Man follows grandfather’s heroics to be first to conquer world’s most dangerous ocean in open boat

The grandson of the first man to fly over Mount Everest has spoken for the first time about setting a new record of his own – navigating the world’s most dangerous ocean crossing in just a rowing boat.

Jamie Douglas-Hamiltons crew became the first to row from Cape Horn in Chile to Antarctica. Picture: Discovery
Jamie Douglas-Hamiltons crew became the first to row from Cape Horn in Chile to Antarctica. Picture: Discovery

Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, 38, from Edinburgh, was part of a team of six that conquered the notorious Drake Passage, a 750-mile stretch of ocean connecting Cape Horn in Chile with Antarctica.

Over the course of almost two weeks, they rowed 24 hours a day in shifts of 90 minutes, enduring freezing conditions and storms that produced waves of up to 40ft.

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Dubbed “the impossible row”, their successful journey was completed on Christmas Day and has now been confirmed with an announcement by the Guinness Book of Records.

The team set a total of five world records during the row, three of which had never been attempted before as rowing the Drake Passage had previously been considered too dangerous.

Named after the famous English seaman Sir Francis Drake, it was first traversed in 1616 by a Dutch explorer and played an important role in world trade before the opening of the Panama Canal.

“We were hit by winds from every single direction and the seas down there are very violent – it’s the roughest ocean in the world,” Mr Douglas-Hamilton said. “We almost capsized many times and the problem with that is the water is so cold that if you go in, you’ve probably got two to five minutes.

“In the 12 days we endured a lot of pain, exhaustion, sleep deprivation and severe cold, which has now led to frost nip in my feet and fingers, a condition that takes weeks to recover from. I also lost two stone in weight, but all the pain and suffering disappeared as we reached the South Shetland Islands and rowed through the most pristine and beautiful landscape I have ever seen.

“We passed icebergs the size of towns and islands that looked like Himalayan peaks and were followed by orcas, whales and thousands of penguins.” Mr Douglas-Hamilton said he had been inspired by his grandfather, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, who flew over the summit of Mount Everest in 1933 in an open cockpit biplane. “What might seem impossible rarely is if you truly believe in what you are doing and are determined to make it a reality,” he said.

Guinness World Records editor-in-chief Craig Glenday described the journey as “one of the most significant human-powered adventures ever undertaken”. Wayne Ranney, an American geologist who has crossed the Drake Passage by ship, said the achievement was “phenomenal”.