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Shackleton re-enactment scheduled for January

by Nancy Knudsen on 4 Dec 2012
Alexandra Shackleton when she was launched .. .
He is an environmental scientist and adventurer, not primarily a sailor, but nevertheless it was Tim Jarvis whom Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of the legendary Ernest Shackleton, approached to go sailing. The idea was to celebrate the centenary of her grandfather's amazing sail in Antarctic waters to rescue his crew, by a re-enactment.

Tim Jarvis has not been backward in undertaking his own amazing adventures, mostly in the name of raising awareness of global environmental problems. He has kayaked to the Red Centre of Australia, trekked to the North Pole and solo across Antarctica on a diet of starvation rations, but this one, scheduled for January, will be the most challenging and dangerous of them all.

The story:

On an ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914, Shackleton's boat, the Endurance, became trapped in the Antarctic ice and was eventually crushed and sank. His crew trekked and boated their way to Elephant Island, ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands. Here they were stuck, and his attempt to raise the alarm is considered by many to be one of the greatest journeys ever made.

Shackleton took a small party from his crew and sailed 800nm on the lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia, where they knew they could get help from a whaling station. It was four and a half months before Ernst Shackleton was able to return to Elephant Island, to find that every one of his crew had survived, living on seal meat.


However is the 800nm sail that people remember as almost miraculous. The James Caird was launched on 24 April 1916; during the next fifteen days it sailed through the waters of the southern ocean, at the mercy of the stormy seas, in constant peril of capsizing. On 8 May, thanks to the navigator Worsley's skills, the cliffs of South Georgia came into sight but hurricane-force winds prevented the possibility of landing.

The party was forced to ride out the storm offshore, in constant danger of being dashed against the rocks. They would later learn that the same hurricane had sunk a 500-ton steamer bound for South Georgia from Buenos Aires. On the following day they were able, finally, to land on the unoccupied southern shore.

After a period of rest and recuperation, rather than risk putting to sea again to reach the whaling stations on the northern coast, Shackleton decided to attempt a land crossing of the island. Although it is likely that Norwegian whalers had previously crossed at other points on ski, no one had attempted this particular route before. Leaving three crew at the landing point on South Georgia, Shackleton travelled 32 miles (51 km)[91] with Worsley and another over mountainous terrain for 36 hours to reach the whaling station at Stromness on 20 May. On arrival those who saw them at first disbelieved the story that they told.


They've been planning the trip since 2008 and their vessel is an exact replica of Shackleton's small wooden lifeboat, aptly named The Alexandra Shackleton. They will use only 1916 equipment and they will don the traditional gear that Shackleton and his men wore.

If something on the boat breaks, Jarvis has told media outlets this week, 'we just nail a new bit on'.

The seven-metre boat was not designed to tackle the notoriously treacherous Southern Ocean and was an inadequate vessel even a hundred years ago. It has no keel and capsizes very easily.

'It is very dangerous and we'll be in the roughest part of the roughest ocean in the world,' he said. 'We're going to do our utmost to honour Shackleton but I'd say it's a 50/50 (chance of success).'

The group is not suicidal though. There will be a support vessel, Australis, but it will only be called upon in the event of serious trouble.

As with his previous adventures, Jarvis hopes to use the trip to bring awareness to the impact of climate change. The team will collect data at various points to use for scientific research.

'The irony is Shackleton tried to save his men from Antarctica and we are now trying to save Antarctica from man,' Jarvis said.

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