Closing on South Georgia
Now into their ninth day at sea, the Alexandra Shackleton is within 180 miles of reaching South Georgia Island and achieving the first goal in the Shackleton Epic historic re-enactment, but the boat is tracking slightly off course and needs to correct its position within the next 36-48 hours to make its landing at King Haakon Bay.
Using traditional navigational equipment including a sextant, chronometer, compass and charts, the six British and Australian crew on board the Alexandra Shackleton still have time to correct their course if they are able to take a new sun sight – but the Southern Ocean sun has been obscured by cloud for days.
The 22.5ft replica of the James Caird has made good progress during the 800 nautical mile crossing since departing Elephant Island on 23 January 2013 UTC. Currently they are averaging 4 knots with 25 knots of westerly winds helping push them along towards South Georgia.
According to Ben Wallis, skipper of the support vessel Australis, sea conditions are rough with the swell around 4 metres with an occasional 8 metre wave “popping out of nowhere”.
“We’re just waiting to see if the Alexandra Shackleton can correct her position as she is a bit wide of the mark and we don’t want her to miss South Georgia,” he said.
Speaking over the radio today, expedition leader Tim Jarvis said that boredom and the cramped conditions below deck are proving to be bigger factors in this expedition than it has been in others he has completed.
“The confined space below deck continues to be one of our greatest challenges. We recently rearranged everything to try and make more space but we managed to make it far worse.
“This is the first time I’ve been in such a confined space with five other men, so it doesn’t take long for the jokes to grow stale. But despite the hardship we’re facing, there’s always room for humour and that is helping us get through this expedition.”
The crew of the Alexandra Shackleton has been at sea for almost nine days without a shower, a toilet, a change of clothes which are now soaked through. They’ve been deprived of sleep and are cramped below deck in a space that only just fits four men. They have encountered swells three times the height of their boat and have fought the scourge of seasickness. They’ve survived on a diet of pemmican (lard), been hit by rogue waves over 8 metres high and been subjected to temperatures below zero.
Perhaps Jarvis was understating it when he said today “this expedition truly is about endurance – mental as much as physical.” Once the crew make landfall on South Georgia, they plan to trek over its mountainous, crevassed interior to reach the old whaling station at Stromness – just as Shackleton and his men did almost 100 years ago.