A Royal Marine and petty officer will join four fellow adventurers to recreate the epic rescue journey made by Britain’s greatest Antarctic explorer a century ago.
WO Baz Gray and PO Seb Coulthard will sail a replica of the vessel Sir Ernest Shackleton took from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916 – using the materials and equipment of the day.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Chris Mumby, RNAS Yeovilton
Raising glasses to an exact replica of the remarkable boat which made one of the worst journeys in the world are Royal Marine WO2 Baz Gray and PO Seb Coulthard, flanking Australian adventurer and explorer Tim Jarvis.
Next January the trio – and three fellow volunteers – will guide the Alexandra Shackleton across 800 miles of violent ocean from Antarctica to South Georgia – before crossing 20 miles of the rugged, remote island to reach the former whaling station at Stromness.
In doing so they will recreate the 1916 journey of Britain’s greatest polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and his successful attempt to save his stranded Trans-Antarctic expedition.
In the century since Sir Ernest took his whaler, the James Caird, from Elephant Island to South Georgia and struggled across the mountains to raise the alarm, no-one has successfully recreated the entire rescue mission.
Shackleton's granddaughter Alexandra launches her namesake boat
Come January, the Shackleton Epic looks to do just that. It has the backing of the explorer’s granddaughter Alexandra, expedition patron, who launched the boat named after her at Portland Marina.
“It’s a great honour to have a boat named after me and I’m very proud that this expedition is going to recreate for the first time since 1916 my grandfather’s epic boat journey,” his granddaughter said.
The 22½ft boat is a precise replica of the James Caird. Her crew will also endure the hardships of that age, wearing clothing of the time. All the rigging and features on the whaler have been faithfully reconstructed – as Shackleton would have used them – and the crew will eat the rations of the day. The only concession to modernity is present-day emergency equipment.
The James Caird is put in the water in 1916
“We’ve taken away all the complicated aspect of modern equipment, and we’ve gone back to basics. It brings out the more resourceful side of you,” explained Seb, based at RNAS Yeovilton.
On reaching South Georgia after 16 days – a journey Shackleton described as “one of supreme strife” – the leader set off with two colleagues and scaled precipitous peaks up to 3,000ft, with virtually no mountain equipment or maps, to reach Stromness. Even when he reached the isolated whaling station, it was several months before a rescue party successfully reached the rest of his men on Elephant Island. Every man was brought back alive.
Crossing South Georgia is where Baz will come into his forte as a Royal Marines Mountain Leader.
“It’s only been done once before, its going to be horrible, damp, cold, uncomfortable, there’ll be nothing nice about it, and that’s why this will be such an awesome challenge,” he said.
Beyond being a tremendous test of mental and physical strength, the Shackleton Epic aims to honour the explorer’s legacy and show how human spirit and endeavour triumph in adversity – and demonstrate the impact of climate change on Antarctica. The expedition intends to film the effects of ice melt in the region.
“Whereas Shackleton’s goal was to save his men from Antarctica, we are trying to save Antarctic from man – an unfortunate irony,” Mr Jarvis pointed out.
You can learn more about the adventure at http://www.timjarvis.org/shackletonepic