Recreating Shackleton's journeys -progress report
With only three months to go before the 'Shackleton Epic’ Adventure gets underway, a significant milestone has been reached and the Expeditions FAA element is eager to get going on the trip of a lifetime.
'Shackleton Epic’ has been in development since 2008, when The Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Sir Ernest, had the idea of an expedition to honour one of the greatest leadership and survival stories of all time.
Now, a crew of six British and Australian adventurers will attempt to become the first to authentically re-enact Sir Ernest Shackleton’s treacherous boat voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, followed by the difficult crossing of its mountainous interior.
To this day, no-one has successfully recreated Shackleton’s complete ‘double’ journey across sea and land using traditional gear. British/Australian adventurer Tim Jarvis, a veteran of multiple polar expeditions, believes it will be the most challenging expedition of his life. The only concessions to the use of period equipment will be the storage of modern emergency equipment and radios on board ‘Alexandra Shackleton’, and the presence of a support vessel, TS Pelican in the Southern Ocean. Both modern emergency equipment and Pelican’s assistance will only be used in the event that 'Alexandra Shackleton’ gets into serious trouble.
Petty Officer Seb Coulthard from the Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force and Warrant Officer 2 Baz Gray from 30 Commando Royal Marines are at the end of a long summer trialling the 'Alexandra Shackleton’, the replica of the 'James Caird’: Shackleton lifeboat which stood him in good order on his epic rescue 100 years ago. With the diligence of a master ship builder Seb Coulthard has overseen his creation, tested, and adjusted for the journey South. Seeing the boat finally packed up and shipped off to Antarctica, to await the expedition’s arrival in late December. “We’ve made minor alterations and replaced some of the ballast. It’s remarkable that Shackleton got his stability calculations correct even though he was working on the edge of what was technically possible. We replaced some of the rigging, Manila ropes and Flax canvas sails, they had worn through, it’s all made of natural fibres, and they wear very quickly”. Seb continued. “We’ve come from being a reasonably small expedition, '6 men in a boat with a web site’, into a global adventure with sponsors and backers - it’s grown out of all recognition”.
Come January 2013, the team will be in Punta Arenas, Chile, ahead of their attempt on around 17 January to emulate Shackleton’s voyage across 800 nautical miles of the most challenging and treacherous seas on the planet – the Southern Ocean – sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia aboard their replica boat. On arrival to South Georgia three of the team will traverse its mountainous interior to reach the former whaling station at Stromness.
The expedition will culminate in a pilgrimage to Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken.
Skipper of the boat, Professional offshore sailor Nick Bubb had his doubts when he first set eyes of the boat.
“It looked like a survival capsule, which is exactly what it is. As an adventure there can’t be many that’s been analysed to such an extent, this analysis has provided a lot of answers to questions as they come up. Its not just us doing what we think is the best thing, we’re all the time looking back to see how Shackleton did it”.
The training and team building continues right up until they depart. Royal Marines Mountain Leader Barry Gray has arranged courses in Scotland, Wales and Switzerland, getting to know each other and working on their Winter Mountain skills ready for the crossing of South Georgia.
Brigadier Bill Dunham, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines was at the Global Launch for the Expedition and chatted with the Naval members of the team. “I envy them the challenge, I don’t necessary envy them the reality of what they’re about to attempt. This adventure will call upon Courage, Determination, Unselfishness, and Cheerfulness in the face of adversity: all what we call in the Royal Marines, 'The Commando Spirit; values that other service people can appreciate and translate”.
Explanatory note on 30 Cde IX Gp RM
Over the last few years a trawl for a suitable parallel in the history of RM and RN Commando-trained units has been conducted. WW2 30 Commando (Special Engineering) Unit shone out.
The focus of this Unit on gaining information about the enemy and their capabilities, including right at and beyond the 'front line' - a space now reasonably equated with the physical and conceptual battlespace occupied by the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) and other Unit reconnaissance assets - made this Unit and ideal candidate.
The role and history of this little known, but important, Commando Unit makes it an illustrious ancestor of this constantly developing Unit. We are emmensely proud to be able to carry on the history of 30 Commando.
On 20th March 2010, Al Faw day and our Unit memorable date, UK Land Forces, Command Support Group changed its name to 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group Royal Marines (30 Cdo IX Gp RM)