Shackleton expedition straying off course

By Alice McRae 31 January 2013
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
Tim Jarvis and his crew don’t know that they are straying off course a week in to their replica Antarctic journey.

THE CREW OF THE Alexandra Shackleton has started its journey to re-enact the harrowing path of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition, however the Australian Geographic Society-sponsored initiative is straying off course and is currently unaware of the problem.

The original expedition on the ship the Endurance, set out in December 1914, aiming to make the first ever crossing of Antarctica. However, pack ice trapped the ship, forcing it to drift for 10 months in the Weddell Sea until it was crushed by the ice. 

After another five months on the ice the crew managed to sail off in three small life boats to Elephant Island. Shackleton and five of the crew then made the treacherous 800 nautical mile journey to South Georgia in a bid to find help at the island’s whaling station.

However, due to the prevailing winds and a two day gale that hit as they approached South Georgia, they arrived on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton and two men then crossed 42km of mountains and glaciers to complete the journey and find help. In August 1916 those left on Elephant Island were rescued, and all 22 members of the crew survived.

Read more about the 2013 re-creation and Shackleton’s original trip here.

Crew unknowingly straying off Shackleton’s course

Exporer Tim Jarvis, former AG Society Spirit of Adventure awardee, who is leading the 2013 re-creation, left Elephant Island for South Georgia Island with his crew in a small replica lifeboat on 23 January – just as Shackleton and his men did almost 100 years before.

The Alexandra Shackleton battles rough seas with only a jib. (Credit: Jo Stewart/Shackleton Epic)

The team has only the equipment and methods that were available on the original journey. The small boat, for example, is an almost exact replica of the one used by Shackleton, and even their clothing is replicates that worn circa 1914 – including woollen undergarments and gabardine outer layers. 

One of the biggest problems the crew now face is overshooting their landing point on South Georgia. Using only the equipment available at the time, they have to make sure their celestial navigation is spot on, and currently they’re off course.

The boat crew hasn’t been told of their position or that they’ve strayed off course because of the strict rules regarding communication ensuring an authentic re-enactment of the journey.

There are hopes that once there is more sunshine the team should be able to take a more accurate sun-sight reading and discover their true position. 

How first week on the Alexandra Shackleton compares

The first four days of the 2013 journey has seen the six-man crew taking a true ‘Southern Ocean battering’. The crew has had to deal with 7m swells and winds over 50 knots. Thankfully the weather has settled down now to a 20-knot wind-speed average, with the little boat recording good speeds of between 2-4 knots.

As of 30 January the crew had covered 441 nautical miles and the support vessel Australis reports that they looked happy and well, and were drying out their clothes and sleeping bags as the temperature rose to a balmy 1?C.

The journey is showing close comparisons to the original, as they are experiencing similar weather patterns and struggling through the same discomforts. They are constantly wet, their bedding is drenched and they are living in cramped conditions.

However horrible the conditions, the expeditioners still have their sense of humours intact. When asked if he was thinking about a strategy for climbing over South Georgia, Tim replied, “no, I’m thinking about going into a pub in the Falkland Islands and having a drink.”

Once the challenge of sailing to South Georgia is completed, the crew will start the task of climbing over South Georgia’s mountainous interior.