BOSTON -- Adventurer and former Olympic skier Ned Gillette acknowledged Friday he had become something of an 'adrenalin junkie' after leading a four-man rowing expedition to Antarctica earlier this month.
'You've got to be a bit of an adrenalin junkie to do this,' admitted Gillette, a 1968 Olympic skier who has climbed and skied mountains on all seven continents. 'You always get dragged back in.'
Gillette, 42, of Stowe, Vt., led three others on a rowing expedition that took them 602 miles from Cape Brecknock, Chile, to King George Island, Antarctica, in 13 days and 5 hours.
The expedition took the craft through the Drake Channel south of Cape Horn, known as the world's stormiest body of water and notorious for its 100-foot waves, gale force winds and icebergs.
The four-man crew set out Feb. 22 in their 28-foot craft, dubbed 'Sea Tomato' because it 'was red and it was bulbous,' he said. The craft contained a 15-foot crew compartment that was 3 feet high.
There were rowing stations in the bow and the stern and the foursome took turns rowing in pairs. The Sea Tomato received coded weather forecasts from meteorologist Bob Rice, who tracked the storms some 8,000 miles away in Bedford.
'The Sea Tomato is the most sophisticated rowing boat in the world - with all its electronics -- and yet you're powering her by the most primitive form -- rowing,' Gillette said.
The Sea Tomato traveled at an average 2.2 knots, or about 2.5 mph, and was pummeled by snow, rain and sleet.
The boat capsized three times in the first 12 hours, with Gillette and two other crewmembers being thrown into the ocean on separate occasions.
'It was like being on the inside of a washing machine -- only without the soap,' said Mark Eichenberger, 35, of Costa Mesa, Calif., Gillette's partner in the project. He was in the cabin during the first capsize.
'That day made the trip -- it was like a Nantucket sleigh ride,' Gillette said of the expedition's turbulent first day. 'It was so exciting, we were all getting sea sick.'
After three days, the weather improved and the crew settled into a rowing and living routine on the cramped vessel.
'The thing that worried me the most was we were enjoying it and having fun,' said team navigator Fred Trombly, 32, of Whitman.
The most important criteria Gillette set in selecting his three other crewmembers were good manners. Marine knowledge and a willingness to row to Antarctica were secondary.
'It's like living with your entire family on your dining room table for two weeks,' Gillette said. 'We were living in a 55 gallon drum that was being rolled about in the ocean.
'The cabin smelled foul -- it was just awful,' Gillette said. 'It smelled like the worst men's locker room in the world. There were socks hanging down in your face. You needed good humor -- and good manners to ignore the odors.
'It was a tiny boat to live in, but a huge boat to row,' he said.
The crew stripped the electronics from the Sea Tomato following the journey, left the craft in Antarctica and donated it to the Chilean Navy. Gillette said he hoped it remained on the mostly barren iceland.
'We called it a disposable boat -- no deposit, no return,' said mechanical engineer Jay Morrison, 34, of Cleveland, who called the trip 'a big unknown.'
What next for the adventurers?
'I don't have any idea, but I know it will have nothing to do with oars,' Morrison said.