Crossing the Atlantic on willpower alone consider this a spirit award, celebrating the sheer pluck that yanks average people out of their humdrum lives and propels them toward the unknown. In this case those folks are Andrea Palos, 24, and Gabor Rakonczai, 26, design students at the University of West Hungary's Faculty of Wood Sciences near the Austrian border. Several years ago, while reading about adventures on the high seas, they fastened on to the idea of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. And like that, Palos recalls, "We said, Let's just do it!"
To prepare, they took sailing classes, learned celestial navigation, and began building a boat in their spare time. On November 27, 2006, they loaded the mighty Fireant, shoved away from a Spanish dock, and rowed south to Casablanca. From there, in a stroke of bad luck, Palos and Rakonczai paddled straight into a force 10 gale. Thirty-foot (nine-meter) waves battered their homemade craft. When the situation turned desperate, the pair issued an SOS. Word came back that only a helicopter could reach them; their boat would have to stay behind. After months of hard work, that was unacceptable. They decided to tough out the swells.
"It was terrible," says Palos. "The boat moved up and down and in three dimensions, and when the waves hit, the noise was very big." After six harrowing days the storm finally subsided, and from then on out it was clear rowing. When Palos and Rakonczai stepped ashore on Antigua this past March, they had traveled 4,144 miles (6,669 kilometers) in 94 days. Only later did they find out that they had come within four hours of the rowing record between the Canary Islands and Antigua's English Harbor. It made a once-in-a-lifetime experience that much sweeter.
- Nat Geo Expeditions