For those of us sizzling in Australia’s record summer temperatures, it’s a stretch to imagine the damp, icy conditions the Shackleton Epic team are enduring right now. Soon they will depart King George Island for the 170 nautical mile trip to their starting point off Cape Wild, on Elephant Island’s rugged north coast.
Chill winds, ice floes and sea spray make for uncomfortable travel, especially for those not blessed with the latest waterproof expedition gear. Even more so when six grown men, dressed in waxed cotton and woollens, squeeze into a seven-metre lifeboat already laden with stone ballast, casks of drinking water, a few gross of pemmican ‘bars’ and the odd sextant.
More than once over the past six months while I’ve been working with the expedition, people have asked, “why on Earth do they want to do such a thing?” The answer, of course, can only come from Tim, Nick, Paul, Seb, Baz and Ed. Hopefully their motivations will be revealed via this website over the wild weeks ahead.
But an email I recently received from a companion on another expedition shed light on a likely culprit – passion!
In December 2011, as expedition leader for an Aurora Expeditions attempt to reach Commonwealth Bay to celebrate the Mawson Centenary, I had on board Charles Lindall. A self-described “Antarctic enthusiast”, he spent most of the three week voyage constructing a nearly metre-long model of Mawson’s Hut, even attempting dog-collar detail in high seas and earning a few stitches in his leg for the effort!
Charles has now built a model of the James Caird (see photo) and has allowed us to present it here. It’s an amazing piece, about one-third size, that captures an historical moment – the launching of Shackleton’s lifeboat from Elephant Island.
It’s also a reminder of all the people worldwide whose passions have been fired by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of them while on expeditions over the past two decades. Some, like Dennis Perkins, have inspired others by speaking of Shackleton’s leadership qualities.
Others, like Friends of Mawson, from the South Australian Museum, became decidedly unfriendly when the wives were able to land on Elephant Island, but because of a fast-changing sea state, the husbands were not!
My straw poll as to what it is about Shackleton that inspires such passion has drawn the following:
· His strength of character
· A craggy face of compassion and humour
· Determination to keep his men alive
· Ability to find the best in his team
· One of the greatest survival stories of all time.
And now, driven by their passion for adventure and Shackleton, our team is about to clamber into the Alexandra Shackleton off the bouldered beach of Cape Wild, and set off across the Southern Ocean.
Like Dr. Who stepping into Tardis, they will be swept back in time to a world that offers the greatest opportunity for them to discover exactly what made Shackleton tick.
* Howard Whelan is an expedition logistics consultant for Shackleton Epic and has led some 50 Antarctic expeditions, including two complete Shackleton Crossings of South Georgia. As founding editor of Australian Geographic and cameraman on the first Australian ascent of Mt Everest – adventure is his passion. “Shackleton is one of my hero’s,” he says, “and not just because he’s Irish”.
If you want to experience Antarctica with Intrepid Travel click here