Rugged Adventurers Retrace Shackleton’s Epic Southern Ocean Voyage
By Rob Almeida On February 17, 2013
Crew on Elephant Island prior to departure, Image:
Sir Ernest Shackleton
In January 1915, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew aboard the Endurance became trapped in Antarctic ice while attempting a daring Trans-Antarctic expedition.
For the next year and a half, he and his crew battled the elements against incredible odds and survived a seemingly impossible predicament. What they had endured became one of the most incredible survival stories ever told.
On 24 January, following four years of preparation, a group of hardy adventurers set off to recreate part of this epic journey… the 800-mile crossing of the Southern Ocean from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island in a 23-foot open lifeboat while carrying food and wearing equipment from the early 19th century.
11 days later, “dawn broke and we could see land” commented skipper Nick Bubb in his recent blog post.
“We spent several hours sizing up the topography and eventually gained a little confidence in our position. We were about ten miles upwind of King Haakon Bay. This was ideal and roughly where we expected to be so we hoisted our sea anchor and set off. As we closed on the headland, the wind dropped and started to move forward of the beam. Slowly we got sucked in to the cliffs and were drifting on to them.”
Navigating the Southern Ocean by Celestial
Bubb commented in his blog, “Our routine was Paul ‘shooting’ the sun’s altitude with Seb calling out the time from our mighty impressive chronometer and I would then take a note of all the vital numbers before starting to crunch them. Invariably this would take me around 30 minutes to do, bearing in mind the cramped and bouncy circumstances, and then Paul and I would go through all of my calculations together checking for small errors which are so easy to make. Finally when agreed, we would plot the results on the chart, often we’d laugh and re work things but by the end we were pretty confident our technique was good.
Miles slowly ticked off but all the time our uncertainty was growing, as the cloud cover was too much for any real fixes. We did manage to take a few sights but you require several sights ideally spaced out throughout the middle of the day to actually get a fix. As it turned out we never achieved this until we were 35 miles from King Haakon Bay, our final destination. The crucial sight here was taken at local noon and only minutes after we took it, the visibility closed in.”
“Surprisingly old vintage clothing served us pretty well,” notes Bubb.
“Whilst we all got damp and pretty wet, I wouldn’t describe our under layers as soaking. Our woollen layers were uncomfortable and restrictive but they did do a decent job of keeping us warm. The cotton gabardine outers that we had smeared in Dubbin also held up ok and certainly kept the wind out.
They became incredible heavy though and the fear of being in the water wearing all that kit was significant. I never once changed any of my kit other to remove my outer smock when possible and boots when off watch. We had no spare kit, there simply wasn’t room.”
On 8 February, a two-man team consisting of Expedition Leader Tim Jarvis and mountaineer Barry Gray set off to cross the island wearing and using only traditional equipment from 1917. They soon found themselves hunkered down in a tent while waiting out ferocious weather.
At the first break in weather, they continued their hazardous journey across invisible, snow-bridged crevasses, while wearing thin leather boots and on the evening of 10 February, they reached the former whaling station at Stromness, the final waypoint in their journey.