It is not often you come across a Russian Orthodox Priest with a spirit for extreme adventure and a passion for testing the limits of human endurance.
In May 2019, ‘Australis’ was fortunate to be the support vessel for Fedor Konyukhov as he completed his solo rowing challenge from west to east across the Southern Ocean.
Ben Wallis, Owner and Skipper, Ocean Expeditions said: “I followed Fedor’s achievements for quite a while now and originally met around Cape Horn in 2013. When I was approached by his son, Oscar, to be the support vessel for this expedition, I jumped at the chance.
I have a huge respect for Fedor’s achievements. He has completed the 7Summits and the Explorers Grand Slam including the South Pole, North Pole and Mount Everest several times each. Recently I watched on as he successfully circumnavigated the globe by hot air balloon, only the second person ever to do so and ‘smashing’ the previous record while doing so. Now this!
There is an unspoken admiration for anyone that sails the Southern Ocean. To be in such a majestic place but in a moment’s notice the possibility of tackling the unforgiving sea with some of the hardest conditions and greatest forces on this planet. On this level, I really related to what Fedor was setting out to achieve and the conditions he would have to overcome,” he said.
The expedition was in its final stages, when Oscar, the project team and journalists from Russian Channel 1 news boarded ‘Australis’ at the Port of Ushuaia in Argentina, and were carefully tracking Fedor’s every move, wave conditions and weather forecasts.
On 7 May, Ocean Expeditions prepared to depart into the Beagle Canal heading for Cape Horn. With the project’s headquarters now onboard, the team were able to use the Iridium satellite to track the coordinates of Fedor’s rowboat “AKROS” and meet him in the Drake Passage.
“Once in the Passage and visual contact established, it was our role, to carefully extract Fedor and tow his rowboat ‘AKROS’ back to safety. Due to the extreme weather conditions, we only had a three-hour window to tow Fedor’s boat behind the stern at three knots against the waves and headwind.
“Once on the leeward side of the Diego Ramiriez Islands, Fedor was transferred to ‘Australis’ by zodiac tender so as not to damage his rowboat. By this time, it was about 11pm, pitch black and blowing 50 knots. It was a pretty risky, intense, exhausting and emotion fuelled event trying to navigate not only the extreme sea and weather conditions but also not knowing Fedor’s condition having been on his own for 154 days,” Mr Wallis said.
Safely onboard and warming up, the Team’s emotions were on overdrive. In 154 days, Fedor had reached the Drake Passage starting in New Zealand and covering 11,525 kilometres to Cape Horn in South America.
Mr Wallis said: “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of a world record but to also see first-hand the boundless limits of human endurance in nature.”