra sealing,” said Bellamy
The rowers will be followed by a separate boat, where a crew is filming the crossing for a television documentary. But they will offer no support except in an emergency.
Should the weather and water make rowing impossible, the crew are able to jam themselves into the cabins and the boat is designed to flip and roll but then right itself.
“It is among the most extreme challenges ever undertaken,” Bellamy said.
(Editing by Ian Chadband)