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It was nearly winter in the Antarctic, the birthplace of storms, the windiest, coldest, most desolate place on Earth. A huge wave rose up behind, and the steering cables snapped. The boat flew down the face of the wave and Hooper unclipped his tether, the only thing holding him to the boat. "I did the one thing you're taught absolutely not to do," he says. The boat went all the way over, the masts burying into the water and the sea pouring over Hooper's head. He saw an enormous breaking wave, "a huge white cloud," like a ten-story building collapsing onto him. He was afraid to try to clip his safety tether back in, in case he missed. He had only a moment. So he clung to a pole instead, as the wave thudded on deck and covered him.

This was the price, finally. The planet can look small, and an adventure exciting. You can chart out detailed routes and plan to cover thousands of miles and many months. It can all seem so straightforward and plausible. But then you find yourself in one particular place at one particular time, and the world feels as vast as it is. You wait to find out whether you're going to die.

Hooper clung to that pole, and when he looked up he saw "the Southern Ocean, where sky should have been." The boat wallowed and struggled to right itself, water pouring everywhere below. "It seemed like an eternity," he says.

But he got lucky. Somehow he held on. The keel slowly righted the boat, the bilge pump cleared the seawater from the hull, and that night under clear skies, Hooper watched the aurora australis, "bright green curtains flowing from one horizon to the other. A remarkable day."

Navigating without radar (lost in the storm), Hooper and Gauntlett sailed through the south geomagnetic pole on April 24, 2008, and arrived in Sydney on May 9, 409 days after setting out from Greenland. Their website,, has had ten million hits, and they've had press coverage on five continents, including weekly TV back in the U.K. They've since given more than a hundred school talks, inspiring youth everywhere, as they'd planned to do. But most of all, they're still alive, still friends, and now at 21 have given us a glimpse of the wild ride this very small and terribly vast planet can provide to anyone who throws himself out there.

NEXT: Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler >>
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