Royal Marine, Petty Officer Recreate Rescue Mission of Legendary Antarctic Explorer

Royal Marine, Petty Officer Recreate Rescue Mission of Legendary Antarctic Explorer

A Royal Marine and petty officer have successfully recreated the rescue mission of legendary Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton – using the same equipment as he did a century ago. The pair – WO2 Baz Gray and PO Seb Coulthard – were part of a six-strong team who sailed from the edge of Antarctica to South Georgia, then crossed the island’s mountains, the first men to complete the full journey since Shackleton himself.

ALMOST engulfed by rough seas off South Georgia, 21st-Century adventurers are close to their goal of becoming the first people in 100 years to follow in the footsteps of Britain’s greatest Antarctic explorer.

Six men – including Royal Marines commando WO2 Baz Gray and 815 Naval Air Squadron senior rating PO Seb Coulthard – set out to recreate the legendary rescue mission by Sir Ernest Shackleton, sailing across 800 miles of violent ocean before crossing 20 miles of rugged South Georgia to reach the former whaling station at Stromness.

In 1916, Sir Ernest took his whaler, the James Caird, from Elephant Island to South Georgia and struggled across the mountains to raise the alarm after his Trans-Antarctic expedition became stranded after its ship, the Endurance, was crushed by the ice.

In the 97 years since, no-one has successfully recreated the entire rescue mission until now – and using only the clothing and equipment available to Shackleton’s men.

A replica of the James Caird was built and named in honour of the 2013 expedition patron, Shackleton’s granddaughter Alexandra, then, after nearly five years of planning, transported to Elephant Island.

From there expedition leader Tim Jarvis, skipper Nick Bubb, navigator Paul Larsen, cameraman Ed Wardle, with Baz as the seasoned mountaineer Seb as bosun, set out through large chunks of ice and made it to open waters.

Space inside the boat was no larger than a double bed with around three feet for head room – no-one could move around on board without disturbing one of his shipmates, which meant for the entire journey to South Georgia the sailors got no more than an hour’s sleep at a time.

Food was cooked on a restored 100-year-old primus stove which then had a large pot placed on top of it – but in rough seas cooking was almost impossible.

Waves crashed over the side of the boat which meant the men’s woollen clothing was always, says Baz;

“nice and damp.”

After 13 days at sea, the adventurers reached King Haakon Bay and landed at Peggotty Bluff on the northwest shore of South Georgia – just like the explorers of 1916.

From there, Shackleton’s party faced a 20-mile trek across the central spine of the island… but they didn’t have Baz Gray to guide them.

Only he and Tim were to make the journey to Stromness – site of a now-abandoned whaling station – with clothing and equipment consisting of woollen clothes, old leather boots (with screws driven through the soles for grip on the ice), a thin windproof outer layer, 50 metres of old manila rope, and a prismatic compass.

They faced glaciers and slopes prone to avalanches, a high risk of falling into crevasses – which meant the climbers were roped together all the time.

“It was an amazing feeling to be so remote with such little equipment – we genuinely were able to take ourselves back, to see exactly what they saw, feeling not too dissimilar,”

said the Royal Marine.

“After a pretty much non stop 24 hour slog we pulled our very tired bodies into a very emotional Stromness harbour and were now the first team to do both parts of the historic survival journey – and as close as we could to the manner in which they did it.”

The Shackleton Epic expedition ended, fittingly, in Grytviken, the island’s capital, where the modern-day adventurers stood at the grave of Sir Ernest and toasted his memory in the presence of his granddaughter.

A documentary of the expedition is due to be shown in September and around the same time a book charting the six men’s exploits is to be published. See June’s edition of Navy News for the full story.

Naval Today Staff, April 24, 2013; Image: Royal Navy